Categories
Panama trips

A wild ride in Panama

Many of the buses and taxis in Panama are driven by their owners. This probably explains the absolutely amazing “bus art” so prevalent around Panama City. I wish I had pictures because words fail miserably in describing the visual display involved. Next trip to Panama City, I will make sure I take lots of pictures, maybe even interview someone to see why they named their bus, “Shirley” or “Terminator” or “Mama”. As entertaining and informative such a post would be, alas, it will have to wait for a future trip. Nevertheless, I hope to now entertain readers with this post which is also related to other aspects of owners driving their own taxis. Although only an hour in duration, and not measuring up by any means to “Mr. Toad’s” wild ride, I think it still zooms into that category with screeching tires.

After a pleasant stay in the fresh mountain air of the Lost and Found eco-hostel, it was time to head back downhill into sticky, hot David. Lacking a car, I tried flagging down one of the small buses that zoom between Bocas and David to no avail. A white pick-up acting as a collective taxi stopped though. I said, “How much to David”? The driver yelled, “Three Balboas! Lets go!” Ok! I threw my pack in the back and hopped in to share the ride with two silent, dour-faced fellows in the back and two talkative guys (driver and co-pilot) in the front. I never found out why those guys in the back looked sour; they weren’t exactly open to conversation. Maybe it was because they didn’t like partaking in a race. Can’t say that I did either although I admit that it was pretty memorable. Although the race wasn’t official, we were certainly trying our best to beat the bus to David. I was reminded of the similarities between the words “fearless” and “reckless”. Our driver was both; he would zoom past the bus, then the bus would zoom past us, playing vehicular hopscotch all the way down the mountain. Never mind that it was a two-lane road with solid double lines. Ha! Those yellow lines don’t count- we are exempt because we are in a race! So what if the race is private; we are racing nonetheless! While we sat in the back silently contemplating trials and errors in life such as choosing to take a collective taxi for example, our driver and copilot laughed like mad, honking at and waving to a kid in the bus who just as recklessly stuck his head out the window to laugh back at them. Ha ha ha!! Isn’t this great?!? Who needs a carnival- Lets all risk our lives as we zoom down the mountain! As a curious side note, while the scenery blurred by (reminiscent of how our lives were flashing before our eyes), our driver never ceased to talk on the phone; he kept answering it with a shout, “Hwua!!” while simultaneously honking the horn at all passersby. Old barefoot woman?- HONK!! Farmer on a horse?-HONK!! Young nubile Panamanian girl?-HONK!! HONK!!, the copilot pitching in with a, “HHEEEEYY!!” that would have even made the most effeminate of Neanderthals grunt in admiration.

Somewhere near the town of Gualaca (which oddly enough sounds a lot like “Guacala”! meaning disgusting), we (miraculously) slowed down to pass through. This slow-driving was an all too short respite in our wild ride and was still replete with driver and copilot window yells. It was also fiesta time in town so it was no surprise when we saw a pick-up full of beer-drinking fellows just outside of Gualaca. What WAS a surprise (to me at least) was that we deftly pulled up next to the party truck (on our two lane road) and while both going about 50mph received a can of beer in a highway hand off. Having become used to the extreme taboo that drinking and driving is in the USA, I assumed that our co-pilot was going to drink the beer. After all, HE was the one who got the hand-off; it seemed like he deserved it. Nonetheless, he was merely one more link in the hand-off chain because he opened it and gave it to our trusty taxi driver who upon completing the play, didn’t waste any time in guzzling it down. He followed this up by tossing the empty straight out the window! I could barely keep from laughing at the absurdness of this situation especially because my co-travelers were as nonplussed as ever. I mean did they even see what happened? Was this an everyday Panamanian taxi occurrence along the Bocas-David highway? I don’t know because I wasn’t about to get any answers from those glum riders. As that was the only beer he drank, I did not demand that we stop and instead concentrated on looking forward to arriving in David. Even those expectations were cut short, however, when our taxi sputtered to a halt somewhere along the busy Pan-American highway. Maybe the white collective pick-up just got tired of all that bus racing between Bocas and David.

