Canopy Tower – 7 Nights in Darien
The Birds of Canopy Camp
The Darién, as this entire eastern-most region of Panama is called, is perhaps the most diverse and species-rich region of Central America. Here, some of the last large, relatively untouched swathes of lowland rainforest await to be explored! Long coveted by avid birders as an impenetrable haven for rare species, including the majestic Harpy Eagle, Panama’s national bird, this region is now readily accessible by a new highway extending through the spine of Panama right into the heart of this bird-rich land.
During this exciting, highly recommended 7-night adventure, we visit, en route to the Canopy Camp, the foothills of Nusagandi in search of the elusive Sapayoa, and the Bayano Reservoir, to look for such specialties as the starkly beautiful Black Antshrike, Rufous-winged Antwren and stunning Orange-crowned Oriole. We also visit the swampy meadows of Yaviza and the riparian forests of Río Torti, the haunts of the magnificent Spot-breasted Woodpecker! We will enjoy great birding around El Real where we hope to get excellent views of Black-capped Donacobius, Yellow-hooded Blackbird, Large-billed Seed-Finch and others.
We will spend our nights at the new Canopy Camp Darien, where we will enjoy comfortable, large, safari-style tent accommodations, each with full-size beds, private bathroom facilities with hot water and flush toilets, electricity, and fans. The protected forests of the Filo del Tallo Hydrological Reserve surround the camp. In the vicinity of the camp itself we will enjoy such regional specialties as Gray-cheeked Nunlet, White-headed Wren, Rufous-tailed Jacamar and Pale-bellied Hermit right in the gardens! This tour offers other surprises, such as Spectacled Parrotlet, Golden-green Woodpecker, Double-banded Graytail, King Vulture and the spectacular Great Curassow!
For the more adventurous, there is an option to venture farther into Darién National Park, beyond the reach of paved roads, into the lowlands and foothills of the fabled Cerro Pirre, where Red-and-green Macaw, Saffron-headed Parrot, Crested Eagle, Plumbeous Pigeon, Viridian Dacnis, Purple Honeycreeper, Sharpbill, Scarlet-browed and Lemon-spectacled Tanagers and many other exciting species can be found that we cannot see anywhere else in Central America. You are sure to have the birding adventure of a lifetime!
Day 1 – Saturday
Arrival in Panama & Orientation
Upon your arrival in Panama, you will be transferred to Riande Aeropuerto Hotel, just 5 minutes from Tocumen International Airport. While you acclimatize to the tropical heat and have a cold drink, you can watch the birds on the grounds of the hotel. Our tour will start the following day, bright and early.
Day 2 – Sunday
This morning we will meet in the hotel restaurant for an early breakfast, 5 am. After breakfast, we will pack our van and depart for eastern Panama at 5:30 am. The journey to our final destination is approximately 5 hours, but we will make stops along the way in exciting birding areas. As we drive east along the Pan-American Highway, we will scan for roadside birds and open-field raptors including Savanna Hawk and Crested Caracara. Our first scheduled stop will be in the Nusagandi area, off the highway into the foothills of the Caribbean Slope. As we follow the El Llano-Carti Road north, we will cross the Continental Divide and reach the Comarca (reserve) of Guna Yala. This is an area of pristine forest, managed by the indigenous Guna people.
Here we will explore the trails and open areas through the Nusagandi Forest Reserve in search of rarities including Sapayoa, Speckled Antshrike, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Sulphur-rumped, Rufous-winged and Black-and-yellow Tanagers, Yellow-eared Toucanet, the endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker, Swallow-tailed Kite, Black Hawk-Eagle, Blue-fronted Parrotlet, Streak-chested Antpitta, Tawny-capped Euphonia and more.
