Panamania Day 6: Old Town, and then some
After a full morning of birding, playing with monkeys, or exploring Panama, my mom and I would retreat in the late afternoons to the rooftop lounge of our Best Western hotel. Sometimes we’d hang out in the pool.
Or I’d get creamed in cribbage.
Occasionally I’d look up from the roof to see a kettle of hawks above.
Here’s a better photo of a Broad-winged Hawk from earlier in the trip.
It was a good place to be. Our hotel was surprisingly nice and comfortable and the staff were especially accommodating to the two American women stumbling over broken Spanish in front of them (I do wish I’d estudiado más mi español).
We relied a lot on Panamanian hospitality and luckily everyone we met was very nice. Saul recommended we visit Casco Viejo, or “Old Town,” by the water (for the chance of seabirds) and then our taxi driver recommended a fantastic Panamanian restaurant in the area, Diablicos, “Dirty Devil.”
The masks are part of Panama’s Corpus Christi festival celebrating culture and interpreting history through music and dance. Panama, and Casco Viejo in particular has a rich history; it’s been attacked by pirates, run by gangs, and now, thankfully it’s ruled by peaceful pigeons.
I found a few shorebirds while walking the pedestrian path by the water in Old Town. Least and Western Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, and my favorite was a handful of Wilson’s Plovers, recognizable by that huge bill.
It was also in Old Town that I realized the horror of condensation.
Moisture on the outside of my lens, binoculars, and on my mom’s glasses had been a pain most mornings, easily wiped away, but this was INSIDE the lens. I panicked. Because I thought all my photos the rest of the trip would look like this:
Pro tip: in a warm, humid climate acclimate your camera lens! Luckily, the moisture dried up in time for the Orange-chinned Parakeet. Whew.
Crisis averted. My mom handled the condensation crisis like a champ. In fact, she’d been a trooper the whole trip, and she’s not a birder. I had wondered how it would go, us spending hours looking at (or mostly looking for) birds, but Panama birds are special, and so is my mom. She did great, she stayed positive without complaint. Plus, there was so much more to enjoy in Panama besides birds. Monkeys and sloths, of course, but also entertaining plants, insects, and especially butterflies.
The last time I saw a Mexican Bluewing was on the Texas trip at Estero Llano Grande State Park.
Unfortunately, I failed to get a decent photo of the Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides), a huge blue iridescent butterfly. I’m pretty sure it’s the inspiration for the butterfly emoji.
On the ground, leaf-cutter ants were the entertainment. I could have watched them for hours.
Fun fact: the ants don’t actually eat the leaves, they take bits of leaves back to their nest to feed their fungus garden and that fungus is their primary food source.
Even puddles have something to offer, white foamy blobs that are actually túngara frog eggs!
Túngara frogs are named for the sound they make when calling, which sounds like a scene out of Star Wars. Their Spanish name is sapito de pustulas or “pustulated toadlet.”
Find this plant if you want to survive in the jungle, it’s a Miconia, the most diverse tree in the tropics, there’s about 130 species in Panama and almost all have 5 or 7 (or sometimes 9) main veins that all start at the bottom, and all the berries of this genus are edible.
And the hot lips plant needs no explanation.
And up in the tree-tops? Pretty much just leaves.
By streams we saw basilisk lizards, also called “Jesus Christ Lizards” for their ability to run on water. It’s science + nature at its best, video here.
You really can’t go wrong, birding or not birding in Panama (pero los pájaros son los mejores). There’s a little something for everyone.
Please enjoy a video compilation I made showing just a fraction of the fun: