Panama Butterfly Trip

Whoops, the entire month of August zipped by without my getting around to updating my blog. The first half of the month was busy down in Panama looking at butterflies, and most of my time since then has been spent going through the 1700+ photos that made it home with me, deleting the really bad and duplicate ones, processing about 300 that survived the cut, and then working on most of those to identify the butterfly species in them.  The trip was with the Canopy Family’s “Panama’s Brilliant Butterflies” tour based out of the Canopy Lodge, Canopy Tower, and its extension to the Canopy Camp in the remote Darien Province.

This was my fourth (and Rebecca’s third) trip to the Canopy Lodge and Canopy Tower, and we’d hoped to have our Houston butterflying friend, Steve, along for his first visit. The three of us had first heard about this butterfly-focused tour last Fall during the NABA Meeting in the Lower Rio Grande Valley where we met their resident wildlife biologist, Jenn Sinasac. Jenn expected to co-lead the trip with Tino Sanchez, their butterfly expert who’d guided Rebecca and I around the Canopy Lodge area on an excellent trip in 2013, and told us about this trip also going to the new Canopy Camp that I’d been wanting to visit since it opened in 2014. Unfortunately, Steve had to drop out the day before his flight when he realized his passport was about to expire. And when we got there, we first heard that Jenn would not be joining us for the tour since she’s just a few months away from having a baby and staying close to home near Panama City these days. Luckily, Linda Harrison, a volunteer consultant to the Canopy Family and butterfly expert in her own right, joined us to co-lead the trip with Tino.

Everything went smoothly on our flight to Panama City and after a night at the Airport Hotel Riande, we met new friend Lisa from DC, who’d be with us for the whole trip, and headed out the next morning for the Canopy Lodge. One of the very first butterflies we’d see and one of the most spectacular, the Lampeto Metalmark, was in a bush near the Canopy Lodge dining room for us to see as we first arrived.

Lampeto Metalmark (Caria mantinea lampeto)

Later that day, we’d be joined by six birder/butterflier friends from Indiana who’d just come from birding at Canopy Camp and would be with us at Canopy Lodge and Canopy Tower. A little surprising to me, as we left them at the Canopy Tower, we picked up nine new friends in Panama City to join us  for the 5-day Canopy Camp extension; three from the Austin, Texas area, a couple from Georgia, and two couples from Florida. I recognized one of the Florida couples, but couldn’t quite remember where I’d seen them before – turns out we’d run into them a couple of times on our South Florida trip this past May.  Usually on organized trips you’re with the same group the whole time, so it was a little work for me learning a new set of names – how tour guides manage to memorize everybody’s names on Day 1 has always amazed me.

In four days at the Canopy Lodge, we’d head out to various habitats and start picking up a good number of butterflies for our list. On Las Minas Road just up the hill from the Lodge, a Malachite posed calmly for me for several minutes.

Malachite (Siproete stelenes)

Most of the butterflies we’d see aren’t seen at home, although we can see the Malachite fairly regularly in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, and sometimes will see Blomfild’s Beauty there, although I don’t recall ever seeing one as fresh as this.

Blomfild’s Beauty (Smyrna blomfildia)

Near the Canopy Lodge is where we’d see one of the few daggerwing butterflies for the trip, a Glossy Daggerwing.

Glossy Daggerwing (Marpesia furcula)

In addition to butterflies, we couldn’t help but start to notice a variety of other interesting insects, animals, birds, and other sights. For example, this is a pretty crazy-looking grasshopper we saw at Altos del Maria in the highland cloudforest above El Valle de Anton where the Canopy Lodge is located.

Piezops ensicornis

Off to the Canopy Tower for the next three nights. At the Canopy Lodge and Canopy Tower, but fortunately not so much at Canopy Camp, we got a good idea of why this time of year is called the “Green Season.” My four visits to Panama have all been in July and August – a little bit of rain is to be expected sometime during the day, but that has never really impacted my plans. This trip, however, we did have a couple of days where we had to cancel our planned activity and it tended to be a bit cloudy and a bit dark for photography. One of my better butterfly pictures during our stay at the Canopy Tower was this Great Eurybia.

Great Eurybia (Eurybia patrona patrona)

At the Canopy Tower and later at the Canopy Camp, each night the staff would set up a blacklight and white sheet to see what manner of moths and other insects it would attract. One of the more dramatic ones showed up the very first night we did that, a moth that looks similar to an Io Moth (Automeris io) we’d seen in Ohio in July.

Moth

One of the attractions of staying at the Canopy Tower is getting to look out over the forest canopy, where a number of butterflies spend their time and are rarely if ever seen close to the ground. Among these were the Imperial Arcas (Arcas imperialis), Mexican Arcas (Arcas cypria), and the similar Regal Hairstreak (Evenus regalis). My camera just didn’t have the reach to get good shots of those guys, but we got nice looks at them through spotting scopes and others got some excellent photographs with their long lenses or by digiscoping. I did get an okay picture (despite the gray clouds) of a Mantled Howler resting in a Cecropia tree just outside the dining room window on the upper floor (and that night would get a fairly close look at a Three-toed Sloth busy feeding in another Cecropia tree).

Mantled Howler

Of the six butterfly families, here in New Mexico we rarely see only a very few species of metalmark (Riodinidae), but in the neotropics one can see dozens of species and they seem fairly common. One that we’d see in the area near the Canopy Tower that was new for me was the Northern Mimic-Metalmark, typically resting as many metalmarks do under a leaf.

Northern Mimic-Metalmark (Ithomeis eulema imiatrix)

Other goodies from that part of the trip included seeing a Striated Heron family of two adults and their three little ones during a day trip along Pipeline Road,

Juvenile Striated Heron

and later that day further into the forest along Pipeline Road a Streak-chested Antpitta, normally quite well hidden in the forest but this one stayed close to the road while our crowd of photographers clicked away.

Streak-chested Antpitta

The places we visited around the Canopy Tower also turned up our first Passion Flower

Passion Flower (Passiflora menispermifolia)

and Poison-dart Frog,

Poison-dart Frog

both of which would turn up again when we got to Canopy Camp, and another way-cool grasshopper.

Red-eyed Grasshopper (Coscineuta coxalis)

After three days at Canopy Tower, we departed quite early in the morning stopping first at Airport Hotel Riande to pick up everybody for the long drive to the Canopy Camp for the five night extension. Along the way, we made a stop just past the bridge across Lake Bayano and found an incredible concentration of owl-butterflies,

Pale Owl-Butterfly (Caligo telamonius)

crackers,

Gray Cracker (Hamadryas februa)

beauties, and several other butterfly species. Among these was a new one for me, the small but incredibly colorful Glorious Blue-Skipper.

Glorious Blue-Skipper (Paches loxus)

Later that week, we’d see another Blue-Skipper, this time the Striped Blue-Skipper.

Striped Blue-Skipper (Quadrus contubernalis)

After about an hour there, we next stopped in Torti at the delightful Hotel and Restaurant Avicar for lunch, seeing a few butterflies and some huge beetles while wandering around the property.

Giant Metallic Ceiba Borer (Euchroma gigantea)

It was raining as we pulled into Canopy Camp that afternoon, but it soon stopped and we settled into our fancy safari tents before setting out to look around the grounds. Spotted on a passionflower vine in the clearing was one of the more bizarre-looking bugs I’ve ever seen,

Crazy Cool Bug – Flag-footed Bug (Anisocelis flavolineata)

and the next day we’d see several pretty amazing caterpillars including this huge one I’m told is some kind of sphinx moth.

Sphinxmoth Caterpillar

Here is another fascinating caterpillar seen maybe a day later on one of our outings, but I’ve no idea what species it might be.

Caterpillar

During our stay at the Canopy Camp, we’d hear and sometimes see more Mantled Howler Monkeys, but also had a couple of White-faced Capuchins and a few Geoffroy’s Tamarins hanging out in the trees.

