Panama – rounding up

After returning to the Decameron from our jaunt to El Valle we were a bit stuck for somewhere to go for the last couple of hours of the day. Part of our enjoyment at taking a vacation and renting a car is going exploring along lanes and tracks but with the weather in a potentially rainy phase, track driving would be ill-advised. We looked at the map and opted for a road going north-ish off the Trans Americana highway. The road was signposted to El Chirú and Sandra reckoned it would all the way to El Valle in some form. The rain started and stopped and so did we, for 20 miles or so along an excellent road.

Once we’d cleared the villages the roadside habitat improved and birds started to show. Grey-headed Chachalaca was easy, more Crested Bobwhites and various parrots. A Squirrel Cuckoo came looking and open field birds like Eastern Meadowlark (don’t sound like mine here though) and Red-breasted Blackbird abounded. The top bird for me though, and a tick to boot was Scaled Pigeon. I thought we’d seen it before, perhaps at Gamboa or the Pipeline Road but not according to my records. Eventually we got rained off but it was a place to revisit. That evening I logged on to the pricy Internet at the hotel and checked Xenornis . Under Grassland Yellow Finch was a write up about them being found on the road to El Chirú, our last day destination was set.

We were in place at dawn or thereabouts. A track off the main road down to a small cemetery. We gave it an hour, scanned from all angles and then headed off back to the Coclé grasslands. Needless to say we didn’t get the finch but had a great day along the tracks and trails. I’d be quite keen to get out there a dawn sometime too.

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Above: Eastern Meadowlark, Squirrel Cuckoo, Yellow-headed Caracara and a Red-breasted Blackbird a long way away.

Late afternoon after having returned the car we walked the hotel grounds and adjacent scrub. All week I’d been hearing a song that had bugged me. I thought it might be an oriole but the habitat did not seem good and we didn’t see any orioles anywhere anyway. As we trekked across the grounds the singer struck up from a small pine plantation right by the Decameron hotel entrance.  Give me a visual and I’ll usually get the bird and I did, Rufous-browed Peppershrike.


Record shot of the peppershire.

We had rather ignored the hotel grounds and scrub, largely because we kept going somewhere better. Our evening walk was pretty good though and I added eight species to my site list. Last off nighthawks took to the wing. Calling Common Nighthawks but amongst them were birds with clearly shorter wings, white patch nearer the wing-tip and some lacking an obvious patch at all, Lesser Nighthawks.

The following morning we were to be bussed out by 09.00 for our 14.30 flight! I managed to creep off for an hour, finding another four site ticks before we finally bade farewell. As the bus pushed on towards Tocumen Airport I almost packed the bins away. In Panama City the traffic chaos meant that we stopped a lot of times allowing me to get Short-tailed Swift and House Sparrow – 183 species for the trip, a few pending me sorting out the songs that I recorded.

Of all of the Central American countries we have visited we like Panama the best (although we’ve yet to go to El Salvador!). A new airport is to be opened very near the Decameron next year; it will put birders two hours nearer Chiriquí, David and the fabulous birding of the area. As attractive as the all-inclusive vacation is I think the time is nigh for us to explore further and the Chiriquí is definitely calling.

Back home I did my records and entered everything into eBird. Inevitably it did a bit of coughing at Glossy Ibis, Caspian Tern, Common (in numbers) and Lesser Nighthawk (why?). Most surprisingly a flock of Dusky-faced Tanagers, a flock species, also seemed to discombobulate it. My Panama list now stands at 356, based on three separate one-week trips between 2009-2013. I hear that the Canopy group are contemplating opening a lodge in the Darién, now that just might be worth selling the house for.

If anyone has any questions, feel free to contact me at



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