It doesn’t get much better than to be retired and be on a vacation – it’s like having whipped cream and sprinkles on your ice cream. Just back from a great one at the Canopy Tower and Canopy Lodge in Panama. It’s been awhile since my last posting since we were down there for almost two weeks and then it took another week to work through the more than 900 pictures that came home with me. The trip was organized by Naturalist Journeys and led by Bob Behrstock, a most knowledgeable and personable guide. We were quite a small group including just four of us from Albuquerque and a woman from West Virginia, which made for an excellent experience.
Our first five nights were at the famous Canopy Tower where we’d meet for coffee every morning on the rooftop observation deck to be greeted by some of the locals including a small flock of Collared Aracaris,
the occasional Green Honeycreeper just outside the dining room window,
and a surprisingly active (for a sloth) Three-toed Sloth.
Unlike my usual Neotropic trips that focused mostly on birdwatching, on this trip we’d see plenty of birds but an amazing variety of insects, mammals, amphibians, and of course, butterflies. By the end of the trip we realized we’d seen (and photographed) more than 100 species of butterflies, which was a major focus for my friend Rebecca and I. From the roof of the Canopy Tower and later from a 100-foot observation tower at the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center, we’d get the unusual opportunity to see a number of butterflies that cruise the treetops, including this amazing Cramer’s Leafwing.
A highlight among the species we’d spot from up top was the tiny but spectacular Imperial Sunstreak.
On the grounds of the Canopy Tower, we’d regularly make the rounds of the flowering bushes and see new species just about every time. A couple of my favorite pictures from there include this Gentius Skipper,
and the Heart-spotted Heliconian.
It’s a jungle out there, though, as evidenced by this praying mantis lunching on what appears to be one of the resident skippers.
Although it was the middle of the euphemistically-named ‘Green Season’ and often cloudy, most days had plenty of sunshine and we only got rained out one morning late in the trip.
Every morning, we’d head out after breakfast to various locations near the Canopy Tower and have some excellent adventures wherever we were. In addition to the birds and butterflies that had most of our attention, there were lots of other creatures about willing to pose for photographs. One of Bob’s interests is in grasshoppers of which we’d see quite a variety of sizes and coloration like these two examples (Bob knew their actual names, but it was a whole new world for the rest of us.).
Other spectacular denizens of the forest were things like this spider
and quite a few small geckos (I think they were) perched near the ground.
One day our excellent local guide, Michael, couldn’t help but leap out of the vehicle to play with the only snake we’d see on the trip, which he tells us wasn’t venomous, but did seem pretty agitated.
Calling out every morning as a definitive wake-up call was the sound of a troop of Mantled Howler Monkeys.
Driving up the hill back home one day, we’d even get a look at a type of anteater called a Tamandua.
This next picture is typical of the kinds of caterpillars we’re likely to see at home,
but, whoa, look at these guys that were several inches long and quite hefty.
Our last day at the Canopy Tower we took a boat ride on Gatun Lake, motoring around large ocean-going ships transiting the Panama Canal to explore several isolated inlets. One had a rather impatient Capuchin monkey hoping for a handout,
and in another, we were treated to excellent views of Snail Kites searching for their favorite snack, apple snails.
After five fascinating days at the Canopy Tower, it was off to El Valle de Anton in the much cooler highlands for the second half of the trip, where we’d stay at the excellent Canopy Lodge. Quite a few tanagers, euphonias, and the occasional Black-chested Jay, Lineated Woodpecker, and Squirrel Cuckoo (oh, and a resident Mottled Owl) appeared at the feeders or in the surrounding trees. This is a Golden-hooded Tanager that perched off the balcony of our room.
Among the interesting critters we’d see in the next few days were an assortment of walking stick (phasmid) insects. This is one of the little ones,
but they do come in larger sizes, such as this guy that appeared in our room one morning,
and this huge one that greeted us on our return one afternoon (for scale, that water bottle is about 8″ tall).
One day, we headed off to the different habitat of the Pacific coast near Santa Clara for some different birds and butterflies. Turning a corner while driving around some rice fields in Juan Hambron, we spotted a mother Wattled Jacana herding her three chicks and managed to snap a few quick pictures before they vanished into the reeds.
Taking a little time before lunch to look for some new butterflies in this area, Rebecca noticed a Great Southern White depositing her eggs on a leaf, something I’d never seen before and found most interesting.
If you zoom in on the picture, you can see the small yellow eggs on the end of the leaf, shown here a little closer.
These are just of few of the pictures from that trip; if you’re interested in seeing more, I’ve posted a bunch on my website at http://sandianet.com/canopy .