Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Trip Report - Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Grand Caymans

Bare-legged Owl
October 24 – November 21, 2015


This trip to the Greater Antilles in the Caribbean was undertaken immediately after a 3-week birding tour of Panama (report here and following blog post) with Glenn Scherf, Bill Watson and Sandra Watson. Our intention was to mix birding with cultural, culinary and various pursuits, and our destinations lived up to expectations. We did very well with the endemics and regional endemics on the four islands. Of the 90+ species we were chasing, we dipped (inexplicably) only on Chesnut-bellied Cuckoo on Jamaica and for Bill, West Indian Whistling-Duck and Antillean Euphonia (both of which I had seen in the Dominican Republic). We managed this impressive result while birding mostly in the mornings, freeing up the afternoons for travel and other activities.

We opted to self-drive in Puerto Rico for our 6-day visit, as the distances are relatively short, the roads are good and the sites are easy to find and bird. We elected not to try for the endemic parrot as the site was out of the way and requires prior arrangement with the authorities. Our focus on the island was in the south-west, where most of the specialties can be readily found.

For 7 days in Jamaica, we hired Wayne Murdock of Attraction Links ( to drive and provide the vehicle; driving around Jamaica can be challenging so this was a good move. Wayne is not a professional birding guide but knows the sites; beware that you will need to pay for his meals and costs not in the contract. We were on Grand Cayman Island only in transit, but with enough time to find the single endemic.

In Cuba for 15 days, we were again self-driving but arranged for Andy Mitchell in London ( to organise a package with Havanatur that included car hire and the more expensive hotels. Andy also lines up local guides, organises for them to book your remaining accommodation in rural casas, and provides detailed directions for finding your way around. The directions proved to be accurate, easy to use and useful in Cuba, where road signs can be absent or easy to miss. Hiring Andy did not add much to the cost if we had arranged everything ourselves. Cuba proved to be a most impressive destination, from both cultural and birding perspectives.


October 24. We flew from Panama City to the capital of Puerto Rico, San Juan, via Bogota. After a long travel day we stayed overnight at the convenient but expensive Airport Hotel. (See here for Puerto Rico bird pics).

October 25. We picked up our car up from the airport early in the morning and drove 2 hours across the island to the south-west town of Guanica, booking into Mary Lees By The Sea, a self-contained apartment complex on the water a few kilometres from town. In the afternoon we drove west a short distance to Parguera where we saw a flock of Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds at a traditional site by a small seaside store.

Maricao State Forest
October 26. We drove north into the mountains to Maricao State Forest, where the wet forest contrasts with the dry scrub around Guanica. In the early morning a Puerto Rican Nightjar flew across the road. Our efforts at Maricao centred on trails and the roadside around the state forest administration centre. Many island endemics showed including Puerto Rican Emerald, Puerto Rican Tody, Puerto Rican Woodpecker, Puerto Rican Vireo, Puerto Rican Spindalis and Puerto Rican Bullfinch. The Puerto Rican Tanager – expected to be given its own family - was common and frequently a flock leader. Elfin Woods Warbler is one the island's more difficult targets but we found it in 2 spots, including the turnoff from the main road to the park centre. Other birds included a couple of fly-by Green Mangos and a Key West Quail-Dove on a trail. When we returned to Mary-Lees-By-The-Sea we found Pearly-eyed Thrasher to be common.

Guanica State Forest
October 27. Before dawn we went back along the road towards Guanica, where we had good looks at Puerto Rican Nightjar at the 3.5km mark. We drove a few kilometres east along the scenic coastal road to a track that heads north up a slope into the Guanica State Forest. In the dry thorny scrub we found Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo, Puerto Rican Flycatcher, Caribbean Elaenia and Adelaide's Warbler. Another Key West Ground-Dove was seen.

Coast near Guanica
October 28. Back in the state forest on a trail at the road's end, a Puerto Rican Pewee was seen briefly in the morning. We left our comfortable apartment to travel across the island to the Humacao Reserve on the east coast. We found Antillean Crested Hummingbird and Green-throated Carib quite easily in flowering trees along levy banks in the wetland. We headed north for our overnight accommodation in the Ceiba Country Inn. In the hotel grounds after some effort we scored nice views of Puerto Rican Screech-Owl.

