Cerro Chucantí Extension
6-9 February 2024
Group size limit: 5
Daniel Aldana and a local leader
NOTE: It is hard to strike a balance in Panama, since targeting every specialty would take more than a month and include at least ten days of strenuous hiking and camping! We have opted to instead design an enjoyable tour, focusing on the best birds with only a handful of moderately tough walks and just one basic lodge on the main tour (no tents required!).
Day 1: Participants will be met this afternoon at Panama City International Airport (PTY), from which we will drive to our hotel in the north of the city.
Day 2-3: We will spend two full days in Soberanía National Park on the outskirts of the city, birding along the legendary Pipeline Road plus visiting the Rainforest Discovery Center and canopy tower. Key species in this area are numerous, but we will be focusing on Pheasant Cuckoo, Tiny and Semiplumbeous Hawks, Streak-chested Antpitta, Blue Cotinga, Black-breasted Puffbird, Great Jacamar, Brownish Twiswing, Spot-crowned Antvireo, Grey Eleania, and the unassuming endemic Panama Tyrannulet.
These days give us our first chances to locate an army-ant swarm in the hope of Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo, Ocellated Antbird, Black-headed Antthrush, or maybe Slaty-backed Forest Falcon. In recent years the amazing Black-crowned Antpitta (or Pittasoma) has been easier to see at regular stakeouts south-west of the city, so if any are active during our visit we will take one of these mornings to check it out. If not here, we will have several more chances for all of the above desirable army-ant obligates during the trip!
Day 4: After a last morning on the Pipeline Road, we will head east to Nusagandi for the next two nights. Our exploration of the area can begin in earnest this afternoon.
Day 5: Nusagandi is an excellent and easily-accessible forest reserve where the monotypic Sapayoa is the biggest target, along with Speckled Antshrike and Sulphur-rumped Tanager (two tricky near-endemics). We will also have our first chance for the endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker, and a vast array of mid-elevation hummingbirds and tanagers.
Day 6: Following a final morning of birding at Nusagandi we will head east, stopping at a few stakeouts for the range-restricted Black Antshrike, plus a roadside restaurant with feeders attended by Sapphire-throated and Scaly-breasted Hummingbirds. This evening we will arrive in Meteti, our base for the next three nights.
Day 7-8: Eagle time! Several known Harpy Eagle and Crested Eagle nests are accessible every year in this vast area of rainforest so we stand very very good chances to connect with both of these monster predators! We will also be looking for many other specialties like Dusky-backed Jacamar, Agami Heron, Black Oropendola, Double-banded Greytail, Great Green Macaw, Crested and Mottled Owl, plus several species of hummingbird.
Day 9: Making our way south to Yaviza, we will transfer across the Rio Chucunaque by boat before taking a short 4WD ride and then a walk to Rancho Frio. This basic lodge in the middle of pristine lowland rainforest will be our home for the next three nights. We will have plenty of time this afternoon to do some introductory birding.
Day 10: Around Rancho Frio there are several lowland Choco endemics and other targets to keep us busy: Black-tipped Cotinga, Plumbeous and Semiplumbeous Hawks, Gray-cheeked Nunlet, “Choco” Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, Saffron-headed Parrot, White-ringed Flycatcher, Choco Sirystes, Rufous Piha, Stripe-headed Wren, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Scarlet-browed Tanager, more chances for Ocellated Antbird, Black-crowned Antpitta, or Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, and with some great luck, maybe the mega near-endemic Viridian Dacnis! At night, we have a reasonable chance of finding Choco Screech Owl and Spectacled Owl around our rooms.
Other more widespread species might include Spectacled Parrotlet, Spot-crowned Antvireo, Dull-mantled Antbird, Streak-chested Antpitta, Slaty-winged Foliage-gleaner, Black-tipped Cotinga, White-ringed Flycatcher, Lemon-spectacled Tanager, and Scarlet-browed Tanager. Some rarer inhabitants could turn up too, such as Great Curassow, Marbled Wood Quail, Olive-backed Quail-Dove, Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, Saffron-headed Parrot, or Green Manakin.
