Panama - specialities: 16 Dec 1995 - 6 Jan 1996 Section 1 - General information


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Overview

This report is divided into five sections:

Section 1 - Introduction, logistics, itinerary and general information.
Section 2 - Birding sites (part 1).
Section 3 - Birding sites (part 2).
Section 4 - Birding sites (part 3).
Section 5 - Annotated checklist.

Introduction

Despite its relative safety, good infrastructure, over 900 bird species and a good field guide, Panama receives little of the ornithological attention it deserves from world birders. Further, surprisingly almost no bird-finding guides nor information on good birding sites has been published, especially when one compares to that available for Costa Rica. This report concentrates on aiding birders interested in finding some of the specialities of Panama; primarily those species endemic to Panama or restricted to Panama and Colombia (especially northwest Colombia) which, in view of the security situation, might be found more easily in Panama.

Taxonomy and Nomenclature

Taxonomy and nomenclature follow Clements (1991) with additions and modifications since.

Flights and Getting There

Panama City is served daily from Europe by several airlines. From the USA, gateway cities are usually Miami or Houston. Panama's Tocumen International Airport is situated about 20 kilometres east Panama City. A taxi to the city costs US$15-20. The airport departure tax is US$20 per person. Domestic flights operate from the Paitilla Domestic Airport right in the middle of the city.

Visas

Holders of British, American and most European passports do not require a visa. A visa, usually for a stay of 30 days, is issued on arrival, although you may be asked to show an air ticket out of the country. Extensions up to 90 days can be arranged in Panama City.

Language

Spanish is the official language. Although English is more widely spoken in Panama than in many Latin American countries, a rudimentary understanding is almost essential to the independent traveller.

Money

Although maybe not as cheap as other Latin American countries, Panama does offer reasonable value for money. The official currency is the Balboa, which is identical to the US$. For bank notes American Dollars are used, but local coins of the same denomination, size and shape as those of the US, are used interchangeably. As in most of Latin America it is important to take US$ cash and traveller's cheques. Credit cards are widely accepted.

Travel and Getting Around

Main highways are of a good standard, and fairly well maintained. Other roads are in a variety of conditions. Birders visiting standard sites in the Canal Zone should be able to get by with a standard saloon vehicle. However, most of the sites outlined in this report require a 4x4 for access. Once out of Panama City, driving standards are reasonable. However, within the city, which suffers almost permanent congestion, drivers are aggressive; giving way for no one. Bus drivers are particularly good at cutting you up. When birding in and around Panama City it is essential to be out of the city by 06h30 so as not to be held up in rush-hour traffic. One of the most irritating things about driving in Panama City is that there are almost no signs indicating any of the routes out of town. As street names are generally labelled, albeit small, the only practical way to navigate is to use a good street map. However, if driving alone, the combination of map-reading, watching street names and traffic is almost impossible - consequently it is very easy to get lost! Another interesting, and potentially lethal, point to note is that the main dual-lane highways leading into Panama City operate a three-lanes-in/one-lane-out system from 05h15 to 08h00 on weekday mornings. Consequently, you have traffic on your side of the road if attempting to overtake while leaving the city during these times.

Fuel prices were similar to those in the US, just over $1/gallon. I experienced no problems with availability. Diesel was 10-20% cheaper than petrol. Road maps might be available, though I saw none at service stations. A 1:800,000 scale Panama map, previously bought in Europe, published by ITMB, Vancouver, proved adequate.

Car Rental. Car rental prices and conditions of hire are on a par with those of Europe. Most of the major international rental companies have offices in the major cities and the international airport. We rented 4x4 vehicles from Budget and National, which depending on the vehicle cost from $80-100/day all inclusive. Vehicles were in good condition, though the battery connection on the Toyota Hilux from Budget was poor and failed on Cerro Jefe. National rented an almost new Toyota 4-Runner which was excellent. One particular quirky rule that the rental companies apply in Panama is that the inside of the vehicle (particularly 4x4s) must be returned clean. Apparently the rental companies have had considerable problems with mud plastered everywhere, and now apply a $15 cleaning fee if the car is dirty. We fell foul of this rule on returning our vehicle to Budget. When collecting a car in Panama City make sure you ask for a street map, which are vital for finding one's way around the city.