Geoffroy’s Tamarin

Several times while out looking for butterflies, someone would point out a walking stick insect, some of which were quite large and all of which blended remarkably well into the surrounding foliage.

Walking Stick

Our new friend Lisa had quite a thing for dragonflies and damselflies, so everybody kept an eye out for them calling her over to see whenever one was spotted. She’d gotten to see several of her target Helicopter Dragonfly, but also had plenty of other species. This one I think is some kind of darner, but I have no idea of the specific species over the course of the trip.

Dragonfly

And of course, there were lots of spiders anywhere we went, many different species of various colors and sizes. This picture was kind of fun since close up you can see it spinning out silk for its web.

Spider

A couple of the other butterflies we’d see on our daily outings near the Canopy Camp included the Dusky-blue Groundstreak,

Dusky-blue Groundstreak (Calycopis isobeon)

Moon Satyr,

Moon Satyr (Pierella luna)

and Violet-washed Eyed-Metalmark.

Blue-patched Eyed-Metalmark (Mesosemia carissima)

Two days before we were due to head back to Panama City for the trip home, we drove to Rio Tuquesa to take a boat ride down the river to Nuevo Vigia, a village of the indigenous Embera tribe. The riverside was quite busy with a large number of large hand-carved dugout canoes (piragua), most full of plantains brought in for the market. Next to some of the boats a few of the local people were bathing in the river, shampooing their hair, and even brushing their teeth while all this activity was going on around them. Us tourists, of course, were provided fluorescent orange life vests for the perilous journey ahead and then were to wade out into the river to climb into our piragua. Not having any boots and wanting to keep my feet dry, I managed to hop into one without too much trouble. Unfortunately, when Rebecca tried next, she lost her footing and somehow smacked her leg hard against the side of the boat.  Not a good thing as it became clear she’d hurt herself pretty bad and wouldn’t be able to put any weight on that leg let alone walk, and ended up spending the rest of the day sitting in the boat while the rest of us wandered around the woods and the village. Here’s a sweet picture of a little girl in the village who just had to show us her pet Blue-headed Parrot.

Local Girl with her Pet Parrot

Rebecca took this development amazing well, never once complaining about what was surely a rather difficult situation for the next few days. There was no medical help available anywhere in the area, and somehow she managed to get by on an old pair of crutches somebody turned up when we made it back to Canopy Camp, and Linda’s husband, Jerry, picked up a walker for her when we finally got back to Panama City. Folks at the airports we went through on the way home had a wheelchair for her and whisked us through check-in, and after hopping down the aisle to her seat, the flights home went reasonably well. On Sunday, after finally getting back home late on Saturday, we got to an urgent care facility for an x-ray, and two days later she had surgery for what turned out to be a broken tibia. She’ll be sitting around at home recuperating for the next couple of months, but seems to be hanging in there okay.

We’re still compiling the list of the more than 350 species of butterflies seen on the trip, and close to 60 of the 160 species I photographed were new for me, including the poorly-named Pale-clubbed Hairstreak.

Pale-clubbed Hairstreak (Theritas hemon)

Aside from Rebecca’s unfortunate accident late in the trip, our friend Steve having to miss it altogether, and the weather being a little “greener” than expected, overall it was another excellent trip and fun getting to share it with all those new friends we hope to see out there again sometime in the future. If anybody’s interested, more pictures from the trip are now online at http://sandianet.com/panama2017/index.htm.

 

 

 

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About joeschelling

Birding, butterflies, nature photography, and travel blog from right here in Albuquerque New Mexico.
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5 Responses to Panama Butterfly Trip

  1. Rebecca Gracey says:

    Your pictures are beautiful. I especially love the Northern Mimic Metalmark.

  2. 1nmbirder says:

    Wow! Great trip you had! Some of those butterflies are just stunning. So sorry to hear Rebecca was hurt. She must have been a real trooper to not complain when you know she must have been in serious pain. 😔

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