10 Reasons to Say ‘Yes!’ to Panama Birding in March 2022

Bridging North and South America with a narrow isthmus of lively jungled real estate, Panama is considered the ultimate neotropical birding destination for many reasons. Here are ten reasons our classic March 21-29 Panama Birding and Nature tour with guide Steve Shunk should be on your wish list for 2022.

1. Location, Location, Location!

We’ve already mentioned the importance of its continent-bridging location to Panama birding success. But our own lodgings at Canopy Tower and Canopy Lodge turn “location, location, location” up to 11. If our 9-Day, 8-Night tour were an adventure film, Canopy Tower would play a starring role.

  • Looking out from Canopy Tower is one of the pleasures of Panama birding.
  • canopy tower is a great spot for Panama birding
  • Panama birding is luxurious in Canopy Tower, which puts us into the treetops
  • View from Canopy Tower, a Panama birding delight!
  • Canopy Tower offers wonderful Panama birding!

A lovingly repurposed radar tower inside Soberanía National Park, our unique cylindrical lodgings put us into the treetops, with every curved window offering a view onto lush rainforest and its many furred and feathered inhabitants.

A rooftop observation deck features even more panoramic views of Soberanía’s 55,000 acres, and offers an opportunity to hold binoculars in one hand and a coffee or a cocktail in the other. Ecologically priceless, Soberanía boasts 525 of Panama’s 981 species of birds and 105 mammal species, including both Two and Three-toed Sloths and four species of monkeys we often see scampering or hear howling from our perch.

  • Black-throated Trogon is a target in Panama birding.
  • Panama birding offers chances to see Red-capped Manakin
  • Montezuma Oropendola is a target in Panama birding
  • Geoffroy's Tamarin is a pleasant addition to Panama Birding
  • Howler Monkeys are a by-product of Panama birding.

Canopy Tower is also striking distance from many of Panama’s “hotspot” birding locations, putting us in the middle of the action in yet another way. After four nights in the tower, we move inland and upwards, to Canopy Lodge near El Valle in the central mountains, which is alive with wild activity. From our open-air dining room we see a spectrum of species, including some considered furtive! Before breakfast we often see aracaris, motmots, oropendolas, honeycreepers, and warblers. We luxuriate by being in the middle of the action throughout this tour.

  • Panama birding is as easy as going to your window at Canopy Lodge.
  • Canopy Lodge is one of the best locations for Panama birding
  • Lovely orchids are a byproduct of Panama birding.
  • Seeing Collared Aracari is one of the pleasures of Panama birding

2. Our Timing is Perfect: Spring Migration

This trip is timed for the peak season of Panama birding. Spring migration will be in full swing and we are treated to a parade of warblers and neotropical migratory birds in fresh breeding plumage. While not as concentrated as fall migration, as many as 18 species of raptors will be making their way north, drafting on thermals, concentrating as Panama narrows. What a spectacular show! Hundreds of Broad-winged and Sharp-shinned hawks, in particular, may be spotted in a single day!

  • Panama birding offers looks at Capped Heron.
  • Anhinga sunning is one of the pleasures of Panama birding
  • Panama birding offers the opportunity to see a Snail Kite eating a snail!
  • Christmas Bird Count data show lingering warblers, like this Prothonatary Warbler

3. Hummingbirds on Parade

  • Rufous-crested Coquette, a rare pleasure of Panama birding
  • Rufous-tailed Hummingbird is one of the pleasures of Panama birding
  • Violet-bellied Hummingbird is one of Panama birding's pleasures
  • Violet-capped Hummingbirds are one of the pleasures of Panama birding. Photo Credit: Gail Hampshire
  • Snow-bellied Hummingbirds are one of the pleasures of Panama birding

Central America is a haven for hummingbirds, and the birders who love them, and Panama birding offers some 60 hummingbirds for us to discover! Our lodgings’ feeders and adventures further afield offer plentiful opportunities to create your own photo gallery of these delightful high-energy species!

4. Mixed Flocks

It can be VERY exciting when birds NOT of a feather flock together, layers of varied colors and sounds dividing up close-proximity territories and exploiting co-located food sources and collectively looking out for predators. This is a very common phenomenon in Central American countries like Panama, making for exciting and productive bursts of birding!