Food. After the gastronomic joys of pollo asado which often appears as the only fare in much of Latin America, it was excellent to find that food in Panama was both varied, enjoyable and cheap. This might in part be due to a large chinese influence; which appears in the form of chinese restaurants in many areas and along highways. Roadside cafes varied greatly in quality, but a careful perusal of the establishment and its menu meant that we nearly always found good meals. Places we found particularly good or bad are outlined in the birding section below.
Tap water is drinkable throughout almost the whole of Panama. Small stores and supermarkets stock a variety of foods and bottled water. However, as might be expected, it is best to stock-up with provisions at major towns, as the more remote areas have poorer selections.

Accommodation. Sufficient accommodation is available throughout Panama, though the choice can be somewhat limited. Recommended, or otherwise, accommodations are dealt with under the relevant birding sites. It is unfortunate that in the Canal zone, almost no accommodation can be found outside of Panama City, which makes it necessary to stay in the city when visiting sites less than an hour's drive from there. The only hotel out at the airport is the expensive Riande Continental. In Panama City we stayed at, and would recommend, the Aramo Hotel on Via Brazil, which for $33/twin has all the usual amenities, plus a 24 hour tourist-police guard who also keeps an eye on your vehicle.

Climate and When to go

Panama has two seasons. The wet season starts around mid-April and continues to early December, with the caribbean slope receiving a higher rainfall. January to April is usually dry. As a result, most birders favour visiting between December and April, when travelling around is least likely to be hampered by rain. This period also has the added bonus of many northern migrants being present. The 1995 wet season in Panama was exceptionally long and wet, which resulted in a detrimental effect on our birding success. We experienced rain almost every day, and some roads were impassable. For reasons unclear, the weather also seemed to effect bird activity at Cana. Many species which should have been calling or singing strongly were silent and consequently not found. Camping on Cerro Pirre was also rather unpleasant in the mud. In retrospect, the ideal time to visit Panama, and particularly Cana would seem to be February-March.

Specialities of Panama

This report concentrates on the specialities of Panama; species endemic to Panama or restricted to Panama and Colombia (especially northwest Colombia). A wider definition of specialities might also include species which an observer has a good or better chance of finding Panama in than elsewhere, due to their scarcity or restricted ranges. Considered as a whole, these species fall into four broad categories:
- species endemic to Panama.
- species endemic to eastern Panama and extreme north-western Colombia.
- species restricted to Panama and Colombia.
- restricted or scarce species most easily found in Panama.
This last group may be somewhat subjective, but does include quite a number of distinct candidates (eg. Wing-banded Antbird). These species are listed by category below with, where known, the best or good site for finding them.

Species endemic to Panama

Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker - Mainly foothills of eastern Panama. (Cana).
Beautiful Treerunner - Highlands of eastern Darién. (Cerro Pirre).
Brown-backed Dove - Pacific lowlands of Azuero Peninsula.
Glow-throated Hummingbird - West-central Panama. (Cerro Colorado and Santa Fe).
Coiba Spinetail - Coiba Island.
Pirre Tapaculo - Highlands of Cerro Pirre above 1000 m.
Yellow-green Tyrannulet - Lowlands/foothills cent & east Panama. (Madden Lake).
Pirre Bush-Tanager - Highlands of east Darién above 1200 m. (Cerro Pirre).
Yellow-green Finch - West-central Panama. (Cerro Colorado).