October 29. We saw the last of our targets, Puerto Rican Oriole, in the hotel grounds in the morning before departing for San Juan, where we stayed in the Coral by the Sea Hotel.  In the afternoon we visited the Del Morro Castle and San Juan Old City.

Del Morro Castle
October 30. We flew to the Jamaican capital of Kingston via Fort Lauderdale in the U.S. We were met at the airport by Wayne (he was late) and it was dark by the time we were leaving suburban Kingston. It took a couple of hours on a slow, windy road to reach our accommodation, Starlight Chalets, near Section. The hotel was ordinary and the food highly overpriced, but the place is very birdy, with superb views across the valleys. See here for Jamaica bird pics.

With Wayne Murdock, Hardwar Gap
October 31. The day began around the hotel grounds with (Red-billed) Streamertail, Sad Flycatcher, White-chinned Thrush and Orangequit. A party of Yellow-shouldered Grassquits was spotted along the road to Section. We spent the morning on the higher slopes of the Blue Mountains-Hollywell National Park around Hardwar Gap, especially the forest within a few kilometres of the Gap Cafe on both sides at about 1500m. A feast of endemics included Ring-tailed Pigeon, Jamaican Woodpecker, Jamaican Oriole, Jamaican Becard, White-eyed Thrush (much scarcer than White-chinned), Jamaican Vireo and Jamaican Euphonia. We saw a Greater Antillean Pewee, a difficult-to-find species.

View from Starlight Chalets
Blue Mountain Vireo is another of the island's trickier birds but we found several. Arrowhead Warbler proved to be quite common. In the afternoon we birded around the chalet gardens, scoring an unexpected Jamaican Mango and to top the day off, close views of a Crested Quail-Dove on the road near the hotel.

November 1. We again birded Hardwar Gap, this time going a little further to Woodside Road. We saw Jamaican Tody, Jamaican Elaenia and Greater Antillean Bullfinch, with brief views of a Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo. In the afternoon we visited Dennis Coffee, a farm where the famed Blue Mountain coffee is grown organically by a community of dope-smoking Rastafarians.

Dennis Coffee Farm
November 2. We were up well before sunrise to try for Jamaican Owl and were not disappointed. A pair called for a while before an owl flew in very close in response to playback of a juvenile begging call; it perched briefly a couple of metres above us. As the sun rose we found Rufous-tailed Flycatcher in the garden. We left the mountains to head to the north coast town of Port Antonio, where we checked into the pleasant Bay View Eco-Resort.

Port Antonio
November 3. We headed east for a 45-minute drive to the Ecclesdown Road in the John Crow Mountains. We easily found our main targets after being confined to the car for a couple of hours by heavy rain. Good numbers of Yellow-billed Parrots and Black-billed Parrot swere encountered along the road along with an obliging Jamaican Crow, which responded to playback of an Australian Raven call. We saw (Black-billed) Streamertail, lumped by Clements with Red-billed. In the afternoon we had nice views of Jamaican Mango in Port Antonio and took time out to absorb the beautiful coastal scenery.

Coast near Port Antonio

November 4. We searched the well-vegetated hills around Port Antonio for our sole remaining targets – Chesnut-bellied Cuckoo and Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo, which I had seen briefly at Hardwar Gap. We saw the lizard-cuckoo well but the other cuckoo frustratingly eluded us.

Bob Marley Museum
November 5. We left the hotel, calling into the Castleton Botanic Gardens, where we had a pair of Jamaican Crows, and in the outskirts of Kingston we visited the Bob Marley Museum, where you need to be wary of overbearing guides. We stayed at the Port Royal Hotel near the airport.

November 6. We departed Jamaica for Cuba via George Town on Grand Cayman Island. During the brief transit stop, when you need to purchase your Cuban tourist cards, we left the airport and walked to scrub close by where a Vitelline Warbler, the Caymans' only endemic, duly emerged. We flew to Havana, dealt with paperwork complications and picked up the vehicle at the airport. We drove 2.5 hours to our destination – the town of San Diego de los Banos in western Cuba in the dark, but Andy's directions ensured there were no problems. For Cuba bird pics see here and also here.

