Sunday, December 1, 2013

Birding Boquete

Today marks my final post on Panama.  We'll begin with several stops next year into Mexico and Guatemala.  In those posts, I'll be using a different camera and I will have molted my fledgling feathers.  It is truly remarkable how the birding world has changed me.  I still don't know anything, but looking back at what I knew then and what I know now is overwhelming.  When I'm not working, I'm studying birds out in the field or reading about them.

Today's stop takes us to the much cooler region of Panama known as Boquete.  It is a true birder's paradise.  Not only is it comfortable and COOL!, it's also a great place to bird, try amazing coffee and let your hair down after a long and humid trip from the other regions of Panama.  I'll be honest with you all.  The summer in Panama is brutal.  The birds are out of this world, but there is a cost.......physical exhaustion from the humidity!

White-necked Jacobin

On the last part of our month long trip, we stayed in the town of Boquete where we made our own meals and actually felt the sensation of being cold and wet.  By this point, I set down my camel pack and just walked the streets feeling normal again.  No sweating to the point of passing out from dehydration. No worrying about mosquitoes or chiggers biting.  It was truly refreshing.  The only thing we had to worry about was the occasional rain falling.  And that happened on a daily basis.

Tourists also like this town because it's safe.  Honestly, I felt rather safe in most of our Panama locales.  It's definitely a country geared for the birder.

While this post may be lacking many birds, I wanted to show you all the other side of birding.....the bonus stuff for family and friends who may not be into birding as much as we are.  Boquete is home to many fantastic gardens.  Some of them are free to enter!  The garden above and below is called Mi Jardín Es Su Jardín or My Garden is Your Garden.   So while everyone is climbing the tower and overlooking the town of Boquete, the birder can scan the skies for hawks, vultures and other fine birds.

While everyone is on the ground "oohing and ahhhing" the cool water features and brightly colored plants, the birder can be scanning the ground and bushes for tropical hummers and thrushes, etc.

When it's time for a break, you may sit out on a patio and contemplate trying a cup of Panama's expensive and exclusive Geisha coffee.....all while scanning the coffee plantation fields for something rare.

I was also able to get up close and study several birds and monkeys at a wildlife refuge. We can read about their weight and imagine how heavy they are, but to actually be able to touch them and let them perch on your arm is another thing altogether. However, I should tell you all that I have a thing about birds and cats finding me a fascinating character.  The minute I walked into the cage, I had them all over me.

Note that I am cautiously assessing the Scarlet Macaw.  They can nab pretty hard:)  I grew up with many many parrots at home.  If they were in a "mood", watch out!  But thankfully, this Macaw was a fun companion.  AND yes, that is a Chachalaca on my shoulder.  The bird ambushed me from out of nowhere and hung out on my shoulder the entire time.  We were buds. Anyhow, the whole point of my writing here is to state that this experience allowed me to interact with these birds up close.  Understanding their movements and calls have helped me recognize a single note in the dark and secretive rain forests of South and Central America. I've been able to locate quiet Macaws in many locations from the short "grrr" call they make.  Macaws can be very quiet birds in the wild.  The Aracari jumps like the Toucan from branch to branch.  When they jump, the branch moves a certain way.  One would think that these colorful birds would be easy to find out in the wild.  They are not. By observing the Fiery-billed Aracari,  I was able to locate the silent Emerald Toucanet and a Collared Aracari in Guatemala this past summer from the slight movement on a branch. In fact, the Collared Aracari was following us from behind.  I could see branches slightly bobbing strangely from the corner of my eye.  When I stopped and turned around, we made eye contact and enjoyed watching each other for 6 minutes.  Then the loud tourists came down the trail and we both had to leave.

Fiery-billed Aracari
 Another benefit from learning about birds in the tropics comes in the form of ID'ing mammals like monkeys. From Capuchins throwing oranges at our roof tops to Spider Monkeys lazily collecting drops of moisture from the leaves with their tongues to Howler Monkeys secretly watching us from only several meters away........birds have trained my eyes to see better.  Boquete was a nice relaxing place to learn about their coffee plantations and wildlife.

If you are an adventure birder, they offer rafting from your hostal or hotel.  I highly recommend this fun.  The Changuinola rapids were rated as a four(out of 5) on the difficulty scale.  The birds were everywhere....including an awesome Ringed Kingfisher on the rocks along the river.  I was birding on our raft and they were all laughing at me. I didn't bring my camera as the river was rough, but I saw so many incredible things.....until one of our rafts flipped over and we had to rescue the crew in the water.  Then we were caught up in the rapids.  As I pulled a young man out, our raft hit a rock and in I went!  But I saw a Ringed Kingfisher and had a glorious adventure!

I highly recommend Boquete for birding.  If you are interested in the other epic places to bird around Panama, check out Panama City, Gamboa and the Pipeline Road, Coiba Island and the Bocas Del Toro area. Whether I bird in my own state of Arizona or elsewhere around the world, it's always an adventure.  And that's why Birding is Fun!  Our next stop will be to Bird Island from the Sea of Cortez to find some nesting Boobies!  So get your dramamine ready for this awesome pelagic tour!  Happy birding!


  1. Chris, what a wonderful review of your trip to Panama! Boquete sounds like a beautiful place to bird and sightsee! Wonderful photos!

  2. A different post. I almost wish I'd chosen Panama instead of Costa Rica now, but I'm sure it'll be good there too!

    1. Oh you'll love Costa Rica as well......I think of the countries in Central America, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama are ALL excellent options. The easiest country to visit is Costa Rica with Panama next and then Guatemala. Nicaragua is great but not for the beginning traveler. El Salvador....don't bother. Honduras is great.....similar to the sometimes rough rides in Guatemala. And Belize is great if you are a rich birder:)

  3. Chris, the colors of this country are amazing! I love the gardens. The Jacobin bird looks like a large hummingbird! What wonderful adventures you have had! You almost make me want to visit Panama!

  4. Nice set of animals, birds and forests, brilliant photos.