Day 11: Today, those who wish will undertake an optional hike, travelling 3km one-way and ascending 500m at birding pace. After spending much of the day in the sloping submontane forest, we will retrace our steps and descend back to Rancho Frio in the late afternoon. The endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker can be found along the hike if we still need it, along with many excellent species like Tawny-faced Quail, Central American Pygmy Owl, Slaty-winged Foliage Gleaner, Scaly-throated Leaftosser, White-headed Wren, Pale-vented Thrush, and Emerald Tanager. If we are lucky, we might even have a chance to encounter the rare Choco Tinamou, or strange Wing-banded Antbird. At the highest elevations, we stand a reasonable chance of coming across Tooth-billed Hummingbird, Choco Tapaculo, Yellow-browed Shrike-Vireo, Yellow-eared Toucanet, or maybe the shy Violaceous Quail-Dove and Rufous-breasted Antthrush.
Day 12: After a final morning around Rancho Frio we will return to our vehicles back across the Rio Chucunaque and take the long drive back to Panama City, reaching our hotel this evening.
Day 13: The tour ends this morning with transfers to the airport. Those continuing on the extension will drive to Torti.
NOTE: We can help arrange an extension to David in the far west of Panama to search for a handful of endemic species and potential splits: White-throated Mountaingem, Yellow-green Brushfinch, Coiba Spinetail, Azuero Dove, “Azuero” Painted Parakeet, “Drab-breasted” Yellow-throated Bush Tanager, “Chiriqui” Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, and the near-endemic Veraguan Mango. These are all attainable with a highly-targeted four-day itinerary. Glow-throated Hummingbird is also possible with extra days, but requires a strenuous hike and is not guaranteed.
CERRO CHUCANTÍ EXTENSION
Day 1: Arriving back in Torti after and early departure from Panama City, we will head up into the remote Cerro Chucantí Reserve for a two-night stay. The road is usually too wet for vehicles, so participants should expect that this several-kilometre transfer will be on horseback!
Day 2: Cerro Chucantí is a new reserve which protects an isolated patch of high-elevation forest, holding several species which otherwise require a week-long trek to see! Instead, we will again mount our horses in the early morning and soon enough find ourselves on the ridge at 1300m. We stand excellent chances of seeing the stunning endemic Beautiful Treehunter, along with Russet-crowned Quail-Dove, the near-endemic Violet-capped Hummingbird, the smart Varied Solitaire, and Tarcarcuna Bush Tanager. Other interesting species which we may or may not have already seen include Tody Motmot, Blue-throated Toucanet, Yellow-eared Toucanet, White-ruffed Manakin, Blue Cotinga, Green Shrike-Vireo, and Black-and-yellow Tanager.
Day 3: We will have a second chance to visit the upper elevations if we missed anything the previous day before heading down and returning to Panama City for our final night.
Day 4: The extension ends this morning with transfers to the airport.
Cost: $ 5,000
Deposit: $ 750
Single room supplement: $ 400
Cost: $ TBC
Deposit: $ 750
Single room supplement: $ TBC
Accommodation: Comfortable throughout, except for the basic lodges with shared facilities and cold showers at Rancho Frio, and on the optional extension.
Walking difficulty: While much of the tour is easy walking, there are some specific days where the walking is moderate to strenuous (specifically going to-and-from Rancho Frio, plus on the optional extension). Participants on this tour should at a minimum be able to walk for several kilometres on moderate-grade forest tracks at birding pace.
Tour cost includes: All accommodation, main meals, drinking water, internal flights (as stated in itinerary), overland transport, tips to local drivers and guides, travel permits, entrance fees, and guide fees.
Tour cost excludes: Flights before and after the tour start/end, visa, travel insurance, tips to tour leaders, laundry, drinks and other items of a personal nature.