Picnic lunch in Nusagandi
PM: Bayano Region & Arrival at Canopy Camp Darien
After a delicious picnic, we will head back to the Pan-American Highway and continue east. We will stop at the bridge at Lake Bayano, Panama’s second largest lake. This reservoir supports great amounts of water birds, including a large colony of Neotropic Cormorants, as well as Anhinga, Cocoi Heron and the rare Bare-throated Tiger-Heron. We will scan the water’s edge for Purple Gallinule, Pied Water-Tyrant, Smooth-billed Ani and Ruddy-breasted Seedeater. A short trail leading from the water’s edge is a great place to search for Black Antshrike, Bare-crowned Antbird, Rufous-winged Antwren and Golden-collared Manakin. Carrying on down the road, we will make a stop at the Río Mono Bridge, where the surrounding forest is home to One-colored Becard, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Blue Cotinga, Pied Puffbird, Orange-crowned Oriole, Blue Ground-Dove and more.
We will also scan the river below for Green-and-rufous Kingfisher and the elusive Fasciated Tiger-Heron. We will carry on from here to Canopy Camp Darien, and arrive before daylight fades so we can settle into our tents and get acquainted with the setting. After a delicious dinner of fresh American and Panamanian fare, we will gather to have a meeting about the days to come, and settle into our tents for the night.
Dinner at Canopy Camp
Day 3 – Monday
AM: Canopy Camp Trails
We will meet before sunrise for a hot drink and to enjoy the sounds of the birds. Black-mandibled and Keel-billed Toucans call from the towering Cuipo trees; Red-lored and Mealy Parrots fly overhead; White-bellied Antbird, Bright-rumped Attila, White-headed Wren and Golden-headed Manakin sing from the surrounding forests; while Pale-bellied Hermit and Sapphire-throated Hummingbird visit the flowers around camp. Rufous-tailed Jacamar and Barred Puffbird are also seen frequently around the campsite. We will be served a hearty breakfast at 7:30 am. After breakfast we will work our way into the forest on “Nando’s Trail,” in hopes of finding Double-banded Graytail, Gray-cheeked Nunlet, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Royal Flycatcher and Russet-winged Schiffornis. Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Plumbeous Hawk and Zone-tailed Hawk are also possible.
Lunch at Canopy Camp
PM: Canopy Camp Trails
After lunch we can enjoy the hummingbirds and other species around the camp, dip our feet in the rocky stream or have a siesta. At 3:00 pm we will meet again to continue birding around the camp property. The forests are full of great birds that have not been fully explored, and could include Tiny Hawk, Black Antshrike, Great Antshrike, Olive-backed Quail-Dove, Striped Cuckoo, Cinnamon Becard and Black-tailed Trogon. We will also be looking for groups of Red-throated Caracara, King Vulture and Short-tailed Hawk overhead in the clearings. We will return to camp in time to freshen up for dinner. After dinner we will gather to look for owls, including Striped, Crested, Barn, Black-and-white and Mottled Owls, as well as Common and Great Potoos and likely some nocturnal mammals. We will end the day with our checklist, tallying our sightings for our first full day at the Canopy Camp!
Dinner at Canopy Camp
Day 4 – Tuesday
AM: El Salto Road (15 minutes from Canopy Camp)
We will meet for an early breakfast, then head to El Salto Road for the morning. El Salto Road extends 6 km north from the Pan-American Highway and ends at the mighty Río Chucunaque. This open road and surrounding dry forest is a great place to search for regional specialties including Red-throated Caracara, Red-rumped, Golden-green and Spot-breasted Woodpeckers, Double-banded Graytail, Blue-and-gold and Chestnut-fronted Macaws, Black and Crested Oropendolas, White-eared Conebill, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Black-breasted Puffbird, Orange-crowned Oriole and the majestic King Vulture. A trail at the end of the road will take us into low-canopy forest, where we hope to find Bare-crowned Antbird, Pale-bellied Hermit, Olivaceous Piculet, Streak-headed Woodcreeper and Forest Elaenia.
