Ecotourism — Panama.

The trip to Panama with Wildside Birding was a very dramatic one, and bears some relating to the historical perspective of this area.  Much of Panama has been “civilized” by the economic forces brought to bear on a rough and diverse topography by the staggering forces of the Canal, both physical and economic. 

To get some idea of the operation of this force, one ought to read a good book about the history of the building, attempt after attempt.  A large part of the unforgettable nature of any visit to Panama is seeing and appreciating the actual canal — to create a manmade lake, fed annually by the huge rainfalls inevitable from the Trade Winds and the modest uplift, and to use this lake to constantly operate, with the cooperation only of gravity and huge but simple locks, to lift ships from one ocean, shepherd them across the lake, and then lower them to the other ocean, has provided a huge economic program.  Some idea of the huge shipping economic benefit of NOT having to go all the way around Tierra Del Fuego, S. A. can be gained by this simple fact: the cargo ship (right) we watched make its way DOWN to the Pacific Ocean spent about $ 100,000 cash for this single passage.  Those boxes you see on the rear deck are actually the ends of semi-truck containers.  The ship is so big it seems to barely fit through the locks.

From the southeast end of the canal, in the viewing deck, we watch a huge ship pull up to the next stopping birth, and descend several dozen feet as the water is let out into the Pacific Ocean.
Miraflores Locks, viewing observatory, at Balboa, Panama.

The ship pulls abreast in this image.
A freighter pulls abreast

The stern is visible to the right as the ship is towed through the last locks on its way to the Pacific Ocean.
The ship descends into the Pacific Ocean


The plane banks to avoid a cloud mass, on the way to land at Cana, Darien, Panama.
Our plane banks for the landing run

The airplane taxis around the end of the runway to prepare to take off and leave us for three days at Cana, elevation 1500 ft., Darien, Panama.
We arrive, unload and walk the short
distance to the dormitory at Cana, Darien

Carrying our luggage and supplies from the airstrip, at Cana, to our dormitory.

Digiscoped Choco Toucan, Ramphastos brevis, January 2001.
Choco Toucan

After the flight from home to Panama City, our first morning excursion was to Metro Park in downtown Panama City.  But not what you might think — about 20 new sound species were recorded, despite the proximity to city traffic, planes and humanity.  Panama city itself would likely add several dozen species to any ABA birder’s life list, even by the curbside.

The next trip was executed by Ancon Expeditions, to Cana, in the state of Darien,  perched on  mountains, glaring eastward at very nearby Colombia. Much of the expense of a Cana trip, is due to two major factors — all people and supplies must be brought in by horseback, human pack or flown in by airplane, and second the security problem, roving bands of heavily armed Colombian FARC guerrillas, which irregularly pillage nearby Darien Indian villages.

You can guess which transportation mode we used (photos, left). These flights into the montane airstrip at Cana are at the mercy of the cloud patterns (remember the wet Caribbean air and uplift?). 

On the plus side, the mix of Central and South American bird populations, from mountain and lowland as well, which converge at Cana is very exciting.  Much of the logistics are handled by the Embara Indians -- tireless, friendly and talented, able to create arguably the finest detailed basketry in the world, and some reputed to nail a target with a blow-gun at better than 40 meters. 

Within hours of arriving, we had seen and heard Swallow Tanagers and three species of wild Macaws!

While we were at Cana, a Choco Toucan put in one of its irregular appearances, so irregular that the AOU doesn’t yet list it.  It looks like one toucan (Chestnut-mandibled) and sounds like another (Keel-billed). We got photos and sound recordings of it.

Next page - Panama 2