Plain-colored Tanager Tangara inornata Photo by Jonathan Slifkin One of the most common sights from the observation deck at the Canopy Tower is the Plain-colored Tanager. True to its name it is mostly gray, with black wings and a pale belly, but a careful look will also reveal a flash of bright blue at its wingbend. This charming species is common in forest canopy and forest edge habitats, but it occupies a rather restricted range, being found only in eastern Costa Rica, Panama, and northwestern Colombia. Plain-colored Tanagers are typically found in pairs or small groups, and can often be seen foraging within mixed flocks of tanagers, honeycreepers, warblers, and others. They move rapidly as they forage and give away their presence with their high-pitched vocalizations. They feed both on fruits, especially cecropia fruits, and on insects and spiders. Breeding takes place from February to August in Panama. The female builds the nest alone, using fibers and cobwebs, but the male helps her to gather material and to raise the chicks (two per clutch) until they are old enough to survive on their own. As mentioned, Plain-colored Tanagers are common at the Canopy Tower, which is surrounded by their preferred habitat of cecropia-dominated canopy. They are also common around the Canopy Camp and the Canopy Lodge, although we are still waiting for one to make an appearance on the Panama Fruit Feeder Cam! References: Angehr, G. R., and R. Dean (2010). The Birds of Panama: A Field Guide. Zona Tropical, San José, Costa Rica. Zapata, Y. and K. J. Burns (2020). Plain-colored Tanager (Tangara inornata), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.
Plain-colored Tanager Tangara inornata Photo by Jonathan Slifkin One of the most common sights from the observation deck at the Canopy Tower is the Plain-colored Tanager. True to its name it is mostly
Wing-banded Antbird Myrmornis torquata Photo by Tyler Ficker The rainforests of eastern Panama are perhaps the most important stronghold of the rare and distinctive Wing-banded Antbird. These antbirds can be recognized by their squat, nearly tailless appearance and their bright cinnamon-rufous wingbars (or "bands"). Males have an extensively black throat and breast, while females show a rufous-orange throat patch. This species appears to have a highly discontinuous range, with populations occurring variously across Amazonia and the Guianas, at the base of the Andes, and from northwest Colombia north into Honduras. It inhabits the interior of lowland forests. The discontinuities in its reported range may be due to poorly understood details of its habitat preferences, but also to its general rarity and the lack of comprehensive surveys. Unlike many more familiar members of its family, the Typical Antbirds (Thamnophilidae), the Wing-banded Antbird does not forage by attending army ant swarms. Instead, these antbirds forage by carefully and slowly probing through the leaf litter on the forest floor for insects and other arthropods, usually alone or in pairs and almost always away from ant swarms or other mixed species feeding flocks. This highly unobtrusive behavior—slow, quiet, and often solitary—contributes greatly to the difficulty of spotting and observing this bird in the field. The Wing-banded Antbird is not currently considered a threatened species, although much more remains to be learned about its distribution and ecology. In Panama Wing-banded Antbirds are found only in the eastern half of the country, including in protected areas such as Soberanía and Darién National Parks. It is very unusual to see this species on birding tours from the Canopy Tower, but it is often one of the top avian prizes for our guests at Canopy Camp Darien. Sabrewing guide Tyler Ficker narrates a recent encounter with a Wing-banded
Wing-banded Antbird Myrmornis torquata Photo by Tyler Ficker The rainforests of eastern Panama are perhaps the most important stronghold of the rare and distinctive Wing-banded Antbird. These antbirds can be recognized by their
Dendrophthora fortis Photo by Jerry and Linda Harrison Although mistletoes are familiar to many for their significance in European cultures, from ancient Norse mythology to modern Christmas traditions, they reach by far their highest diversity in the tropics. Most of Europe is inhabited by only one mistletoe species (Viscum album), as is most of eastern North America (Phoradendron leucarpum). By contrast, Panama alone hosts at least 45 species, and more are continuing to be discovered. One of these species, Dendrophthora fortis, holds a special place in the Canopy Family's heart, as it is not only endemic to Panama but was recently discovered and described by our own field biologists Jerry and Linda Harrison! The genus Dendrophthora (Greek, "tree destruction") contains over 125 species in total, distributed across Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, although the taxonomic details are complicated and many uncertainties remain. D. fortis (Latin, "strong") was discovered by Jerry and Linda—along with two additional new species, D. perlicarpa and D. primaria—not