Species endemic to eastern Panama and northwest Colombia

Choco Tinamou - Forest below 750 m. (Cana).
Tacarcuna Wood-Quail - Highlands. (Cerro Tacarcuna).
Russet-crowned Quail-Dove - Forest above 750 m. (Cerro Pirre).
Violet-capped Hummingbird - Forest 600 - 1200 m. (Cerro Jefe).
Rufous-cheeked Hummingbird - Upper foothills and highlands. (Cerro Pirre).
Dusky-backed Jacamar - Lowlands/foothills. (Cana)
Black Antshrike - Lowlands. (El Real).
Speckled Antshrike - Lowlands/foothills. (Nusagandí).
Tacarcuna Tapaculo - Forest on Cerro Tacarcuna above 1000 m.
Black-billed Flycatcher - Lowlands. (Cana).
Sooty-headed Wren - Forest 450 - 1200 m. (Cana/Cerro Pirre).
Varied Solitaire - Forest above 1000 m. (Cerro Pirre).
Pirre Warbler - Forest above 1200 m. (Cerro Pirre).
Green-naped Tanager - Forest above 1200 m. (Cerro Pirre).
Viridian Dacnis - Forest below 600 m. (Cana and El Real).
Tacarcuna Bush-Tanager - Forest above 750 m. (Cerro Jefe).
Black Oropendola - Lowlands. (El Real).

Species restricted to Panama and Colombia

Sapphire-throated Hummingbird - Lowlands along coasts.
Spot-crowned Barbet - Lowlands and lower foothills.
Golden-collared Manakin - Lowlands.
White-headed Wren - Lowlands.

Restricted/scarce species with a good chance of finding in Panama

Crested Eagle - Lowland forest. (Cana).
Tawny-faced Quail - Lowlands/foothills. (Cana/Cerro Pirre).
Harpy Eagle - Mainly lowlands of Darién. (El Real).
Spectacled Parrotlet - Lowlands of eastern Darién. (El Real).
Blue-fronted Parrotlet - Foothills. (Cana/Cerro Pirre).
Saffron-headed Parrot - Lowlands/foothills of eastern Darién.
Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo - Lowlands and foothills. (Cana).
Pale-bellied Hermit - Lowlands. (El Real and Tocumen marsh).
Rufous-crested Coquette - Lowlands/foothills. (Cana).
Greenish Puffleg - Highlands of eastern Darién. (Cerro Pirre).
Yellow-eared Toucanet - Lowlands/foothills.
Black-breasted Puffbird - Lowlands.
Grey-cheeked Nunlet - Lowlands. (Cana).
Great Jacamar - Lowlands. (Cana).
Crimson-bellied Woodpecker - Lowlands/foothills. (Cana).
Double-banded Greytail - Lowlands of Darién. (Cana and El Real).
Slaty-winged Foliage-gleaner - Lowlands/foothills. (Cana).
Ocellated Antbird - Lowlands/foothills.
Bare-crowned Antbird - Lowlands/foothills.
Wing-banded Antbird - Foothills. (Cana/Cerro Pirre).
Black-crowned Antpitta - Lowlands/foothills. (Cana).
Scaled Antpitta - Foothills/highlands. (Cana).
Fulvous-bellied Antpitta - Lowlands/foothills. (Cana).
Ochre-breasted Antpitta - Foothills/highlands. (Cana/Cerro Pirre).
Spectacled Antpitta - Lowlands/foothills. (Canal area).
Rufous-breasted Antthrush - Foothills/highlands. (Cana/Cerro Pirre).
Sooty-headed Tyrannulet - Lowlands/foothills of eastern Darién. (Cana).
Bronze-olive Pygmy-Tyrant - Highlands. (Cerro Pirre).
Cinereous Becard - Lowlands. (Cana).
Blue Cotinga - Lowlands/foothills. (Cana).
Black-tipped Cotinga - Lowlands/foothills of eastern Darién. (Cana).
Broad-billed Sapayoa - Lowlands.
Green Manakin - Lowlands/foothills.
Sharpbill - Foothills/highlands. (Cana).
Slate-throated Gnatcatcher - Lowlands to 750 m. (Cana).
Yellow-browed Shrike-Vireo - Foothills of eastern Darién. (Cana).
White-eared Conebill - Lowlands in eastern Panama. (Cana and El Real).
Fulvous-vented Euphonia - Lowlands/foothills.
Lemon-spectacled Tanager - Foothills in eastern Darién. (Cana/Cerro Pirre).
Scarlet-browed Tanager - Eastern Darién to 1000 m. (Cana/Cerro Pirre).
Yellow-backed Tanager - Eastern Darién lowlands/foothills. (Cana and El Real).

