Birding and Hiking the Los Quetzales Trail from Boquete to Cerro Punta – Late Feb 2016

 

I recently returned from hiking the Los Quetzales Trail from Boquete to Cerro Punta, which was one of my goals while living here. While I’ve birded the entrance and half the trail several times, this was my first time doing the whole thing. I had originally planned to channel Greta Garbo and do ‘I want to be alone’ style birding by hiking this myself, but I ended up hiking over with a traveler/new birder I met on the monthly Boquete Birders walk in town.  Even though Ive only been birding for 4 months in Panama and still have a lot to learn, it was fun to share my passion and hopefully I inspired someone to get out and go bird more. The birds might have sensed that she was only here for a short period of time because we encountered many of the both super splashy and range restricted species people aim for when they visit this area of Panama. Ive been here for a while now and it was a super great day even by my standards! On the walk through we encountered Blue Throated Toucanet, multiple Quetzal’s, multiple Spangle Cheeked Tanagers, Flame Throated Hummingbird and even got looks at a soaring Ornate Hawk Eagle! The less splashy birds like Buffy Tufted Cheek and Three Striped Warbler were my favorites of the day though.  Besides seeing really fascinating and beautiful species, we also got really great photographic opportunities.

American Dipper with a leaf. Perhaps nesting material?
Yellow Bellied Siskin with a face full of fluff:

Besides seeing all the beautiful species, the most interesting part of the walk was seeing how the birds differentiated from one side to another. It was interesting to experience one birds range abruptly ending while another would just start.  Even though it was just 6.5 miles there was so much differentiation! For example it was really interesting to see the Sooty Headed Chlorosphingos become abundant as we got closer and closer to Cerro Punta, as this is a bird that I have never seen closer to Boquete. The same held true with other birds like Large Footed Finch.

Sooty Headed Chlorosphingus: 

While some had ranges that started and stopped, 
Tufted Flycatcher was present the whole way through. 

Overall hiking the Quetzal Trail to Cerro Punta was a really enjoyable hike of moderate difficulty. I found the trail very well marked, and as long as you exercise proper planning there is no reason to do it with a guide. I used the ViewRanger app for my phone, which actually had the whole trail mapped very accurately. This was also an interesting app because it showed the different elevations and how fast (or in my case how slow) I was going. Ive always told people when I bird watch that I move at a glacial pace, but now I have the data to prove it! (PS This app is supposed to let you have an interactive map on your blog. If anyone else can figure out how to do it let me know. Ive had to settle with this screen shot).
Map & Time For:
Entrance Road -> Trail -> ‘Mirador’ -> Exit Road
At Birdwatcher Pace
If you are going to hike (or hike and bird) the whole thing I would emphasize proper timing because there is a lot of contradicting information online which could cause people to take off later than they should. You see, you have about an 60-90 minute hike on both sides from the trail head til you reach an area where a cab or other transport can pick you up. If you are a bird watcher also note that these gravel roads that lead to the actual trail heads offer really spectacular birding, and a lot of times the bird watching is better in these areas that on the trail itself. If you are physically not up to walking the entire trail I would highly recommend at least birding these entrances, you will get some great species and these parts are not that physically taxing. If you are walking the whole trail make sure you budget time for this into your plan, because I wouldnt want to be walking either of those areas in the dark. If you have not prearranged a pick up with your hotel, I would also make sure you budget buffer room and energy for finding transport on both sides. Cell service can be super spotty on both sides so calling a cab can be difficult, and finding a cab or collectivo can involve a good deal of waiting or a lot more walking. When I eventually do this again, as mentioned I plan on walking from Cerro Punta to Boquete soon, I am going to be prearranging transport. I think this is the most hassle free and enjoyable. 
 
Collared Redstart was also present the whole was through, but was seen more towards the Cerro Punta Side. 

After the walk, I decided to stay for a day and two nights at the Los Quetzales Lodge in Guadalupe. This time I tried staying in their dormitory style accommodation, which was $18usd per night. This would have been my first time ever staying in a dormitory style room, but it ended up not coming to fruition since my hiking buddy and I were the only people in the dorm!  This also ended up being a great deal because I found the room and bathroom to be clean, and the beds were decently comfy. I was also glad I stayed here again because the lodge offered some great photographic opportunities. My favorite experience at the hotel grounds was being able to photograph the Long Tailed Silky Flycatcher. There was a pair nesting in a tree about 5 feet off the ground between the dorm and main building. Previously the only times Ive seen this bird its been at the tippity top of trees, so seeing them this close was a real treat.  The birds were very kind and allowed me to sit within a decent distance of their nesting tree while photographing them, drinking white wine spritzers, and enjoying the sun going down.

Also seen at the lodge: Red Tailed Hawk. 