far from their home in the cloudforests of Los Altos de Cerro Azul, in the foothills of Cerro Jefe. A formal species description was published in 2015. D. fortis has subsequently been observed in additional nearby locations at Cerro Jefe, which is well known for hosting many localized cloudforest species (and is a popular day-trip birding destination from the Canopy Tower). Otherwise this species is known to occur in only one other population, at El Valle de Antón in Coclé (home of the Canopy Lodge). Mistletoes, in general, are plant parasites from multiple taxa that survive primarily by extracting water and nutrients from their host plant. Over time mistletoe parasitism may stunt or even kill host trees—hence the genus name Dendrophthora, "tree destruction." D. fortis has been observed parasitizing small Clusia trees that are very common in the Cerro Jefe cloudforest. It
Dendrophthora fortis Photo by Jerry and Linda Harrison Although mistletoes are familiar to many for their significance in European cultures, from ancient Norse mythology to modern Christmas traditions, they reach by far
Canopy Lizard Polychrus gutturosus Photo by Domiciano Alveo The Canopy Lizard is a diurnal, arboreal lizard of the lowlands and foothills of Central America and northwestern South America. It can be identified by its extremely long tail (up to three times the length of the rest of its body!), blunt snout, green coloration, and distinct postocular spot or stripe. It sometimes shows transverse striping on its body and tail. It is variable in coloration (Polychrus, Greek, "many colors") and also has the ability to change its color from bright green to dull brown depending on mood or environmental conditions. The Canopy Lizard, true to its name, lives in the forest canopy at heights of up to 40 meters. It makes slow and deliberate movements as it climbs and maneuvers in trees and will often remain stationary in one (sometimes awkward or bizarre) position for extended periods of time. It is capable of rapid movements if threatened, however. If disturbed, it may open its mouth and extend its dewlap wide (gutturosus, Latin, "with an enlarged throat") in a threat display. Canopy Lizards are mostly insectivorous but will also eat leaves, fruits, seeds, and flowers. The Canopy Lizard is rarely seen and probably frequently overlooked due to its canopy habitat and general unobtrusiveness. Occasionally we spot this interesting lizard basking in the treetops from the Canopy Tower observation deck. The photo below was taken closer to ground level at Canopy Camp Darien. This species is known by a number of other common names, including Berthold’s Bush Anole, Monkey-tailed Anole, and Forest Iguana, as well as Canopy Lizard—we think the choice is obvious which name to prefer! Photo by Nando Quiroz.
Canopy Lizard Polychrus gutturosus Photo by Domiciano Alveo The Canopy Lizard is a diurnal, arboreal lizard of the lowlands and foothills of Central America and northwestern South America. It can be identified
Veraguan Mango Anthracothorax veraguensis Photo by Danilo Rodriguez Jr. Named for the Panamanian province of Veraguas, the Veraguan Mango was long considered to be strictly endemic to Panama but in recent years has been documented as well in far southern Costa Rica, where it appears to be expanding its range northward. Nonetheless, this species remains a much-wanted restricted-range specialty for avid Panama birders! Within Panama, the Veraguan Mango is mostly restricted to the Pacific lowlands of the western half of the country, from Chiriquí to Coclé. The male Veraguan Mango is green with a diffusely blue throat to belly, a maroon tail, and slightly decurved bill; the female has white underparts with a blue-green stripe down the center. Young birds look similar to adult females but with rufous coloration along the throat and breast. Both sexes are most easily distinguished from the more familiar Black-throated Mango (Anthracothorax nigricollis), which occurs in central and eastern Panama and in South America, and from the even more similar Green-breasted Mango (Anthracothorax prevostii), which occurs from western Panama north into Mexico, by their paler blue-green, rather than black, throat and central underparts. An adult male Veraguan Mango at Juan Hombron, photo by Carlos Bethancourt. Within its very limited range on the Pacific lowlands, the Veraguan Mango prefers open habitats such as pastureland with scattered trees or the edges of streams. Veraguan Mangos feed on the nectar of trees and shrubs, and individual birds may defend territories at trees in flower. The best opportunities for viewing this special hummingbird are on Canopy Family day trips from the Canopy Lodge to Juan Hombron on the Pacific coast. Aside from the unique Pacific dry forest and coastal environments, this birding excursion provides access to the Veraguan Mango's core habitat along pastures and in roadside scrub. Our experienced Canopy
Veraguan Mango Anthracothorax veraguensis Photo by Danilo Rodriguez Jr. Named for the Panamanian province of Veraguas, the Veraguan Mango was long considered to be strictly endemic to Panama but in recent years has