References

Altman, A., and Swift, B. (1993). Checklist of the Birds of South America. 3rd edition.

Chantler, P., and Driessens, G. (1995). Swifts. A guide to the Swifts and Treeswifts of the World.
Pica Press.

Clements, J. (1991) Birds of the World: A Checklist (Including Supplements 1 and 2). Ibis.

Collar et. al. (1992). Threatened Birds of the Americas. The ICBP/IUCN Red Data Book. Smithsonian
Institution Press.

Collar, N.J., Crosby, M.J., and Stattersfield, A.J. (1994). Birds to watch 2. The World List of Threatened Birds. BirdLife International.

Engleman, D. (1995). Finding Birds in Panama. Achiote Road. Toucan. June 85.

Engleman, D. Finding Birds in Panama. Cerro Azúl/Cerro Jefe. Photocopy with no dates/reference.

Engleman, D. Finding Birds in Panama. Fort San Lorenzo area. Photocopy with no dates/reference.

Faanes, C. (1990). Field Notes from Panama (October 31 - November 6, 1990).

Guarnaccia, J. (1986). Finding Birds in Panama. Pipeline Road. Toucan. Aug-Sept 86.

Hilty, S.L., and Brown, W.L. (1986). A Guide to the Birds of Columbia. Princeton. This field guide is useful as a compliment to the Panama guide, and has better text and plates for a several groups such as Swifts etc.

Howard, R., and Moore, A. (1991). A complete checklist of the Birds of the World. Academic Press.

Keller, N., et al. (1994). Central America on a shoestring. Lonely Planet. Useful travel guide.

National Geographic Society. (1987). Field Guide to the Birds of North America (2nd ed). This, or a similar North American guide, is useful for northern migrants.

Neotropical Bird Club. (1995). Cotinga 3. p:7. Neotropical News. Glow-throated Hummingbird found on Azuero Peninsula.

Ridgely, R.S., and Gwynne, J.A. Jr. (1989) 2nd edition. A guide to the Birds of Panama. Princeton. Essential. The primary field guide for Panama.

Ridgely, R.S., and Tudor, G. (1989). The Birds of South America. Vol 1. The Oscine Passerines.

Ridgely, R.S., and Tudor, G. (1994). The Birds of South America. Vol 2. The Oscine Passerines.

Stiles, F.G., and Skutch, A.F. (1989). A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. (Helm). Very useful in the west of Panama.

Commercial Tape Recordings:

Barlow, Jon C. (1990). Songs of the Vireos and Their Allies. ARA Records.

Hardy, J.W. (1990). Voices of the New World Crows & Their Allies. ARA Records.

Hardy, J.W. & Parker, T.A. III. (1985). Voices of the New World Thrushes. ARA Records.

Hardy, J.W. & Coffey, B.B. Jr. (1991). Voices of the Wrens. ARA Records.

Hardy, J.W., Coffey, B.B. Jr., & Reynard, G.B. (1990). Voices of the New World Owls. ARA Records.

Hardy, J.W., Coffey, B.B. Jr., & Reynard, G.B. (1989). Voices of the New World Nightjars and Their Allies. ARA Records.

Hardy, J.W., Parker, T.A. III, & Coffey, B.B. Jr. (1991) Voices of the Woodcreepers. ARA Records.

Hardy, J.W., Reynard, G.B. & Coffey, B.B. Jr. (1990). Voices of the New World Pigeons and Doves. ARA Records.

Hardy, J.W., Reynard G.B., & Coffey, B.B. Jr. (1990). Voices of the New World Cuckoos and Trogons. ARA Records.