Lunch at Canopy Camp
PM: Las Lagunas Road (15 minutes from Canopy Camp)
This afternoon we will bird along the road to Las Lagunas. This road extends 12 km south off the Pan-American Highway through open farmland, dry scrub and roadside habitat. The road eventually crosses a small stream and ends at small ponds. Along the roadsides, we hope to find Red-breasted Blackbird, Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, White-headed Wren, Smooth-billed and Greater Ani, Muscovy Duck, Southern Lapwing, Blue-headed Parrot, Striped Cuckoo, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Bananaquit, Giant and Shiny Cowbird, Crested Oropendola, Laughing Falcon and Aplomado Falcon. If we’re lucky, we may get a glimpse of a Chestnut-fronted Macaw or a shy Little Cuckoo, both having been seen along this road.
Dinner at Canopy Camp
Day 5 – Wednesday
AM: Tierra Nueva Foundation (15 minutes from Canopy Camp)
We will meet for an early breakfast at the Canopy Camp. This morning we will visit the property of the Tierra Nueva Foundation. Fundación Tierra Nueva is a non-profit organization whose main mission is “working towards the sustainable development of people of the Darién Rainforest”. The property is the home of a technical school focusing on applications in agriculture. We will explore the trails of this large property, in hopes of finding Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Yellow-breasted and Black-billed Flycatchers, Red-rumped Woodpecker, Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon, Cinnamon and One-colored Becards, White-eared Conebill, White-headed Wren and the magnificent Great Curassow. We will also search for the eastern race of the Chestnut-backed Antbird, which shows white spots on the wings. After our full morning of birding we will enjoy a scrumptious picnic lunch near the school.
Picnic Lunch at Tierra Nueva Foundation
PM: Yaviza (1 hour from Canopy Camp)
After lunch, we will continue to head southeast and will bird the forests and swampy meadows along the road to Yaviza, to the end of the Pan-American Highway! Black-billed Flycatcher, Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, Jet Antbird, Black Oropendola, Pied Water-Tyrant, Bicolored Hawk, Black-collared Hawk, Pearl Kite, White-tailed Kite, Limpkin, Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Ruddy-breasted Seedeater, Yellow-hooded Blackbird, Black-capped Donacobius and Red-breasted Blackbird can all be found as we head farther into the Darién today. Upon our arrival in Yaviza, we will get a feel for the day-to-day life of the Darién. This bustling town, located at the end of the Pan-American Highway, has a population of just over 1,000 and is the main cultural center of the Darién as well as the gateway for many of the riverside communities of this province. The Río Chucunaque passes through the town and Yaviza is a major port access to this river. After a cold drink in Yaviza we will make our way back to camp.
Dinner at Canopy Camp
Day 6 – Thursday
Full Day: El Real (2 hours from Canopy Camp)
We will meet for an early breakfast on this exciting day of birding. Today, we will be traveling to El Real de Santa María, a community deep into the Darién with a population of around 700, near the border of Darién National Park. It is accessible only by boat from Yaviza along the Río Chucunaque and Río Tuira, Panama’s longest river. The Chucunaque and Tuira rivers are bordered by extensive lowland forest that holds high biological diversity. The river edges offer shrub and grass habitat, as well as mudflats and beaches depending on the water level. During the 45-minute boat journey to El Real, there are plenty of birds to see along the riverside: Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Cocoi, Tricolored, Striated and Capped Herons, White Ibis, Green Ibis, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Pied Water-Tyrant, Bronzed Cowbird, Yellow-hooded Blackbird and both Crested and Black Oropendola. White-tailed Kite, Black-collared Hawk and Common Black-Hawk can be found cruising overhead. El Real is a small town surrounded by second-growth forest that attracts a wide variety of species including endemics that cannot be found in other areas of Darién. It has suburban and rural roads, an airstrip, grassland, open fields and riverside habitat to explore. During our time in El Real, we hope to find Spectacled Parrotlet, Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Rufous-tailed and Dusky-backed Jacamars, Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Great Antshrike, Long-tailed Tyrant, Large-billed Seed-Finch, Black-capped Donacobius, Crowned Woodnymph, Orange-bellied Euphonia and perhaps a tiny Gray-breasted Crake lurking along the riversides around the town. We will enjoy a picnic lunch in town and take cover during the heat of the day. After our birding day in El Real is complete, we will make our way back to camp, keeping our eyes on the riversides and roadsides for exciting sightings as sunset approaches.
