ITEC Birding Program

Red-legged Honeycreeper

Lying between two continents and between two oceans, Panama represents the intersection between North and South America and is one of the best locations for birding in the world. Nearly a 1000 bird species have been reported from the tiny country of Panama and the ITEC birding program will provide you with the opportunity of seeing many of them!

Why Choose ITEC?

Birding at ITEC Field Station

Your trip will be lead by ITEC ornithological faculty holding a doctorate degree and can not only guide you in locating and identifying abundant bird species, but will also be able to provide information on each bird’s life history as well, including their behavior, diet, geographic distribution and breeding habits. Lectures on bird identification, ecology and behavior as it relates to different ecosystems and elevations will be presented. ITEC’s birding program is for discerning individuals who want to gain more from a birding trip than simply adding to a life list. It is an experience that will last a lifetime.

Red-breasted Blackbird

Our mission is to provide for you the greatest number of bird species possible in a 7-day field trip. To accomplish this, we will be visiting a number of distinct ecosystems that together will provide the potential for sighting approximately 800 species of birds; many of which are unique to Panama. Marine ecosystems will include shorelines along the Caribbean coast, as well as Bird Island Preserve in Bocas del Toro; the only nesting location of the Red-billed Tropicbird in the southwestern Caribbean.  Habitats will include beaches, mangrove forests, rocky shores, estuaries, and small islands.

Terrestrial locations will include insular regions of Bocas del Toro Province and tropical rain forests sites at sea level, mid elevation and high elevation. On the Pacific versant, we will visit both mid and low elevation sites in tropical moist and dry forests. On both sides of the isthmus, we will utilize all available habitats in our quest for birds, including forests, agricultural areas, pastures, savannas, marshes, lakes, rivers and estuaries. We will also visit the two most important and productive birding sites in Panama, Pipeline Road along the Panama Canal, and the Soropta Canal in Bocas del Toro.

Birding Sites to be Visited in Panama

  1. Ancon Hill
  2. Pipeline Road
  3. Soropta Canal
  4. ITEC Biological Station
  5. Ojo de Agua
  6. Chiriqui Mountains
  7. Bajo Mono, Boquete

Bocas del Toro Biological Station

Nevin Scrimshaw Laboratory and Library

The Bocas del Toro Biological Station is located in the area of Boca del Drago on Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro Province, Republic of Panama. The station is a multi-use facility where university and high school groups present their tropical biology courses, researchers carry out their projects, and ITEC presents short-term college-level intensive field courses. The field station is rustic but comfortable, and provides an academic setting to birding and to the study of bird ecology. Several bird species have been recorded here well outside their known ranges, including Black-collared Hawk, Southern Lapwing, Red-breasted Blackbird, Yellow-headed Caracara and White-winged Dove, to name a few.  All three major North American migrational flyways pass through Panama.  Along with a myriad of migrating passerines, gigantic raptor “kettles” may be seen directly above the field station during these Spring and Fall migrations.

ITEC Birding Program and Itinerary

Geoffroy’s Tamarin

Day 1.   Ancon Hill, Panama City.  If your international flight to Panama City arrives by early afternoon, an excursion will be made to Ancon Hill after checking into your hotel.  Ancon Hill is a prominent peak at the mouth of the Panama Canal and a great location to see birds and mammals. Due to watershed requirements for the canal, the forest along the canal has never been cut, and that includes Ancon Hill. To access the summit, we walk slowly up a mild grade keeping an eye out for many animals not normally seen in the wild. These include the agouti (Dasyprocta punctate), a medium sized rodent. Related to and somewhat larger than guinea pigs, agoutis, called Ñeque in Panama, and may reach eight

Keel-billed Toucan

pounds in weight. Agoutis are normally shy and nocturnal, but where hunting and predator pressures are low, they become active in the late afternoon and are easily observed. Other mammals often seen on Ancon Hill are both species of sloth, white-tailed deer, jaguarondis (small wild cat), capuchin monkeys and Geoffory’s tamarin (Saguinus geoffroyi), a small monkey species similar to marmosets. Quite colorful (for a primate), these diminutive, squirrel-


like primates can be observed at close quarters in groups of 10-12 along the road. Tamarins and marmosets range over much of South America, but the canal zone is the extreme western end of their distribution. About 200 bird species can be seen on Ancon Hill as well, including both Keel-billed and Chestnut-mandibled Toucans, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Gray-headed tanagers, Chestnut-headed Oropendolas, White-winged Tanager, Scarlet-rumped Caciqueand many others.   Once we reach the top where a huge Panamanian flag flies prominently, we will have an amazing panoramic view of Panama City and the Panama Canal.