Panama birding is an all-hands-on-deck affair when we get into a mixed flock!
Panama birding is an all-hands-on-deck affair when we get into a mixed flock! Photo Credit: Naturalist Journeys Stock

Mixed flocks puzzled scientists for a long time, but now it’s believed that there are leader and follower birds that create this arrangement, with smaller insectivorous birds feeding nearer the treetops hitching a ride with other birds feeding lower in the canopy, taking advantage of their vigilance to predators, letting down their own guards a bit and spending more of their time and energies feeding. Our groups certainly seem to get a jolt of energy when we get into a mixed flock!

5. The Trogon and Motmot Show

Showy is right! Panama birding offers opportunities to see nine members of the trogon family: Black-throated Trogon, Orange-bellied Trogon, Baird’s Trogon, Lattice-tailed Trogon, White-tailed Trogon, Slaty-Tailed Trogon, Collared Trogon, and Gartered Trogon. We also have chances to see several Motmots, who rival the Trogons for colorful display, including those shown in this gallery: Tody, Broad-Billed and Blue-Crowned.

  • Black-throated Trogon are among the many pleasures of Panama birding.
  • Orange-bellied Trogon are among the many pleasures of Panama birding.
  • Blue-Crowned Motmot are among the many pleasures of Panama birding.
  • Broad-billed Motmot are among the many pleasures of Panama birding.
  • Collared Trogon are among the many pleasures of Panama birding.
  • Tody Motmot are among the many pleasures of Panama birding.

6. Night Shift Hijinks

We offer opportunities to seek out Panama birds and animals that work the forest night shift, including Spectacled Owl and mammals like Allen’s Olingo, Woolly Opossum, and Kinkajou, which are often feeding on fruits and flowers. It’s a lot of fun to be under the immense canopy of rainforest trees as the nocturnal wildlife gets active. Our skilled Canopy Tower guides are specialists in finding these mysterious jungle residents!

  • Spectacled Owl are among the night residents we see in Panama birding
  • Kinkajou is a mammal we sometimes see during Panama birding trips

7. Boating Gatun Lake and the Panama Canal

  • Panama birding means the Panama Canal
  • Gatun Lake is a scenic boating tour during our Panama birding adventure
  • A scenic view of the Panama Canal from our Panama birding tour
  • Panama Canal views are part of our Panama birding adventure!

Boating is part of this Panama birding tour as well, as we explore two un-natural wonders: Gatun Lake and the Panama Canal. The largest man-made lake in the world when it was created, Gatun Lake contains the flow of all the rivers within the Panama Canal Watershed to provide water for the operation of the Panama Canal lock system. And of course, it also provides a habitat to a host of species we are eager to see!

8. Beautiful Blooms, Butterflies and Bugs!

  • Panama birding includes flowers and butterflies!
  • Beautiful flowers and Panama birding are a pair!
  • butterflies are a happy byproduct of Panama birding

More than 10,000 plants call Panama home, including many lovely showy orchids and flowers, which attract butterflies, other insects, birds and photographers! So beautiful are the plants on this tour, you might be distracted from your birding….

9. Ants! (And the Birds Who Love Them)

  • Barred Antshrike is one of many ant-loving species on this Panama birding tour
  • Panama birding is sometimes about following the bugs, like these Leafcutter Ants
  • Panama birding offers chances to see white-flanked antwren
  • Bicolored Antbird is one of many ant-loving species we see on this Panama birding and nature tour
  • Pygmy Antwren is one of several ant-loving species we may see on this Panama birding tour
  • Panama birding is sometimes about the ants!
  • Panama birding includes following Army ant swarms

If you’ve spent any time in the tropics, especially in a jungle, you’ve no doubt seen Leafcutter and Army Ants at work! Leafcutter ants in particular are a marvel as they march along, fluttering bits of verdant leaf and colorful flowers on the way back to their mounded nests. Ants are especially interesting to us as they also attract antbirds and antwrens and we are always on the lookout for ants for that reason!

10. Panamanian Coffee and Food!

  • Panama birding comes with Panama food and drink!
  • Panama birding comes with Panama food and drink!
  • Panama birding comes with Panama food and drink!
  • Panama birding comes with Panama food and drink!

