Sunday, August 14, 2011

Panama Rainforest Discovery Center

The Eurybia Butterfly
Greetings everyone from Pipeline Road in the Soberanía National Park!!  We had a lot of fun exploring this beautiful area of rain forest next to the Panama Canal. This place is internationally known for its magnificent bird sightings.  With over 525 species of birds flying around this jungle area, you can only imagine why birders love this place so much! But this forest is home to so much more including howler monkeys, ocelots, deer, and capybara. Try and identify the critters in the pics if you want to challenge yourselves.  Some posts take longer than others....this one took 3 hours!! So get your binoculars ready as we take a hike down Pipeline Road and head towards the Rainforest Discovery Center.....  
Anderida Longwing (Heliconius hecale anderida)
My birding post is tomorrow so you won't see too many pics of actual birds today.  The secret to good photography in a rain forest is to keep your eyes open and mouths shut.  You must walk lightly and look for bursts of color and movement.  It all happens so quick.  Of course you need to prep yourself well for this hike.  While it may not seem like a long hike at 3 kilometers to the center, remember that it is humid and you will be walking into a rain forest.  Bring plenty of water because a lot of people sweat and you need to keep your fluids up.  Instead of carrying a water bottle, I suggest wearing a camelpack with a large bladder so that you can keep your hands open for photography or binocular use.  Keep that camera ready because there is lots to see here.  I am proud of these photo shoots from this particular day.  Remember to focus your eyes on the small details and not the grand picture......
I spent about 5 minutes with about 20 shots of this darn spider web before I got the angle I wanted.  The rain forest is full of the little details.  An easy and short walk from Gamboa, Pipeline road is the only road that goes into the Soberanía National Park where it eventually dead ends. The park covers over 190 square kilometres with several well maintained trails.  You'll see plenty of birders.  Remember the rule.  Walk lightly.  Don't speak or whisper softly.  On this trail, everyone was extremely respectful of that rule.  Birders will spend thousands of dollars on these expeditions!!  Your chances for seeing lots of wildlife is extremely high here. They'll either cross your path or you'll cross theirs. 
Some rules for the Pipeline Road.  Two agencies are basically run here....the National Park system and the Discovery Center.  They are both separate entities.  If you walk the Pipeline road to get to the Discovery Center, you won't be charged, but if you continue all the way down the Pipeline road, you'll have to pay the National Park. At one point in the road, you'll see another road intersect with Pipeline. Take a left and follow that road to the Discovery Center.  There are also signs. It can be a full day adventure like it was for us. Or it could be a halfday, but it just depends on your itinerary. The Discovery Center charges a 15 dollar entrance fee and is open from 10 AM to 4 PM.  There are earlier times(6 AM to 10 AM) for the serious birders which will cost 20 dollars because it's the best time for viewing birds in the forest.   For current information click on
Long-billed Hermit (Phaethornis longirostris)
Once you're in the center, you'll be swarmed by hundreds of hummingbirds!!  At this point, we took out our cameras and spent a good half hour snapping too many pictures. The above pic took me around 30 shots just to capture this species of hummingbird.  I don't know what it is about these creatures, but they do capture my attention. Use the rapid movement piece on your camera(normally used for sports events) and press the button down for a rapid fire of of those pics will be a hit.  Just remember to delete the bad ones so that you can conserve memory on your card.
What's this little hummer squaking about?
Remember to keep your eyes open around the feeders.  Many of the hummers will sit on branches.  As you can see from this pic below, hummers blend in with their surroundings:) A safety tip for travellers to this area.  While it is very unlikely to happen, robberies have been reported every now and again.  To avoid this, hike with someone else or have an attack agouti with you:)
Blue-Chested Hummingbird (Amazilia amabilis)
The Discovery Center has a lot of lovely trails that will allow you to observe many things around the park. One trail will allow you to climb into the trees.  There is a 100 foot observation tower that will take you above the forest canopy. 
Really keep your ears open.  You may think you hear insects, but they could be frogs, lizards, birds, or mammals.  Case in point.  The pic below is from me zoning in on the chirp.  We were on the tower and I heard the sound on the very top.  I moved down one level silently and voila!! found my pic:)
Once we got off the observation tower, we headed over to the Chagres river and sat on the benches there.  Honestly, some of this stuff looks to be straight out of Avatar.  We sat there quietly watching the snail kites, jicanas, dragonflies, and other critters floating around in both air and water. Breathtaking scenery! Here's a secret to mental sanity.  When I want to scream at my students and rip their heads off, I stop and place myself in this pic pulling the memories of serenity and nature.....and then I don't feel so baaaaad:)  But seriously that's why I never scream or shout at my students.  I have lots of happy places to visit in my head. Call it crazy, but it works:)
I liked to call these reptiles "skanks" because they look like a cross between snakes and a skink.  But that's not their real name.  Does anyone know what they're really called?  If you're guessing, be careful scrolling down.  Another rain forest tip.  Listen for leaves rustling and watch for brief movements. Hold your position and don't make a move.  Stare at the patch and let your eyes adjust.  Camouflage is a powerful agent. 
Panamanian Whiptail Lizard
I love this bird!  It was everywhere in Panama and my first pic of anything bird.  And my first step into the birding world.......scary:) What is it?
The Lesser Kiskadee
There were lots of bugs in Panama. So it wasn't just the humidity that made these trips challenging, it was also the mosquitos and chitras(or sand flies!!).  My body is still recovering today from the hundreds of bites that I got from these evil creatures.  That's why this praying mantis made me happy.
Here are some shots from my friend Desiree.  I, for some reason, didn't think it was important to take shots of the Discovery Observation Tower so I'm glad she did.

Anyone know the name of this popular Panamanian bird?  The pics are "easy" to snap.  It's the hours of identification afterwards with the internet, books, and human experts that can drive me insane:)
A Snail Kite
Another shot of the tower from the ground level.......
This park is worth the visit and so is Gamboa.  If you're looking into a wonderful vacation for your family away from drunk college kids, set your sights to this beautiful area.  Or if you're a birder, why haven't you been here yet?  So how did you folks do on the quiz? If you knew a lot of these animals, you are wise beyond your years.  It was my first time meeting several of them in the wild. The massive bird post tomorrow.....


  1. WANT! WANT! WANT!! I'm dying to go on a birding vacation. You are so lucky!! Love all the photos! I've never seen so many hummers in one spot! Big deep sigh....

  2. Oh, wow! Absolutely amazing photos! I especially like the hummingbird ones! Very nice!

  3. Wow - what a magical place. And I thought it was cool seeing hummingbirds in twos and threes in our garden. Amazing wildlife, wonderful photos.

  4. The spider web is fantastic! Nothing in common with our black widows!
    You have seen incredible things and I can only think of the people living in the jungle during the construction of the canal of Panama... and of the creatures they came face to face with.


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