Picnic lunch in El Real, Dinner at Canopy Camp
Days 6 & 7 – Thursday & Friday
(Option to overnight in the Cerro Pirre lowlands – minimum 6 pax)
Those doing this option will travel to El Real with the group and split at midday to go to the Rancho Frio ANAM Station (ANAM is Panama’s environmental authority). This facility offers bunk beds in a dormitory-style room. There is a communal bathroom facility with flush toilets.
After lunch with the group in town, we will head south out of El Real down a dirt road for approximately 40 minutes by truck, until we reach the trailhead. Along the roadsides we will scan for Bronzed Cowbird, Black Oropendola, Gray-capped Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tyrant, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Chestnut-fronted Macaw and other open area birds. From the trailhead, we will hike at a comfortable pace to the Rancho Frio ANAM Station, located inside the vast Darién National Park! It will take approximately 2 hours to reach the station, and along the way we will have plenty of opportunity to watch for birds. This wide trail passes through grassy roadside habitat and secondary lowland forest, alongside a small river. We will keep our eyes open for Agami Heron, White-fronted Nunbird, Golden-collared Manakin, Gray-cheeked Nunlet, Chestnut-backed Antbird (eastern race) and more forest species. In 2013, there was an active nest site for the majestic Harpy Eagle right along this trail shortly beyond the border of the national park, and if we’re lucky we may see an adult or juvenile in the area!
When we arrive at Rancho Frio, we will have a cold drink and take some time to enjoy the beautiful forest surroundings. Darién National Park is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve and protects 5,790 km2 (1.5 million acres) of lowland, foothill and highland forest, extensive river systems and vast coastline and mangrove habitat. These forests are among the least disturbed in all of Central America, and thus this vast area holds high biodiversity, which we will be able to see, hear and feel upon arrival. We will listen and watch for Red-and-green Macaw, groups of Red-throated Caracaras, Scarlet-browed Tanager, Buff-rumped Warbler, Bay Wren (eastern race), Stripe-throated Wren, Gray Elaenia and more right in the vicinity of the station. Before we lose our light for the day, we can take a walk into the forest in search of Scaly-throated and Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Yellow-green Tyrannulet, Great Green Macaw, Saffron-headed Parrot, Ornate Hawk-Eagle and the spectacular Crested Eagle, which has nested near the station! We will return to the station for a hearty dinner, and retire early for the evening, listening to the sounds of Spectacled and Crested Owls.
Dinner at Rancho Frio
Friday morning we will awake early to the sounds of birds before dawn. After an early breakfast at dawn, we will hike up into the foothills of Cerro Pirre in Darién National Park.
Along the trail, we will search for the rare Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, Choco Tinamou, Great Curassow, Black-crowned Antpitta, Streak-chested Antpitta, Scarlet-browed Tanager, Plumbeous Pigeon, Plumbeous Hawk, Crested Eagle, Harpy Eagle, Collared Forest-Falcon, Golden-headed Manakin, Golden-crowned Spadebill, Red-rumped Woodpecker, Olive-backed Quail-Dove, Sirystes and the enigmatic Sapayoa. As we climb in altitude, we will start to see some different species including Yellow-eared Toucanet, White-ruffed Manakin, Dull-mantled Antbird, Spot-crowned Barbet, Blue Cotinga, Purple Honeycreeper, Viridian Dacnis, Sharpbill, Violet-headed Hummingbird, the endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, Slaty-winged Foliage-gleaner, Barred Puffbird, Red-and-green Macaw, Black-and-yellow Tanager, Emerald Tanager and the subtly-beautiful Lemon-spectacled Tanager! We will return to Rancho Frio for an early lunch.