Cueva de los Portales
Our guide, Caesar Hernandes, met us at a prearranged spot (after some complications not worth detailing here) and escorted us to our accommodation – Casa JulioyCary. Casas are rooms attached to private homes, usually with en suites. The food and ambience of inexpensive casas in rural areas makes them are a more attractive accommodation option than the run-down government-owned hotels.

Casio JulioyCary
November 7. Caesar was booked with a tour group in the morning (another mix-up) so we found our own way to La Guira National Park, a 30-minute drive from town. We saw nice specialties including Great Lizard-Cuckoo, West Indian Woodpecker, Crescent-eyed Peewee and Puerto Rican Emerald as we ascended a rough road towards the Hacienda Cortina. In a grove of pine trees we found a pair of Olive-capped Warblers. Higher up in the limestone gullies we heard Cuban Solitaires calling and saw one up close.

La Guira
We were delighted to find a sub-adult Gundlach's Hawk perched a few metres above a trail; this is probably Cuba's hardest endemic other than the near-mythical Zapata Rail. Other goodies included Cuban Bullfinch and Yellow-headed Warbler. In the afternoon we hooked up with the now available Caesar to visit the Cueva de los Portales, a beautiful limestone cave complex used as a bolthole by Che Guevara during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The solitaire was again present along with La Sagra's Flycatcher and good numbers of two bat species. In the late afternoon we found a party of Cuban Grassquits in fields near San Diego, along with Cuban Blackbird and Tawny-shouldered Blackbird. Less endearing was a boisterous wedding party near the casa which went all night.

November 8. A travel day with a very long (10 hours, including a successful negotiation of Havana's suburbs) drive to the livestock ranch of La Belen in eastern Cuba in the Sierra de Najasa. The economic challenges facing Cuba become apparent as you travel around. Farming is often done by plough, either by hand or with livestock. Ancient vehicles lumber along the roads along with horses and carts. The people were nonetheless invariably polite and engaging. We arrived at our basic accommodation just on dark and none too soon, as the last 40 kilometres of road are seriously rough.
Near La Belen
November 9. We birded along the road into the ranch, seeing an exquisite Cuban Trogon (surely the classiest of its family with that tail), Cuban Parakeet and Cuban Green Woodpecker. Cuban Tody was bigger than todies on other islands. Cuban Palm Crow was interesting to compare with the more common Cuban Crow. Several Giant Kingbirds were in the mix and a Cuban Pygmy-Owl showed nicely. Later in the morning we met our prearranged guide, Camillo, but by then we had seen the local specialties.

November 10. A party of Rose-throated Parrots at the hotel was a good start to the day, then another long drive (4.5 hours) to the seaside resort of Cayo Coco, where we booked into the Hotel Sol Cayo Coco. Everything is included in the cost for these extravagant resort hotels including alcohol, but be warned - the cocktails are heavily watered down.

Cayo Paredon Grande

November 11. We drove east to Cayo Paredon Grande, birding tracks in the vicinity of the old lighthouse. Oriente Warbler and Cuban Gnatcatcher were found easily in the dry coastal scrub. Thick-billed Vireo was co-operative in mangroves nearby, where Cuban Oriole and Cuban Black-Hawk were also found.

November 12. Today we headed west to Cayo Guillermo, where Bahama Mockingbird proved to be much skulkier than the more numerous Northern Mockingbird. We believe we had a small party of Cuban (Zapata) Sparrow (race varonai) in the coastal scrub, which showed briefly before flying away. We looked unsuccessfully for West Indian Whistling-Duck around Melia Cayo Coco, supposedly a good site for the species.

Angel Garcia at Soplillar
November 13. Another long drive (5.5 hours) to Cuba's top birding destination – Playa Larga in the Bay of Pigs, where we met our guide, Angel Garcia (, who escorted us to our accomodation - another casa, the delightful Villa Rio-Mar ( overlooking the historic bay. Our host, Daniel, was charming and helpful.

