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  • Where to watch BIRDS and

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  • Photograph of Chestnut-mandibled Toucans

    Chestnut-mandibled Toucans by David Sewell.

    PANAMA


    Photograph of Green Honeyeater

    Green Honeycreeper, one of the many fabulous birds in Panama, by Dubi Shapiro.


    Best Wildlife in Panama

    Mammals
    Hoffmann's Two-toed and Brown-throated Three-toed Sloths, Geoffroy’s (Red-naped) Tamarin, Mantled Howler, Grey-bellied (Lemurine) Night, Central American (Brown-headed) Spider and White-faced Capuchin Monkeys, (Lesser) Capybara (near Gamboa Rainforest Resort), White-nosed Coati, Central American Agouti, Olingo, Central American Woolly, Common and Grey Four-eyed Opossums, and Orange Nectar Bat. Also a chance of Baird’s Tapir, Humpback Whale (mostly May-Nov, Coiba NP), Bottlenose and Pantropical Spotted Dolphins, Kinkajou and Greater Bulldog (Fishing) Bat. The endemic Pygmy Three-toed Sloth occurs only on Isla Escudo de Veraguas, east of Bocas del Toro off the north coast.

    Birds

    Endemics
    Brown-backed (Azuero) Dove, Glow-throated Hummingbird, Violet-throated (Emerald) Toucanet, Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker, Beautiful Treerunner (Darien only), Yellow-green (Panamanian) Tyrannulet, Yellow-green Finch and Green-naped Tanager (Darien only). (Coiba (Rusty-backed) Spinetail occurs along the Hot Spring Trail on the island of Coiba, accessible by boat from Playa Arrimadero near Santa Catalina).

    Darien Specialities
    Russet-crowned Quail Dove, Pirre (Rufous-cheeked) Hummingbird, Dusky-backed Jacamar, Varied Solitaire, Pirre Warbler, Viridian Dacnis and Pirre Bush Tanager. (Tacarcuna Wood Quail and Tacarcuna (Pale-throated) Tapaculo occur only on the Tacarcuna Ridge on the Panama/Colombia border, a tricky and potentially dangerous place to visit in 2015 when FARC terrorists from Colombia were believed to be present in the area). The Darien province also supports the highest known density of Harpy Eagles in the world, and yet they remain remarkably elusive in this remote region. Between the years 2000 and 2006 a total of 25 breeding pairs were located here, with four to six nests in every 50 square miles, and at least one nest was located in October 2016 near Canopy Camp (3 hours by dugout from Puerto Limon). Since young Harpy Eagles usually stay in the vicinity of a nest for a few months there is a good chance one will still be around this nest until March even April 2017.

    Others
    Keel-billed and Chestnut-mandibled Toucans, Resplendent and Golden-headed Quetzals, trogons, Broad-billed, Rufous and Tody Motmots, hummingbirds including Purple-crowned Fairy, Rufous-crested Coquette, Snowcap and Violet Sabrewing, Great and Rufous-tailed Jacamars, Golden-collared, Golden-headed, Lance-tailed and Red-capped Manakins, Blue Cotinga and (Broad-billed) Sapayoa, and 50 or so species shared with eastern Costa Rica including Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Prong-billed Barbet, Fiery-billed Aracari, Black-faced Solitaire, Black-cheeked and Flame-throated Warblers, Zeledonia (Wrenthrush), Collared Redstart, Black-and-yellow and Long-tailed Silky Flycatchers, and Yellow-thighed Finch, as well as Magnificent Frigatebird, Grey-headed Chachalaca, Crested Guan, Rufescent Tiger Heron, Boat-billed and Cocoi Herons, King Vulture, hawks including White, Ornate Hawk Eagle, Red-throated Caracara, (American) Swallow-tailed Kite, White-throated Crake, Northern and Wattled Jacanas, pigeons and quail doves, parakeets, parrots, Amazon, Green and Ringed Kingfishers, puffbirds, Grey-cheeked Nunlet, White-fronted Nunbird, Red-headed and Spot-crowned Barbets, Yellow-eared Toucanet, Collared Aracari, woodpeckers, Double-banded Greytail, Buffy Tuftedcheek, foliage-gleaners, woodcreepers, antshrikes, antwrens, antbirds including Bare-crowned, Bicoloured, Ocellated and Spotted, antthrushes, Spectacled Antpitta, tyrant flycatchers including Black-capped Pygmy Tyrant (the smallest passerine bird in the world along with Short-tailed Pygmy Tyrant), Sharpbill, Rufous Piha, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, becards, Black-crowned and Masked Tityras, Green and Yellow-browed Shrike Vireos, Black-chested Jay, wrens, Long-billed Gnatwren, nightingale thrushes, wintering warblers including Golden-winged and Blackburnian, Blue and Scarlet-thighed Dacnises, honeycreepers including Shining, tanagers including Blue-and-gold and Grey-and-gold, orioles, caciques, oropendolas, Yellow-collared Chlorophonia and euphonias. Also a chance of Red-billed Tropicbird, Sunbittern, Sungrebe, Great Green Macaw, owls including Crested and Spectacled, Great Potoo, Speckled (Spiny-faced) Antshrike, Black-crowned Antpitta/Gnatpitta/Pittasoma, Northern Royal Flycatcher, Three-wattled Bellbird, and Black-tipped and Turquoise Cotingas, and an outside chance of Crested and Harpy Eagles, Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo and Bare-necked Umbrellabird.

