There were just so many things I did during my expedition to Panama. As you probably know, the birding was phenomenal! Panama has more bird species than any other country in Central America, even though it is merely the size of South Carolina. Currently, there are 972 species of birds recorded in Panama, that's about 100 more species than Costa Rica. Nevertheless, the best sighting of the trip was not of the famed avifauna, but rather a small mammal that packs charisma and charm. It also happens to be one of my all-time favorite animals: the Rufous-naped Tamarin. The number one "must see" of the trip, for me at least, was the Rufous-naped Tamarin, Saguinus geoffroyi. A tamarin is a type of monkey, more specifically, a callitrichid. Tamarins are widespread within the neotropics, but are centrally located in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest with small populations of Lion, Rufous-naped, and Cotton-topped Tamarins in Southeast Brazil, Eastern Panama, and Northern Columbia, respectively. I was lucky to see six adults roaming through the subcanopy in Metropolitan National Park. If that wasn't enough, two young were gripped onto the back of dad, holding on for dear life as father leaped from branch to branch. And yes, I did say father. Believe it or not, the males are the ones with the burden to bear of raising young in the tamarin family system. Females only do the nursing. That is one feature different from their close cousins of the family Cebidae and also unique among mammals altogether. Another interesting aspect of a tamarin's social group is the cooperative breeding system. The fraternal twins from previous litters help out mom and dad with the new young.
I spent a good hour watching this particular family of tamarins foraging in the understory and lower canopy within Metropolitan National Park. Metropolitan National Park is situated on the outskirts of Panama City, which reminded me of the chaotic island of Manhatten. That's one reason why I thought it would be best to travel there during the weekend as opposed to during the week when the city would be hustling and bustling with commuters. The majority of the park is comprised of tropical semideciduous forest, the only city in Latin America which has this type of ecosystem. With over 500 acres to explore, I came across many species of birds such as Double-toothed and Swallow-tailed Kites, Blue-crowned Motmot, Lineated and Crimson-crested Woodpeckers, Tropical Kingbirds(by far the most common flycatcher in the country), Black-chested Jay, Clay-colored Robin, and Rosy Thrush-Tanager.
After searching for birds and tamarins at M.N.P., we headed over to the island of Flamingo in the Pacific. We stopped at a few sites that seemed packed with birds. I must say, I have never seen so many Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Pelicans in my entire life. There had to be over a thousand of these birds. I never thought a Frigatebird would turn out to be, dare I say it, a junk bird! Besides the copious Pelicans and Frigatebirds, many other birds were present on the ocean and along the mangroves including Neotropical Cormorants, Royal and Sandwich Terns, Laughing and Franklin's Gulls, Great and Cattle Egrets, Green Herons, White Ibis, Semipalmated Plovers, and Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers. It was a bit weird to see some species that would be found in the Northeast at the time, but I had the same situation occur when I was in Costa Rica, seeing Chestnut-sided warblers, American Redstarts, Baltimore Orioles, and Great-crested flycatchers, among others, in the towering buttressed trees in a misty tropical setting. After lunch, we proceeded back to Gamboa where I relaxed a bit and rejuvenated for the night safari that I would be attending in just a few hours.
Read Part 3 for more of my adventure in Panama!