At Villa Rio-Mar
November 14. We headed off early with Angel to Soplillar, an area of forest close to Playa Larga. On the road in the early morning we had success with 2 close Grey-fronted Quail-Doves, followed quickly by 3 not-so-close Blue-headed Quail-Doves. On the scrub edge we had a pair of Fernandina's Flickers putting on a show, while the world's smallest bird, Bee Hummingbird, perched on a dead branch in a the tree top. In the afternoon we visited the Cuban Revolution Museum in Soplillar.

La Turba
November 15. An early start to La Turba and Cuban Nightjar performed well on the road into the huge Zapata wetland. We were in luck when a Zapata Wren perched on a reed close by and sung vigorously in full view; this species, endemic to the wetland, can be easy to miss. We had a pair of Cuban (Zapata) Sparrows on the road, these birds much closer than the ones on Cayo Guillermo. On the way back near Palpite, a pair of Red-shouldered Blackbirds took some coaxing before appearing, while a Northern (Cuban) Flicker was more co-operative.

Bay of Pigs, Playa Larga
November 16. Our focus here was owling in the very early morning. We heard a Stygian Owl in scrub on the edge of Playa Larga and eventually tracked it down. Unfortunately it flushed and although close, we had to make do with a reasonable flight view. Better luck was in store with a Cuban Screech-Owl which perched by the road in the open, with a couple more calling in the scrub.

Cueva de los Pecas
November 17. With all the specialties in the bag, a day for relaxation and sight-seeing. We visited the Bay of Pigs Invasion Museum in Playa Giron and La Ceuva de los Pecas, an impressive 70m sinkhole linked to the ocean by an underground cave. Blue-headed Quail-Doves are fed here and a group of 6 was very tame. A spot of snorkelling offshore was a pleasant diversion.

Havana Old City
November 18. As we left Playa Larga for Havana, we called in at a home in Palpite known for its trees favoured by Bee Hummingbirds. We saw several hummers (the males not in breeding plumage) before undertaking the 2.5-hour drive to the Hotel Armadores de Santander in La Haba Vieja (Old City).

Baroque Catedral de San Cristobal
November 19. A day around the Old City, visiting the Castille del Morro and Che Guevara's former home by taking a ride in one of the ancient automobiles that abound throughout Cuba. America's inhumane and vindictive embargo, imposed in the wake of the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, continues to inflict a huge economic toll on this impoverished country.

Street art - human statue in Plaza Vieja
November 20. More sight-seeing, absorbing the cultural and historic ambience of places like the Plaza de la Cathedral, Plaza Vieja, Baroque Catedral de San Cristobal and Paseo del Prado.

Havana Harbour
November 21. Depart Havana.

Sight-seeing in Havana
For an annotated list of species, see here for the full trip report on Surfbirds.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Panama Trip Report

September 29 – October 24, 2015

Blue-crowned Manakin

Most of this extensive birding trip to Panama was organised by Birding Panama ( All the participants had previously birded Costa Rica and Colombia so we were focused on regional specialties and species that are difficult to find elsewhere. We had an extraordinarily successful trip with almost all key target birds seen. Almost 500 species were recorded with good birds including Black-eared Wood-Quail, Agami Heron, Crested Eagle, Plumbeous Hawk, Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon, Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, Costa Rica Pygmy-Owl, Dusky Nightjar, Tooth-billed Hummingbird, Veraguan Mango, White-bellied Mountain-Gem, Snowcap, Black-bellied Hummingbird, Pirre Hummingbird, Yellow-eared Toucanet, Blue-fronted Parrotlet, Lattice-tailed Trogon, Resplendent Quetzal, Tody Motmot, Barred Puffbird, White-whiskered Puffbird, Grey-cheeked Nunlet, Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker, Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, Sulphur-winged Parakeet, Spot-crowned Barbet, Tody Motmot, Speckle-faced Antbird, Ocellated Antbird, Wing-banded Antbird, Black Antshrike, Speckled Antshrike, Black-crowned Antpitta, Streak-breasted Antpitta, Ochre-breasted Antpitta, Black-headed Ant-thrush, Sapayoa, Brown-billed Scythebill, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, Streak-breasted Treehunter, Slaty-winged Foliage-gleaner, Beautiful Treerunner, Speckled Mourner, Double-banded Greytail, Yellow-green Tyrannulet, Choco Sirystes, Brownish Twistwing, Ochraceous Peewee, Dark Peewee, Russet-winged Schiffornis, Northern Schiffornis, Blue Cotinga, Sharpbill, Silvery-throated Jay, Sooty-headed Wren, Stripe-throated Wren, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher,Varied Solitaire, Pirre Warbler, Zeledonia (Wrenthrush), Connecticut Warbler, Green-naped Tanager, Blue-and-gold Tanager, Pirre Bush-Tanager,Viridian Dacnis, Orange-collared Manakin, Green Manakin, Yellow-green Finch and Black

