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Birding Pipeline Panama
Wow! Panama's best birding? That's quite a statement for a small county packed with over 1,000 species. Here "best" means the combination of the following six attributes:
Pipeline Road for Panama's best birding
Where is Pipeline Road?
About 45 minutes west of Panama City is the little town called Gamboa. Pipeline Road starts just west of Gamboa and terminates 17.5 km north, passing through the center of 22,100-ha (55,000-acre) Soberania National Park.
What is Pipeline Road?
During WWII, a petroleum pipeline and its service road were built across the isthmus of Panama. The pipeline was never used, but the single-lane, gravel-and-dirt road persists and allows entry through the center of this incredible national park. It's easy to bird there all day and not notice the two old pipes off in the forest.
4. Close viewing. The narrowness of the road allows the tree canopy to continue uninterrupted, so birds are easily seen both in the forest and directly overhead. From 2 km onward, the road is barely wide enough to permit passage by a 4-wheel-drive vehicle; there, the road seems more like a trail. In that section, birds including antwrens, trogons, motmots, and puffbirds often are only 2 to 10 meters from the birders.
5. Few birders. During the wet season, only a few people can be found anywhere along Pipeline Road; many days, no one is there. During the height of the dry season, only about 10 to 25 birders will be there.
6. No entrance fee. There is no entrance fee to enter the park.
1. World-class bird diversity. According to Angehr et al. (2008:81), "Pipeline Road is one of the best places to see tropical forest birds in the Americas, with a species list exceeding 400." They didn't limit this praise to Panama; they included all of Central and South America. The number of species we see during a morning at Pipeline Road and Ammo Ponds during the dry season typically ranges from 65 to 85, with another 35 to 40 heard but not seen, for a total of 100 to 120. During 5-1/2 hours of birding, that's 12 to 15 new species seen per hour or about 1 every 4 or 5 minutes! Often, we see more than 40 species during the first couple of hours.
2. Fast access. The entrance to Pipeline is located only a 45-minute drive west of Panama City, and only a few minutes from resorts and B&Bs in Gamboa. The first 2 km of the road is a wide, level, gravel road easily driven by car.
3. Easy walking. The entire 17.5-km length of Pipeline Road is easily walked. The first 7-km section is mostly level, whereas the 10.5-km section farther in is more hilly. Walking offroad in the forest is quite easy because the mature forest canopy precludes most understory growth. (The incredible list continues below...)
Literature Cited: Angehr G, Engleman D, Engleman L. 2008. A Bird-Finding Guide to Panama. Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, New York, USA. 391 pp. At www.amazon.com and Panama Audubon Society www.audubonpanama.org.
Photos, here by permission, were taken while birding with Kent Livezey along Pipeline Road: male Spotted Antbird (Jacques Giraud), Keel-billed Toucan (Wayne Lynch), male Golden-collared Manakin (Mario Olteanu), male Slaty-tailed Trogon (Franklin Kwai Ben), female Crimson-crested Woodpecker (Franklin Kwai Ben), and Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo (Paul Boelens). Header photos of male Spotted Antbird (Jacques Giraud) and Keel-billed Toucan (Wayne Lynch) are here by permission. Website by Kent Livezey.
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