Panama's western highlands highlights

Some weekends ago I headed to the western highlands of Panama in Chiriquí. I had one single target in mind: photograph a Collared Trogon at Finca Ceriana which was commisioned for a set of postcards we are developing with Ceriana.

I spent half a day at Finca Ceriana, and to spoil the story from the beggining, I was not able to complete the mission. I watched a female Collared Trogon but was way into the forest, I tried briefly and judiciously to attract her with playback, but was in vain. I was later invited to a literally meaty lunch at one of the owners family's houses; great charbroiled rib-eyed steak, salad, potatoes and wine was part of the feast. I truly appreciate Luigi Gonzalez de la Lastra and family's hospitality. Unfortunately I was not feeling well due to a headache (not to blame the wine) so I quit for the day. This time I didn't added new species to Ceriana's list but added some to mine (White-ruffed Manakin, Acadian Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, as far as I recall), and once again I heard some birds in low level of forest that could not identify. I was also able to clearly watch lots of Crested Guans and one or two Costa Rican Brush-finches, which are ones of the highlights of the place along with the mentioned trogons. My incursion in Finca Ceriana rendered these pictures:

The Tropical Mockingbird (Mimus gilvus) is a resident breeding bird from southern Mexico south to northern Brazil, and in the Lesser Antilles and other Caribbean islands. The birds in Panama and Trinidad may have been introduced. This mockingbird is common in most open habitats, including urban and suburban areas, it has a varied and musical song,and may imitate the songs of neighbouring Tropical Mockingbirds, but apparently not those of other birds:


The Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna) is a medium-sized icterid bird that occurs from eastern North America to South America. The peculiar belief that this bird also occurred in Africa is due to confusion of the yellow-breasted meadowlarks with certain longclaws (Macronyx), quite unrelated African songbirds. Specifically the Cape longclaw  and the yellow-throated longclaw share similar habitat and habits; their plumage pattern however is all but identical, a striking example of convergent evolution. Their breeding habitat is grasslands, prairie and pastures and grassy areas. This species is a permanent resident throughout much of its range, though most northern birds migrate southwards in winter. This species is ideally suited to farmland areas, especially where tall grasses are allowed to grow, in Panama is common on Pacific slope eastward to eastern Panamá province and on Caribbean slope from northern Coclé to eastern Colón.

 White-ruffed Manakin (Corapipo altera) - female


Acadian Flycatcher (Empidonax virescens). Its breeding habitat is deciduous forests, often near water, across the eastern United States and southwestern Ontario. These birds migrate through eastern Mexico and the Caribbean to southern Central America and the very northwest of South America in Colombia, western Venezuela, and Ecuador. It's a fairly common transient and winter resident in Panama.

Silver-throated Tanager (Tangara icterocephala). They occur in pairs, small groups, or as part of a mixed-species feeding flock. They eat small fruit, insects and spiders, and are common in foothills and highlands.



Crested Oropendola (Psarocolius decumanus) is a New World tropical icterid bird. It is a resident breeder in lowland South America east of the Andes, from Panama and Colombia south to northern Argentina, as well as on Trinidad and Tobago. It's fairly common on eastern Pacific slope,  uncommon on Caribbean slope from northern Coclé to eastern Colón, and rare and local from Chiriquí to Canal Area. Found in upper and middle levels of forest, woodland and clearings with large trees. It's not as gregarious as other oropendolas. 


I slept in Volcán and early next day I went to Boquete were I met Rafael Gutierrez, a fellow birdwatcher, tourism guide and photographer who was waiting for me to go up the Volcán Barú foothills in search of certain species that occur in this region. Our main targets were of course Resplendent Quetzal and Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, among others that we missed.

We had lunch, and in the afternoon returned to the field but this time to the Lost Waterfall trail at Bajo Mono (also known as pipeline or pipa de agua trail), to try more quetzals, the other member of the silky-flycatchers family and other endemics of  Costa Rica and western Panama highlands. These were the best pictures I got from this day:


The Emerald Swift or Green Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus malachiticus) is a species of small lizard in the Phrynosomatidae family, native to Central America. They are diurnal, arboreal lizards. In the early morning they forage for insects, and then spend much of the day basking in the sun. They will retreat to a burrow, or under a rock or log if the temperature becomes too high or to sleep. Is found from Mexico's Yucatan region, to Panama.


The Volcano Hummingbird (Selasphorus flammula) is a very small hummingbird which breeds only in the mountains of Costa Rica and Chiriquí, Panama. This tiny endemic bird inhabits open brushy areas, paramo, and edges of elfin forest at altitudes from 1850 m to the highest peaks. It is only 7.5 cm (2.95 inch) long. The black bill is short and straight. The adult male volcano hummingbird has bronze-green upperparts and rufous-edged black outer tail feathers. The throat is grey-purple in the Talamanca range, red in the Poas-Barva mountains and pink-purple in the Irazú-Turrialba area, the rest of the underparts being white. The female is similar, but her throat is white with dusky spots. Young birds resemble the female but have buff fringes to the upperpart plumage. This species is replaced at somewhat lower elevations by its relative, the Scintillant Hummingbird.

The Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher (Ptiliogonys caudatus), is a passerine bird which occurs only in the mountains of Costa Rica and western Panama, usually from 1,850 m altitude to the timberline. The silky-flycatchers are related to waxwings, and like that group have a soft silky plumage. The habitat of this bird is mountain forests, they forages in small flocks when not breeding, flycatching for insects or taking small fruits, especially mistletoe, often perch prominently on high exposed twigs. They are common in western highlands of Panama, found in canopy of forest and in adjacent clearing with tall trees.


The Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) is a bird in the trogon family. It is found from Guatemala to western Panama (unlike the other quetzals of the genus Pharomachrus, which are found in South America and eastern Panama). It is well known for its colorful plumage. The resplendent quetzal is Guatemala's national bird, and an image of it is on the flag and coat of arms of Guatemala. It is also the name of the local currency. In breeding males, as seen on pictures, their green upper tail coverts hide their tails and  are particularly splendid, being longer than the rest of the body. In Panama they are fairly common in western highlands, eastward to Veraguas; migrates between elevations according to fruiting trees availability.


 Female Scintillant Hummingbird  incubating

The Scintillant Hummingbird (Selasphorus scintilla) is the smallest hummingbird within its endemic range, which includes only the mountains of Costa Rica and western Panama. This tiny bird inhabits brushy forest edges, coffee plantations, shrubby areas, forest clearing and sometimes gardens at altitudes from 900–2,000 m (3,000–6,600 ft), and up to 3,000 m (9,900 ft). It is only 6.5–8 cm (2.6–3.1 in) long, including the bill. The male weighs 2 g (0.071 oz) and the female 2.3 g (0.081 oz). This is one of the smallest birds in existence, marginally larger than the bee hummingbird. The black bill is short and straight. It's fairly common in highlands of western Chiriquí. (Please note: This photo was taken from a long distance to avoid disturbance of nesting individual)


 Brown-capped Vireo (Vireo leucophrys)


Ochraceous Wren (Troglodytes ochraceus) is an endemic resident breeding species in Costa Rica and eastern Panama.


As you might see this region has a lot of interesting species that are endemic to it but photographing them can become very frustrating sometimes. I was fortunate enough to get very good pictures of a handfull of species and that compensates the lack of a large quantity. I can't wait to return and complete the mission for Ceriana, and explore other places in such a beautiful province as is Chiriquí.