Wadda's Log Blog

October 17, 2010

Into the Wild

Current Location: Las Brisas Anchorage, Panama City

Date: 16 October, 2010

Hello again.   Still waiting for the electronics, still exploring.

We have made a couple of forays recently into the nearby national parks to see some of the famed biodiversity found here.   I also checked out the local zoo as I wanted to see a Harpy Eagle (Panama’s national bird); and the nearby Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) located directly opposite us.

We made an early morning booking at the Rainforest Discovery Center, arose way before the birds, and arrived shortly before 7am.   Our admission fees included the services of a guide, a knowledgeable young woman recently graduated in eco-tourism.   She was equipped with binoculars, telescope, well tuned ears and sharp eyes – frankly without her we would have seen very little animal and bird life.   We climbed the 100ft/32m observation tower that looked out over the rain forest, partially covered in low cloud at this early hour.   With the help of our guide we saw several colourful birds including toucans, parrots, tanagers, and woodpeckers.   Later we walked the trails with her to look at the plants, a few more birds, a sloth way up high, some beautiful flowers, vines, strangler fig, palms, bamboo, and plants to avoid – tree trunks covered with bacteria laden spikes.

The visitor centre had humming bird feeders that were well patronized by several species, our favourite being an iridescent green and violet one.   We also met the resident gatosolo (racoon like, but larger), which was sort of like an unwanted pet – it was allowed to approach only so far before being shooed away.


Cloud forest...can you see all the birds?



Looking down onto the rainforest...see any birds?



Hey, there's one!



That makes two!



Nope, no birds, however the intertwining of the various species of plants was fascinating



The observation tower had several lookout spots down the length of it (see any birds?)



The observation tower...175 spiral steps to the top



The 'hot lips' plant in fruit



'Hot lips' plant in flower



Anyone drop their bead necklace?



These are seed pods, not necklace beads as I first thought



Large vine (no longer pliable)



Palm tree trunk, the spikes are loaded with bacteria...stand clear!



Same tree, looking up. The fruits are sold roasted as street food and taste vaguely like a densely textured pumpkin/squash



Large pretty flower, 1



Middle size red flower, liked a lot of shade



It's a bit past its prime, however this is the first time I have seen this flower with the green and blue berries (?). These plants were plentiful in the forest, trackside, and by the road



Small orange flowers with iridescent green fly



Breakfast time at the hummingbird all-you-can-suck-buffet



Second seating at the breakfast buffet



Watch the birdie



Best observed from a distance



The gatosolo, raccoon like, but quite a bit larger, and note the claws



He was suffering from a bad case of the itches



Still scratching


The Rainforest Discovery Centre is located just off the Pipeline Road in Soberania National Park.   We visited the Pipeline Road the previous week however arrived after the sun was well and truly up – a bit late for bird watching.   We did see several troops of monkeys and some butterflies.     The original pipeline was built during WW2 and was a  fuel pipeline.   The Pipeline Road is now one of the premier bird watching sites in Panama (at the right time of day).


Butterfly, wings up with just a hint of blue showing


The butterfly pictured above may have been one of the varieties of blue morpho that we have seen flitting about the forest, never stopping for long.


Monkeying around



Large red flower


Between Gamboa and the Miraflores Locks is the Summit Botanical Gardens and Zoo.   The zoo was set up when the US controlled the Canal and was used to educate military personnel regarding the animals they would likely encounter in the rain forest jungle.   The zoo and gardens now function as a rainforest education centre open to all.   Whilst it is certainly preferable for animals to live in their natural habitat, zoos can serve an important  education function.

The harpy eagle is a magnificent bird; it is also the national bird of Panama.   According to the info available, a mature adult can be >1m tall (>3′) – so I was somewhat relieved to have my field of view partially obscured by netting.


Harpy eagle, Summit Botanical Gardens and Zoo


Similarly I was quite content to look at the jaguar from behind the glass (tho’ he did seem restless and lonely).   Not too sure I have any desire to meet a jaguar out on the trail – what does one say to a jaguar…’Hey, nice coat!’?   ‘Here, kitty, kitty!’?


Hey! Nice coat!


The two king vultures were perhaps the most stunning birds I saw.   Having observed the local vulture population on Pine Island for 10 years and the constant work they did cleaning up road kill and red tide fish kills, we have a respect for vultures and their place in the food chain.   The king vultures were beautiful creatures.