Hardy, J.W., Viellard, J. & Stranek, R. (1993). Voices of the Tinamous. ARA Records.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Martin Reid who supplied much additional information and accompanied me in the field. Also thanks go to Wilberto Martinez for his organisation, suggestions and expert field assistance, particularly at Cana.

Itinerary and Personal Experiences

Overview

16 Dec 95 - Arrival from Houston. Night in Panama City.
17 Dec 95 - Drive to Santa Fe. Birding west of Santa Fe.
18 Dec 95 - Drive to Cerro Colorado, birding there all day.
19 Dec 95 - Morning birding at Santa Fe. Afternoon return to Panama City.
20 Dec 95 - Depart for Cana. Birded Boca de Cupe trail.
21 Dec 95 - Cana. Birded Boca de Cupe trail.
22 Dec 95 - Cana. Birded Mining and Boca de Cupe trails.
23 Dec 95 - Cana. Hike up to campsite on Cerro Pirre.
24 Dec 95 - Cerro Pirre.
25 Dec 95 - Cerro Pirre and descent to Cana.
26 Dec 95 - Cana. Boca de Cupe and Mining trails.
27 Dec 95 - Cana. Early morning around camp. Return flight to Panama City.
28 Dec 95 - Cerro Jefe/Azúl.
29 Dec 95 - Chiva Chiva Road, Madden Lake, Pipeline road.
30 Dec 95 - Summit Gardens. Drive to Santa Fe. Birding Santa Fe.
31 Dec 95 - Santa Fe.
01 Jan 96 - Drive to Cerro Colorado. Drive to Panama City.
02 Jan 96 - Cerro Jefe.
03 Jan 96- Fly to El Real. Birding El Real area.
04 Jan 94 - El Real.
05 Jan 96 - El Real. Return flight to Panama City.
06 Jan 96 - Flight to Houston.

Personal Experiences

16 Dec. The four hour Continental Airlines flight from Houston arrived on time, at Panama City International Airport at 20:00. Due to lengthy queues, it took over an hour to pass through immigration and customs controls, and then to meet up with Martin Reid from Dallas. We were then subjected to Panama City's awful traffic congestion with an hour ride into town to the Aramo Hotel ($33/double - adequate).

17 Dec. Left the hotel at 04h00 for the four hour drive to Santa Fe in west-central Panama. Traffic in the city at this hour was virtually non-existent - in stark contrast to the congestion the previous evening. An excellent roadside breakfast en route for $5 was a good introduction to the cheap and excellent food that we found throughout Panama. Our visiting Santa Fe was speculative, with the aim of exploring the vicinity in search of the endemic Glow-throated Hummingbird and Yellow-green Finch, both of which have been recorded there. After obtaining some provisions from the very basic store in town we headed northwest on the rough track toward Rio Luis, which we found impassable after eight kilometres. As one usually finds, along any accessible road in latin America, remaining forest habitat is restricted to the slopes of the hillsides. Having asked permission from locals we followed a trail up through an orange grove to forest, cleared for pasture, where we worked the edges and any trails we could find. Several hours in this area, together with exploration of a track running along the bottom of the main ridge, failed to produce either of the species being sought. At dusk we drove back to Santiago on the main highway and stayed overnight at the Hotel Piramidal ($29/double - recommended, and with a good Chinese restaurant).

18 Dec. Another 04h00 start, continuing the drive west for an hour, as far as San Felix, where we turned north along the track to Cerro Colorado. Historically, Cerro Colorado, the site of an active gold mine, is the best locality for finding the Glow-throated Hummingbird and Yellow-green Finch. However, rain, heavy trucks and poor maintenance combine to make this site largely inaccessible most of the year. We knew a birder had tried to visit this site a few weeks earlier, but found the road a complete mire of mud; we were thus expecting something similar. On this morning however we were fortunate that the road had just been repaired and graded, and although wet and muddy our 4x4 made it easily. At Hato Chamí we took the right hand fork and spent the day birding the hacked-over forest along the next 12 kilometres to where the road reaches it highest point at 1,775 metres. Although we found many Selasphorus hummingbirds it was a major disappointment that all were Scintillant Hummingbird. In the late afternoon our efforts in searching for Yellow-green Finch were finally rewarded with a pair within a large mixed feeding flock. Rain around 17:00 forced our return to lower altitudes where we attempted to bird in the fog around Hato Chamí, seeing nothing of note. Night again at the Hotel Piramidal.

