Sunday, April 17, 2011

Modified Tamarin Tour, Panama: April 10 – 17, 2011

Day 1: San Lorenzo National Park

We were picked up bright and early at the Riande Airport Hotel and driven 45 minutes to the Canopy Tower where we joined the other guests for breakfast before heading out to San Lorenzo National Park with our guide Alexis. We stopped at the Gatun Locks for about 45 minutes to wait for two huge ships to pass through the Panama Canal. It was very interesting to watch the ships guided into position by tug boats then pulled through the lock by mechanical “mules”. Once inside San Lorenzo National Park across the Canal, it didn’t take long to spot our first mammal, a Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth. We continued past Fort Sherman, once the site of the US Army Jungle Training School and spotted another Three-toed Sloth in a tree not more than 20 feet above our heads! We parked at the Park headquarters and continued on foot along the road. A Collared Peccary dashed across the road just ahead of us and a lone White-nosed Coati also crossed ahead of us. We saw 3 more Three-toed sloths, Red-tailed Squirrels, Mantled Howler Monkeys and a Central American Agouti family to round out our mammal spotting.

  Figure 1 Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth by Marc Faucher

The bird sightings along the road were also good. We photographed a friendly pair of Slaty-tailed Trogans perched in some bushes next to the road. We also saw Red-capped Manakins, Spotted Antbirds, Keel-billed and Chestnut-mandibled Toucans. We walked back to our vehicle for lunch then drove to Fort San Lorenzo at the end of the road. Located at the mouth of the Charges River, the Fort of San Lorenzo was built by the Spanish in the 16th century and has a sweeping view over the Caribbean Sea.

On our way back to the Tower, Alexis took us to a tree near the Gatun Dam where a Kinkajou had been spotted previously. Lo and behold, he was still there! He came out to investigate and we got some great photos of him and of a Golden-mantled Manakin displaying nearby. We returned to the Tower around 6:00 PM. We enjoyed more views of the rainforest and the Panama Canal from the observation deck before dinner.

Figure 2 Kinkajou by Marc Faucher

Day 2: Semaphore Hill/Ammo Dump Ponds/Charges River & Night Ride down Semaphore Hill

We were up early to greet the day and the birds arriving at the Canopy Tower observation deck. We saw Scarlet, Plain-colored, Palm and Summer Tanagers, Blue Dacnis, Green Honeycreepers, Keel-billed Toucan, Scaled Pigeons and several species of hummingbirds. After a quick breakfast we walked down Semaphore Road to look for mammals. Alexis spotted a Rufous Tree Rat in a hole in a tree just below the Canopy Tower. We also saw a small troop of White-faced Capuchins in the trees, a Three-Toed Sloth and our first Hoffmann’s Two-toed Sloth. We spotted many birds including Slaty-tailed and Black-throated Trogans, Broad-billed Motmot, Slate-colored Grosbeak, Black-breasted and White-whiskered Puffbirds and a Great Potoo camouflaged high up in a tree.

Figure 3 White-whiskered Puffbird by Marc Faucher

After lunch we spotted a female Three-toed Sloth with a baby and another adult Three-toed Sloth on the lower section of Semaphore Hill Road. At Ammo Dump Pond we spotted a Lesser Capybara along with many birds and some reptiles such as Common Basilisk, Green Iguanas and what we could only guess was an American Crocodile by the loud splashes we kept hearing.

We stopped off at the Charges River and spotted more birds, a Central American Agouti, a Panamanian Common Slider Turtle and an American Crocodile lurking in the water. After dinner at the Tower, we went on a night drive down Semaphore Hill Road. It was a quiet night but we did manage to see a Three-toed sloth, a Two-toed sloth and a Tapeti or Forest Rabbit. Amazingly our driver spotted a baby Boa Constrictor crossing the road.

Day 3: Barro Colorado Island and Night Ride down Semaphore Hill

We headed out early to Barro Colorado Island for the day. Barro Colorado Island, along with 5 surrounding peninsulas, was made a Natural Monument in 1923 and has been administered by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute ever since. The island itself was formed in 1914 when Lake Gatun was made. We took a 35 minute boat ride from the dock just past Gamboa to the island where we were greeted by our guide Michelle. We were joined by 6 other guests from different lodges, most of whom had never been in a rainforest before. It was fun seeing their reactions to the insects, frogs and bats we encountered along our way to the “Big Tree”, a massive kapok tree with a girth as large as a small house. We did spot a group of Azuero Spider Monkeys that were introduced to the Island 30 years ago. Since there are only 25 or so Spider Monkeys on the island, we felt lucky to see them. One of the guests spotted a tarantula in one of the cement blocks in the walkway. We also saw beautiful Green and Black Poison-Dart Frogs and Greater Sac-winged Bats roosting in the “Big Tree”.

Figure 4 Black and Green Poison-Dart Frog by Marc Faucher

Figure 5 Greater Sac-winged Bat by Peggy Faucher

We were back at the Tower around 4:30 in time to head up to the deck to look for birds and watch the sunset. Tonight after dinner we went on our second night drive down the Semaphore Road. We spotted a Great Tinamou roosting in a tree, a Three-toed and 2 Two-toed Sloths and Alex called in a Common Potoo which flew in and perched on a tree nearby.

Day 4: Dawn Ride down Semaphore Hill, Pipeline Road, Summit Gardens and Plantation Road

We drove down Semaphore Road in pre-dawn darkness at 5:30 to look for more nocturnal mammals. We didn’t spot many besides the Mantled Howler Monkey we woke up . We returned to the Tower for breakfast before heading to the world-famous Pipeline Road. Near the entrance we spotted Purple-throated Fruitcrows. Alexis took us a short distance from the road to a tree where Panamanian Night Monkeys were roosting. Two curious monkeys peered out as us as we took many photos.

