Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Panama Canal Area - Summit Hotel and Botanic Gardens

It's fair to say we found some of the practices at the hotel a bit random, like the chap trying to deliver a coffee machine with a 'do not disturb' on the door and then getting reception to ring to wake us up when we didn't answer.  Grrrrr.

It is however very well located and reasonably sympathetically located with the golf course abutting rain forest as you can see here from this view from our room taken just after dawn on our first morning there:

We started off trying a recommended walk in Soberania National Park, just 1 mile from the hotel,  off the trance to the Canopy Tower resort, which proved pretty pointless.   It's good habitat but it's also frequented by joggers, cyclists and people generally out for the morning. As a consequence the birding was frustrating to say the least.   We finally gave-up after an hour or so and headed back, locating this White-tailed Trogon close to the car park:

We'd contacted the Canopy Tower as a potential stop on our travels.   They are expanding to cover birding across Panama, and you can see why.   Their fees are exceptional, i've never been quoted close to $1,000 a night for 2 people anywhere.  We declined, hence basing ourselves elsewhere.

Next we headed to the Botanic Gardens just up the road on the edge of Soberania National Park, entering shortly after it opened.  It's the kind of place where families and groups go for a day out and this being Saturday lots of people were already arriving with picnics, we looked very much the odd ones out!

The national bird of Costa Rica is also near ever-present in Panama, the renamed Clay-coloured Thrush:

There's an abundance of trees in the park and some ponds, lawn areas, etc:

The trees in particular support a number of the more common 'garden' species including the rather spectacular Crimson-backed Tanager:

Yellow-bellied flycatchers are common across Panama though there are a number of species, this being a Rusty-margined Flycatcher:

We also saw Trogons in the park, that was a surprise, this being the Slaty-tailed Trogon: 

And a small group of Smooth-billed Anis, which always work together as a flock:

A female Summer Tanager was particularly outstanding in fresh breeding plumage ahead of her northward migration:

Flowers and blooms abounded:

As did Variable Seedeaters, wherever there is grass:

We'd pretty much completed our exploration within a couple of hours so headed back to the hotel for a late lunch and some further recuperation.

I did some afternoon birding from our balcony, seeing this settled Black Vulture:

And a beautiful Keel-billed Toucan:

The following day we planned to head a little further afield.


Helen had been thinking about what to do for her big birthday for some time.   She settled on a trip to the Caribbean, moving from island to island, taking in for example Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, St Lucia, if possible.

We soon discovered however that something like this isn't possible from the UK.  For starters if your trip involves Cuba any connection would have to be to and from the UK, which is nuts.  Similarly links across the Caribbean are informal, certainly the agents in the UK can't book any flight connections.

We looked and looked but were really struggling.  At one point we were booked on a birding tour of Jamaica, but couldn't get flights to connect us to anywhere else, in or out, other than via London or the USA.  Another option was to go to a different part of Central America and then connect from there to a Caribbean Island and this started to look more doable, especially with Copa Airlines in Panama expanding in-step with the expansion of the airport as more and more people look to connect between South America and the rest of the world without going via North America, something which has suddenly become more urgent it seems.

So cutting a long story a little shorter, we decided on our longest trip yet, first to Panama and then to the Dominican Republic (DR).   Mostly under our own steam but joining a birding tour into Darien in Panama and booking a birding-centric tour of the DR.

We planned our holiday using the field guide to the birds of Panama and the where to watch birds in Panama books, both of which are in need of an update, the 'where to' somewhat urgently it turns out.

The flight to Panama took us via Miami, no direct flights yet exist and our previous experiences of connecting via Madrid (see Costa Rica and Antarctica) meant that did't appeal at all.

So connect we did, burning nearly all of our three hour connection time waiting in line at immigration.

Anyway we did eventually board our flight with a healthy four minutes to spare before it shut and then on to Panama City where we arrived and checked in to our airport hotel.

The next morning we picked up our hire car (I hate renting cars in Central America!) and were persuaded to take the full insurance package, sat nav, etc.  We then drove to our first stop, the Metropolitan Park.   We didn't go straight there as the SatNav was at best unreliable and the streets are very poorly signposted but we did eventually piece it together sufficiently to arrive, de-car and start exploring.

This is a view of Panama City taken from with the park:

The park is remarkable being a literal oasis of rainforest on the edge of a bustling metropolis.  We loved it.   It's reasonable to get in, $10 for two tourists, the trails are well marked and it's full of birds, even mid-morning when we arrived.

It's also full of critters as you would expect of a rainforest:

The near 100% humidity and air temperature of over 30c were a shock to our Scottish acclimatised systems, so we carried lots of water.  It was still a struggle though as Helen still had bronchitis and sinusitis and I had the heavy 'Christmas' cold that had laid our extended family low.

We did enjoy what we saw though including the handsome Lineated Woodpecker:

Red-crowned Woodpecker:

Squirrel Cuckoo:

Tropical Kingbird:

A female Variable Seedeater:

Orange-chinned Parakeet:

At one point we were trying to track a bird through the understory, it was behaving like a flycatcher.   A group approach consisting of a local bird guide and three tourists who looked even less suited to the forest than we were feeling.   The guide helpfully identified the bird as the endemic Yellow-Green Tyrannulet:

We were very pleased to have added this national speciality to our list on the first day.

From the park we headed to our hotel, the Radisson Summit and checked in for a pretty long (by our standards) stay in the centre of the canal area of Panama.  On the way we stopped to look round our car, thinking we'd burst a tyre but it was just the really poor quality of the road and in fact everything was fine!