19 Dec. Another attempt at finding habitat in the Sante Fe area. Having consulted our map, we decided to try the track running east through El Alto as it appeared to offer the possibility of access to higher elevations. This track is truly appalling, and after 45 minutes - having only travelled seven kilometres - it proved impassable. As none of the ridges this side of Santa Fe appeared to have any habitat remaining we returned to the same area we had worked on our previous visit. We left around midday, for the return drive to Panama City with a brief detour to search for Savanna Hawk in the wetter areas east of Santa Maria. Overnight in the Excelsior Hotel, a $100/night joint included within the pre-arranged Cana part of the trip.

20 Dec. A lie-in. Left the hotel at 08h00, with Willy Martinez our local guide, for the domestic airport in the city. Whilst waiting for our charter plane to be prepared we scanned the airport grassland, unsuccessfully, for Yellowish Pipit which can be found from time to time. We took-off at 10:00, arriving at Cana, within the remote Darién National Park, 70 minutes later. The approach to this minuscule airstrip is not for the faint-hearted. Once on the ground the atmosphere and ambience is incredible. This place really feels remote. The camp and airstrip, surrounded by pristine forest, echo to the sounds of macaws, howler monkeys and other wildlife. The nearest Indian village is more than a days walk. After a hasty lunch we set off down the Boca del Cupe Trail, emerging again at 17:00 to bird around the airstrip till dark. A Vermiculated Screech-Owl, calling well before dark, was unfortunately inaccessible. Despite the remote location, the camp staff had prepared a superb dinner of roasted chicken and local vegetables. Evening log and to bed by 19:00 (no electricity).

21 Dec. Early morning birding around the camp, and then walked the Mining trails, upslope, behind the camp. Rain around midday, stopping around 14:00, allowed us to explore the start of the Setetule Trail below the camp. Much activity after the rain produced Rufous-crested Coquette, White-eared Conebill, Cinereous Becard and Grey Elaenia. Again worked the Boca de Cupe Trail until heavy rain stopped birding at 17:30.

22 Dec. All day spent birding along the Boca del Cupe Trail. Rain by evening.

23 Dec. The start of three days on Cerro Pirre. Left the camp at 06h45, birding along the steep, muddy trail to the temporary campsite, where we arrived at 14:00. Although the distance to the camp is only about seven kilometres, the condition of the trail, which lends new meaning to the word mud, makes this ascent strenuous. Care is necessary not to fall, which could have nasty consequences in this remote location. In addition to a couple of Fer-de-Lance we saw Rufous-cheeked Hummingbird, Wing-banded Antbird and heard, but could not tape out Pirre Tapaculo. Our porters had set-up the camp the previous day, and already had lunch prepared (luxury!). Thereafter we slowly worked farther uphill finding Green-naped Tanager and Pirre Bush-Tanager. Rain which started at 18:00 necessitated the digging of channels around the tent in an effort not to become flooded-out. Rain most of the night.

24 Dec. At first light a pair of Sooty-headed Wren were attracted right into the camp with tape playback. Birded slowly toward the summit ridge of Cerro Pirre. Once in the elfin cloud forest the birds were few and far between with several hours effort only producing single sightings of Pirre Warbler, Beautiful Treerunner and Bronze-olive Pygmy-Tyrant. Arrived back at the tent around 17:00. At dusk a single Tawny-faced Quail was heard going to roost, and was efficiently located by one of our porters, and spotlighted. More rain overnight.

25 Dec. As Santa Claus had not visited overnight, we arose pre-dawn to try some spot-lighting around the camp. As well as the same Tawny-faced Quail, we located a roosting Rufous-breasted Antthrush. Also had poor views of a Central American Pygmy-Owl in the canopy. Attracted but could not locate a calling Vermiculated Screech-Owl. A brief look along the trail above the camp found Scaled Antpitta attending a small ant-swarm. All morning spent slowly working our way down to Cana. Just to demonstrate how easy an accident is on this trail, myself, Martin and Wilberto all fell off into a gully. It was fortunate that no one was injured, other than cuts and bruises. Afternoon spent along the Boca de Cupe Trail in an unsuccessful search for Viridian Dacnis. At dusk an attempt was made to identify which tree the Vermiculated Screech-Owl was calling from in order to try to cut a trail to it the following day. Although not a turkey banquet, the Christmas dinner which had been prepared was very good - even including wine and some local punch.

26 Dec. Morning spent along the Boca de Cupe Trail trying to locate any sizeable ant-swarms which might have Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, but no luck. Afternoon spent exploring the Mining trails and overgrown operations buildings above the camp. Highlight of the day was a very obliging White-tipped Sicklebill which allowed extensive viewing and video. At dusk walked into the forest adjacent to where the Vermiculated Screech-Owl had been located, and having worked our way directly beneath the tree it was calling from eventually located it calling from dense tangles.

27 Dec. Birded the open habitat along the Setetule Trail until 11:00 when the plane to collect us was supposed to arrive. However, we had to wait a further three hours, though no reason seemed apparent (holiday hang-overs?). It is on take-off that the shortness of the Cana airstrip is most readily appreciated, with the plane seemingly skimming the trees. Not a particularly pleasant flight back through heavy rain in a very small aircraft. Overnight in the Excelsior again; very appreciated after a week of mud and cold showers.

28 Dec. An 05:00 start, and drive through the rain to Cerro Jefe, east of Panama City. While waiting for the rain to stop we breakfasted at the small cafe near Cerro Azúl. The track up was surprisingly bad - a 4x4 definitely necessary to reach the top. With the rain and fog finally clearing around 08:00 we birded the hacked-over low forest along the road and any side trails. This proved hard work; long periods with no birds. A few, presumed, Violet-capped Hummingbird were seen flying past at great speed, but Tacarcuna Bush-Tanager was not found. Around midday we tried farther down slope with equally poor success. Heavy rain started again at 15:00 so we abandoned the day and returned to Panama City.

29 Dec. Breakfast buffet at the Hotel Roma. For $5 this is exceptional value, and very conveniently opens at 06:00. Headed northward on the Clayton Highway, paralleling the canal, with a first roadside stop at the Chiva Chiva Road. We spent only about 30 minutes here as the constant traffic makes birding less than enjoyable. Proceeded to the Madden Lake dam and tried various forest edge, eventually identifying two Yellow-green Tyrannulet - the principle aim of the day. Around mid morning walked the first kilometre of the Pipeline Road in an attempt to find Black-breasted Puffbird, supposedly common there, but none in evidence. A flowering tree attracting hummingbirds included Blue-throated Goldentail and Sapphire-throated Hummingbird. Lunched at the Tarpon Club in Balboa, and then visited the old fort area in Panama Viejo to scan the mud flats for waders. Little of note. Most of the late afternoon spent in trying to secure a rental vehicle for the next few days. This proved non too easy due to the new year holiday demand. Eventually secured a Toyota 4-Runner from National Car Rental.

30 Dec. Now travelling on my own, left the city early to arrive at a couple of small lakes opposite Summit gardens. Rosy Thrush-Tanager was common, but again Black-breasted Puffbird proved elusive. Having decided to spend a few days back in western-central Panama looking for the Glow-throated Hummingbird, spent most of the morning and early afternoon driving to Santa Fe, arriving at 14:15 and checked into the Hotel Santa Fe just outside town ($13/single - basic but clean). The aim of returning to Santa Fe was to try to find access to the forest on Cerro Tute above town, where several records of the Glow-throated Hummingbird have been noted. Started by heading out along the track we had tried the previous occasion, but abandoned the 4x4 after about a kilometre due to the appalling road condition. Continued to walk this broad track and discovered various trails through cut-over forest and plantations which might prove useful the following day. Rain started late afternoon.

