Panama: Bocas del Toro Archipelago Mar 25—Apr 03, 2016

Posted by Jeri Langham


Jeri Langham

Jeri M. Langham has a Ph.D. in plant ecology from Washington State University, and after 38 years as a professor of biological sciences at California State University ...

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Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge was built on Bastimentos Island adjacent to the large Parque Nacional Isla Bastimentos in Panama’s Bocas del Toro Archipelago. I scouted this location in January 2011 and immediately knew it was a fantastic location for VENT tours. Participants also have opportunities to snorkel, kayak, fish, or swim in the warm Caribbean waters. 

An enticing example of what awaits visitors to this marvelous birding paradise can be found in excerpts taken from the journal I write during every tour and later email to all participants. These are from my 15-page journal for the March 2016 tour. Very impressive to me was that we added 12 new birds not seen on the seven previous tours.

After settling into our luxury cabanas, we met for an introductory walk around the grounds before lunch. We saw some White-lined Bats on the wall of the close cabana and then had great cooperation by Chestnut-backed Antbird and Black-crowned Antshrike. We walked through the wonderful little patch of forest up to the open area by the four cabanas and six-story observation tower. Here, Natalia found a Cerulean Warbler (new for the Tranquilo Bay list). We also encountered Scarlet Tanagers (my favorite), many male Shining Honeycreepers, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Dacnis, Chestnut-sided Warbler (migration has begun!), Ochre-bellied and other flycatchers, White-crowned and Pale-vented pigeons, Plumbeous Kite, and many species of butterflies identified by Keith and Jackie.

Continuing to the winding rainforest trail that takes us to “pineapple hill” and the bathing pools, we picked up Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Dot-winged Antwren, and heard the loud chips of Blue-chested Hummingbirds. On pineapple hill, Oleta’s favorite was the Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth, but we also saw White-crowned (best) and Pale-vented pigeons, Golden-collared and Red-capped manakins, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Groove-billed Ani, Green Honeycreeper, Blue-gray Tanager, and also heard several White-throated Crakes. The Golden-collared Manakins put on a great show! We then showed you the tiny creek pools where birds come to drink and bathe. Here we had superb views of male Crowned Woodnymph and a tiny Stripe-throated Hermit.

We arrived on the mainland to find Orlando waiting for us with his wonderful new van, and off we went up to the Oleoducto Highway. We had some rain at the start, but great birds: Black-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant (smallest passerine), Rufous Motmot, Northern Barred-Woodcreeper, Long-tailed Tyrant, Green Kingfisher, Collared Araçari, five species of parrots, Slaty Spinetail, Double-toothed Kite, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, migrating Plumbeous Kites, Cinnamon Woodpecker (first for my 8 visits here), the large Pale-billed Woodpecker, and Brown Jay.  The birding was so good, we were still here when it was time for our picnic lunch!

After lunch, my goal was to drive to the bridge at Willie Mazú and see if we could find the Pied Water-Tyrants that frequent this rocky stream. We also saw nesting Black Phoebes and had a small flock with several Philadelphia Vireos, Black-and-white and other warblers, Green Honeycreeper, Tawny-crowned Euphonia, and several tanager species. Then we headed for the side road on the Continental Divide that goes to the huge antenna. At the tower we stopped to look for the Blue-and-white Swallows that are usually here and then hit the big one, as Natalia spotted a Black Hawk-Eagle that gave us excellent looks before gliding away. I had two stops planned after that, but the first was so good that we did not have time to stop at the second. Some of our best birds here were Spangle-cheeked, Black-and-yellow, Blue-and-gold, and Emerald tanagers, but we also saw Red-faced Spinetail, my first Barred Hawk in 8 tours here, and Common Chlorospingus.

Getting out at my usual curve in La Fortuna, we started to pick up new birds and also see old favorites like the magnificent Swallow-tailed Kite at eye level, Thick-billed and Elegant euphonias, two very cooperative Prong-billed Barbets, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, both male and female Orange-bellied Trogons, Acorn Woodpecker, many Paltry Tyrannulets, Black-thighed Grosbeak, two groups of Sulphur-winged Parakeets that flew close enough to us to see all the field marks, Brown-capped Vireo, two Barred Parakeets, and my first Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner for this tour. We heard four species of wrens that did not cooperate, but my favorite species seen here were the male and female Flame-colored and the White-winged tanagers.