    Reptiles, Amphibians and Fish
    Excellent scuba-diving and snorkeling, at places such as Bocas del Toro/Isla Bastimentos Marine National Park and Coiba National Park where there are Manta Ray and turtle cleaning stations. On the mainland lizards include Striped Basilisk.

    Best Sites for Wildlife in Panama

    Best Times for Wildlife in Panama

    The wettest season usually lasts from mid-April to December hence the best time to visit is between January and March, although any time between October and March is good for birds, with April being the best time for Darien.

    Recommended Books etc. for Panama

    The Birds of Panama: A Field Guide by G R Angehr and R Dean. CUP, 2010.

    Guide to the Birds of Panama by R A Ridgely and J A Gwynne. PUP, 1992 (Second Edition).

    A Bird-Finding Guide to Panama by G R Angehr, and D and L Engleman. Comstock, 2008.

    Helm Field Guides: Birds of Costa Rica by R Garrigues and R Dean. Helm, 2014 (Second Edition).

    An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by V Esquivel Soto. Incafo, 2008 (Second Edition).

    A Field Guide to the Mammals of Central America and Southeast Mexico by F A Reid. OUP, 2009 (Second Edition).

    A Swift Guide to the Butterflies of Mexico and Central America by J Glassberg. Sunstreak Books, 2007.

    National Audubon Society Field Guide to Tropical Marine Fishes by C L Smith. Alfred A Knopf, 1997.


    Apps etc.


    Panama Birds Field Guide.

    Where to watch birds in Central America & the Caribbean by N Wheatley and D Brewer. Helm, 2001.

    Don’t know which country/countries/regions to visit in Central America? Then it may be worth considering taking a look at this book, written by this website’s author and David Brewer. It is many years old of course but it still provides a starting point, an overview and a guiding light to the best birds and the best places to look for them in the region, and could save hours of searching for similar information on the internet. However, it is important to check more up-to-date sources for sites which have been opened up, sites and species which have been discovered, lodges that have been built etc. since the book was published.

    Trip Reports for Panama

    Many trip reports, some for Panama, are posted on the websites listed here. On some of these websites some reports are independent and some are posted by tour companies who organize tours to Panama. These tour companies and others also post their own reports on their websites, which are listed under 'Some Organized Tours to Panama' below.

    Local Guides and Tours in Panama

    The costs of organized tours partly reflect the quality of the tour leaders. Some leaders are certainly better than others and many companies claim their leaders are the best but even the best rely at least to some extent on the exceptional skills of the local guides they employ. If you are travelling independently, employing such local guides will greatly increase your chances of seeing the wildlife you wish to see.

    Accommodation in Panama

    Some Organized Tours to Panama

    There are many tour companies who organize tours to see mammals, birds, other wildlife and other natural wonders. The cost of these tours vary considerably according to such variables as the airlines used, the number of days the tours last, the number of sites visited, the number of people in the group (an important consideration if you wish to see such wildlife as rainforest mammals and birds), the number of tour leaders, the standard of accommodation and transport, and the percentage profit the company hopes to make. Generally, where the number of days tours last and the number of sites visited are similar, the cheapest tours are those that use the cheapest airlines, accommodation and local transport, that have the largest groups with the least number of leaders, and that make the least amount of profit. The most expensive tours tend to be those which are exceptionally long, use the most expensive accommodation (ridiculously lavish in some cases, even for single nights) and which make the most profit. Some tour costs partly reflect the quality of the tour leaders. Some leaders are certainly better than others and many companies claim their leaders are the best but even the best rely at least to some extent on the exceptional skills of the local guides they employ.

    While tour companies organize tours with set itineraries many also organize custom tours for individuals and private groups who instead of taking a tour with a set itinerary want to follow their own itinerary to suit their own personal tastes, whether it be mammals, birds, other wildlife, other natural wonders or even man-made attractions, or a mixture of them all. Many organized tours with set itineraries are also fast-paced and target as many species as possible, whether they are mammals, birds or other wildlife or everything, which usually leaves little time to enjoy the best sites and individual species, but on a custom tour those taking part can specify the pace and the sites and species they wish to concentrate on. Custom tours also suit people who like to travel with people they already know, rather than with a group of strangers, and people with partners with different interests. Individuals and small groups will almost certainly have to pay more than the price of an organized tour with a set itinerary but a large group of friends may be able to travel for less than the price quoted for a set tour.

    Tour companies who are running organized tours to Panama in the next couple of years include the following. Many of these also offer custom tours.