King vulture


The vested anteater had a distressingly small enclosure, but a very engaging personality.   I thought the line of leaf cutter ants, marching relentlessly along next to the enclosure were pushing their luck – that ant eater’s tongue was very long and very fast.


Vested anteater



What's for lunch? Ants again? My favourite!


A large enclosure contained several species of birds and a colony of agouti.   We had seen agouti at San Lorenzo National Park and on Cerro Ancon in the city, but never close enough to photograph


Mother and baby agouti



Male and female macaws



One of the few trees that were in flower


The tapir was another animal I was glad not to meet in the jungle path.   Although it looked to be vegetarian I think I know who would come out best if push came to shove.   A male adult can weigh up to 350kg (770#)




The peccary family groups were also engaging, or perhaps they displayed the zoological version of Stockholm syndrome.   They came over for a sniff and a snort.


Sociable peccaries


The group of rainbow billed toucans were just gorgeous looking birds – from their bills that looked to have been hand painted, to their royal blue feet, to their scarlet bum feathers.


Rainbow billed toucan, squinting in the sun



And that's how you eat a piece of fruit



These lizzards (30cm/12") had the run of the place


To see some other photos of the birds and animals at the zoo, and some more hummingbirds, go here

Next to where we are anchored is a branch of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the public areas devoted to wild life and botanical education.   The site originally housed the quarantine station (back in the days of Yellow Fever outbreaks that claimed so many lives in C19th during railway and canal construction).   All that remains of the original quarantine station are some pylons next to the shoreline.    I learnt recently that the 4 islands at the end of the Causeway (Flamenco, Perico, Culebra, and Naos) used to be the site of Fort Grant.   Fort Grant, apparently, was made a most imposing defence installation during the years 1913 – WW2, its purpose being to guard the Pacific entrance to the Canal.     Two enormous guns, mounted on railway carriages were brought to Panama, and could be transported via the Panama Canal Railroad.    The guns are long gone.    The ammo magazine (built into the hill on Culebra) now houses some of the educational exhibits, however some of the train tracks have been incorporated into the landscaping…what next swords into ploughshares?


De-commissioned railway track, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Isla Culebra, Panama City


This is probably the closest I’ll come to seeing a sea turtle, unless we come across one laying eggs on a beach (in the dead of night with no flash photography allowed)


Sea Turtle


Here’s some of the local fish and corals.


Juvenile French Angel Fish



Pork Fish: the other, other white meat



It's amoré!: warning, love bite not recommended



We saw a lot of these in the Bahamas and San Blas



Star fish - lots like this in the San Blas



Sea urchin: avoid picking up or stepping on



Sea cucumber (about that size too): we saw these in the San Blas



Mama racoon



Small delicate flowers


A couple weeks ago, we attended the Panama Eco Feria, the highlight of which was receiving a flyer for a spa where I had the opportunity to get a butt implant and Moe biceps implants.   The crew of s/v Wadda, bringing you the good, the bad, and the just plain silly

On that note, we’re outta here.    Thanks for getting all the way to the end.

Margaret and Moe


  1. Very interesting to follow your exploits. here,same old same old

    Comment by Guy — October 17, 2010 @ 4:35 am

    • The ospreys still dive bombing the fish, the dolphins still tossing mullet, the bald eagles keeping guard over Winn Dixie, the roseate spoonbills visiting from Sanibel, the turkey vultures keeping Stringfellow Rd picked clean, the mango and grapefruit laden trees and so on and so on…sounds like a great place to live!

      Comment by The Crew — October 17, 2010 @ 11:40 pm

  2. Love your humor and your photos. Thank you for sharing….and keep em coming. I volunteered to work at the Smithsonian but was turned down because I did not have medical insurance.

    Comment by Jamie — October 17, 2010 @ 11:43 am

    • Too bad about the Smithsonian and their health care policy, though not good if the volunteers get hurt by the exhibits – I did wonder for whose protection the netting over the lobster tank was intended – the lobster or the visitors.

      Comment by The Crew — October 17, 2010 @ 11:35 pm

  3. I’ve probably told you before about a humorous radio commercial I heard many years ago. It was for a scuba diving school, and opened with a song to the tune of “That’s Amore'” and the lyrics:

    See that think by the reef,
    With the big shiny teeth?
    That’s a moray.

    Comment by Ted Heise — October 17, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

    • I remembered your eel song Ted from our journey through the Bahamas last year, and I still get a chuckle from it

      Comment by The Crew — October 17, 2010 @ 11:32 pm

  4. cwh

    Comment by cor — October 18, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

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