The Canopy Tower: Updates from Our First Year. February 1998 During this month we had quite a few important visitors. The top position must go to Dr. Robert S. Ridgely, the world-famous ornithologist and author of several books including The Birds of Panama and The Birds of South America in two volumes. Dr. Ridgely was in Panama leading a group of birders from VENT, and I met him by chance at the Summit Gardens. I invited him to come to the Tower, which is only 10 minutes from Summit, and he graciously agreed. The hour was noon, which is not the best time to watch birds, however we had a very productive hour. We saw a Green Shrike-Vireo at about 20 meters, we put the scope on it and everybody in the group, about 14, had a good view of this beautiful little bird which in his book Ridgely describes as "exasperatingly difficult to see". We also saw a Black-throated Trogon making a nest, a Philadelphia Vireo, a Short-tailed Hawk, a Peregrine Falcon, and a couple of flycatchers. The Short-tail Hawk gave us an impressive show of its hunting skills, dropping like a stone, straight down, to disappear in the canopy. The group was ecstatic with the Tower, Dr. Ridgely too, they were all joking about staying longer; one of the older gentlemen, whose wife had stayed in the city, told Dr. Ridgely: "I'm going to stay here, tell my wife I got lost in the rain forest!" Before they departed, I asked Ridgely to sign my copy of The Birds of Panama, and he wrote: "For Raul, with best of wishes, and may your Canopy Tower succeed! It's a great idea, and I look forward to returning". What more could I ask for? Dr. Ridgely and his guests birding from the Canopy
The Canopy Tower: Updates from Our First Year. February 1998 During this month we had quite a few important visitors. The top position must go to Dr. Robert S. Ridgely, the world-famous ornithologist
In January of 2003, I received an email from Stuart, an American radar technician who had worked at the Canopy Tower in its previous life as a US military installation. I was excited for this opportunity to learn more about the Tower's complex and fascinating history! Stuart was even able to send me some photographs of the Tower as it once was. Take a look at our correspondence below. 15 January 2003 Dear Sirs, I was cruising the web this morning, thinking about my past job with CBRN [Caribbean Basin Radar Network] when I came across your web site. After seperating from the USAF as a radar tech I hired on with ITT in the program. I worked there for a year. Imagine getting to go to work there everyday!!!! I remember arriving to work early in the mornings, the mist rising above the canopy, Howler's groaning in the early light. I also used to sit on top at night and look out over the area, so cool. Does "Cody" the Coati-mundi still climb the tower? He used to climb up the fire escape ladder hoping to get some treats. Anyway, just wanted to say hello. Enjoy the view, maybe we can make it that way again someday. Regards, Stuart Texas, USA 15 January 2003 Hello Stuart, Great to hear from you! Do you have any pictures of the Tower at the time? I'd love to see them. I asked the USAF many years ago and they gave me the turn around, they all promised them and later it was all hot-air, was it because this a top top secret installation? Re, the Codi, when I got there there were a couple of coatis living there, I scared them off but they returned the next day, then I captured them and
In January of 2003, I received an email from Stuart, an American radar technician who had worked at the Canopy Tower in its previous life as a US military installation. I was excited
Swainson's Hawk Buteo swainsoni Photo by Jonathan Slifkin. Every October and November, and again in March and April, nearly every Swainson’s Hawk in the world traverses the isthmus of Panama, on its way between its breeding grounds in western temperate North America and its wintering grounds on the pampas of Argentina and Uruguay. Swainson's Hawks migrate in large flocks or "kettles," sometimes in numbers as strong as 10,000, and often in association with additional thousands of Turkey Vultures, Broad-winged Hawks, and Mississippi Kites. They migrate by day and over land, taking advantage of thermals to conserve energy. The passage of these great flocks through Central America is widely regarded as one of the birding world's greatest surviving spectacles. Fall migration surveys conducted from the Canopy Tower (see here) have recorded over 100,000 Swainson's Hawks in a single season, and over 70,000 in a single day! Although the great majority of Swainson's Hawks undertake the full long-distance migration, small numbers may spend the winter further north, including on Panama's western Pacific slope. The Swainson's Hawk is highly variable in appearance, often being separated into pale, dark, and rufous "morphs," although many individuals show intermediate characteristics. A typical pale morph individual has a distinctive rufous-brown breastband between its white throat and white belly, and white underwing coverts contrasting with dark gray flight feathers. Dark and rufous morph individuals have, respectively, brown to black or rufous underparts and underwing coverts, with variable barring or streaking. In all plumages this species may also be recognized by its long wings and tail, dark flight feathers, and pale undertail coverts. Swainson's Hawks generally prefer open habitats, such as grasslands, open woodlands, and agricultural areas. Their diet consists mainly of small mammals, reptiles, and birds while breeding, but predominantly of grasshoppers and other insects while migrating or
