Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Beginning of Our Panamanian Adventure: Canopy Tower

From the time I started birding, other birders have been telling me about all of the amazing birding locations and lodges all over the world. There are many places that I've dreamt of visiting but none more so than Canopy Tower. The Tower has always fascinated me, not just for birding but from a historical perspective as well. Not only is the Canopy Tower in the former US Canal Zone in Panama, it's also inside an old US Air Force radar tower!

Owner Raul Arias de Para purchased the radar facility in 1996 and set out to turn it into an incredible eco-lodge. You can learn more about Raul here. What he ended up creating is one of the top birding destinations in the entire world. You can read more about the creation of Canopy Tower here.

As we traveled down to Panama a couple of weeks ago, I could hardly contain my excitement of seeing the Tower in person and having time to bird in this wonderful country for the first time. We arrived late in the day and stayed at a hotel near the airport for our first night. I woke up early the next morning and somewhat impatiently waited for the driver from Canopy Tower to pick us up. To get to Canopy Tower from the airport, you must drive straight though Panama City. We were surprised to find that Panama City is huge! We quickly left the city behind and watched as we entered the incredible rain forest within Soberania National Park.

As we twisted our way up the entrance road to the Tower, our excitement built. We finally came around one last corner and there it was! Our friend Jenn, who works for Canopy Tower met us as we got out of the van and welcomed us to our home for the next four nights.

Not only does this road lead to Canopy Tower, it's also great for birding!

The flowers and hummingbird feeders around the entrance to Canopy
Tower attract a number of hummingbird species.
There were hummingbirds zipping around the flowers and feeders in front of the Tower, and Jenn quickly pointed out a Three-toed Sloth looking down at us. We finally made it inside the Tower and once we dropped some of our luggage and gear our room, we headed straight for the observation deck!

The view from the observation deck is pretty spectacular. It provides a panoramic view
from which you can see Panama City, the Centennial Bridge over the canal, and the Panama Canal.
Although there weren't a lot of birds active during the middle of the day, the view from the observation deck was spectacular! Before long, it was time for lunch and then we were off for our first afternoon of birding near the Tower.

Over the next few days, we birded at all of the well-known birding sites that surround the Tower, including the world famous Pipeline Road which is one of the best birding locations in all of North America!

It's easy to find birds when you're birding from Canopy Tower's open air vehicles!
Staying and birding at Canopy Tower was everything that I had hoped it would be and much more. The accommodations are unique, the food is fantastic, and the birding and guides are out of this world! Before long it was time for us to continue on to our next destination, Canopy Lodge, about two hours away in El Valle, although we could have spent several more days at Canopy Tower. Check back on NuttyBirder.com soon to read about our time at Canopy Lodge.

Here's some of Stephanie and I's favorite bird photos from our time at Canopy Tower!

The first lifer for both Stephanie and I was a Blue-chested Hummingbird.

I've never been anywhere that has so many Broad-billed Motmots!

Crimson-crested Woodpecker was a new species for me.

This Gray-headed Tanager was following an ant swarm along the road to Canopy Tower.

One of the specialty species that you can find along Pipeline Road is Great Jacamar.

Mantled Howler Monkeys are often heard and seen around Canopy Tower.

Palm Tanagers are commonly found trying to get a free meal from the buffet line in the dining room!

The Ammo Ponds are a great place to see and photograph Rufescent Tiger-Herons.

One of the many benefits of being at the canopy level is that you can get
eye to eye with sloths such as this Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth.

Another shot of a Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth.

Southern Lapwings are very common in any grassy area in and around Panama City.

The Violet-bellied Hummingbird was my favorite hummingbird species that we saw at Canopy Tower.

I really enjoyed seeing so many White-whiskered Puffbirds during our stay.

It's amazing how iridescent White-necked Jacobins are if the light hits them just right.

This White-vented Plumeleteer ruled over the hummingbird feeders at Canopy Tower.
It spent most of its time chasing other species away from the feeders.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Whitefish Point: Some Recent Highlights

There have been many highlights through the start of October, here at Whitefish Point.  The rest of October should see many more birds and hopefully many new species.  

Lots of Michigan birders came up to the point for the weekend.  We had a relatively slow day on Friday but luckily an adult Long-tailed Jaeger made two passes.  It was a state bird and life bird for many present!  Saturday saw a good flight of 2000+ birds but it came crashing back down today (~300 birds).  We'll see what the weather brings over the next week.