We waited for a bit on the roadside in the hot tropical lowlands before someone in a small SUV stopped. After some futile attempts in tinkering around with the engine, our driver convinced him to tow the taxi to a nearby repair station; along with us inside of course! Off we went, getting towed down the Pan-American highway, all sorts of traffic zooming past us, the driver and copilot once again laughing like mad-hatters as we came close to bumping into our erstwhile tow truck. On one small hill, the tow rope actually broke! No matter!- it was retied  and onward we went heading towards David. The last step to the repair station was probably the sketchiest because we had to take a left turn off of the busy highway. As we slowly turned into the repair shop, for a moment we were sitting in the lane for oncoming traffic, our only hope being that tow line that had already broke once! It felt like trying to start your engine on railroad tracks with the train horn signaling imminent doom. Ok, it wasn’t exactly that frantic, but it certainly wasn’t comfortable either. Reaching the parking lot of the repair station, we jumped out of the taxi onto sun-drenched gravel; I with relief, my fellow passengers with the same dour and non-plussed appearance. I almost told them, “Hey! We aren’t playing poker here!- show some emotions! I mean, we’ve just come down the mountain partaking in some unknown race and almost dying several times in the process!”, but while I was paying the driver they disappeared into other taxis. Finished with the wild ride, I immediately flagged down another taxi (a car) and finally made it to the Purple House in David without any further racing or beer drinking.

Next time I go to Panama, I sure hope I have my own car!

 

 

Categories
Introduction Panama birding Panama trips

Birding at David and the Lost and Found eco-hostel, Panama

In early August, 2008 I took a short trip from Costa Rica to David and the Lost and Found eco-hostel, both in Chiriqui, Panama. I would have liked to explore more around David but due to time and transportation limitations, wasn’t able to look for Veraguan Mango. Nor was I able to bird the extensive mangroves and nearby forested islands in the Chiriqui gulf. Nevertheless, I hope to give birders an idea of what to expect and at the same time encourage them to explore underbirded, promising areas near David. I certainly hope to do so at some future time.

Birding in David

David, the second largest city in Panama, is pretty birdy as a result of green space in the form of empty lots, gardens and many remnant trees. Found in the Pacific slope lowlands of western Panama, David is hot and humid and located at the junction of drier habitats to the east and wet forests of the Chiriqui Endemic Bird Area to the west. As is the case of most urbanized areas, birding is better outside of the city but if you can’t do that at least you should see a fair number of widespread neotropical species. I visited Pedegral Port one morning hoping to get images of aquatic species. Although I didn’t get lucky with aquatic birds, it sounds like a boat trip through nearby mangroves would be very worthwhile according to Guido Berguido who apparently found Yellow-billed Cotinga!

Pedregal is found at the end of the main road heading south from the airport. There is a small yacht club with small restaurant. Overall, the place was undeveloped; don’t expect that to last for long! This would be an excellent place for mangrove education and tourism. I took a taxi there for about $3-$4. Buses are also available but may be infrequent.

The following is a list of species (most very common) recorded while casually birding around the Parque Cervantes and empty lots and shaded streets near the Purple House Hostel http:// www.purplehousehostel.com as well as a few hours one morning at Port Pedegral. There are certainly many more possibilities including at least a few owl species:

P= only recorded Pedregal

Magnificent Frigatebird (P)

Anhinga (P)

Great Egret (P)

Little Blue Heron (P)

Neotropic Cormorant (P)

Black-bellied Whistling Duck (P)

Spotted Sandpiper (P)

Collared Forest Falcon (P)

Yellow-headed Caracara

Crested Caracara

Black Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Pale-vented Pigeon

White-tipped Dove

Ruddy Ground Dove

Red-lored Parrot

Blue-headed Parrot

Crimson-fronted Parakeet

Orange-chinned Parakeet

Brown-throated Parakeet

Squirrel Cuckoo

Short-tailed Swift

Mangrove Swallow (P)

Grey-breasted Martin

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Blue-crowned Motmot

Lineated Woodpecker

Red-crowned Woodpecker

Barred Antshrike

Tropical Kingbird

Piratic Flycatcher

Social Flycatcher

Boat-billed Flycatcher

Great-crested Flycatcher

Dusky-capped Flycatcher

Common Tody Flycatcher

Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet

Southern Beardless Tyrannulet (P)