One of the most pleasurable experiences of the trip is taking a steaming cup of Panamanian coffee to the observation deck of Canopy Tower and waking up as the forest comes alive around you. We eat many of our meals in view and earshot of the forest as well, enjoying camaraderie and delicious and fresh local foods. There is pleasure aplenty for all of the senses on our March 21-29 Panama Birding and Nature Tour!


Travel Now for a More Intimate Glimpse of an Ecotourism Star

For a limited time, intrepid travelers have the opportunity to go back in time to experience places like the Cloud Forest Reserve of Monteverde Costa Rica, traveling quieter paths and more easily seeing (and hearing) its magnificent natural wonders.

With tourism less than half of pre-pandemic numbers, there’s a window of opportunity in 2022 to more quietly explore and enjoy what made Costa Rica a tourism magnet to begin with while supporting local ecotourism partners.

  • Monteverde Costa Rica birds include the Resplendent Quetzal
  • Monteverde Costa Rica Cloud Forest offers opportunities to see Collared Trogon. Photo Credit: Mike Boyce
  • Monteverde Costa Rica birds include the three-wattled Bellbird
  • Monteverde Reserve Costa Rica

We are extremely excited about our March 15-25 trip to Monteverde, Celeste Mountain & Caño Negro for that very reason.

A lush mountaintop territory bridging the country’s drier Pacific and wetter Caribbean forests, Monteverde Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. Before the pandemic temporarily halted travel, some questioned whether throngs of visitors were putting too much pressure on the ecosystem.

These days, so few tourists and tourism dollars are flowing into the area that many of the reserves have changed to an active “GoFundMe” model for supporting conservation, Conde Nast reported in July.

  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges

Consequently, our trips to Costa Rica in 2022 offer what may be a limited opportunity to see Monteverde as it once was, with a higher ratio of Howler Monkeys and Resplendent Quetzals to tourist vans and telephotos.

Guided by Carlos Sanchez, whose deep experience in Costa Rica really shines on this trip, we start on the Pacific side, climb to Monteverde and then bird Caribbean lowlands that border Nicaragua, maximizing our opportunities to see species from multiple biomes.

We begin and end in the lush, gardened, birder-friendly Hotel Bougainvillea in San Jose suburb Heredia, where dozens of species can often be spotted before breakfast. Our Pacific-side birding includes a boat ride to the Guacalillo Mangroves and a trip to one of Costa Rica’s most famous bird reserves: Carara National Park.

Climbing to Monteverde, we stay at Monteverde Mountain Hotel, which sits amongst 15-acres of private forest at 4,500 feet above sea level. We bird several famous reserves, including the Children’s Eternal Forest, Monteverde Cloudforest, Curicancha and Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserves.

Moving to the glorious Celeste Mountain Lodge on the slopes of the Tenorio & Miravalles Volcanoes, we enjoy both Caribbean and Pacific influences and the species lists from here are truly astounding.

  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges

We descend to the lowest elevation of our trip with one night at Caño Negro Natural Lodge, located inside Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge, one of the most important biological areas of the country and among the most important wetland areas in the world.

Nearly a quarter of Costa Rica’s landmass is protected by national parks, biological reserves, wildlife refuges or other protected areas, allowing us to travel freely from one natural jewel to another.

“They have ecotourism down to a science,” said Carlos, who has led many trips for Naturalist Journeys to Costa Rica. “Infrastructure is good, the birding is well thought out…people are often surprised just how easy it is to be there.”

Canopy Bridge | PC: Leslie Cross via Unsplash

Fulfilling Ecotourism’s Promise

It has been difficult for our partners on the ground, trying to survive with virtually no tourism in 2020. And just 40 percent of Costa Rica’s tourists returned in the first 11 months of 2021, the country’s tourism ministry reported this week.

In 2020, National Geographic wrote about how devastating the pandemic has been to places like Monteverde, which relies almost exclusively on tourism dollars.

By traveling, we hold up our end of the ecotourism bargain; that locals have as much or more to gain by preserving natural resources as they would by developing them.

