I must admit this. I am a birder embarrassment. Some of you were born into birding and have done it since you were in diapers. For me, I had only just begun discovering birds while on my trip to Panama. And the pictures will reflect this as I was a developing birder and photographer.
The Bocas Del Toro region is rich in wildlife and habitat. It's a chain of islands that all have different "feels" to them. We spent most of our time on Bastimentos Island (or Isla Bastimentos) at Bastimentos National Park, but we also explored other areas like the Soropta Canal. I'll cover these very different areas in this post from the Bocas Del Toro region.
|Montezuma Oropendula seen from my open air bedroom. It doesn't get much better than this:)|
For me, at the time, I was just learning how to use what I would now call a "primitive camera". It became clear to me that I needed a stronger zoom lens that I could control. I also knew that I would look back on this trip as a trek with birder regrets. Before meeting other birders, I was learning everything on my own and didn't have someone there to clue me in on how to organize my time. But I am a quick study and within these past two years, I've learned so much. However, as we all know with birding, there is always so much more to understand. There were a lot of birds in this region. I saw my first Northern Jacana here. There was a bird that looked like a Kiskadee but had a decurved bill "licking" bananas. Turns out I discovered my first Bananaquit. So after this trip I had regrets about my treks around the world. How many places had I been? And how many times had I not paid attention to the birds around me?
I also learned about strategy here. A birder brought his family to a local Bed and Breakfast on Isla Bastimentos. He secretly admitted to me that while they were occupied by chocolate and frogs, he was finding life birds. The kids would go swimming. Mom would hang out on the beach. And Dad? He searched for shorebirds. Smart planning. Me? Well I was chasing the red frogs famous on this island, studying the plants(I'm a huge plant geek), eating the chocolate grown on the island and observing the local Ngöbe-Buglé tribe.
Isla Bastimentos is a great place to observe so many things. In this region, there are mangrove swamps that are home to all kinds of reptiles, aquatic life like crabs, amphibians, birds and mammals. I will not write about the chiggers also found there. Isla Bastimentos is a strange place in that it caters to the tourist crowd on the left side of the island, but on the right, it's all wild and left undisturbed. Traveler tip: Do not take pics with the kids holding the endemic red frogs found on the island. They will ask you for money and obviously that's not good for the frogs or ecotourism. Plus they are easily found in the "cups" of the bromeliads:)
Now, moving on around this interesting and very birdy archipelago, we head to the Soropta Canal. Pelicans, Terns, and Gulls later, we arrive to this overgrown and forgotten canal. There were times I thought we would never get out of this overgrown mess. It was a rare and often missed opportunity to bird. You see, we were there to save turtles. But we spent much of our time on this canal! It was hard to navigate and many times we would get stuck in the water hyacinths. At the time, I thought it was a frustration. Now I see it as a missed opportunity to view all of the incredible birds hanging out in the Canal.
Along the way we walked on rotting piers. Of course, I fell through this rickety old thing. I laughed while getting eaten alive by chiggers. I cried later on from the hundreds of bites that covered my body. Yes I was prepared. Yes I had all the right gear. But chiggers are chiggers. They get into everything. Vinegar helped relieve my pain. The Bocas Del Toro region caters to everyone. Each island representing something different. And if you dare, the Soropta Canal is your birding challenge! There were a lot of birds here. But be warned. It's an overgrown canal full of dead trees and other things. My greatest fear was having to get out of the boat and move it along. There were also reptiles in this water:)
I began to learn that birding was pretty awesome because the locales alone were stunning.
This is the Soropta Canal at its best. As we went further into the canal, the open water disappeared.
The islands in the humid and tropical Bocas Del Toro are home to birds found around rivers, oceans, mangrove swamps, and forest. It's quite the diverse habitat and a must see for a person visiting Panama. For the family, there is much to do. For the birder, it's a true vacation.
If you're thinking about birding in Panama, check out these other posts from my Panama trek on Panama City, Gamboa and the Pipeline Road, and Coiba Island. It truly is a birder paradise. There are too many areas to explore, but when I go back again, I'll be stopping at the places I missed on my first trip. I must find that Harpy Eagle! Boquete will be our next stop. Until next time, happy birding!