Swainson’s Hawk Buteo swainsoni Photo by Jonathan Slifkin. Every October and November, and again in March and April, nearly every Swainson’s Hawk in the world traverses the isthmus of Panama, on its way
Geoffroy's Tamarin Saguinus geoffroyi Photo by Doug Weschler Geoffroy's Tamarin, known locally in Panama as "mono tití," is Central America's only tamarin species and Panama's smallest monkey, around the size of a squirrel. It has a distinctive appearance, featuring white underparts, a rufous nape, a white tuft on its forehead, and a long, black, non-prehensile tail. This species has a restricted range, occurring only in central and eastern Panama and northwestern Colombia. Within this range Geoffroy's Tamarins favor forest edge and secondary or disturbed forest habitats, living predominantly in the sub-canopy and shrub levels of the forest. Although it is adaptable to disturbed habitats, the Geoffroy's Tamarin faces threats from habitat loss and the encroachment of roads and urbanization as well as the exotic pet trade, and it is currently classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN. A typical Geoffroy's Tamarin social group consists of two to nine individuals: a single breeding female, one or more adult males, and young. Female Geoffroy's Tamarins usually give birth to twins. Young tamarins are carried around on the back of an adult member of the group, either their parent or another member of the family. Geoffroy's Tamarins are territorial and will defend their territories from neighboring tamarin groups with whistling calls, scent marking, and occasional fights. Geoffroy's Tamarins forage mostly for fruit and insects, although they will also eat other small animals, flowers, nectar, and plant gums. Among their favorite foods are the fruits and flowers of the Cecropia trees that are typical of forest edges and secondary forests. At the Canopy Tower, the surrounding cecropias frequently attract a social group of tamarins, who have also grown fond of the bananas regularly placed for them by the Canopy Tower staff! These tamarins allow for close-up views of their feeding and social behavior right from the Tower's observation
Geoffroy’s Tamarin Saguinus geoffroyi Photo by Doug Weschler Geoffroy’s Tamarin, known locally in Panama as “mono tití,” is Central America’s only tamarin species and Panama’s smallest monkey, around the size of a squirrel.
Hourglass Tree FrogDendropsophus ebraccatus Photo by Eliecer Rodríguez. The Hourglass Tree Frog is a common and adaptable species of frog that has been the subject of much scientific attention due to several unusual features of its biology. So named for the brown, roughly hourglass-shaped patch on its back, it is also known as the “pantless” tree frog presumably for its bright yellow thighs. Overall this frog is variably yellow in coloration, growing brighter by night. Hourglass Tree Frogs occur locally from southern Mexico south into northwestern Colombia; although they favor the interior of humid tropical forest, up to 1600m in elevation, they can also survive in forest edge and other disturbed or open habitats. The photos featured here were taken on the grounds of the Canopy Lodge, El Valle de Antón. Research interest in the Hourglass Tree Frog has focused mainly on its breeding biology. Hourglass Tree Frogs typically breed during the rainy season (mostly May–November, in Panama). Males congregate into leks or "breeding choruses" at the edges of ponds, calling competitively at certain frequencies and pulse rates to attract females. Eggs are laid in multiple large clutches and hatch after approximately 3½ days; tadpoles develop in ponds and begin to metamorphose after about 6 weeks. Recent studies conducted near Gamboa, Panama have shown that Hourglass Tree Frogs display a unique sort of reproductive plasticity, meaning an ability to vary their reproductive strategies in response to local conditions. Whereas most if not all other vertebrates have evolved to reproduce exclusively on land or exclusively in the water, Hourglass Tree Frogs lay their eggs either terrestrially (on vegetation overhanging water) or aquatically (directly on the surface of or submerged in water), depending on shade conditions. As each option brings its own variable risks—including desiccation in the air, oxygen constraints in the water,
Hourglass Tree FrogDendropsophus ebraccatus Photo by Eliecer Rodríguez. The Hourglass Tree Frog is a common and adaptable species of frog that has been the subject of much scientific attention due to several unusual