In Changing times, The Christmas Bird Count is More Important Than Ever

Audubon Acclaims Guide Carlos Sanchez’s New Homestead Circle as among the most “ornithologically significant” in Florida

Record species counts, four new U.S. birds and enthusiastic participation were among the pleasant surprises in the 2020-2021 Christmas Bird Count data Audubon released this week, especially since last year’s count was nearly canceled because of COVID-19.

“Even with the adjustments needed to do a COVID-safe Christmas Bird Count, pretty much across the hemisphere compilers and participants felt that both the numbers of birds tallied and the array of species found were as high as, if not a bit higher than, average,” Geoff LeBaron, director of the Christmas Bird Count wrote in Audubon’s summary of the 121st annual bird census.

Carlos Sanchez’s Homestead, FL Christmas Bird Count Circle drew praise from Audubon this year, though his recorders were spread thinner than this FL tour group!

Despite having 10 percent fewer counts and counters, the 121st Christmas Bird Count turned up 2 million more birds than the previous year’s 42 million. Though fewer in number, volunteers logged more overall hours than in any of the past 10 years.

Generally warmer and more favorable weather attracted and kept volunteers in the field, Audubon wrote in its summary, and because of COVID, birding parties tended to be smaller and more likely on foot than in cars, maximizing opportunities to spot birds.

New species are always a highlight in the data, and it won’t surprise savvy birders to learn the four species novel to the US were found near borders: three in Florida and one in Alaska.

  • Christmas Bird Count data sometimes turns up new species, like this Siberian Accentor, found near Homer, AL
  • Christmas Bird Count data sometimes turns up new species like the Red-Legged Thrush
  • Christmas Bird Count data frequently finds new species, like this Cuban Pewee
  • Christmas Bird Count data is vital to studying populations like this black-faced Grassquit

“The Cuban Pewee and Black-faced Grassquit at Lower Keys – Key Deer N.W.R. in Florida, the Red-legged Thrush at Key West in Florida, and the Siberian Accentor at Homer in Alaska were new species,” Audubon wrote on its annual tally announcement this week.

Christmas Bird Count data is critical for scientists grappling with how bird populations respond to environmental changes, noting where species are moving to or from. Longer-lingering warblers and dramatically more widespread distribution of late hummingbirds were noted in last year’s data, for example.

Conducted every year between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5 by volunteers throughout the Americas, Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count has been producing critical scientific data since 1890, when ornithologist Frank M. Chapman proposed a bird census to replace the traditional Christmas “side hunt,” a competition for which party of hunters could indiscriminately shoot and kill the most birds and animals.

From a 1905 book “Birds that Hunt and are Hunted,” courtesy of Library of Congress.

Though 250 Christmas Bird Count circles opted out of last year’s count, most citing the pandemic, 43 new birding areas were inaugurated, including one organized by guide Carlos Sanchez in Homestead, FL. Based on inaugural data released this week, Florida Audubon wrote, the southwestern Miami-Dade count “should become one of the most ornithologically significant CBCs in Florida.”

Bridging a gap on the map between the Everglades CBC and the one in Kendall, Homestead “has demonstrated it can produce high counts of individuals with some of the best in the country,” Audubon wrote on its national CBC summaries page. 

“It features oddball wintering populations of Swainson’s Hawk, Lesser Nighthawk, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, and other western species,” Carlos wrote to tell us about his team’s impressive results.

“We are generating these numbers with a rather skeletal crew of 30-35 birders. I believe there are statistically significant wintering populations of many warbler species, some of which are not even being shown on field guide maps right now.”

Christmas Bird Count data is vital to studying bird populations like the one of Homestead, FL
Graphic by Carrie Miller

In fact, a widespread northern movement of birds like White Ibis from the Everglades into Florida city suburbs is the current cover story of Audubon Magazine.

Among the trends the 2020-2021 Christmas Bird Count data continued to support were two related to the milder temperatures: more and more widespread reporting of both hummingbirds and warblers. 

Once counted only by Christmas Bird Count circles in the Gulf Coast and in Florida, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird “is becoming regular on CBCs up the Atlantic Coast as far as the Outer Banks, and this past season was seen on several counts as far north as Virginia and Maryland,” Audubon wrote.

