Monday, February 4, 2013

Rainforest Awakenings

Kiskadee Love!
Greetings all!  I'm very excited to join the Birding Is Fun! team.  Today's post takes place in the beautiful country of Panama. Over the course of this year, I'll be taking you to some very special places around Panama, Guatemala, Mexico and Belize and introduce you to some wonderful places to bird. We begin our journey today in the very tropical and humid Panama City.  
City views from Parque Natural Metropolitano
For many years, I've done a lot of travel around the world studying Spanish, Portuguese, and culture. This trip to Panama would be a game changer for me as it would unlock a passion for birding.  At first, it wasn't obvious because I loved photography so much.  I thought it was fun to snap pics of colorful birds and catch them in flight.  But to get great shots, one has to be quiet and observe.....and predict movement.
As I began to do this, I became more and more curious.  What were their names?  Why did they fly a certain way?  What did the sounds mean? During many incredible hikes, I encountered people known as "birders".  They were intelligent, quiet, kind, and positive people who were out to see the birds. I spoke with a lady who was very enthusiastic about the park. In fact, the whole reason I began speaking with her was because I had a bird question, "What's that weird blue bird over there with the mask?" A Blue-crowned Motmot.  And saying the word Motmot was.....alien. "Motmot", I repeated slowly as if I were in 1st grade again learning new vocabulary.
Enjoy the birds at Punta Culebra
It was a hot, humid and sticky walk through the Metropolitano park.  I recommend everyone bring a hydration backpack(or camelbak) for this trip because a person dehydrates quickly in a tropical climate.  My body was not used to the humidity at all and I remember sweating nonstop.  So make sure you have water on these treks!  This is especially true for Panama's summer months.(June, July, August).
Brown Pelicans with some Cormorants mixed into the bunch on the Amador Causeway
Panama is home to a great many birds all year round.  With a varied landscape in a relatively small area, a birder can do well with their life lists in this country. I just wasn't all into the birding at the time.  I thought birds were beautiful but I still didn't "get it".  And I certainly didn't want to be labelled a "birder". Weren't "birders" strange people?  Yet, in Panama, everyone seemed to be okay with birding.  A lot of people knew so much about it.  In fact, many people go to Panama just to bird.  While Spanish is helpful, I found that most people spoke English perfectly.  Another benefit(for US citizens) is that you don't have to exchange money because they use the American dollar.
Keep a look out for the many hummingbirds in the area!
Like all places, one must be careful where they bird.  I always went during the early part of the day and kept an eye open for potential issues.  Luckily, I had a great time birding. Like I mentioned before, birding wasn't overnight, but it got me thinking about exploring my own state of Arizona.  And it wasn't until I met another birder who liked to EBIRD and journal that I became hooked.  The secret forest paths.  The secret birds.  The secret competitions between birders and photographers.  I discovered birding is fun!
Of course, I like all the critters that come my way but birds are the primary target.  We'll be visiting Coiba island, Gamboa and Bastimentos National  Park in the Bocas Del Toro region down the road.  If you are in Panama City for a day or two, there is a lot to do.  And while it might be a little too urban for some, it does offer wonderful parks covered in rain forest. Check out Parque Natural Metropolitano for some great views of the city from a lush rain forest full of monkeys, birds, and other critters. Tired of the heat and humidity?  Take a walk on the breezy Amador Causeway and head towards the last remaining areas of dry rain forest at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute at Punta Culebra.  While on the road, you can have a tradional Panamanian meal(try their Sancocho soup!) and watch ocean birds fly all around you. And like any place, you can always bird right outside your hotel room:)
For now I'll leave you with a taste of what's to come.  Here's a video full of birds from our different trips around Panama.  Our next stop will be Gamboa and the infamous Pipeline Road. For more fun, check out Las Aventuras.  Birding Is Fun!


  1. Lovely! Thank you so much for sharing! What a rich and colorful place!

  2. Lovely post Chris and I love that first bird ... it is a kiskadee? New to me and beautiful, thanks for sharing a little of your world.

  3. Chris, a wonderful post with great pictures and fine story telling! Welcome to the team!

  4. Thank you all for stopping by and reading:) Carole, the bird is a Lesser Kiskadee. There are two types common in Panama City(and around Panama), the Greater and Lesser Kiskadees. These birds were incredibly beautiful and remind me of our Western and Cassin's Kingbirds here in Southern Arizona.

  5. I enjoyed your post and your wonderful photos, Chris! I have been thinking about visiting Panama and will pull up your post before I go there. So many tantalizing suggestions!

  6. Hi Hilke, I'll have more for you coming up. It was an incredible place to begin my first steps as an amateur birder. I'll be heading back this summer to Central America and cannot wait to go find birds:) Wonderful birds and a safe country to visit.

  7. Chris, welcome to the team! Your enthusiasm is especially apparent in this wonderful post. Panama sounds like a terrific place for birding. Stunning photographs! The colorful kiskadee with the beautiful markings and and iridescent hummingbird are quite lovely. I'm looking forward to your future posts on destinations in Central America!

    1. Thanks Julie! I am excited about joining the team. So many incredible birds out there! So overwhelming:)