Birding in Panama

By Carol Knabe
This item appears on page 24 of the March 2021 issue.

Birding away from Wisconsin in winter is a welcome relief. Don’t get me wrong, I like Wisconsin’s weather in all seasons, but my family (including my husband, Jerry, and adult daughter, Sue) has a 21-year tradition of going birding in different locations in February or March, for a respite from our coldest winter months. For our February 2020 destination, Sue picked Panama.

We typically visit two locations in a country: one in a higher elevation and one lower or along a body of water. For Panama, our choices were Canopy Lodge in El Valle and Gamboa Rainforest Resort, outside of Gamboa and along the Panama Canal.

For arranging ground transportation, reservations and private guides, we contacted Naturalist Journeys (Portal, AZ; 866/900-1146,, which for many years has been our “go to” company for our trips.

Canopy Lodge (, located along a small mountain stream, has 12 rooms, beautiful birding grounds and a very helpful staff. Tino was our private guide every day, leading us on trails around the area. We even walked a long trail that was part of the Continental Divide.

A new experience for Sue was observing a basilisk walking on water, a feat that has earned the reptile the common nickname of Jesus Christ lizard. Many flowering trees around the area were beautiful and provided a haven for all the insect-loving birds. We were amazed by the variety of birds we saw during our short walks and drives.

The Gamboa Rainforest Resort ( was our second stop and much different than the lodges we usually visit. Gamboa had 137 rooms and 27 suites and many “touristy” amenities (sloth sanctuary, orchid farm, frog exhibit, sportfishing, nature walks, wildlife night drives, a zip-line and aerial tram rides), but it was close to the birding areas and things we wanted to see.

Our private guide there was José, General Manager of Panamazing (Panama City;

The highlight of the Gamboa stay was birding on the famous Pipeline Road, where we came upon an army ant swarm. Birds were drawn to the area not to eat the ants but to eat the bugs that were trying to get away from the ants. For about one hour, there was a birding frenzy off the main trail. The ants then continued on their path deeper into the jungle.

Another bonus each day was lunch at a buffet in the resort’s Don Caimán restaurant, with incredible views of the ships passing through the Panama Canal and of an abundance of wildlife right off the deck. We spotted sloths, keel-billed toucans and araçaris right outside the open-air lobby.

The trip wasn’t all birding, though. We took advantage of the amenities at the resort, and we also visited the Miraflores Visitor Center. Miraflores is one of three locks that form part of the Panama Canal.

The entry fee for the museum and to see the locks was $20 per person. The museum was very interesting, showing how the French started the canal in the 1800s and covering the signing of the Panama Canal Treaty by US President Jimmy Carter in 1977.

On a birding boat ride in the Gatun Lake area, surprises included fishing for peacock bass and close encounters with huge container ships transiting the canal.

Our 8-day all-inclusive stay in Panama cost $2,995 per person. Our flights aboard Copa Airlines (, round trip from Chicago, Illinois, to Panama City, added $576 per person.

As for our bird list in Panama, we saw and photographed 221 species, including six species of trogons, and that’s not counting the ones we didn’t photograph or only heard.

Alma, WI