Saturday, March 24, 2018

2018 Panama Journal - Day 5 - Part 1

Wednesday 2/14/18 - The birding triathlon

What is a birding triathlon?  First - 1 hour in a dug-out canoe (before daylight).  Second - 1 hour in 4 wheel-drive vehicles.  Third - 5 mile hike.

Our day started at 3:30 a.m.  As we all gathered in the common area for our 4:15 departure, we were handed breakfast sandwiches to eat on the way.  We had a long full day planned.  Our destination - the Harpy Eagle.  The national bird of Panama and very hard to find.

We gathered in two vans for a 1 hour drive to the town of Yaviza, at the end of the Pan-American Highway.  Yaviza is a port town where villagers bring their produce to be distributed to other parts of the country.  When we arrived at Yaviza it was still dark.

We had to wait on the sidewalk quite a while for everything to get organized.

Part 1 of the triathlon:  We were finally loaded into two dug-out canoes. These canoes are normally used to haul bananas to market, but benches can be added to haul folks around as well. 
Terrible picture - I didn’t want to use the flash.

We had an hour long boat ride.  Even though we were hitting logs in the water and the only light was coming from a spotlight that the guide had, it was a fun ride. 

Starting to see daylight.

We were jumping up some birds along the way.  After about 40 minutes it started getting light enough to see.

The other half of our group.

We spotted several birds from the canoe. The best were a group of four, Blue-and-Yellow Macaws. These large members of the parrot family are found only in this part of Panama, and are over 30" long. It was still pretty dark when they flew over, so the pictures are grainy.

After about an hour we docked in El Real.  El Real is the last sizable settlement before the national park.

Unloading everyone and gear from the canoes. 

Part 2 of the triathlon:  We piled into 4, 4-wheel drive vehicles with local drivers. 

  Not the most comfortable ride!

 Our Diet Cokes are in that ice chest.

 Lots of river crossings.

We were in the 3rd truck.

You have to have a local guide or be part of a tour - it is mandatory.  The Ministerio de Ambiente will not let you proceed unescorted.

We had to stop.
I'm not sure if money was involved or just paperwork.

We all gathered at the entrance to the national park. 

Getting organized.

Part 3 of the triathlon:  Hiking.  It was a 5 mile round-trip hike.  We were not given this information until after we returned.  We had local men carrying ice chest full of drinks, snacks, and our lunch.  This was the first time we'd ever hiked with porters. Efforts were made to involve as many members of the community as possible to encourage interest in ecotourism and protection of the forest. Each of the locals were super nice and seemed happy to be there.

One of two ice chest full of food and drinks.

Before we entered the park Carlos explains that the Harpy’s and their nest are protected.  This is the livelihood of the local people and they guard and protect the area.

When the adults start to nest
and until the baby is about 6 months old
no one is allowed in the area.

We did not spend a lot of time birding during our first 1 1/2 hours of hiking.  Our main goal was to get to the Harpy.  But, there were a few birds, and other critters, we couldn’t pass up. One amazing sight was a huge hollow tree with a family of Panamanian Night Monkeys living inside. You can tell from their name and large eyes that they are nocturnal. Click on the video for a short movie.

Panamanian Night Monkey movie

More steady walking

We stopped for a photo-op:

Darien National Park

Time for a break.  It was very hot and humid.  We needed snacks and drinks!

A little Gatorade pick-me-up.

There were numerous creek crossings.  The rocks were very slippery.

A little help was needed over the slippery rocks.

The streams were clear and full of small fish. 

Once again we came across strict rules to follow in Harpy habitat.


Next time:  Wednesday 2/14/18 - Part 2:  After 2 1/2 miles of hiking, we finally arrive at the nest tree:

Day 5 bird list will be posted at the end of Part 3.


  1. What an adventure so early in the morning. Nic e little movie too.

    Ahh, if only you could have flown tbere like all the birds...

  2. I'm a morning person, but a boat ride in the dark...not so sure about that one! Last time we did that was the bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico. The bay was cool but the night float through the mangrove was creepy!

  3. the boat ride didn't bother me at all! I think these guys made this trip every morning with plantains.