Yellow-bellied Elaenia

House Wren

Cay-colored Robin

Bananaquit

Baltimore Oriole

Orchard Oriole

Bronzed Cowbird

Great-tailed Grackle

Blue-grey Tanager

Buff-throated Saltator

Black-striped Sparrow

Thick-billed Seed Finch

Blue-black Grassquit

Yellow-faced Grassquit

Yellow-bellied Seedeater (P)

Below are some bird photos from David and Pedregal

Blue-black Grasquit; one of the most common neotropical bird species.

Crimson-fronted Parakeets are especially common in David.

Mangrove Swallows fall into the cute category.


Red-crowned Woodpecker is one of the most common birds in David

Ruddy Ground Doves are also pretty common

Tropical Kingbirds are aggressive!

The Lost and Found Eco-Hostel

The Lost and Found Eco-Hostel is probably one of the only hostels in the world nestled within it’s own cloud forest preserve. After running into several of their pamphlets at other Panamanian hostels, I finally got the chance to visit for a few days in early August, 2008. Located at 1,200 meters on the Pacific slope, aside from some shade coffee and a small orchard, this hostel is surrounded by a large area of old growth moist and cloud forest. Birding was pretty good around the hostel itself with American Swallow-tailed Kite being one of the more common, spectacular species. For most of the day at least a dozen graced the sky with their aerial acrobatics. Mixed flocks and frugivores often came through the trees near the hostel, especially the forest edge at the trailhead.

The few trails that accessed the forest were fairly muddy and rough but offered good birding and extended for a few ks. One trail apparently reaches a river and enters forest with a more Caribbean slope aspect. The upper part of the trail that follows a ridge with stunted trees and bamboo probably has specialties such as Maroon-fronted Ground Dove and Blue Seedeater.

Although one of the owners, Andrew, is there most of the time, it’s probably best to contact them before visiting. Both he and Patrick were very helpful and friendly. They manage the place quite well and even have a feeding platform for nocturnal animals. I look forward to my next visit.

For more information including pricing and directions, see http://birdingcraft.com/wordpress and http://www.moreinpanama.blogspot.com

Lost and Found email: thepanpro@yahoo.com

Phone: 65819223 or 66545961

The following is a list of all species recorded (66 total) during a stay of about three days with notes on abundance. As I was focused on bird photography, birders working the trails should come up with several more species. Regional endemic taxa are highlighted, a few photos at the end.

Little Tinamou

heard below orchard

Black-breasted Wood Quail

few coveys heard

Black Guan

a few seen fruiting trees

Turkey Vulture

a few seen

Short-tailed Hawk

1 seen

White Hawk

1 seen

American Swallow-tailed Kite

very common

Band-tailed Pigeon

a few flyovers

Ruddy Pigeon

1-2 heard

Chiriqui Quail Dove

1 quick flyby in orchard

Sulphur-winged Parakeets

good views of flyby flocks

Mottled Owl

1 heard

Squirrel Cuckoo

1 seen

White-collared Swift

100 or so in flock

Green Hermit

several seen

Green Violetear

several seen

Violet Sabrewing

a few seen

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

a few seen

Mountain Gem species

a few seen

White-tailed Emerald

several in orchard-quite common

Orange-bellied Trogon

a few seen

Emerald (Blue-throated) Toucanet

several seen

Prong-billed Barbet

a few seen

Golden-olive Woodpecker

a few seen

Red-crowned Woodpecker

a few near road

Spotted Barbtail

pair in forest

Red-faced Spinetail

a few near orchard

Spectacled Foliage-gleaner

several-pretty common

Lineated Foliage-gleaner

one heard forest

Spotted Woodcreeper

1-2 seen

Wedge-billed Woodcreeper

1 seen

Olivaceous Woodcreeper

1 seen

Ruddy Woodcreeper

pair in forest

Rufous-breasted Antthrush

1-2 heard

Immaculate Antbird

a few heard

Slaty Antwren

few in forest

Three-wattled Bellbird

1-2 heard

Dusky-capped Flycatcher

1 pair

Tropical Peewee

1 orchard

Yellowish Flycatcher

common around hostel

Paltry Tyrannulet

several

Mountain Elaenia

a few

House Wren

hostel mascot

Gray-breasted Wood Wren

A few heard

Southern Nightingale Wren

1 heard

Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush

several, common around hostel

White-throated Thrush

1 seen

Mountain Thrush

few seen

Long-billed Gnatwren

fairly common forest

Tawny-crowned Greenlet

A few forest

Lesser Greenlet

Several

Brown-capped Vireo

Several

Three-striped Warbler

A few forest

Golden-crowned Warbler

A few

Bananaquit

A few

Tropical Parula

Several

Slate-throated Redstart

Several

Common Bush Tanager

A few

Scarlet-thighed Dacnis

A few

Silver-throated Tanager

Several

Bay-headed Tanager

A few

Crimson-collared Tanager

A few

Flame-colored Tanager

1

White-winged Tanager

Pair

Yellow-throated (White-naped) Brush Finch

Several

Here are a few bird photos from the Lost and Found eco-hostel

Saw this stunning White Hawk sitting in the pouring rain.

The most common, widespread Myiarchus Flycatcher: Dusky-capped Flycatcher.

Young Trogons are funky looking birds indeed! This is an Orange-bellied.

Here is the dapper adult male.

Orange-billed Nightingale Thrushes were very common.

As were Paltry Tyrannulets

And Spectacled Foliage-gleaners

This White-tailed Emerald is sticking its tongue out.

Categories
Introduction Panama trips

The Lost and Found eco-hostel, Chiriqui, Panama

There are two basic categories of travelers; those who travel because of obligation and those who travel because they want to. Sure, someone can fall into both categories (think business tripper who would rather be on a plane than drinking alone while playing solitaire in his/her post-modern apartment) or none (think an over-dramamined passenger who ends up continuing onwards to Oslo by accident instead of getting off the plane in London). Although I have traveled by choice in aluminum tubes at unnatural speeds and heights, purposely rode in buses on frightening mountain roads, and made the decision to take boats up muddy Amazonian tributaries, I think I have most often fit into both categories. For example, when I took a four day bus trip with a friend of mine from Niagara Falls to western Mexico during the winter break of 98, we were dual category travelers; I wanted to go there but was obliged to take the bus because of my personal funding situation while my friend wanted to see Mexico and felt obliged to get away from arctic January Niagara.

When I recently when to the Lost and Found eco-hostel in Chiriqui, Panama, I arrived as a traveler who not only wanted to stay there but also felt obliged to stay at an “eco-hostel”; a concept I have always dreamt of and hoped to see come to fruition. I had been intrigued again and again by their pamphlets at other Panamanian hostels; the Hospedaje Heike hostel in Bocas del Toro, Zuly’s Backpackers in Panama City and at the Purple House in David. Simple, photocopied pamphlets that told of a hostel nestled in cloud forest. I mean what a great deal!- affordable lodging shared with other like-minded travelers in beautiful mountain forest excellent for birding! Sounded like an ideal place to go for a border run; cheap lodging located in a natural setting. Somewhat in the middle of nowhere, it also sounded ideal for bird photography; nothing else to do, nowhere else to go but to concentrate on the birds.

 After some searching on the web I found their blog which had most of the information I needed including photos. I decided to contact the owners though because the directions seemed rather vague. They were something like watch for the sign on the right just after the village of Valle de la Mina along the Chiriqui-Almirante road. Patrick and Andrew got back to me in a very timely manner and assured me that the quoted prices and directions were correct, so off I went!

On July 30th, I left on the San Jose-David bus at 7:30 A.M. We were lucky with the weather and had a beautiful sunny ride up and over the high Talamanca mountains; home to Resplendent Quetzals, cold mornings and montane rain forest on Cerro de la Muerte. We made a few stops for bathroom breaks and lunch, arriving to the border around 1 P.M. Luckilly, things went quickly at the Paso Canoas border crossing that day with us back on the bus after only an hour and a half of waiting in lines, getting stamps and being confused. I spent the night in hot David at the Purple House Hostel (everything really is purple there!) and continued on to the Lost and Found Hostel the following day, arriving around noon (take the bus to Changuinola and get off when you see the yellow sign-about an hour out of David). Their directions are accurate; you really do have to keep an eye out for the yellow sign on the right hand side of the road just after the town of Valle de la Mina. It is obvious and says, “You have found the lost paradise” but you could miss it if you weren’t watching for it.