Green Honeycreeper

Day 2. Gamboa and Pipeline Road. Leaving the hotel around 6 am, we will soon arrive at one of the greatest birding locations in the world, Pipeline Road. World famous for birding, over 600 species may be spotted along this dirt road through forest! Originally built to transport oil between two oceans, it is used these days primarily by birders. Some of the unique bird species we may encounter include, Rufescent Tiger-heron, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, White-whiskered Puffbirds, Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoos, Southern Bentbill, Black-headed Tody Flycatcher, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, White-tailed Trogon, and a myriad of antbird species. One minute no birds may be in sight, the next,

Slaty-tailed Trogon

we are surrounded by a mixed foraging flock that may include dozens of birds each vying for insects flushed out by a marauding hoard of army ants! Some of the species encountered may include the Spotted and Dusky Antbirds, Northern Barred-Woodcreeper, Western Slaty-antshrike, White-flanked Antwren, and Greater Ani. A large variety of very colorful birds are also often seen here such as the Green Honeycreeper, Crimson-backed Tanager, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Blue Dacnis, Fulvous-vented Euphonia and Violet-billed Hummingbird. Various mammals may be seen here too, including mantled howler monkeys, sloths, agoutis, coatis, tamanduas, squirrels, various small cats, collared peccaries, and otters. The trip will end at the Discovery Center, a private research


facility that caters primarily to birders. A myriad of hummingbird species can be seen fighting for their place at the feeders and a 100-foot tower is available for climbing into the canopy. The tower offers a spectacular birds-eye view of the surrounding forest. If time and interests allow, we may pass by the Gamboa Inn in Gamboa for a chance to see wild capybaras, the worlds largest rodents. Black-bellied Whistling-ducks and Snail Kites and Wattled Jacanas are common here.

Bocas del Toro Biological Station. In the afternoon we fly to Bocas del Toro and arrive at the Bocas del Toro Biological Station by boat at around 4 pm. As we enter Ground Creek, a natural waterway leading to our dock, we may encounter Mangrove Cuckoos, Yellow-crowned Night-herons, occasional White-crowned Pigeon and various egrets and herons. After the Orientation talk at the station,

Pale-billed Woodpecker

we will sit and enjoy drinks and bird on the deck of the field station. Bird species seen at the station in the evening may include the Plumbeous Kite (summer and fall), Pale-billed Woodpecker, Montezuma’s Oropendola, Bat Falcon, Scaled Pigeon, Golden-headed, Summer and Passerini’s Tanagers, among many others (see below). A large variety of hummingbirds are attracted to the flowering plants at the station and including the Bronzy Hermit, Purple-crowned Fairy, White-napped Jacobin, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, and Green Mango, among others. As we head to bed, the soulful calls of Common Pauraques and Common Potoos will lull us to sleep.

Birding on the Soropta Canal

Day 3. Soropta Canal. Waking to the booming call of howler monkeys, the raucas duet of Grey-necked Woodrails, the screams of Green Ibises, and the plaintive song of Chestnut-backed Antbirds, we depart the field station at 6:30 am in the ITEC boat and head to the Soropta Canal. This canal, completed in 1903 by the Snyder Fruit Co. (which later became United Fruit and then Chiquita) was built to ferry bananas from the plantations in Chanquinola.   This was Panama’s first canal and is also perhaps the second-best birding location in Panama! Over 400 species are found here and as many as a 100

Amazon Kingfisher

have been sited in a single passing along this 10-mile long, slow-moving waterway. Looking much like a small tributary of the Amazon River, the canal winds through the 40,000 acre San San-Pondsak Preserve and parallels Soropta Beach, an important location for nesting sea turtles. Birds that may be encountered here include the Fasciated Tiger-heron, Mangrove Swallow, Squirrel Cuckoo, Roseate Spoonbill, Purple Gallinule, Olive-throated Parakeet, Collared

Roseate Spoonbill

Aracari, Pied Puffbird, Great Potoo, Gray-headed Ground Dove, Sungrebe, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Grayish Saltator, Yellow-breasted Chat, Gray-headed Chachalaca, and many wading birds. All six species of kingfisher occur here, including the Ringed and American Pygmy.  Jabiru Storks have also been sighted on this canal. In addition to birds, many mammals are often seen along this waterway, mainly in the evening, including tropical otters, capuchin monkeys, kinkajous, anteaters, crab-eating raccoons, coatis, several opossum species and occasionally, a Baird’s tapir.