  • Christmas Bird Count data show lingering warblers, like this Yelllow Warbler
  • Christmas Bird Count data show lingering warblers, like this Prothonatary Warbler
  • Christmas Bird Count data are showing lingering and northward movement of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

American Redstart, Blue-winged, Chestnut-sided, Grace’s, Lucy’s, MacGillivray’s, Prothonotary, Tennessee, Worm-eating, and Yellow warblers are now lingering, when in years past they would have vacated North America by the time the count rolled around.

On the less-abundant side of the coin, data showed continued declines in Ruffed Grouse populations.

“Given that in some regions wildlife agencies manage habitat to benefit Ruffed Grouse it is something of a mystery why the decline continues, but this species is naturally cyclical in its populations so hopefully we are at the bottom of the ebb these seasons,” wrote LeBaron, the CBC director.

If you haven’t already, join in a Christmas Bird Count, and sign up here at the Audubon website. Happy “hunting”!

Can we count on you to share your Christmas Bird Count photos and videos?

Christmas Bird Counts are sometimes estimates!
Birding Bosque del Apache, NM in Dec. 2021. Photo Credit: Bryan Calk

We would love it if you would share with us photos or videos from your local circle’s participation in the Christmas Bird Count this year! By email, send them to: carrie@naturalistjourneys.com or tag us in your Instagram posts with #naturalistjourneys or add us to your Facebook posts using @naturalistjourneysllc. Thank you!

Wetlands, Waterfowl, and Wine: Birding in the California Central Valley

The California Central Valley is famous for its gorgeous wetlands filled with various waterfowl and its endless vineyards producing some of the world’s finest wines. As huge fans of this area, Naturalist Journeys crafted the California: Birding Wine Country itinerary from February 5-11. Explore Lodi and stay at the luxury Wine & Roses Hotel while our trusted guide, David Yee, takes you to see some of the most beautiful wildlife habitats in the Central Valley. Here’s a sneak peak of the top ten birds you might see on this trip.

Greater White-fronted Goose

First, this medium-sized goose boasts bright orange legs and a white face and flies in huge flocks at this time of year. Observe them mixed in groups of other species of geese. Additionally, Greater White-fronted Geese thrive in agricultural fields like the famous Central Valley vineyards. 

Ross’s Goose

This “mini” version of the Snow Goose is an adorable sight in the California wetlands. Find Ross’ Geese in huge flocks of other species of geese. 

Cinnamon Teal

The Cinnamon Teal is named for the male’s spice-colored feathers, boasts pops of dusty blue and striking red eyes. Spot these beautiful waterfowl in the wetlands of the California Central Valley!

California Quail

The California Quail is native only to the western coast of North America, they were introduced to other locations including Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, and Hawaii. The California Quail has a scaly-patterned belly and can be seen running along their brushy habitats. 

Anna’s Hummingbird

This chunky hummingbird is most recognizable by the striking magenta heads found on males. In addition, females share the male’s greenish-gray body. Anna’s Hummingbirds are only found in North America. 

White-faced Ibis

The White-faced Ibis is a striking maroon-colored wader. They gather in flocks and feed in marshy wetlands or agricultural fields. 

Lewis’s Woodpecker

Lewis’s Woodpecker is one of the larger members of the woodpecker family, with pink, silver, and oily green feathers. It is also one of the strangest. Despite its family name, this bird’s flight pattern resembles a crow and foraging methods are like a flycatcher.

Western Bluebird

Another bird native to North America, the Western Bluebird is a beautiful backyard species that thrives in open woodlands. Despite their territorial nature, a large number of nests with youngsters in them are defended by males that did not father them.


The Phainopepla, named for its slick black feathers, coming from Greek origin meaning “shining robe”. Fun fact: the Phainopepla can eat up to 1,100 mistletoe berries a day!

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Finally, easily recognizable by its strange call, this bird is a North American beauty. Yellow-headed Blackbirds are huge fans of wetlands, especially those sporting cattails. 

To sum up, you don’t want to miss this California Birding Wine Country tour, an immersive guided tour that allows you to bird premier National Wildlife Refuges and witness iconic western species. To find out more about our California trip, visit our website or click the link below: 

 California: Birding Wine Country | February 5-11, 2022