Black-and-yellow Tanager

I organised the itinerary in conjunction with Jose Carlos Garcia ( I can highly recommend the services of Birding Panama; this was a difficult trip with plenty of challenges but with the exception of a couple of inevitable hiccups, it was very well organised. We were guided by Euclides (Kilo) Campos, who was by any standard a highly capable and skilled guide, able to track down the most difficult skulkers and always willing to help. In the Darien we were also guided by Isaac Pizaro from the local Guna Indian community, who has extensive knowledge of the local avifauna; Isaac organised the on-the-ground logistics for our visit to Cerro Pirre. Others have commented in reports that Isaac's behaviour can be erratic; there is some truth to this but at the end of the day he came up with the goods.

Fiery-billed Aracari

A series of seven illustrated posts from the trip have been published on my blog (search “Panama” on ). 

Crested Eagle
We visited major sites in the Darien in the east of the country near the Colombia border; in central Panama; and in the Chiriqui highlands in the west near the Costa Rica border. Trails were muddy and steep in places. Trips of this nature are not easy, especially with a large group. However we were fortunate with the weather, losing very little birding time to rain, and frequently overcast conditions kept temperatures in check to some extent. We had no mechanical difficulties although the bus could have been more comfortable.
The group and support staff, Rancho Frio
The biggest challenge of the trip was always going to be the assault on Cerro Pirre in the Darien – a key and difficult-to-access site for many regional endemics and specialties. We had three full days in this area in addition to two travel days so hard decisions had to be made about how the time should best be utilised. Our base for this part of the trip was Rancho Frio, the headquarters of Darien National Park. We had three nights at Rancho Frio and two nights camping on Cerro Pirre, with our gear being transported up steep tracks by Isaac's excellent team of porters and other workers.

Porters on Cerro Pirre
We spent the first of the three days in the lowland forests around Rancho Frio. This was a good move because we cleaned up most of the lowland and lower foothill specialties, allowing more time to look for mid-elevation species on our way up Cerro Pirre on the second day. The first camping night was at mid-elevation (640m) at camp site called Rancho Plastico. The group split for the second night, with some again camping at Plastico and others ascending to a ridge camp at 1100m. Some specialties are found only on the higher slopes but not everybody could camp up there, in part because of the physical challenges involved in the very steep climb and also because provisions for a second camping party were limited. With the benefit of hindsight, I believe it would have been better for the whole group to have camped both nights at Plastico, with those wishing to go up to the ridge leaving early in the morning and returning in the afternoon. It would have made operations much easier logistically and prevented tensions that can arise when guides and other resources are split. While formidable and challenging, the climb to the top was not as dire as some reports suggest and can be done quite easily in a full day if participants are reasonably fit.
Plastico Camp - Cerro Pirre
With the benefit of hindsight, I believe it would have been better for the whole group to have camped both nights at Plastico, with those wishing to go up to the ridge leaving early in the morning and returning in the afternoon. It would have made operations much easier logistically and prevented tensions that can arise when guides and other resources are split. While formidable and challenging, the climb to the top was not as dire as some reports suggest and can be done quite easily in a full day if participants are reasonably fit.
Isaac Pizaro on Rio Chucumaque
PARTICIPANTS Greg Roberts (leader, Australia), Euclides Campos (guide, Panama), Ketil Knudsen (Norway), Niels Poul Dreyer (Denmark), Taus Rasmussen (Denmark), Jeff Skevington (Canada), Jonathan Newman (United Kingdom), Bill Watson (Australia), Barbara De Witt (United States).

Cerro Pirre

September 29. I arrived in Panama City following a 27-hour sojourn from Brisbane via Los Angeles. Overnight in the very nice and birdy Radisson Summit Hotel.