Bird Island

Bird Island. Returning to the field station for lunch, we next boat out to Bird Island preserve. This small uplifted coral island represents an important pelagic seabird rookery and includes the only known nesting site for the Red-billed Tropicbird in the entire southwestern Caribbean! The birds can be seen cavorting about the island and nesting in the limestone cliffs. They are never seen any closer to shore than this small island. Also present is a large colony of Brown Boobies, Magnificent Frigates, Brown Pelicans, and a variety of perching

Red-billed Tropicbird

birds. Peregrine Falcons can occasionally be seen here in Winter as they mock-dive after boobies and tropicbirds! Following the Bird Island excursion we can spend a leisurely afternoon soaking up the sun and quenching our thirsts while splashing in the crystal-clear water on Starfish Beach. Various shorebirds, Mangrove (Yellow) Warblers, Common Blackhawks and various wading birds may be seen here.

Day 4. Bocas del Toro Biological Station. About 200 species of birds have been recorded in the vicinity of the field station. Waking with the dawn chorus, we will bird in the various habitats available at the field station. In the large marsh at the station we’ll encounter the Northern

Boat-billed Heron

Jancana, Red-breasted Blackbird, Southern Lapwing, Green Ibis, Yellow-headed Caracara, Boat-billed Heron, and various wading birds. The adjacent pasture provides for a myriad of other species such as various seedeaters, kiskadee flycatchers, several tanagers, and six species of parrots and parakeets. Thirteen species of raptors, including the Laughing Falcon, White Hawk, Gray-headed Kite, Great Black-hawk and King Vulture have been seen on field station property. From the marsh we will enter a mature lowland rain forest where we encounter Red-capped and Golden-collared Manakins. Their leks are easily located due to the loud snapping sounds these birds make by trapping air

Three-wattled Bellbird

in their wings. As many as 15 arenas (dancing locations) have been discovered at a single lek. Several antbird species occur here and include the Chestnut-backed Antbird, Jet Antbird, Dot-winged Antwren, and Western Slaty Antshrike, among others.   Wild fig trees at the station attract a myriad of birds when fruiting, including the Shining Honeycreeper, Masked Tityra, Blue Dacnis, Banaquit, Yellow-crowned and White-vented Euphonias, Great Kiskadee, Scarlet Tanager, Pale-vented and Short-billed Pigeons and 20 other species! During the Summer and Fall, we are daily treated to the very odd metallic call of the Three-wattled Bellbird. Normally an inhabitant of high-elevation cloud forests,

Red-capped Manakin

Bocas del Toro is the only known location where this species is found and breeds at sea level! In the evening we’ll witness great flocks of mated pairs of Red-lored Parrots as they pass overhead on the way to their nighttime roost in the middle of Isla Colon. After lunch and depending on your interests, we may spend some leisurely time either snorkeling on area coral reefs or visit the town of Bocas del Toro for some souvenir shopping.


White Hawk

Day 5. Ojo de Agua. Departing the station at 8 am, we will boat over to the town of Almirante on the mainland. Our private vehicle will be waiting to take us to Ojo de Agua, a lower pre-montane site located between 1000 and 1500 feet in elevation on the Caribbean slope. We will bird at several locations along the way and at Ojo de Agua lake, a large reservoir surrounded by forest. Some of the birds that we are likely to encounter include the White Hawk, Blue Ground Dove, Yellow-faced Grassquit, Black-crowned Tityra, Long-tailed Tyrant, White-crowned Parrot, Streak-

Violaceous Trogon

headed Woodcreeper, White-vented Euphonia, Violaceous Trogon, Plain Xenops, Black-Capped Pygmy Tyrant, Rufous Motmot, Black-chested Jay, and possibly, the King Vulture and Great Green Macaw. Around noon we will check into the four-star Bocas Ridge Hotel. As its name implies, this hotel lies on a high ridge affording an incredible view of Almirante Bay and the Bocas del Toro Archipelago 1500 feet below! After lunch we can refresh ourselves in the pool, do some birding around the hotel, and ready ourselves for our road trip to the Pacific side of Panama.  A recent trip to Ojo de Agua netted 90 bird species including 14 species of raptors!

Scarlet-thighed Dacnis

Day 6. Chiriqui Mountains. Leaving Bocas Ridge Hotel at 7:00 am, we will spend the day traveling the length of Chiriqui Bay to Rambala, then up into the Chiriqui mountains on our way to Boquete. As we climb up the Atlantic slope and over the Chiriqui mountains we pass by enormous Lake Fortuna before descending down to near sea level on the Pacific side. If the weather cooperates, it will be possible to see both oceans on the same day! We will make several birding stops along the way at mid (1500 feet) and high (5000 feet) elevations.   Stops on the Atlantic (Caribbean) side include Rambala near sea level, the MiAmbiente field station at mid-elevation, and at the Continental Divide we travel west along a mountain-crest road where, in season, it may be possible to watch Umbrellabirds at their leks. From here we stop near lake Fortuna and then descend down the Pacific side, make a quick stop at an Pacific overlook, and then to La Mina

