Day 2 – in the Darién

Canopy Camp rising

Canopy Camp rising

The following morning I was so excited to continue my all too brief explorations that I was up before the dawn. A close-by Black & White Owl called from the darkness of the woods that lay just in front of the railing of my personal deck. My attempts to view this stunning bird failed as it always seemed to move ahead of me through the forest, but I was rewarded for my efforts with nice views of a stunning Banded Cat-eyed Snake.

Banded Cat-eyed Snake, Canopy Camp trails

Banded Cat-eyed Snake, Canopy Camp trails

Cat-eyed Snakes are an extremely slender, nocturnal snake that specializes in eating frogs. It was lovely to see and a nice consolation for not seeing the Back & White Owl. I made my way to the dining area spotting a couple Common Pauraques dancing across the neatly landscaped courtyard along the way.  Succulent fresh fruits and newly brewed coffee were already out and I was all too eager to begin my daily caffeine kick as I willed the sun to rise higher in the sky.

dawn finally breaks

dawn finally breaks

In short order, I’d enjoyed a nice warm breakfast topped with the most succulent fresh fruit one can imagine. My internal coffee tanks were filled to the brim, and the sun was just now peaking above the horizon. Little Tinamous were calling now and a nearby Laughing Falcon could be heard making it’s distinctive call as well. The birds were waking up and it was time to get moving. Moyo and I once again hit the road and were treated with views of a point blank immature Common Black Hawk perched at eye-level in a short tree along the driveway out of camp. Day 2 was starting off unbelievably well!

forested road in the Darién

forested road in the Darién

A short distance from camp a tiny Pearl Kite was perched near roadside padding the day list. Shortly thereafter we turned onto a one-lane, gravel track with lush vegetation on either side. I was listening to the sounds of the forest awakening, and watching as raucous Red-lored Parrots squawked by. I was soaking up the habitat to include the magnificently, large Cuipo Trees which dominated the skyline, imaging Harpy Eagles perched on each open horizontal branch (one had been seen here in the very recent past and I could absolutely see it in my mind’s eye!)

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As the mood struck me I’d snap some images of the habitat as we’d cruise slowly by. It was at one of these ill-timed moments that two Blue & Yellow Macaws flew across the road ahead of us, left to right. By the time, I’d looked back up front they had already passed seen by sharp-eyed Moyo only.

Cuipo trees dominate the surrounding canopy

We pulled off near where the Macaws had crossed but there was no sign of them. Happily, though this spot was teaming with numerous birds including a handful of Canopy Camp specialties! The first was a Double-banded Graytail, a unique member of the Tropical “Ovenbird” family, which are wholly unrelated to the bird which breeds in northern US & Canada by the same name. As we watched this rather plain bird flitting in the canopy, we spied another species lower in the same tree. It was one of the Canopy Camp’s flagship birds which dominates the cover of their bird checklist, a pair of Gray-cheeked Nunlets!

Gray-cheeked Nunlet hides under the canopy near first light.

Gray-cheeked Nunlet hides under the canopy near first light.

It was still early with low-angle dappled light, but the bird showed very well. The Nunlet is a relative of the “Puffbirds” and has the familiar shape of others in the family: short, stocky ovate bodies with a big head and comparatively long bill. The bird stayed hidden in the upper canopy 70 feet or so above us but it remained still, allowing easy viewing with the spotting scope! Closer to ground level, Black Antshrikes sang, as well as White-bellied, Chestnut-backed, and Bare-crowned Antbirds.

Golden-green Woodpecker

Golden-green Woodpecker

A churr call, drew our attention to the gorgeous female, Golden-green Woodpecker working a Cecropia tree on the opposite side of the road. I rattled off a bunch of digiscoped images of my third life bird in mere minutes giddy with delight.

Dark Kite Swallowtail

Dark Kite Swallowtail

Of course, the other creatures here were every bit as spectacular as the birds. A gorgeous Dark Kite Swallowtail’s longitudinal stripes glowed iridescent jade was a sight to behold and the small black Metalmark species (who eluded being named) left me amused with their incredible bounding territorial displays every time two got close to one another. I was soaking in as much as I could knowing I would be returning to Gamboa this same afternoon to meet up with a larger group! But the birds I knew better and had a full understanding of the abundance and distribution of each. As such, I was happy to see the One-colored Becard & Black-crowned Tityra again and I was thrilled to find a Rufous Piha, but really jumped at the chance to view the Choco Syristres as example knowing I would likely NOT have another opportunity on this trip.

Bicolored Hawk digiscoped with iPhone thru Leica APO Televid spotting scope

Bicolored Hawk digiscoped w/ iPhone thru Leica APO Televid spotting scope

A Double-toothed Kite flew in from down the road landing very briefly in a large ficus tree before bombing out in rapid pursuit of some unseen prey species. “It just flew out”, I said. “There’s another one up there” replied Moyo as he moved the scope for a clear view. Then I saw a rarity the usually unflappable Moyo actually got a bit excited as well. “No.. this one isn’t a Double-toothed…” No, indeed, I peered through the scope and noted a light gray Accipiter with a slate gray back. Holy cow, a Bicolored Hawk!!! An incredibly difficult bird to see that is almost impossible to find and harder to see since they stick to dense cover, arguably harder to see than even the Harpy Eagle I’d been dreaming about all day long! What a stroke of luck. We enjoyed it for as long as it allowed, and then after 3-4 minutes it finally dropped from its perch and disappeared into the forest.

 

Black-tailed Trogon, male

Black-tailed Trogon, male

Following the lightning strike of an unexpected Bicolored Hawk the day had already been made. EVERYTHING else was just gravy, but there was some amazing gravy all the same. Stunning male Black-tailed Trogons showed well and the butterfly show just continued to get more impressive as the sun got higher in the sky.

"Sister" species

“Sister” species

The “Sister” butterfly above showed she had impeccable taste in optics! ;p

Two-eyed Eighty-eight

Two-eyed Eighty-eight

Butterfly palooza!

Butterfly palooza!

Square Bentwing

Square Bentwing

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We finally made our way to the river which marked the proverbial end of the road.

male Bare-crowned Antbird

male Bare-crowned Antbird

 

We’d heard numerous Bare-crowned Antbirds to this point but I’d not had any luck seeing one. There was one singing just off the road here despite the rising temperatures so I decided to give it one last try and crept inside the woods here. I did manage obscured views and even took a short video that showed one or two frames with the bird’s head visible for documentation albeit not pretty. We made our way back to the Canopy Camp at this point where we enjoyed a quick lunch and grabbed our gear before heading back North and West toward the Canopy Tower. I took the opportunity to grab so more shots of the grounds and some of the cool butterflies here as well.

 

Variable Cracker

Variable Cracker

Red Cracker

Red Cracker

Variable Cracker butterflies would disappear against the bark of some of the trees on the Camp grounds but the stunning Red Cracker had less luck!

beautifully landscaped grounds

beautifully landscaped grounds

and then with one last look around the gorgeous grounds and a sigh as I watched a White-eared Conebill working the trees above what was “MY” private deck for the last day and a half, I bid Canopy Camp adieu until the next time!

Each cabin tent features a spacious private deck

Each cabin tent features a spacious private deck

Including a Blue Cotinga and a stunning pair of Rufous-winged Antwrens seen as we drove out of the Darién Province, Athena and I had seen over 200 bird species in a day and a half of birding. Many of these were life birds for me, and many more were birds I’d perhaps only seen once before or poorly. A whirlwind trek for sure, but worth every lost minute of sleep. I’d do it again in a heartbeat and would recommend that any that are interested follow up and do the same!