September 30. Birding in the forest which surrounds the hotel.

Radisson Summit Hotel
October 1. The first day of the 21-day tour but the day before our travelling began. Some of us who arrived early hired Kilo for a morning excursion to Chagres National Park, a nice area of lowland rainforest not far from the hotel. Good sightings included exceptionally close-up views of the endemic Yellow-green Tyrannulet. Blue Cotinga, Connecticut Warbler and White-whiskered Puffbird were seen.

October 2. Today we visited the famed Pipeline Road in Soberania National Park, also not far from the hotel. We spent the day walking the shaded road, scoring nicely with Spotted Antbird, Russet-winged Shiffornis and Streak-breasted Antpitta. An Agami Heron close to the track was an unexpected bonus.

Birding Pipeline Road
October 3. We left the hotel early, crossing the Panama Canal and heading east along the Pan-American Road to the Bayano lowlands, where we had Black Antshrike in scrub by the Rio Mono. We birded some more scrub near Torti along the Rio Torti, finding Pacific Antwren and Double-banded Greytail. Lunch was at the Hotel Torti where we were entertained by an abundance of hummers at the feeders including Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Snowy-bellied Hummingbird and Long-billed Starthroat. We packed small bags for our foray into the Darien and left our main luggage cases, laptops and the like in storage at the hotel to pick up on the way back; this was necessary because the travel arrangements for the Darien are not adequate to handle large bags. We headed further to east to Meteti, overnighting in the basic but pleasant Meteti Hotel.
Guide Euclides (Kilo) Campos 
October 4. We checked out some secondary scrub and grassland east of Metiti early in the morning, then had some very good birding at the eastern end of the Pan-American Road, especially roadside in forest patches within 15km of Yaviza, the busy port town where the road terminates. Here we saw Grey-cheeked Nunlet, Barred Puffbird, Spot-crowned Barbet and Black Oropendola, along with Geoffrey's Tamarin. We met Isaac Pizaro and loaded ourselves into a large motorised canoe for a 1.5-hour journey up the Rio Chucumaque to the town of El Real. After lunch we crowded into an ancient truck for a 10km drive to the edge of the forest. We then hiked 6km through the forest to Rancho Frio, the national park headquarters. Our trek was interrupted by the sight of an imposing and much-wanted dark phase Crested Eagle – one of the most difficult neotropical raptors to see - perched high in a tree above the track. This was near the spot where a pair of Harpy Eagles had for several years nested successfully until earlier this year, when one of the adults was shot by locals; the people evidently were angry that their demands for money from visiting birders in a national park buffer zone were refused. After a long and eventful day, we arrived in the late afternoon at Rancho Frio, pleasantly located in a clearing in the forest beside a fast-running stream, ideal for bathing. Our baggage arrived on the backs of three horses. Accommodation was in a shared dormitory.

October 5. A day on the lowland and lower foothill forest trails around Rancho Frio. It started well with Viridian Dacnis and Choco Sirystes near the buildings. Soon after we had a pair of Sapayoa – the only one of the world's 234 bird families that I had not seen. In the same area we saw Slaty-winged Foliage-gleaner and Lemon-spectacled Tanager. A Speckled Mourner foraging mid-canopy was another species that is difficult to find elsewhere.

Mantled Howlers
Late in the day, when we thought it couldn't get much better, Kilo was alarmed when he heard, close to the track, the sound of what he thought was the gnashing of tusks of potentially dangerous White-lipped Peccaries. Instead, out of the thick ground cover popped a Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, which perched briefly on a log before fluttering into the undergrowth; unfortunately half the group missed the bird.

October 6. The porters had gone up the steep slopes of Cerro Pirre yesterday to set up our mid-elevation camp at Plastico. Early on our hike up the mountain we scored with Plumbeous Hawk - another difficult neotropical raptor. Then came a suite of highly desirable mid-elevation birds: Tody Motmot, Yellow-eared Toucanet, Dull-mantled Antbird, Black-and-yellow Tanager, White-ruffed Manakin and best of all, Wing-banded Antbird. This is probably the best place to see Wing-banded Antbird and our excellent views of 2 birds on the slopes below the trail were among the trip highlights.
The camp at Plastico was basic with small tents under the cover of a large plastic sheet. Unfortunately, sleeping mats we thought would be provided did not materialise, evidently due to a misunderstanding. Most of us were content enough to put up with the discomforts in the knowledge that getting a large group up this mountain was never going to be a fairy tale logistically. Kilo and the guys went the extra mile to meet various requests, to the point of compromising their own comfort. In the late afternoon during a steep walk down to a stream, we saw more Sapayoas.