Blue-crowned Motmot

where we may see the Golden-crowned Spadebill, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Orange-bellied Trogon, Swallow-tailed Kite, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Social Flycatcher, Yellow-green Vireo, White-lined Tananger, Black-headed Saltator, White-napped Bush-finch, and Rufous-winged Woodpecker.  Our next stop will be near Chiriquicito, a tropical dry forest site home to the Blue-crowned Motmot, Crested Caracara, White-tipped Dove, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Orange-billed Sparrow, Black Phoebe, Lance-tailed Manakin, Crimson-backed Tanager, Brown-throated Parakeet, Firey-billed Aracari, Smooth-billed Ani and Barred Antshrike, among many others.  Towards evening we make our way to Boquete, a small town nestled in a river valley surrounded by cloudforest and check into our hotel, have dinner, and ready ourselves for morning birding high above the city.

Resplendent Quetzal

Day 7. Boquete and Bajo Mono Trail. Boquete is best known for its coffee plantations and its birds. The cloud forest town of Boquete lies at about 4500 feet in elevation and is one of the best high elevation sites for birding in Panama. Rising at 6:30 am, we will travel to the cloud forest waterfall trail at Bajo Mono which begins at about 5000 feet in elevation. Here we will walk slowly up a mild grade to 6000 feet, passing monstrous old-growth trees and eventually find ourselves in a box canyon at the base of a 200 foot waterfall. The forests here are extremely luxuriant with epiphytes growing on epiphytes. Every square inch of space is covered with mosses, bromeliads and orchids. Along the way we may encounter a great number of unique high-elevation bird species including the Great Currassow, Prong-billed Barbet, Blue-throated Toucanet, Streak-chested Antpitta, Turquoise Cotinga, Blue-and-White Swallow, Black-faced Solitaire, Collared Redstart, Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher, Elegant Euphonia and a host of tanangers including Bay-headed, Silver-throated,

Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher

Hepatic and Flame-colored. Near the top we encounter a group of wild avocado trees, the fruit of which is the favorite food of the Resplendent Quetzal.  Arguably one of the most beautiful and amazing birds in the world, groups of male and female Quetzals are often seen here feeding on the avacados and frequently nest nearby.  Solitary Eagles have also been spotted along this trail. Hummingbird diversity is very high at these cool mountain elevations and include the Violet Saberwing, White-throated Mountain-Gem, Magnificent Hummingbird, Green Violet-ear and White-crested Coquette. After lunch, we will bird around the town of Boquete which is somewhat rural with abundant trees, pastures, marshes and forest. Birding here is remarkable! Among many, many species found here, we are likely to see the Red-legged Honeycreeper, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Tropical Mockingbird, Rosy

Golden-browed Chlorophonia

Thrush Tanager, Orange-billed Nightingale-thrush, Black Phoebe, Ocraceous Wren, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Black-thighed Grosbeak, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Silver-fronted Tapaculo, Slaty Flower-piercer, Large-footed Finch and Brown-throated Parakeet, Torrent Tyrannulet, among many others.  If interested, a coffee tour can be arranged or a visit to areas hot springs along the Chiriqui river.

Day 8. Return to Panama City.  Transfer in the morning to the city of David for a return flight to Panama City and home.


Outline of ITEC Birding Itinerary


The 7-day birding program is $2000, two person minimum.

What’s Included:

  1. Transfer from Tocumen International Airport to the hotel in Panama City.
  2. Transfer from Bocas airport to ITEC’s Bocas del Toro Biological Station.
  3. All lodging and meals at the field station.
  4. Use of all ITEC facilities including lab, library, WiFi, equipment & boats.
  5. Lectures on avian systematics, ecology and behavior.
  6. All transportation around the Bocas del Toro Archipelago.
  7. Transportation to Ojo de Agua and Boquete.
  8. Hotel costs in Ojo de Agua and Boquete.
  9. Transfer to David airport for return flight to Panama City.

What’s Not Included:

  1. Hotel costs in Panama City.
  2. Airfares.
  3. Meals taken away from the ITEC field station.

When to Book Your Trip?

The best birding periods are during the Fall (October-December) and Spring (February-April) migration periods. Bocas del Toro is on the Eastern Flyway and gigantic kettles of migrating raptors may be seen at this time along with a myriad of migrating passerines both from North and South America.

Modifications to the Itinerary:

We are amenable to changes in this itinerary both in terms of locations and/or duration.  Please contact us for details!