Besides the immediate hotel grounds, The Los Quetzales Loge also owns a really beautiful group of cabins in a prime birding area a short distance from the main hotel. I birded the area before for the Christmas Bird Count, and on the second day the owner was kind and arranged a ride for me to the cabins. This ended up being a really fruitful area, and besides many of the subjects I photographed my last time here I encountered what has now become one of my favorite birds in Panama – Barred Becard.  I had also seen one on the Boquete side of the Quetzal trail in a mixed species flock, but I was unsure about what it really was. I had been dancing around identifying it as a Barred Becard, but after I was able to get smashing looks (but not picture to match) of it in this area of Cerro Punta I realized it was the same bird I had seen on the Boquete side. I find these birds so unique and special looking. Luckily I was able to see both Male and Female!

Male Barred Becard: 




Female Barred Becard –
Im not going to win any prizes with this photo, but its such a spectacular bird I wanted to share it anyways!

Also near the Los Quetzales Upper Cabins?
Rose Breasted Grosbeak: 

 

The trip was amazing overall, but the birding gods decided to save one of the best birds for last! On the last day I decided to bird the gravel road up to Respingo for several hours and then take a bus back to Boquete instead of walking back. At the start of the day my hiking buddy joined me for the first hour or so, and we decided to do a bit of (GASP!) Quetzal hunting. But this wasnt just any Quetzal hunting, the previous day people had seen 16 Quetzal’s in the infamous tree at the start of the trail, and 12 were seen the day before that. With numbers like that I decided it would be worth it to stalk the area a bit. While we did get very faw off views of two Quetzal’s, waiting in this area provided a different bird that is my favorite lifer of the trip, and posed for my favorite photographs of the trip. I had heard that Volcano Hummingbirds can sometimes be seen in the flowering bushes right near this entrance area, and while we were waiting my hiking buddy spotted one! In breeding seasons the males are said to perch for extended periods of time on flowers, so I have this hummers search for a mate to thank for these great pictures.

 

 

This will most likely be my last post of the month of February, but I have some great things in store for March! Next month Im joining the Boquete Birders for two epic trips. One to Volcan Lakes (which I will be walking back from Volcan to Boquete) and one trip to the Continental Divide! Both trips should provide some great species and experiences. I also will be doing a bit of birding around Boquete!

 

Birds Seen (But Not Limited To):
PN Volcán Barú–Sendero los Quetzales, Chiriquí, PA
Feb 22, 2016 6:45 AM – 4:15 PM

Protocol: Traveling
6.7 mile(s)
Comments:     Hiked the entire trail from Boquete side to Cerro Punta side. This checklist contains birds from: Entrance from Boquete side ranger station to trail head on Boquete side -> the trail itself -> Respingo side trail head and the road to the Respingo side ranger station.
41 species

Ornate Hawk-Eagle  2     1 seen soaring. 2 heard. I was worried that the second was someone playing extended call back but other birders on the trail had a visual of 2 individuals. Seen soaring near the lookout area halfway between the trail.
Green Violetear  X
Fiery-throated Hummingbird  X     Respingo side near ranger station.
White-throated Mountain-gem  X
Resplendent Quetzal  5     3 females 2 males seen at different times throughout the trail.
Emerald Toucanet  1     Blue Throated.
Acorn Woodpecker  X
Hairy Woodpecker  X
Streak-headed Woodcreeper  X
Spot-crowned Woodcreeper  X
Buffy Tuftedcheek  X
Ruddy Treerunner  X
Mountain Elaenia  X
Tufted Flycatcher  X
Dark Pewee  X
Yellowish Flycatcher  X
Barred Becard  1
Yellow-winged Vireo  X
American Dipper  X
Black-faced Solitaire  X
Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush  X
Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher  X
Golden-winged Warbler  X
Black-and-white Warbler  X
Flame-throated Warbler  X
Tennessee Warbler  X
Black-throated Green Warbler  X
Black-cheeked Warbler  X
Three-striped Warbler  1
Wilson’s Warbler  X
Slate-throated Redstart  X
Collared Redstart  X
Blue-gray Tanager  X
Spangle-cheeked Tanager  X
Slaty Flowerpiercer  X
Yellow-faced Grassquit  X
Sooty-capped Chlorospingus  X
Common Chlorospingus  X
Chestnut-capped Brushfinch  X
Rufous-collared Sparrow  X
Yellow-thighed Finch  X

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S27813778

Other Birds Seen in Cerro Punta area –
-Long Tailed Silky Flycatcher
-Red Tailed Hawk
-Magnificent Hummingbird
-Violet Sabrewing
-Ocharous Wren
-Green Crowned Brilliant
-Gray Breasted Wood Wren
-Large Footed Finch
-Volcano Hummingbird
– Rose Breasted Grosbeak
-Scintillant Hummingbird
-Magnificent Hummingbird
-Silver Throated Tanager
-Mountain Thrush
-Clay Colored Thrush
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