Here are some photos from the last couple weeks.  

A Black-backed Woodpecker that spent a few days
at the point.  Another has also been around the last
couple days.

A medium-sized flock of Canada Geese.  These are actually "Canadian" Canada Geese.

There have been quite a few Northern Goshawks but this was the first adult.

A flock of White-winged Scoters that migrated by the point.

Another flock of White-winged Scoters.
-Eric

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Whitefish Point: 5K+ in a Day

A small mixed-species flock.  2 American Wigeon, 1 Northern Pintail, 1 Mallard
I had my biggest day of the season (so far) at Whitefish Point on the 5th.  A great diversity of ducks moved by in big numbers and Red-necked Grebes had a big day (especially, given the late date).  Scoters had their biggest day of the season; over 500, of all three species, were seen.  Red-necked Grebes had one of their best days of the season with a total of 1885.  This species peaks in late August/early September so having a big day in October was great.

A high-flying flock of White-winged Scoters.

A mixed-species flock of scoters.
Songbird migration has also been impressive over the last couple weeks.  Most warblers are through at this point but sparrows are moving through in big numbers.  In a single sweep of the feeders, I counted over 75 White-crowned Sparrows.  There are also large numbers of juncos, kinglets, and Hermit Thrushes.  Hopefully, it is just a matter of time before something unusual shows up.

-Eric

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book Review: The Passenger Pigeon

With the 100th anniversary of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon having occurred in September, there have been many works on the subject published recently. Some have been in depth studies of every aspect of the life and extinction of the Passenger Pigeon, but as Fuller says in the introduction, that's not his objective with this book. Instead, he envisions The Passenger Pigeon  as a celebration of the Passenger Pigeon and he does a beautiful job making this book exactly that.

From start to finish, the text is informative and entertaining and the photos and artwork are fascinating. Whether you've studied the Passenger Pigeon for years or haven't even heard of the species, I would highly recommend this book. This is a sad and tragic story of extinction but is one that everyone should be familiar with so that we can avoid the same problems with other species now and in the future.

You can read my review of another book from Errol Fuller, Lost Animals, here.





Title: The Passenger Pigeon
Author: Errol Fuller
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: September 15, 2014

We received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on NuttyBirder.com. The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Amazing Photography Opportunites at Nature Pavilion!

The final part of my trip to Costa Rica centered around Selva Verde Lodge and the Sarapiqui area. Of all the birding that we did in the area, my favorite place that we visited was Nature Pavilion. Nature Pavilion is a private property located not too far from Selva Verde and offers great birding as well as some of the best photography opportunities that I've ever experienced.

In spite of some people warning us against spending a whole day at the property, we decided to go for it. We arrived right as they opened and were immediately welcomed to the property by Dave Sr. (he is the founder of Nature Pavilion and owns the property along with his son, Dave Jr.). We felt right at home and really enjoyed learning all about the property from both of the Daves throughout the day.

Here's a little background on the property. Dave Sr purchased the 15 acre property in 1985 after the plantation that owned it went bankrupt. He started restoring the forest and has worked with La Selva OTS, a local biological station, to pick the correct plants and trees that should be planted on the property. The birds have clearly taken advantage of the restoration and over 230 species have now been seen on the property. Nature Pavilion is also right across the river from the much larger Tirimbina Reserve which provides an additional 1000 acres of forest.

After Dave Sr. showed us around, we got our cameras set up on the feeding station and started taking some awesome photos! I'm pretty sure that Brian and George could have stayed at the feeders all day but I finally decided to take a walk around the lawn on the front end of the property. For the first bit of the walk, all I saw were dozens of Clay-colored Thrushes. I finally came around to some standing water and found one Green Ibis and two Gray-necked Wood-Rails, a lifer for me!

I thought I was just going to get a photo of the Blue-gray Tanager but it got photo bombed by a Golden-hooded Tanager!
I enjoyed being able to photograph this Olive-backed Euphonia that was coming to the feeders at Nature Pavilion.
White-necked Jacobins were the most common hummingbird at Nature Pavilion, as they are throughout most of Costa Rica.
We continued to shoot from the deck overlooking the feeders for awhile and then Brian and I decided to take a walk on some of the trails on the property. We carefully crossed the river and explored the trails on a small island. It was a bit slow in the middle of the day but we did find a Laughing Falcon going after some small birds in a tree and my lifer Rufous-tailed Jacamar. When we returned to cross the river and head back to the feeders, we realized that the water level had risen significantly and it was going to make crossing back over quite interesting. Brian had his tripod to stabilize him but I had nothing and paid the price. One slick rock was all it took and I, along with my camera and binoculars, ended up in the water.

