My birthday present this year was a day trip to the Achiote Road in Panama, difficult to wrap, sure, but great to receive and enjoy, naturally I shared it with Sandra. Achiote Road is in the Caribbean lowlands and so has a different set of birds from the Pacific lowlands, even though, in the Canal Zone of Panama, they are not too far apart.
Our bird guide for this excusion was Gonzalo Horna. We don’t often use guides but our Panama jaunts have been car-less so far and local guides can get you into the right areas and onto birds quickly. Gonzalo arrived at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort at 04.30, as scheduled, and off we went. Light drizzle did not bode well but it started to clear as we reached the locks at Gatun at the Caribbean end of the canal. There was quite a delay as two huge ships crept through the canal before we had the all clear and could cross using the virtually water level bridge. The mad scramble to cross once the light had turned green did not surprise us, we had travelled in Panama before and understood that right of way meant get there first.
The Achiote Road, I had imagined, would be some quiet, back track which had light to zero traffic. Construction and local rush hour soon put paid to that image as trucks from the construction and the crazy buses hurtled past us in batches. In between we were able to bird the road, seeing Spot-crowned Barbet very quickly, this was a target bird. We also had great views of various toucans and parrots and a very obliging White Hawk. The roadside activity was such that I managed to miss my footing completely and plunged face first into the road. Luckily I am only five feet eleven and three quarters tall so it was not that far to fall in the scheme of things, I was, however, laden with binoculars, back pack and a camera plus big lens in a soft bag. I realised, as the floor approached quickly, that I could protect either my bins or camera so went for the bins and did my best to protect and fleshy bits that might suffer such as my nose. Those of you who have seen my nose know it lives a life of its own and the chances of it being disfigured by a collision with tarmac are remote
I lay there for a second or two hoping that my face had not landed in a Fire Ant nest or something similar then stood up. The Bins were fine, just a bit grassy, I’d managed to pitch 50/50 into the verge. The camera, not so good, the UV filter was totalled and I missed the Squirrel Cuckoo shot (see Sandra’s below) because of it. I managed to smash the filter out of the severly buckled frame but the camera seemed to work OK after so no harm done after all, oh, and I took a chunk out of my knee, but, it was my right knee and I’m left footed so I should be fine if either the Canadian or English National team managers are ever short of a fairly static left sided midfielder, I qualify for both countries. As you can see its healing nicely now, sorry about the picture but nature raw in tooth and scab so to speak. At this point I’m happy to receive any quips about sparrow legs or Kentucky Fried Chicken but I will have the last laugh, when that scab drops off tarrah!, novelty fruit bowl.
After cleaning up the wound with alcohol, (thanks Sandra) and staunching the blood flow by ignoring it we went off to the village for breakfast. A tiny little eaterie fed us delicious chicken with a fried dough bread and local coffee, it was excellent. Fully fed and reasonable mobile we went off to bird the trails in the neat little reserve forest reserve which locals keep in god condition. Almost immediately we hit some antbirds calling noisily and got great views of Spotted Antbird, Chestnut-backed and Spot-crowned Antvireo, I took a few shots but its quite dark in the forest.
After we had seen everything in the flock we continued on. Some action attracted our attention and I picked up a motionless bird – puffbird. I’d been hoping to see a few puffbird species but so far nada. Now we had a White-whiskered sitting motionless wating for something to fly within range, they eat insects. I managed a few shots then were went around to the other side of it, it was sat over a small stream and was still there so I got front and back.
After lunch we did a bit more on the coast but it was getting hot. The last short stop provided a White-necked Puffbird and a monster American Crocodile which sat out in the outfall from Lake Gatun waiting for anything! The crocs here will eat humans if they can catch them so, unless you are a very fast swimmer I’d give skinny dipping in Lake Gatun a miss. The trip ended with around 99 species, Gonzalo was good fun to bird with and has a good sense of humour, I’d recommend him if you ever visit Panama.