Panama Nature Trip

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,

Collared Aracari

Collared Aracari

Keel-billed Toucans,

Keel-billed Toucan

Keel-billed Toucan

the occasional Green Honeycreeper just outside the dining room window,

Green Honeycreeper

Green Honeycreeper

and a surprisingly active (for a sloth) Three-toed Sloth.

Three-toed 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.

Cramer's Leafwing

Cramer’s Leafwing (Zaretis isidora)

A highlight among the species we’d spot from up top was the tiny but spectacular Imperial Sunstreak.

Imperial

Imperial Sunstreak (Arcas imperialis)

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,

Dimorphic Skipper

Gentius Skipper (Entheus gentius)

Belt’s Myscelus,

Myscelus

Belt’s Myscelus (Myscelus belti)

and the Heart-spotted Heliconian.

Heartspot

Heart-spotted Heliconian (Heliconius hecale)

It’s a jungle out there, though, as evidenced by this praying mantis lunching on what appears to be one of the resident skippers.

Mantis

Praying Mantis Lunch

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.).

Grasshopper

Cool red-eyed grasshopper (Coscineuta coxalis)

Grasshopper

Cool orange-eyed grasshopper
(immature Coscineuta coxalis)

Other spectacular denizens of the forest were things like this spider

Spider

Spider

and quite a few small geckos (I think they were) perched near the ground.

Gecko

Gecko

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.

Snake

Snake

Calling out every morning as a definitive wake-up call was the sound of a troop of Mantled Howler Monkeys.

Howler

Mantled Howler

Driving up the hill back home one day, we’d even get a look at a type of anteater called a Tamandua.

Tamandua

Tamandua

This next picture is typical of the kinds of caterpillars we’re likely to see at home,

Caterpillars

Caterpillars

but, whoa, look at these guys that were several inches long and quite hefty.

Caterpillar

Huge White Caterpillar

Caterpillar

Huge Black Caterpillar

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,

Capuchin

Capuchin

and in another, we were treated to excellent views of Snail Kites searching for their favorite snack, apple snails.

Snail Kite

Snail Kite

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.

Golden-hooded Tanager

Golden-hooded Tanager

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,

Walking Stick

Walking Stick

but they do come in larger sizes, such as this guy that appeared in our room one morning,

Walking Stick

Visiting Walking Stick

and this huge one that greeted us on our return one afternoon (for scale, that water bottle is about 8″ tall).

Walking Stick

Huge Walking Stick

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.

Immature Wattled Jacana

Immature Wattled Jacana

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.

Great Southern White

Great Southern White (Ascia monuste) laying eggs

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.

GSW Eggs

Closeup of Great Southern White Eggs

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 .

About joeschelling

Birding, butterflies, nature photography, and travel blog from right here in Albuquerque New Mexico.
This entry was posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Critters, Dragonflies, Photographs, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Panama Nature Trip

  1. Terri says:

    Thanks for sharing, Joe! Missing nature adventuring with you!

  2. Rebecca Gracey says:

    Your pictures reveal just how diverse the creatures we saw on the trip turned out to be.

  3. Mike Powell says:

    Gorgeous photos of a wide variety of colorful creatures. I love the butterfly ones especially as well as all the caterpillars too. Actually the bird ones and the monkeys were pretty awesome. I guess I liked pretty much all of them. Thanks for sharing these wonderful shots.

  4. joeschelling says:

    Thanks, everybody. And, Mike, looks like we’re sharing similar retirement journeys – you’ve got a great blog going, too.

  5. Pat Barker says:

    Thanks for sharing Joe! Your patience and diligence paid off.

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