Lunch at Rancho Frio
After lunch, we will make our way back to the road, where a truck awaits to take us back to El Real where we will take a boat to Yaviza, and then head back to the Canopy Camp. Our route back will give us plenty of opportunities to continue birding and search for any species we may have missed
Dinner at Canopy Camp
This extension requires a minimum of 6 participants and you must be in good physical condition as we will be hiking uphill trails and lengthy hikes in humid lowland rainforest. You will not be required to carry more than your personal day pack. The accommodations are rustic, with bunk beds in dormitory-style rooms.
Day 7 – Friday
AM: Serranía Filo del Tallo Hydrological Reserve (30 minutes from Canopy Camp)
We will wake up at dawn to the sounds of the morning bird activity. After an early breakfast, we will head into the Serranía Filo del Tallo Reserve. Serranía Filo del Tallo is a designated Hydrological Reserve that protects a small mountain range west of the Pan-American Highway. The Canopy Camp borders this reserve, which protects an area of 300 km2 (74,000 acres). We will access the reserve via a trail located at the northern end of the range. The trail crosses a small creek and passes through part of the reserve, then climbs upward to a plateau where there is a teak plantation.
Here we hope to have great looks at Olivaceous Piculet, Golden-headed Manakin, Royal Flycatcher, Dull-mantled Antbird, Buff-rumped Warbler, Great Curassow, White-bellied Antbird, Red-throated Caracara and Black-tailed Trogon, to name a few.
Lunch at Canopy Camp
This afternoon is up to us—we can enjoy birding around the Canopy Camp grounds one last time or, depending on what we’re still hoping to see, revisit sites to pick up any species we are missing from our list.
Dinner at Canopy Camp
Day 8 – Saturday
AM: San Francisco Nature Reserve (2 hours from Canopy Camp)
We will wake before dawn to pack and have an early breakfast, say our goodbyes to the Canopy Camp, and start our journey back to Panama City. We will stop at San Francisco Nature Reserve, a private forest reserve owned and managed by the St. Francis Foundation, covering 1,300 acres in eastern Panama Province, and we will spend the morning birding at this fantastic site.
The San Francisco Reserve was established in 2001 by Father Pablo Kasuboski, an American priest from Wisconsin who came to Panama in 1988. The reserve serves as a wildlife refuge and protects the headwaters of the main rivers of the area.
The foundation created by Padre Pablo, as Father Kasuboski is called, also works on infrastructure development in the area by building and maintaining aqueducts, roads, schools and churches. In fact, the St. Francis Foundation built and maintains the largest private rural aqueduct in all of Panama and Central America. The reserve has a variety of habitats including primary, secondary and riparian forests, forest edge, fields, farmland, ponds and wetlands.
During our morning here, we will explore the different habitats along the short road that enters the reserve. We will hope to find Great Jacamar, Russet-winged Schiffornis, Royal Flycatcher, White-fronted Nunbird, Brownish Twistwing, Yellow-green Tyrannulet, Central American Pygmy-Owl, Blue and Plain-breasted Ground-Doves, Sulphur-rumped Tanager, Spot-crowned Barbet, King Vulture, Sirystes, and if we’re very lucky, a Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle soaring overhead or a Wing-banded Antbird along the trails!
Lunch in Torti
PM: Return to Panama City
After our lunch, we can stop at Río Torti, Lake Bayano and other birding locations enroute to Panama City to pick up any birds we may have missed — Fasciated Tiger-Heron, Savanna Hawk, Barred Puffbird, Green-and-rufous Kingfisher, Bare-crowned Antbird, Orange-crowned Oriole and Cinereous Becard are all possibilities to find on our return trip. We will end our tour at the Riande Aeropuerto Hotel. Here our group will split; some will continue to the Canopy Tower and start a new birding adventure, and others will stay in the Hotel and depart for home the next day.