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Web resources for the biodiversity and ecology of animals
Introducing the Swire Institute of Marine Science Museum-a resource that may be useful for your research!
New locality records species of conservation concern
Society of Conservation Biology 16th Annual Meeting at the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK. 14th-19th July 2002
Watching wildlife in Panamá
My trip to the South American rainforest
The most accessible rainforest in the world?
Trekking in the Peruvian Andes

Watching wildlife in Panamá

by Richard T. Corlett

Darkened conference rooms are not the ideal place to recover from 12 hours of jet lag, so I decided to go 5 days early to the Association for Tropical Biology meeting in Panama (29th July – 2nd August, 2002), to give myself time to adjust. From the web site, the Canopy Tower – a converted radar station in the rainforest - sounded the ideal place to do this: "– in the dining room, a cup of coffee and rolls await you. Settle down at a table next to the window. Above the endless tropical forest of Soberanía National Park, a ship glides through the Panamá Canal. The hooting of a distant troupe of monkeys punctuates the birdcalls. You keep your field guide open on the table in front of you beside your rolls and fresh orange juice. In complete comfort, you greet the morning sun. Nothing obstructs your view. Through the unscreened open window, nature carries on its morning business"

Fig. 1. The Canopy Tower (

The reality was slightly different. My first night at the Canopy Tower ended abruptly when my alarm went off at 5.30 a.m. Soon after dawn we were birding along the famous (to birders) Pipeline Road. Following lunch and a couple of hours rest, we were off to another bird-watching site and the day finally ended at 10.30 p.m. after several hours spotlighting for night birds. Subsequent days were somewhat less energetic, but all were spent in serious birding led by Carlos or Josè, the Tower’s immensely knowledgeable bird guides. I hit my first hundred bird species in less than two days, and my final total was between 120 and 140 species, depending on how clear a view you need for a tick. Among many other species, the final list included 5 species of pigeon, 5 parrots, 7 hummingbirds, 4 trogons, 3 motmots, 3 puffbirds, 3 toucans, 4 woodcreepers, 9 antbirds, 13 flycatchers, 3 manakins, 5 wrens, and 14 assorted tanagers and their relatives. My personal favourites were the distinctive Great Tinamou, the long-tailed Squirrel Cuckoo and the Crimson-crested Woodpecker. I also saw both Two- and Three-toed Sloths, Geoffroy’s Tamarins, Western Night Monkeys, Mantled Howler Monkeys, Red-tailed Squirrels, Central American Agoutis, a Forest Rabbit, several White-nosed Coatis, and a Kinkajou. Not bad for 4 days with a completely new fauna.

view over the rainforest

The Canopy Tower is set among semi-deciduous rainforest, with some familiar pantropical plant genera, such as Schefflera, Ormosia and Sterculia, as well as such strictly Neotropical genera as Gustavia (Lecythidaceae). Disturbed areas are dominated by pioneer species of Cecropia and Miconia, which both provide a continuous and abundant supply of small-seeded fleshy fruits. One morning from the top of the Tower (coffee and rolls at hand, as promised), we watched the magnificent Keel-billed and Chestnut-mandibled Toucans, the incredibly blue Blue Cotinga, the incredibly green Green Honeycreeper, and several species of tanager, feeding together in the same Cecropia tree. At least another dozen bird species fed in the same tree at other times.

Serious birders favour the dry season, when Panama’s diverse resident bird fauna is supplemented by numerous migrants from North America. The wet season, however, is cooler, cheaper and far less crowded, and the rain rarely interrupted our field trips. There are alternatives to the Canopy Tower but, wherever you stay, I strongly recommend professional guides for all but the expert. The Neotropical avifauna is the most difficult in the world – dominated by a few, exceedingly diverse families – and my subsequent attempts at independent birding convinced me that A Guide to the Birds of Panama (R.S. Ridely & J.A. Gwynne, 1989) is no substitute for being told what a bird is and how to recognize it in future.

breakfast at dawn
A Cecropia tree


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