Unfortunately, this ended my photography for the trip but at least my binoculars were not completely ruined and I could continue to bird. Since I couldn't take any more photos, I spend a lot more time talking with both of the Daves and learning about their love for their property and what their plans are to make it even better in the future.

None of my pictures of Crimson-collared Tanager turned out very well but I think this photo by Brian is one of my favorite photos of this species I've ever seen! (Photo by Brian Zwiebel)
Towards the end of the day while I was sitting on the back deck overlooking the river and surrounding forest, I noticed a white bird flying in from the right. It never landed but I was able to follow it long enough to see that it was a Snowy Cotinga! Dave Sr. later told me that if you sit on that back deck long enough, you will typically end up seeing one. Another big highlight was a perched Long-tailed Tyrant. This back deck is also where Nature Pavilion has many hummingbird feeders. In addition to the typically Costa Rican hummingbirds, this is a great place to see and photograph Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer.


Since I broke my camera, I wasn't able to get photos of the Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer that was visiting the hummingbird feeders. Brain was able to get some amazing shots including his one though! (Photo by Brian Zwiebel)













They were really distant but I still got decent looks at my lifer Long-tailed Tyrants! (Photo by Brian Zwiebel)
Whether you are able to spend a whole day birding and photographing at Nature Pavilion or if you just have a few hours to spare for a bit of birding, I highly recommend that everyone visit this property when they are in the Sarapique area.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Spotlight on a Hotspot: Pine-Bluestem Buffalo Road

This week, we take a closer look at a lesser known hotspot that offers you the chance to see a few great birds! Pine-Bluestem Buffalo Road is part of Ouachita National Forest in western Arkansas and is a great place to find breeding Red-cockaded Woodpeckers.

It's best to arrive by sunrise if you hope to see the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers leaving their nest holes to forage for the day.
For birding, the first 10 miles of the road tend to be the most productive and the best place to find the woodpeckers is about 4 miles from the start of the road. If you happen to be driving along Buffalo Road during the spring or fall, it's a great place to look for warblers and other migrants as well!

You can see a full list of species reported to eBird by clicking here. To learn more about birding along Pine-Bluestem Buffalo Road, click here to see the NuttyBirder.com Location Guide for the area.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Off to Panama to See Canopy Tower and Lodge!

Rob writes: Panama has always been a birding destination that I've dreamed of visiting and I can't believe that Stephanie and I will be arriving there tonight! From the time I started seriously birding, everyone has always said that I needed to visit Panama and specifically Canopy Tower and that's exactly what I get to do this week.

In addition to being extremely excited to see this wonderful place myself, I'm equally excited to take Stephanie to the tropics for the first time and to see her reaction to watching wild toucans, parrots, and monkeys.

Canopy Tower is unlike any other birding lodge in the world as it's located in an old US Air Force radar tower. The base of the tower has been turned into lodging and the deck around the radar ball offers a panoramic view of the surrounding rain forest and the Panama Canal! Not only is it an incredibly scenic view, you get to see many of the birds that spend their time in the canopy at eye level.

A view of the Tower and the surrounding forest. (Thanks to Canopy Tower for the photo)
I can't wait to be standing on the observation deck tomorrow with my friends from Canopy Tower! (Thanks to Canopy Tower for the photo)
From there, we will travel a couple hours to the west and visit Canopy Lodge. This property is located at a higher elevation and offers the chance to see many additional species such as Yellow-eared Toucanet which is a species I have wanted to see for years.

Canopy Lodge will be our second stop while we are in Panama. (Thanks to Canopy Tower for the photo)
My friend Brian has also lent me some awesome photo equipment which I can't wait to use! Be sure to check back as I'll be posting photos from each of the lodges as time permits. We'll also be announcing a Sabrewing Nature Tours trip to Panama in October 2015 very soon! If you want to see all of the amazing places that I visit over the next couple weeks, keep an eye out for details for this trip that we will be announcing in just a few weeks.