Snowy-bellied Hummingbird
October 7. This day presented new challenges because the group divided, with most heading uphill to another camp on the ridge at 1100m. Not everybody could or was able to go up to the ridge for various reasons (see discussion above) so some remained at Plastico for the second camping night. Those who ascended further were rewarded with the endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker not far from camp, and further up with a feeding flock of Blue-fronted Parrotlets - a species normally seen only as a quick fly-by, if at all. Brown-billed Scythebill was another welcome addition to the list.
Higher up still, Cerro Pirre's specialties emerged in the form of Varied Solitaire and Pirre Hemispingus, while Tooth-billed Hummingbird and Violet-throated (Emerald) Toucanet put in appearances. At the summit, Pirre Hummingbird and Sooty-headed Wren showed nicely, while most of the group saw Pirre Warbler and Choco Tapaculo. Late in the day, some of us had crippling views of a nicely co-operative Black-crowned Antpitta – another species high on our wishlists - close to Plastico camp.
October 8. The good fortune of those at the top continued in the form of Black-eared Woodquail, Russet-crowned Quail-Dove and Beautiful Treerunner. Those who remained at Plastico made do with great views of Central American Pygmy-Owl, Ornate Hawk-Eagle and another Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker. All us eventually made our way slowly back down the steep trail to Rancho Frio in the afternoon. Not long before sunset, a fledgling Crested Eagle close to camp made quite a din as it begged for food from parents unseen. Around the camp, Crested Owl and Choco Screech-Owl were heard but not seen.

The boat at El Real
October 9. Our journey to Rancho Frio in reverse: hiking back through the forest, a truck ride to El Real, then the boat back to Yaviza, this time at low tide with good numbers of waterbirds feeding along the shores. We headed west to fetch our luggage at the Hotel Torti then moved on to our next destination: Burbayar Lodge in the Caribbean foothills of central-east Panama. This lodge had long been a primary destination for birders in Panama but in recent years, many have reported problems with booking accommodation.
October 10. We walked some of steep and muddy trails a few kilometres from the lodge in Nusagandi – a large forest reserve owned by local Indian communities. We saw Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, Tawny-capped Euphonia and Striped (Western) Woodhaunter along with our only large ant swarm of the trip, with attendants including several obliging Ocellated Antbirds.

Burbayar Lodge
October 11. Early in the morning we scoped a Plumbeous Hawk from the lodge on a slope across a valley. We visited a forested gully in another area near the lodge, seeing yet more Sapayoas (a total of 12-14 were seen during the trip) and Sulphur-rumped Tanager. Some of the group in the afternoon visited another site to connect with Speckled Antshrike.
October 12. A day largely in transit, heading west back across the Panama Canal to the resort town of El Valle, located in a volcanic crater in Panama's central highlands, where we stayed in the Anton Valley Hotel.
October 13. We visited some nice forest patches around Cerro Gaital and second-growth scrub near El Valle, seeing Pale-vented Thrush, Garden Emerald and Northern Schiffornis. With the benefit of hindsight we did not need to visit this site, but it was intended as back-up for key targets such as Black-crowned Antpitta and Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, which we unexpectedly cleaned up in the Darien.

Las Lajas
October 14. We continued west on a long drive to Las Lajas, a coastal site in north-west Panama, where after some effort along the main road to the beach we spotted the local specialty – a male Veraguan mango, another Panama endemic. We moved on through the city of David to the Chiriqui Highlands town of Volcan, where we booked into the delightful Hotel Dos Rio.