 

From the sign, it’s a pretty steep walk uphill to the hostel; ideal for going slow and taking in the beautiful surroundings. The climb is worth it because as far as hostels go, this is a really good one. The beds are huge, dormitories spacious, hot water showers, food and drinks are available for purchase (can also bring your own- much cheaper), cool outdoor area for eating and hanging out, awesome mountain scenery, and trails through primary rain and cloud forest. At night, nocturnal animals sometimes come to a feeding platform. If it’s raining (quite often) you can hang out in the game room to read or rent a dvd. The place is also kept clean and well-maintained by Andrew- on site most of the time. I got fewer photos than I had hoped for but not due to a lack of birds. Photos were tough because my equipment wasn’t quite adequate for the low-light conditions prevalent in cloud forest. That and because birds are for the most part impatient and love to fly away just as you get them into focus; camera shy or unfriendly- you decide.

The Lost and Found eco-hostel is perfect for travelers looking for very affordable lodging within a natural setting; an escape of sorts. It’s also an excellent option for field courses and research. The Lost and Found is probably one of the only cloud forest hostels in the world, and I look forward to my next stay. 

For the most up to date information, check out the Lost and Found blog at: http://www.moreinpanama.blogspot.com

 

Advantages in no particular order

Beautiful natural setting with trails

Good, friendly management

Hot water

Nocturnal animal watching

Game room to escape to when it rains too much

Readily accessible along the highway between David and Bocas del Toro

Fresh mountain weather makes nice escape from the hot lowlands

Guided trips possible to the nearby Fortuna forest reserve

 

Disadvantages in no particular order

The steep walk up to the hostel

Pretty isolated

Very buggy during the rainy season; mosquitoes, black flies and horse flies must die!

Here are a few photos of the place:

 

 

The yellow sign you don’t want to miss.

 

Another yellow sign welcoming visitors at the hostel; the cobra makes it cool!

 

The central dining, kitchen, hang-out area.

 

You can enjoy a coffee with beautiful mountain scenery.

 

 

Here is a Ringtail scurrying away from the feeding platform.

 

 

Its so wet that land crabs live here!

 

Lost and Found in the mist.

 

 

 

Categories
Introduction Panama trips

Some photos from a birding trip to Achiote, Panama

I recently went to Achiote, Panama for a few days. Achiote, on the caribbean side of the canal zone, is a village with access to the San Lorenzo National Park. It was pretty hot and humid, the birding and mammal viewing was great and I would love to go back especially during hawk watching season. Here is a link to a trip report I posted on Surfbirds: http://www.surfbirds.com/trip_report.php?id=1452

And here are some photos from the trip:

View from the overlook at Centro El Tucan in Achiote; community owned and run educational center and hostel. It was pretty good for birding too.

Centro El Tucan

Here are some pictures from the Centro overlook

Can you find the Orange-chinned Parakeets? There was a flock of 30 feeding on a Balsa tree in front of the overlook.

Female Flame-rumped Tanager

The most common Tanager in the area was Plain-colored Tanager. The blue on the wing coverts is usually hidden.

Pied Puffbirds were pretty common in the area at least by call; I had them at El Tucan, along the Achiote Road and at the restaurant in town.

I only saw Black-breasted Puffbird, however, along the Achiote Road in San Lorenzo National Park.

The Trogon Trail along the Achiote Road lived up to its name with..

Slaty-tailed Trogon

Black-throated Trogon

Western White-tailed Trogons were common along the road.

Not a bird but so what; cool flowers along Trogon Trail.

I got up close and personal with White-whiskered Puffbird.

The most common raptor was Yellow-headed Caracara.

Achiote Road was good for mammals too. This is a Geoffreys Tamarin.

And here is a Northern Tamandua.