A Neotropical Birding Mecca: Pipeline Road Panama

For any birder who has a keen interest in Neotropical birds, Pipeline Road is a must! Located just 30 minutes from the “hub of the Americas,” Panama City, Pipeline Road traverses through a large stretch of lowland rainforest in Soberania National Park. For decades and to this day, Pipeline Road is one the most-visited sites for birding in all of the Americas.

Pipeline Road Panama
Pipeline Road, Soberania National Park, Panama

A Unique History

During WWII, an oil pipeline was installed across the historic Canal Zone of Panama as a precautionary method to move oil across the Isthmus in the event that the canal was shut down. The pipeline cut through the dense tropical rainforest and a road was built to service it when necessary. The war came and went, but the pipeline remained unused. The road was used for accessing particular sites in the area over the years, but as the forest continued to mature and the US handed the Canal Zone back over to Panama, regular traffic on Pipeline Road was reduced.

Originally 24 km in length and reaching all the way to the shores of Gatun Lake, over time Pipeline Road has gradually been overtaken by dense forest once again. Today, there are about 17 km of accessible road, though the first four kilometers remain the most traveled and most birded. Walking Pipeline Road – with several stream crossings as you go – can be done year-round. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s biologists and students study not only birds but many other tropical life forms and processes including ants, frogs, bats, mammals, seed dispersal, tree-fall gaps, and so much more. It is truly an area of amazing biological diversity!

Pipeline Road Panama

Christmas Bird Counts: A 19-Year Record

One of the reasons that Pipeline Road gained its fame as a top birding destination is because since the 70s, the Panama Audubon Society has been conducting annual Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) in central Panama. For 20 years, from 1975 to 1995, the Atlantic Circle (including Pipeline Road) consistently held the record for the most bird species counted on a Christmas Bird Count, the highest count of 357 species! From 1996 on, Costa Rica, Ecuador and other countries in Central and South America began CBCs and started to count in circles that included varying altitudinal ranges and thus, recording higher numbers of birds. Panama’s CBC’s and in particular Pipeline Road still count numbers hovering around 300 species of birds, not too bad for a one-day count!

Birding Highlights on Pipeline Road

Pipeline Road has been a mecca for birders and tropical biologists for decades because of the birds! Over 450 species have been recorded along the road. Pipeline Road’s mature lowland rainforest supports incredible avian diversity and is particularly a great place for those seeking out Neotropical bird groups – antbirds, ovenbirds (woodcreepers, leaftossers, xenops, etc.), manakins, motmots, trogons, Neotropical raptors and others. Pipeline Road is a key birding destination for target birders to seek out some rather rare and elusive birds, including the Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, Pheasant Cuckoo, Streak-chested Antpitta and Great Jacamar. A large army ant swarm at any time of the year could have the ground-cuckoos lurking nearby, and the antpitta’s mournful song can be heard daily along the first sections of the road.

Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo Pipeline Road Panama
The Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, one of the “holy grail” birds of the Neotropics, can be found along Pipeline Road

Panama’s Isthmus is only 50 miles (80 km) wide. The Pacific side is very dry and the Caribbean side has very wet forests. This combination produces ideal conditions which are for great biodiversity. When walking along Pipeline Road, you will notice that every few hundred feet, the forest conditions change slightly from drier Pacific Slope forest to wetter Caribbean Slope forest. As the forest conditions change, so do the composition of species that are found there. Some more elusive species can be found further in along the road, including Violaceous and Olive-backed quail-doves and Great Curassow.

Ocellated Antbird Pipeline Road Panama
Ocellated Antbirds can be found at army ant swarms along Pipeline Road

A Home for Harpy Eagles

Harpy Eagles also call Pipeline Road their home. For a decade in the early 2000s, The Peregrine Fund released captive-bred Harpy Eagles into Soberania National Park, using Pipeline Road as a home base. Most were moved to larger forested areas in Panama once they became independent and were hunting on their own. However, there are still potentially several Harpies that call Pipeline Road and the forests of Soberania National Park their home. One individual, a wild bird from Darien that was injured, recovered and released along Pipeline Road in 2009 still makes appearances around the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center and other parts of the park. Keep an eye out for her and others on your walks down Pipeline!

What About the Pipeline Now?

The steel pipeline is still partly intact and certain sections lay exposed across the forest floor and cross over several streams that traverse Pipeline Road. Now covered in bromeliads and mosses, they remain a part of the rainforests of Soberania National Park and a reminder of the history of Panama’s famed Canal Zone. The birds have incorporated the moss-laden pipeline into their habitat, as army ants swarm overtop and antbirds follow, as they have done for decades.

Pipeline Road Panama
Exposed pipeline at a river crossing along the road, now covered by bromeliads and plants

Pipeline Road and Whitehawk

Pipeline Road remains our most popular destination for birding trips and is a must-visit destination for all birders who come to Panama. We offer both half day and full day birding trips along Pipeline Road. Some of our clients prefer to visit multiple days in row, because in many cases, one day is not enough to take in all that Pipeline Road has to offer! Ask us about our Pipeline Road tours and come experience it for yourself!

Panama Birds & Butterflies: A New Nature Tour

It goes without saying that birds are what brought us together here at Whitehawk. From our individual backgrounds as bird enthusiasts, educators and field biologists, we all met because of birds. We worked together on various bird conservation projects in Central America long before Whitehawk was formed. Though we were all originally drawn to birds for different reasons – their beauty, their ability to fly, and their unique biology and amazing behaviors, we all had the same goal in mind: help conserve the world’s avifauna and wildlife. That is why we built Whitehawk Birding and Conservation!

But we are not exclusive to birds. In fact, we love all things nature! Mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, fungi and plants of many kinds are all seen and enjoyed on our tours. When we began in 2011 we offered exclusively birding tours, but have since expanded and now offer tours that include a focus on mammals such as our India: Birding & Tigers tour, and our In Search of the Elusive Snow Leopard tour, both which offer the excitement of seeing many amazing large mammals while also enjoying the plethora of bird species that share the landscape with these amazing cats – truly a spectacular experience!

Delicate clearwing butterflies, like this Paula’s Clearwing, are captivating!

A New Nature Focus for Whitehawk: Butterflies

In 2018, we welcomed biologist and naturalist Jenn Sinasac on board our team. Jenn has been a long-time friend and past field colleague on bird conservation projects in Panama and Belize and brings a new facet to our combined knowledge base: butterflies & skippers. In addition to her passion for birds, Jenn has focused on Panama’s diurnal lepidopterans over the past several years. She is familiar with hundreds of species and is always learning more about their biology and distribution in Panama. With Jenn’s expertise in this area, we are excited to introduce a new tour combining these two winged wonders: Panama Birds & Butterflies nature tour.

Tailed Orange Butterfly Panama Whitehawk
The Tailed Orange stays close to the ground, offering great photo ops as they sit in low foliage

Birds and Butterflies: Harmony in Nature

For nature enthusiasts, birds and butterflies complement each other very well. First thing, they both have the amazing ability to fly and have adapted to a great diversity of environments. For those interested in learning species’ names and identifying everything they see, both birds and butterflies offer that opportunity. Field guides are readily available for both inPanama/Central America, and many birders are taking on the new challenge of learning the resident butterflies in this region. Birds and butterflies also complement each other when it comes to peak activity time. In general, birds tend to be most active early and then again later in the day, while many species of butterflies like the hottest, sunniest part of the day to forage. Therefore, there is always something flying to delight our eyes and our souls.

Proxenus Blue-Skipper Panama Whitehawk
Proxenus Blue-Skipper. Skippers of the tropics are beautiful and not as intimidating as they may seem!

Butterflying in the Tropics: Where to Start

Just like with birds, there is no need to have any experience when it comes to enjoying butterflies in the field. You do not need to know even one species! Over 1,800 species of butterflies and skippers are found in Panama. They are indeed plentiful, and we’ll admit, even a little intimidating! But once you start to familiarize yourself with the main groups of butterflies, and, with help from a local guide, begin to notice the different wing patterns, shapes and sizes you will start to see and recognize some common species over and over again. Don’t be surprised to find yourself wanting to see more and more! The pace of a Butterfly tour is slow, even slower than a birding pace. Watching butterflies can even be calmingly therapeutic, good for our minds and our souls, similar to what you can experience on our ornitherapy tours.

Common Morpho Panama Nature Tour Whitehawk
The Common Blue Morpho is an iconic butterfly of the American tropics

Panama Birds and Butterflies Tour

It is time! We are introducing our Panama: Birds and Butterflies nature tour because we want to get out and enjoy birds, and other winged creatures too! With Jenn and Edwin as our guides, we can ensure you a fantastic experience exploring Panama’s winged creatures – birds and butterflies! Our first tour will run September 4-13, 2020, so consider joining us for this fun, educative and exceptional nature-filled tour! Contact us for more details.

Looking for more about Panama’s butterflies? Check out some of our favorite butterfly websites, Neotropical Butterflies and Butterflies of America.

Birding Cuba: Community, Culture and Conservation

The endemic Bee Hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world, found only in Cuba

With nearly 400 bird species (25 of which are endemic, according to the Clements Checklist ), a welcoming culture, good food, and year-round warm temperatures, Cuba is one of our favorite destinations. We are offering our next tour to this tropical island in January 2020.

The Birding: Endemics Galore

Islands in general are hotspots for endemic species, and Cuba is no exception. The largest island in the Caribbean, Cuba has a great diversity of habitats, some like no other on Earth, and has supported endemism and is home to 25 endemic species. There are even endemic extinct species (Cuban Macaw), and another which is critically endangered (Zapata Rail). It also supports a number of endemic subspecies and regional endemics as well. Not only are Cuba’s viable endemics attractive but they are among some of the most notable birds in the world. The Bee Hummingbird is the smallest bird on Earth, and it is only found in Cuba! Likewise, the Zapata Wren from Cuba’s Zapata swamp is known to have one of the smallest global ranges in the world. While some species are rare, such as the Gundlach’s Hawk and Cuban Solitaire, other colorful endemics are easy to come across – Cuban Trogon (Cuba’s National bird), Cuban Tody, Yellow-headed Warbler, Cuban Green Woodpecker and Cuban Parakeet. In fact, we have had great luck on all of our past trips (check out our past trip reports) to Cuba to see all of the viable Cuban endemic birds.

The stunning Blue-headed Quail-Dove is always a highlight of our tours

Culture and Conservation: A Community Connection

But there’s more to Cuba than just the birding. Cuba is long-known as a cultural destination, where Old Havana’s lively atmosphere and great food attract people from all over the world as a unique travel destination. While Cuba’s political history has had a large impact over the years on the country’s economic and travel situation, Cubans still remain as welcoming and friendly as ever.

Getting out to explore the island and its different environments, we come across mogotes, bays, marshes, dry forest, beaches and more. Being an island, all of these habitats are sensitive to disturbance. By visiting and placing direct funds in the country through ecotourism, we are supporting the conservation of these habitats and species that live there.

And there’s so much more to love about Cuba – check out our Top 10 Reasons to Visit Cuba for Birders list!

Cuban scientist, author and wildlife illustrator Nils Navarro talking with our group

Cuba Travel Update – Yes, US Citizens can go there!

Though travel regulations have changed for US Citizens hoping to visit Cuba, it is still legal to travel there. For our tour, we will be traveling under the OFAC designated category of “support for the Cuban people.” Under this category travelers must engage in meaningful activities that support locals. During our tours, we always stay in “casas particulares” – Cuban-owned private homes, and we eat in locally owned restaurants. Additionally, we are accompanied 100% of the time by our amazing local guide, Maikel, and work with other local guides in specific areas. As part of our “Bins for Locals” program clients have the option of donating used binoculars to local guides and biologists who are unable to obtain some otherwise. We also make a visit to a local school to donate books (in Spanish) and other supplies (we encourage our clients to bring along any materials to donate)! The information we collect on bird sightings throughout the country will be uploaded to eBird and will help further knowledge about the local avifauna and, in the long term, population trends and other important information for conservation. Finally, at the end of the tour, we will provide you with a document that includes our itinerary activities and names of the casas particulares and restaurants where we visited during the tour. 

Come escape the cold US winters with us. Join us on our next Endemic Birds of Cuba tour, January 30 to February 9, 2020.

Top 10 Birds to See in Panama

Panama, as you probably know from us by now, is a birding paradise. We couldn’t have chosen a better place to make our home, and this small Central American country thrives with its incredible natural assets. Over 1000 species of birds have been recorded here, owing to Panama’s varied habitats, elevational reaches, tropical climate and geographic position as an important migratory flyway for shorebirds, raptors and songbirds.

While it is extremely hard to choose a top 10 birds among over 1000 species found in Panama, we thought we would take a stab at the task! We feel that these top 10 are some of Panama’s most sought-after, beautiful and unique bird species. Perhaps after reading about them, you may be enticed to book a trip and come see them for yourself!

In no special order, here are what we consider Panama’s top 10 birds:

Harpy Eagle

Ok, perhaps we are biased here as our entire team has worked with Harpy Eagles in Panama for some time, but we are enamored by our National Bird. The Harpy Eagle is not only one of the most powerful birds on Earth, but is graced with such incredible beauty, delicately entwined with formidable features causing our hearts to skip a beat every time we see one. Harpy Eagles are considered rare, even endangered in some places, throughout its range. Here in Panama, the vast, highly biodiverse region of Darien in eastern panama is where Harpy Eagles roam. While sightings are never guaranteed, known nest sites in Darien give us good chances to see adults and juveniles in the wild year-round, since their breeding cycles last at least 2 years. Ask us about Harpy Eagles!

Harpy Eagle Panama
Harpy Eagle, Panama’s national bird

Resplendent Quetzal

Dubbed with the title of being “the most beautiful bird on Earth,” the Resplendent Quetzal surely lives up to its name, and it’s no surprise that it makes our top 10 birds to see in Panama list. The male’s emerald-green, shimmery feathers, contrasting bright red belly, fanned crest and its most adorning feature – long, wispy feathers that trail from its lower back long past the tip of its tail – attract even the most casual passerby. This bird is truly resplendent! The Resplendent Quetzal is found in Panama’s Chiriqui highlands, where it lives in the tranquil cloud forests, feeds on little avocado fruits and nests in cavities – hard to believe it can contain its tail inside a hole in a tree (it usually sticks out of the opening!). The best time of year to see the Resplendent Quetzal in Panama is during their breeding season from January through April, conveniently coinciding with Panama’s dry season. Book a trip to see Resplendent Quetzals in Panama!

Resplendent Quetzal
The Resplendent Quetzal resides in the highland cloud forests of Chiriqui, western Panama

Ocellated Antbird

For any birder exploring the American tropics, antbirds are always on the top of the list for birds to see. While Panama has over 30 species of antbirds and their relatives to dazzle our sights over, there is one species that truly stands out of the crowd: the Ocellated Antbird. Its (relatively) large size, shaggy hairdo, bright blue facial skin, and ornately scalloped pattern all over its body makes this antbird a most-wanted bird to find in Panama. But there’s a trick to finding them – in order to find an Ocellated Antbird, look for swarming army ants in Panama’s lowland rainforests. Ocellated Antbirds are “professional” army ant followers and are rarely found away from a swarm. A big ant swarm may have up to half a dozen Ocellated Antbirds attending it, and they dominate over all other antbird species at the swarm. Pipeline Road in Soberania National Park is an excellent place to find Ocellated Antbirds!

Ocellated Antbird Panama
Ocellated Antbird in Pipeline Road, Panama

Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo

Searching for ground-cuckoos brings us to a whole other level of birding in the Neotropics, that relies very much on luck and good birding karma! The Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, although widespread, is the “holy grail” bird to find in Panama. Never common and hard to predict, this roadrunner of the tropical rainforests attends large army ant swarms in central and eastern Panama. Like the Ocellated Antbird, it stays on or close to the ground, and eats up larger animals (small lizards, large arthropods) that army ants disturb while swarming. Ground-cuckoos are indeed cuckoos, but on the contrary to typical cuckoo behavior, they build their own nests and raise their own young, rather than parasitizing other bird nests. There is always the possibility to see one on our Panama tours, and if lucky enough to find one, you deserve a celebratory drink at the end of the day for adding this spectacular bird to your list!

A true “holy grail” bird, the Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo can be seen with luck at army ant swarms

Black-crowned Antpitta

Antpitta-like in many aspects, the Black-crowned Antpitta is actually a rather remarkable member of the gnateater family, Conopophagidae. It fits the standard, antpitta “eggs with legs” appearance, and its two subspecies are both decorated with rich dark plumage and striking scalloping on their breast. Black-crowned Antpittas are only found in Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia, making them a key target species in this area of the Neotropics. They are best detected by their distinct songs and sharp chucking alarm calls. We can find Black-crowned Antpittas in the foothills of western and central Panama, and into the lowlands of Darién. 

The Black-crowned Antpitta lurks in the dark forest understory of Panama’s lowlands and foothills

Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker

Unlike some other countries in tropical America, Panama is not known as being a hotspot for national endemics (regional endemics YES). We have a small number of endemic species, less than 10, and due to range extensions and more exploration into remote areas, some of our previously endemic species are being found in our neighbor nations. But that’s ok! Birds don’t have boundaries. The Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker is one of our national endemics, found only here in Panama. This small, attractive woodpecker is found in the foothills of eastern Panama – Cerro Azul is a great place to seek out this bird.

Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker
Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker, one of Panama’s endemic species

Tody Motmot

The Tody Motmot is a denizen of the dark nooks of the foothills of Central America. This motmot represents its own genus Hylomanes, and definitely stands out from the crowd within the motmot family. It is smaller and lacks the racket tips on the tail and gets its name for its resemblance to the todies of the Caribbean. The foothills forests of El Valle de Anton, as well as further into Darién, are excellent places to find the Tody Motmot in Panama, and it is always most-loved bird on any of our trips where we are fortunate to see it. It is always a target on our full day trips to El Valle de Anton.

Tody Motmot, as seen in the shady understory in El Valle
Tody Motmot, as seen in the shady understory in El Valle

Spectacled Owl

Of all the amazing birds we find while birding in Panama, the widespread Spectacled Owl is most often voted “bird of the trip” and for good reason: those large eyes surrounded by white “spectacles” and that piercing glare we experience every time we see one is beyond memorable! It is one of our largest owls in Panama, and luckily, we know of a few reliable roosts in some of our most popular birding areas where established pairs raise their young every year. They are superb subjects for bird and wildlife photographers, often allowing fairly close approach.

Spectacled Owl, the largest owl species in Panama
Spectacled Owl, the largest owl species in Panama

Sapayoa

For decades, the Sapayoa has remained a true mystery to birders and bird taxonomists. While it is nothing remarkable in appearance, it’s the appeal of its odd evolutionary history, along with its rather small global range, that makes it one of the most wanted birds to find in Panama. While it resembles a flycatcher or a manakin, ornithologists and taxonomists have long pondered over its taxonomic placement, as its closest living relatives appear to be the Old World broadbills. It is now generally accepted to be placed in its own family, Sapayoidae. For birders seeking to see representatives from each family of birds, this is a number one target! Panama is perhaps one of the best places to see the Sapayoa – it can be found in the eastern foothills and lowlands, almost always near forest streams. Ask us about finding the Sapayoa in Panama!

Sapayoa Panama
Sapayoa, a truly unique and puzzling bird

Blue Cotinga

Last but definitely not least, the Blue Cotinga definitely merits a spot in our top 10 birds to see in Panama list – how could it not! The electric blue plumage of the male is like no other in central and eastern Panama, where it is fairly common in the treetops of the lowland rainforest. With that color it easily stands out from the crowd! Even the scalloped plumage of the dull brown female is attractive. Panama is the only place to find the Blue Cotinga in Central America, and its small range to extreme northwestern Ecuador makes it a special bird to find. Blue Cotingas are usually solitary or found in small groups and are best found by visiting fruiting trees that they frequent. Seeing a male always produces an awe-inspiring reaction!

The male Blue Cotinga is a spectacular bird

Ask us about finding these top 10 birds and other incredible avifauna in Panama. Whitehawk offers tours all over the country, targeting these species and others that draw us to our beautiful country. Book your trip with us now!

Ornitherapy in Panama: Birds, Beaches and Yoga

Whitehawk’s first ornitherapy tour is set in the tranquil forests and white sand beaches of Belize.  Now we are excited to introduce our second tour in this style, in our home-base country of Panama.

Imagine waking up to a spectacular view of Pacific dry forest from the front porch of your private cabin, just a five-minute walk away from the soothing waves of the Pacific Ocean. You hear the familiar “whoop” of the Whooping Motmot outside your cabin, the comical buzzy notes of the Lance-tailed Manakins lekking in the forest nearby, and a screech of a Yellow-headed Caracara flying above. Take a deep breath and fill your lungs with the fresh, salty air. The morning bird activity will no doubt attract your attention – take a moment to watch the movements of the motmot as it flicks its tail like a pendulum from side to side, waiting for the perfect moment to dart to the ground to snatch up an insect.

Yellow-headed Caracara Panama
Yellow-headed Caracara are abundant in central Panama

Connecting with birds

An ornitherapy tour is all about indulging in a connection with birds and nature. The first five nights of the tour are set in the dry forest of the Pacific lowlands. Our friends at Istmo Yoga and Adventure Retreat will graciously host us at their beautiful oasis just a couple hundred meters away from the sandy beach and warm Pacific waters. The birds of the Pacific lowlands and lower foothills of El Valle de Anton nearby will charm us with their charismatic behaviors and ease of observation. Sapphire-throated Hummingbirds, Lance-tailed Manakins, Flame-rumped Tanagers, Crested Bobwhites, Collared Aracaris, Red-legged Honeycreepers, Tody Motmots, Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, Gray-headed Chachalacas and so many more will inspire us.

The final two nights take us to the banks of the Panama Canal where over 500 species of birds have been recorded. Toucans, trogons, manakins, antbirds, cotingas – all will dazzle and stimulate our minds and souls. From the forest understory to the canopy above, we will celebrate Panama’s great bird life. We will also take in some of the local sights, including the famous Panama Canal.

Stand Up Paddleboarding Panama
Stand-up paddleboarding in the calm waters of the Pacific

Connection with yourself

This tour also gives us the opportunity to relax, reflect and perhaps try out something new! While at Istmo, join us for a daily Yoga class and/or meditation session. Or get out on the calm waters of the Pacific and try Stand-Up Paddleboarding through the calm mangroves. You may even see a Straight-billed Woodcreeper or Mangrove Cuckoo, two mangrove specialties, while on the board! At any time, feel free to pull out some pencils and give sketching a hummingbird a go, or spend a few minutes coloring a mandala for some sweet relaxation in nature. Share these moments with others in the group or keep them to yourself to enjoy. Let ornitherapy and birds help you find this great connection!

Meditation on the beach Panama
Meditation on the beach

Nature prescriptions and Ornitherapy

Birds and nature have the incredible ability to greatly aid a wide variety of conditions, or at least put our minds at ease and sooth us. So much so, GPs are starting to prescribe birdwatching and beach walks to people suffering from chronic and debilitating illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, stress and mental illness. We recently came across this article and couldn’t help but see the connection to the benefits of our ornitherapy tours – it’s worth a read.

“There’s no wi-fi out here, but we promise you will find a better connection”

For those looking for a birding and nature getaway that embraces relaxation, join us in December 2019 for Whitehawk’s Panama Ornitherapy: Intro to Birding and Yoga. Perhaps this is a great way to get away from all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, and truly enjoy a gift of nature. Contact us for more information and to reserve your spot now!

Ornitherapy: Birding for the Soul

Looking back to some of our blog posts from 2013, this one caught our attention and is worth reposting. What is ornitherapy? How can birds help us to mentally, emotionally and physically thrive in today’s busy society? Read on and be inspired:

I recently came across a print ad by the US Fish and Wildlife Service showing beautiful snow-capped mountains against an orange sky and a foreground of wetlands filled with what look like hundreds of snow geese resting on the water.  The ad reads, “There is no wi-fi out here, but we promise you will find a better connection.”

Butterfly Falls, Mountain Pine Ridge Belize
Butterfly Falls, tucked away in the Mountain Pine Ridge, is a beautiful oasis

Connecting with birds

I have been thinking a lot lately about that ad; about what it really means to be “connected” and what things in this life are truly worth “connecting” to. On the surface, we, as a society tend to form fleeting connections that do little to feed us emotionally or nurture us physically. Even we birders are often so connected to our life lists that we sometimes forget about the birds themselves. How often have we seen a new species only to immediately check it off the list and move on to the next one, without taking the time to really marvel at the beauty of its feathers, or the grace of its flight?

When was the last time you immersed yourself, if only for a moment, in the secret lives of birds – watching them forage for food, preen, or simply perch quietly in the shade? Do we truly “connect” with the species we are watching? Even when we learn their calls it is usually for purposes of identification, and not to enjoy the unique melodious music that deserves as much appreciation as a fine aria.

A male Purple-throated Mountain-Gem in Costa Rica
Purple-throated Mountain-Gem

Connecting with ourselves

I can’t help but wonder… as a society, have we lost our connectedness, our mindfulness – our ability to be in present in each moment as it occurs and experience all the joy, beauty, sorrow or disappointment that moment brings? While Yoga and meditation strive to teach us how to do just that, those new to these practices might find them overwhelming and out of their realm or interest. But the truth is that neither Yoga nor meditation has to be done on a mat, sitting quietly in a room. In fact, our best moments of mindfulness are achieved off the mat.  One way to accomplish this is by immersing ourselves in nature. Yes, even while birding, we can achieve a feeling of peacefulness, tranquility, and joy.

Yoga in nature Belize
Yoga in the most serene rainforest setting, photo courtesy of Hidden Valley Inn

Whitehawk and Ornitherapy

We at Whitehawk want to offer our clients such an experience. Through our ornitherapy tours we practice birding in a mindful way – learning about the natural history of the species and spending time with each bird that we see. These tours also provide other optional mindful and relaxation activities such as gentle yoga  classes, both for beginners and for those who have been practicing for years. Our first ornitherapy tour brings us to the beautiful forests and colorful coral reefs of Belize. Our second ornitherapy tour will inspire us in Panama – stay tuned to our blog for more details coming very soon. Won’t you join us?

Colombia: New Tour, New Country, New Continent

It’s so hot right now – Colombia, that is, in terms of birding. One of the birdiest countries on Earth, Colombia has for decades been off the radar in terms of general tourism for security reasons. Now, as this celebrated South American nation becomes safer by the day, Colombia has risen to the top of the charts of places to visit for birding, and rightly so. Boasting nearly 1900 species of birds and over 80 endemics, with just about every tropical habitat imaginable, Colombia is not to be missed for any serious birder.

One of our favorite birds in Colombia - the Blue-naped Chlorophonia
Blue-naped Chlorophonia

The northern section of the mighty Andes is broken into three ranges (western, central and eastern), each offering birds unique to their peaks and slopes. The Inter-Andean valleys, Cauca and Magdalena, likewise are hotspots for bird endemism. The biodiversity here can be overwhelming! Such fantastic species as the Golden-crowned Tanager, Andean Lapwing, Andean Tit-Spinetail and Buffy Helmetcrest hail from the high-Andean paramo, while specialties including the Yellow-eared Parrot, Cauca Guan, White-mantled Barbet and Crested Ant-Tanager can be found in the slopes and valleys.

Los Nevados National Park in Colombia
Los Nevados National Park

Whitehawk is introducing COLOMBIA: THREE ANDEAN MOUNTAIN RANGES and we couldn’t be more excited about it. This tour features all three of the aforementioned Andean ranges, as well as both Cauca and Magdalena valleys. We will seek out Colombia’s most exotic and special birds, with the possibility to see over 25 endemic species. The tour starts in Cali and finishes in Bogota, taking us from the paramo and high-Andean lakes to the lush inter-Andean cloud forests. We will also visit some great sites for water birds such as the Northern Screamer and Black-capped Donacobius. Along the way we will be awed by antpittas, and the arrays of colorful tanagers, fruiteaters, and trogons. Turquoise Dacnis, Golden-winged Manakin, Crested Quetzal, Golden-breasted Fruiteater and the endemic Multicolored Tanager await us! What’s more, we will enjoy all of these birds with the breathtaking backdrop of the Andes.

Another beauty found in Colombia - the Masked Trogon
Masked Trogon

This tour also features dozens of species of hummingbirds, both at natural sites and fantastic feeder locations. After all, Colombia boasts the highest number of hummingbird species of any country – 165 species can be found here, nearly 50% of all hummingbirds! Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, White-tailed Hillstar, Indigo-capped Hummingbird, Lazuline Sabrewing, Empress Brilliant, Violet-tailed Sylph and Tolima Blossomcrown are just a few species we will likely encounter.

Once of Colombia's many hummingbird species - the Velvet-purple Coronet
Velvet-purple Coronet

Join us for our COLOMBIA: THREE ANDEAN MOUNTAIN RANGES tour coming up July 2-14, 2019. This tour is not to be missed! Contact us to reserve your spot and be part of a new adventure, this time to experience the sensational birds of Colombia.