Volcan Hotel Dos Rio 
October 15. This morning early we headed to the Volcan foothills site of Cuesta de Piedra, a 30-minute drive from the hotel, where we ticked off regional specialties including Cherrie's Tanager and Costa Rica Brushfinch. Eye-ringed Flatbill, seen by some on Cerro Pirre, was present. We moved on to Volcan Lakes, seeing Orange-collared Manakin in remnant scrub and the distinctive Chiriqui race of Masked Yellowthroat.
Volcan Lakes
October 16. We had the whole day on the upper slopes (between 1800 and 2500m) of Volcan Buru National Park along the Los Quetzales Trail. Here in the beautiful cloud forest we had a feast of specialties shared with neighbouring Costa Rica, where many are more difficult to find than in Panama. Early in the morning we had mixed flocks lower down including Scintillant Hummingbird, Black-cheeked Warbler and White-throated Mountain-Gem. Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher was in the mix along with Volcano Hummingbird and Resplendent Quetzal higher up.

Volcan Baru National Park
At the highest point of our walk we connected nicely with a Zeledonia, or Wrenthrush – likely to eventually have a family of its own – in the undergrowth; we were to snatch glimpses of a couple more as the day progressed. Silvery-fronted Tapaculo was another skulker that showed briefly at first, then very well on the track. Then came two much-wanted specialties in quick succession - a flock of 8-10 Silvery-throated Jays and an Ochraceous Peewee; both species are challenging to find elsewhere. The day was capped off by a vocal Costa Rica Pygmy-Owl tracked down after some effort.
October 17. We checked out of the hotel and moved to another scenic highlands tourist town – Boquete, where we booked into Boquete Tree-trek at 1400m. Along the road in the afternoon we saw several Dark Peewees and a flock of Sulphur-winged Parakeets, while a probable Maroon-chested Ground-Dove flew across the road, not to be found again.

Boquete Tree-trek
October 18. We had a long (2.5 hours) drive to Fortuna Reserve on the Continental Divide that separates the Pacific and Caribbean slopes of western Panama. We began on the Pacific side at about 1000m with good numbers of hummingbirds including White-bellied Mountain-Gem, Snowcap and Black-bellied Hummingbird; the latter two were unexpected but most welcome. Another vocal Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl attracted large numbers of hummers and other birds. Blue-and-gold Tanager, a Panama endemic, showed nicely and was not uncommon along the road. On the Caribbean side, we headed down a forest trail and scored stunning views of two highly desirable birds: Lattice-tailed Trogon and Ochre-breasted Antpitta. On another trail from where the Caribbean Sea glistened in the distance, a Black-headed Ant-thrush showed nicely.

Continental Divide at Fortuna
October 19. In the morning, we birded the road close to the hotel, adding Philadelphia Vireo to the list, before moving on to David and east to the town of San Felix, where we booked into a basic hotel.
October 20. We were up early for a 1.5-hour drive northwards to the cloud forest of Cerro Santiago. It was dark when we arrived to the loud calling of a Dusky Nightjar by the road. We saw 1 or 2 birds fly by closely and Ketil managed to photograph one with the improbable aid of a smartphone torch. As dawn broke, we had several Streak-breasted Treehunters about along with our main target – Yellow-green Finch, another Panama endemic. Our birding success was followed by a long drive back to Panama City, where we again booked into the Radisson Summit. 

Ochraceous Peewee
October 21. A day of rest and contemplation. With the benefit of hindsight, I would not have organised things much differently. If we had known we were going to do so well in the Darien, we would not have gone to El Valle; we could have done with an extra night on Cerro Pirre, but the logistical challenges were substantial. Nor do I think we should have split the overnight camping into two groups for the second night on Cerro Pirre.
Unfortunately it happens sometimes with large group excursions that an individual may be more concerned with his or her personal comforts than with the interests of the group; that adds to the challenges of running an already difficult operation. However, we had outstanding success birdwise, making up for the relatively minor pitfalls and annoyances. Most of these were outside the control of what for the most part was an excellent and highly motivated group of experienced and enthusiastic birders. And many thanks to Kilo and Jose Carlos again for their wonderful work.
October 22. A dude visit to Panama Canal. Birding over, for the time being.
October 23. Another dude visit – to Casco Viejo, the Old City of Panama.
October 24. Depart Panama City.
See the full report on Surfbirds for the annotated list of species: