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Panama: My Top 10 List

posted by Tim Avery at
on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 

Another trip and another list of birds I want to see. This year I am splitting the difference between Peru and Costa Rica and going to Panama.  That means a combination of species from both Central and South America, including a number of species not found in either Peru or Costa Rica.  However given my past forays to the tropics, the numbers of possible life birds here has dramatically decreased, somewhere in the tune of 230 some odd possible lifers this go around. That means that if I am able to track down 40% of these birds I will snag about 90 lifers; 50% means 115 or so lifers; and 60% would be about 140 lifers.  

That would also mean just getting 4-6 of these beauties below. Despite the decreased chances of new birds, it’s still in the tropics, which in general means the birding is incredible, and even the common stuff leaves you in amazement.  But let’s talk about the top 10 I want to see on this trip--my prize birds!

• • •

 10. Sapayoa

 Sapayoa by Dusan Brinkhuizen

 The Sapayoa is an enigma--no seriously, as its scientific name suggest, Sapayoa aenigma, “the enigma”, is a bird in its own class.  To date there is no clear relationship to other families of birds and it may just be a literal one-of-a-kind.  It’s fairly common but easy to overlook--I don’t know if I will actually see this bird, but with such an interesting back story I thought it worthy of making my top 10 for this trip.

• • •

 9. White-tipped Sicklebill

White-tipped Sicklebill by José Loiza

 By no means is this hummingbird the most colorful or brilliant patterned, but the sharply decurved and specialized bill which is used to feed specifically on the heleconia flowers is just freaking awesome.  Apparently this is all but a sure thing at Cerro Azul where I will spend the better part of my first day in the country birding.  At #9 I hope this thing is a slam dunk--because it’s an awesome bird.

• • •

 8. Black-and-yellow Tanager

Black-and-yellow Tanager Illustration by Joseph Smit

 I had to get at least one tanager on the list and this one drives me nuts, because it doesn’t look like a tanager--or I should say it doesn’t look like a Piranga--which is one reason I’m really interested in it.  It’s part of the Chrysothlypis family but currently still referred to as tanagers.  This is one of those groups that eventually might get changed all together.  Regardless, the brilliant yellow and black pattern really makes this a standout species.

• • •

 7. Emerald Toucanet

Emerald Toucanet in Costa Rican Aviary by Tim Avery

 Toucans, toucanets, and barbets are some of my favorite tropical birds.  I’ve seen a number of species, but only got to look at this gorgeous species in an aviary in Costa Rica.  In Pananama this bird is a recognized subspecies  called the Blue-throated Toucanet--that may eventually get it’s own listing.  Regardless of that I really just want to watch these hooligans of the bird world hop around the trees and put on a show.

• • •

 6. Bran-colored Flycatcher

Bran-colored Flycatcher by Dario Niz

 Taking it back to 2011--this bird was on my first travel top 10, and I struck out then. Its name brings to mind cereal for me, and I don’t know why but that makes it interesting. It doesn’t have an interesting pattern, or bright colors, but the subtle browns, along with the streaked breast, and yellow crown make it unique.  My chances should be increased for seeing one this go around as it is found throughout the country where it is fairly common.

• • •

 5. Spot-crowned Barbet

Spot-crowned Barbet Illustration by Gossipguy

 My affinity for Barbets and Toucans continues.  This funky bird is mostly black and white, with a speckled crown, and a yellow-orange wash for a breast band. I just find the barbets to be really intriguing.  They’re not quite toucans, but close enough--the smaller size may be what really makes them interesting for me.  I’ve struggled with this family in the past, so I’m hoping for some good luck this go around.

• • •

 4. Tiny Hawk

Tiny Hawk by Keith Bowers

 Here’s yet another throwback to my first trip to the tropics--I had it on my top 10, but never really got into good habitat for a chance to see it.  However, this time around I should have better luck as it is far more widespread in Panama.  It’s tiny, and it’s a hawk. Only slightly larger than an American Kestrel, it looks sort of like an accipiter but is either all dark gray, or all rufous brown in markings and pattern—never combining the two like our North American accipiters.  This bird is a remarkable little hawk.

• • •

 3. Blue Cotinga

A not so blue immature Blue Cotinga by Dominic Sherony

 A very impressive near endemic. I am yet to see a cotinga--in 2011 I hoped to luck upon an endangered Yellow-billed Cotinga in Costa Rica--I didn’t.  This time I should have a better opportunity with this species that is far more common than that cousin. With it’s shiny blue body, and purple belly and throat this beauty would be an excellent find for this trip.

• • •

 2. Snowcap

Snowcap by Michael Woodruff

 One of the most stunning hummingbirds in the world.  Any time you can see a hummingbird that isn’t primarily green and white in coloration you should get excited.  The Snowcap is mostly purple/maroon with a “snowy” cap.  It’s a tiny and stunning hummingbird found at Anton de Valle where if the stars align I will be able to add this bird to my life list.

• • •

 1. Speckled Tanager

Speckled Tanager in Costa Rican Aviary by Tim Avery

Going back to 2011 when I made my first trip to the tropics and this was my #1 target bird, I had to put it back at the top of the list for Panama.  It also happens to be my favorite new world species of bird, making it a top priority to see. I saw one in an aviary in Costa Rica but not in the wild--similarly I missed its sister species the Spotted Tanager in Peru.  Our first day in Panama we will travel to Cerro Azul where Speckled Tanager are reported frequently and I believe I will have my best shot to finally lay my eyes on this gem in the wild.

Fingers Crossed and camera ready--this will probably be my last trip to the tropics for a little while, so I hope to make the most out of it and pick up as many of these birds as I can!

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5 Comments:
Anonymous Tom said...

How do you do it? I'm very jealous of your excursions. Great list, hope you get all of them.

February 19, 2014 at 8:29 AM  
Blogger Bill and Debbi Compton said...

We went to Panama last October and got 5 of your target birds: Emerald Toucanet, White-tipped Sicklebill, and Spot-cowned Barbet (pictures of these) as well as Blue Cotinga and Snowcap. The Cerro Azul area and Pipeline Road were fabulous.
Best of luck in your adventures.
Bill and Debbi Compton - Park City

February 19, 2014 at 10:52 AM  
Blogger Jo Ann Natrop said...

Wow! I really like your excursions! great birds!

February 19, 2014 at 12:17 PM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

@Tom: Lots of planning :) Thanks!

@Bill and Debbi Compton: I'm jealous already! I will be going to Cerro Azul, Pipeline Road, Valle de Anton, and the southern coast of Cocle. Hopefully I do have good luck! Thanks!

@Jo Ann: Thanks Jo Ann!

February 19, 2014 at 1:57 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

We must be thinking alike. I was in Kenya around the time you were in Africa, and I just recently returned from Panama. Blue Cotinga (Cerro Azul) was the only bird on your list that I saw. Also at Cerro Azul, we saw Rufous-winged Tanagers, Rufous-crested Coquettes, and Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker. On Pipeline Road, I enjoyed the Brownish Twistwing twisting its wing, and the many antwrens and antbirds. A non-bird bonus was a Rothschild's Porcupine. I'm still working on the photos from the trip (as well as the Kenya trip), but they are gradually appearing on my website: http://www.pbase.com/laumakani/new
Have a super trip!
Margaret Sloan,
Houston and Park City

February 19, 2014 at 9:18 PM  

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