Panama Canal, Panama
To keep the Panama Canal from filling up with silt, protected status was given to most of the lowland rainforests that flank this important waterway. The canal engineers like the forests because they prevent erosion of thin tropical soils. Birdwatchers love these jungles because they offer up some of the best lowland rainforest birding in the world. Colourful birds like toucans, trogons and tanagers abound while duller but equally interesting birds such as woodcreepers, antbirds and flycatchers roam through the rainforest in busy flocks. The forests of the Panama Canal are wild, extensive and filled with birds. Even better, their proximity to Panama City makes them incredibly accessible.
Birdwatchers can start to look for rainforest birds right in the city itself. A quick taxi ride is all it takes to bring you to the primary forests of Metropolitan Park. After you pay the five dollar entrance fee, a network of trails provide a chance of watching dozens of species of flycatchers, tanagers, toucans, parrots, puffbirds and more. The trail that leads to an overlook can be especially good for birdwatching and culminates in a fantastic view of both the rainforest canopy and the Panama City skyline. Birdwatchers who visit this site in the late afternoon will see flocks of parrots and parakeets flying to their nightly roosts.
A 40 minute drive north of Panama City takes you to the town of Gamboa and some of the best areas for birdwatching in the Canal Zone. Small wetlands at a site known as the ‘ammo dumps’ are excellent for aquatic species such as Boat-billed Heron, kingfishers and Rufescent Tiger-Heron. The entrance to the famous ‘Pipeline Road’ is also found here. This unused road goes for 17 kilometres through the lowland rainforests of Soberania National Park and offers up fantastic birding nearly every step of the way. Red-lored Parrots screech from the canopy, three species of trogons are easily seen as they call from perches in the rainforest, dapper little manakins feed on fruits in the understory and large mixed flocks are a common occurrence. This is also one of the easiest places in the world to see antbirds feeding at swarms of Army Ants. As the voracious ants forage in the undergrowth, uncommon bird species eat the bugs, spiders and other small creatures that are scared out of their hiding places. It’s a spectacle that every birder hopes to see because many of the birds that show up are rare and can be watched at close range.
Birdwatchers have plenty of options for accommodation in Panama City, but many opt for staying at the famous ‘Canopy Tower Lodge’. Located near Gamboa, this hotel also acts as a world class birding destination all on its own. Situated in a former radar tower, birders can watch toucans, the spectacular Blue Cotinga and gorgeous Green Shrike Vireo in the treetops just outside their windows. Whether staying in the Canopy Tower or in the city itself, the ease in which the rainforests of the Canal Zone can be visited makes them a perennial favourite among birdwatchers.
flickr image from Billtacular