It rained at 5:30 a.m. while we were having another wonderful buffet breakfast in the main building. The meals have been tremendous, including the picnic lunches, and we always have lots of cold water, soft drinks, and snacks available in the boat and van. We waited a short while until the rain stopped. Our big target bird today at the Soropta Canal was the difficult-to-find-elsewhere Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, and we managed to see two males. My favorite event was Jackie spotting a large Boa Constrictor high in a tree as we were trying to get the Great Antshrike to show itself. Natalia finally spotted it and all eventually got on this very secretive and largest of the country’s antshrikes.

On the river at the end of the canal, we hit pay dirt with more ducks than I have ever seen here: Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks (20+), Blue-winged Teal (30+), Ring-necked Ducks (5 and my first for the BDTA tour), one Muscovy Duck, Lesser Scaup (15+), and seven species of herons/egrets. Three Ospreys standing together in a shallow part of the river were a first for me.

Returning via the Soropta Canal, we next visited Swan’s Cay where Red-billed Tropicbirds and Brown Boobies nest. Once we were 30 yards from Swan’s Cay, we spent about 35 minutes just floating with incredibly beautiful, elegant birds flying around us. Watching those gorgeous birds gliding by with their long tail feathers swaying in the wind, sometimes so close we could almost touch them, was simply fantastic. Some even landed on their nest cavities, and a few had juveniles visible on the nest.

It was a calm, smooth-as-glass ocean morning as we headed to Isla Popa, an area where my last two groups saw a male Snowy Cotinga. I called in a nice male Mangrove Yellow Warbler and then a very cooperative Mangrove Cuckoo. Slowly working our way around a small mangrove island, we saw two Manta Rays, and then Ramón spotted an unexpected Crested Guan very high up in a tall tree. We started for the Green Acres Chocolate Factory (Cacao Farm Plantation) when Jim spotted a close and low male Snowy Cotinga so we headed for it. It would fly off one perch, swoop down, and then fly up to another perch.

Up on the ridge at the chocolate farm, we got to see Yellow-olive Flycatchers building a nest 10 inches from a large wasp nest. Several Green-and-black Poison Dart Frogs were seen. I called in a pair of Slaty-tailed Trogons and Natalia spotted the pair of Black-and-white Owls near the top of a tall overstory tree. Ramón found a ripe cacao fruit and opened it up so you could taste the sweet cover on each of the large seeds. Oleta then spotted a Yellow-throated Toucan holding a seed in its bill up near a huge hole in a tall tree. We had excellent views and then headed for the boat and rode back to Tranquilo Bay for lunch.

The ocean water around the islands in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago was very smooth as we cruised the 45 minutes to La Escapada. Shortly after arriving, I called in a pair of Gartered Trogons, a pair of White-throated Crakes, Pied Puffbird, and a few other species. After we turned down the road to Valle Risco, we encountered an open field with Crimson-fronted Parakeets and our first Blue-jeans or Strawberry Poison Dart Frogs. Our unpaved road down to Valle Risco has little to no traffic and, as we walk, we descend slowly down the side of the mountain, which offers many views of the valley floor below. We had a steady stream of migrating Turkey Vultures, Swainson’s Hawks, Broad-winged Hawks and a few Swallow-tailed Kites. Little Tinamou was heard, and we saw Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Plain Xenops, Dusky-faced Tanager, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Long-billed Gnatwren, and more. 

Our next stop gave us great views of Striped Cuckoo, a species I discovered on last year’s tour, which is not shown to be here in the field guide’s map. We continued to the Texaco gas station where we saw several Boat-billed Herons.  After lunch, we walked up the road where only a couple of you saw the Magnolia Warbler (a zero species in past years) and a Crimson-collared Tanager. From here we walked back down to the bridge seeing Torrent Tyrannulet, Chestnut-collared Swift, Slate-colored Grosbeak (another zero species), Dull-mantled Antbird, and Carmiol’s Tanagers.

For our last morning, I indicated that Ramón, Natalia, and I would be up on the deck of the observation tower around 6:30 a.m., and most of you joined us. From the tower, we observed Montezuma Oropendolas, several White-crowned and Pale-vented pigeons, Lineated Woodpecker, many parrots, and, new for me, heard repeated calls by a Uniform Crake. After some of us descended for breakfast, a group of White-faced Capuchin Monkeys showed up, and some of you were able to see them.

I always look forward to my visit each year to this wonderful piece of paradise where the owners, who live there and take care of us, do not accept any other clients while our seven tour participants and I are there.  We have the entire place to ourselves!