31 Dec. Returned to the same area as yesterday and continued exploring various trails. By asking the few locals I encountered, I was able eventually, after nearly five hours, to find my way to the summit of Tute. The whole day spent in the plantations and forest edge in an unsuccessful search for the hummingbird. Caught out in heavy rain at 16h00. Overnight at Hotel Santa Fe.

01 Jan. Deciding that it might be more beneficial to drive up Cerro Colorado again, started early at 04h30, avoiding the drunks sleeping in the road and several accidents en route (evidently the New Year is well celebrated in Panama). Despite that we had visited Cerro Colorado only two weeks before, the road proved to be impassable. Due to a combination of heavy rain and trucks I was only able to get 22 kilometres up the road. Did some birding in hacked over habitat at this elevation, but gave up around 10:30 and headed back to Panama City and the Summit Gardens area, again to look for Black-breasted Puffbird. Rain eventually gave up around 16:30 which allowed an hour or so of exploration. Overnight at Hotel Aramo. Ate at the Multi-food Restaurant just around the corner from the hotel, which at $5 for a self-service dinner was good value.

02 Jan. An 05:00 start to get out of the city before rush-hour. Arrived at Cerro Jefe by 07:00 and spent the morning exploring the tracks behind the antennas seeing several Violet-capped Hummingbird. Around midday I tried the trail downslope, but as nothing much in evidence, again walked the trails behind the antennas, which at last produced a single Tacarcuna Bush-Tanager after the two days of effort. Returned car to National and again overnight at Aramo.

03 Jan. A late start at 09:00 to walk the kilometre to the domestic airport to catch the 10:45 Aeroperlas flight to El Real. This lowland area of eastern Darién is rarely visited by birders, so was a bit experimental to investigate if the area might be good for lowland specialities. On arrival walked the kilometre to town to find the Hotel Nazareno - a real pit ($7 with no running water), but the only place to stay. Obtained some drinking water from the shop next door and walked the start of the Pinogana Trail. The trail became progressively wetter and muddier, to a point after 2 kilometres when it became virtually a swamp. Some good forest edge birding; Yellow-backed Oriole and Greater Ani both common, and also saw Black Oropendola and Spot-breasted Woodpecker. Toward dusk walked the trail to the river, managing to pish-out a female Black Antshrike in dense thickets near forest edge. At dusk walked the track to the airstrip, looking for Striped Owl without success. Dinner at the basic Doña Lola ($2 and the only place). A hot and mosquito infested night.

04 Jan. Up pre-dawn and walked to the airstrip, where a pair of Southern Lapwing were found, although little other activity. Walked to the pond along the Pinogana Trail, and then walked the track to Pirre. This too became a mud quagmire after about 4 kliometres, but some interesting forest edge birding included Double-banded Greytail. Returned to El Real at 14:30, just in time to avoid a downpour lasting till 16:00, then walked to the pond where stayed till dark. Walked back after dark trying open areas for Striped Owl, but no response. Dinner at Doña Lola again.

05 Jan. Out pre-dawn to the airstrip. No owls, but a Common Potoo was calling. Walked the Pirre Trail again finding several Black Antshrike, White-eared Conebill and Black Oropendola. Returned to town by 10:00, and had a problem trying to check in for the return flight. I was apparently the last person to check in and the clerk possibly wanted to give my place to someone else. After much protest and explaining that I had a flight to Europe I was magically given a boarding pass. Return flight stopped off at La Palma, which looked as if it might also warrant a few days birding around the town on some future occasion. In Panama City returned to Hotel Aramo for a welcome clean-up.

Sat 06 Jan. Return flight to Houston and Europe.

Section 2 - Birding sites (part 1).
Section 3 - Birding sites (part 2).
Section 4 - Birding sites (part 3).
Section 5 - Annotated checklist.