Figure 6 Panamanian Night Monkeys by Marc Faucher

Holly was keen to see the Pheasant Cuckoo and Alex did not disappoint her. He called to the bird and a pair answered! We followed them into the forest and watched as they displayed by ruffling their feathers and making a strange rattling noise. The female perched on a low hanging vine and we were able to photograph her at close range. We spent 20 minutes observing this friendly pair! As if this wasn’t excitement enough we encountered an ant swarm crossing the road and the antbirds following it. We crept into the forest again to take some photos of the Bicolored and Oscellated Antbirds catching the insects stirred up by the swarm. We saw more Mantled Howler Monkeys, White-nosed Coatis, and a Central American Agouti on this morning’s walk along with many more species of birds.

Figure 6 Pheasant Cuckoo by Marc Faucher

In the afternoon we made a quick trip to the Summit Botanical Garden to check out the Common Tent-making Bats. These clever creatures make their own roosts by gnawing on palm fronds causing them to fold into tents. Following our visit to the Garden, we took a walk down Plantation Road. We didn’t see many mammals except for Mantled Howler Monkeys and a White-nosed Coati but the walk along a creek with many large trees was very beautiful. We did spot a Sun Bittern nesting in a precarious spot on a thin branch over the creek.

Day 5: Gatun Lake, Panama Rainforest Discovery Center and Night Ride along Pipeline Road

This morning we did a boat trip on Gatun Lake with Alexis and Jacob. We stopped off on one of the many islands to take a short walk and were greeted with our first sightings of Geoffrey’s Tamarins. We also spotted a male Golden-mantled Manakin displaying for a nearby female. Back in the boat, Jacob spotted a large group of Mantled Howler Monkeys in the trees close to the river. There were 8 females, 2 carrying tiny babies on their backs, a juvenile and one large male. It was fun watching the babies leave their mothers’ backs to explore and feed on their own. We also encountered a friendly group of White-throated Capuchins which came right down to our boat! We stopped for a snack and looking over, I spotted a very active Two-toed Sloth feeding in a wild cashew tree very close to the river. We got great views and photos of this amazing creature just minutes away from the main shipping channel of the Panama Canal.

Figure 7 - Mantled Howler Monkey by Marc Faucher

In addition to the many great mammal sightings, we spotted many water birds such as American Coots, Common Moorhens, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Wattled Jacana, Royal and Sandwich Terns, Spotted Sandpipers, Purple Gallinule and Snail Kites.

Our already amazing day was not over yet. In the afternoon we visited The Panama Rainforest Discovery Center. Our first stop was the front deck of the Center where the hummingbird feeders attract a large numbers of White-necked Jacobins, Violet-bellied, Black-throated Mango, Long-tailed Hermit, Blue-chested and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds. We walked along the trails where we spotted many more beautiful birds, including another Pheasant Cuckoo and a Coco Screech Owl, and butterflies. There were not many mammals about save for Mantled Howlers and an Agouti. We watched the sun set over the rainforest from atop the 32 meter observation tower. It was so tranquil and beautiful. We returned to the Center where the staff from the Canopy Tower was setting up a scrumptious “picnic” dinner for us complete with wine. After dinner we heard a Crested Owl and were able to spot the bird perched in a tree near the observation tower. We then headed out on a night drive down the Pipeline Road. Having access to this road at night was very exciting. As luck would have it, we didn’t spot many mammals but the one we did find was a new one for us, a Western Lowland Olingo! We also startled a White-tailed Nightjar on the road. We returned to the Tower late after a very fulfilling day!

Figure 8 Hoffmann’s Two-Toed Sloth by Marc Faucher

Day 6: En Valle de Anton and La Mesa

We spent the morning at the Canopy Tower enjoying our final view from the observation deck before being transferred to the Canopy Lodge about 2 hours away. We arrived in time for lunch and a relaxing afternoon watching the birds and a few mammals, a Red-tailed squirrel and a Central American Agouti , that came to the feeders set up on the Lodge grounds. We were amazed at the colorful birds that visit the feeders including Crimson-backed, Blue-gray, and Flame-rumped Tanagers, Baltimore Oriole, Red-legged Honeycreepers, Red-crowned Woodpeckers, Thick-billed Euphonia, Chestnut-headed Oropendola and even a Rufous Motmot. Around 3:00 PM we joined Tino and another guest on a bird walk at La Mesa. The focus was on birds and we didn’t spot many mammals on the walk except for Red-tailed Squirrels.

Day 7: Cerro Gaital Natural Monument and Watercress

This morning we walked in Cerro Gaital Natural Monument not far from the Lodge. There were not many mammals about but the bird watching was excellent. We saw many species including a beautiful Orange-bellied Trogan, White-tipped Sicklebill, Common Bush-Tanager, White-ruffed Manakin and Tawny-crested Tanagers. We walked to the top of the ridge where there was a beautiful view over En Valle de Anton.

After lunch we did another walk in an area known as Watercress since it is grown in terraced fields along the road. Again the focus was on birds but we did see a Brown-throated Three-toed sloth in a tree.

Day 8: Altos del Maria

Today we did an all day trip to Altos del Maria, an expansive area of cloud forest at 3600 ft . We observed many species of birds along the road including Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Brown-billed Scythebill, Silver-throated Tanager, Orange-bellied Trogan, Dull-mantled Antbird and Spotted Woodcreeper. We did spot two new mammals to add to our list, a Western Dwarf Squirrel and a Silky Anteater!! The Anteater was curled up in a ball, sleeping soundly in a tree next to the road. What a thrilling end to an amazing trip to Panama!!

Figure 9 Silky Anteater by Tino Sanchez