Sunday, February 26, 2012

High above El Cope

The General de Division Omar Torrijos Herrera National Park is located at the central foothills and highlands of Cocle province (central Panama), above the towns of El Cope and Barrigon, that's why it is simply known as El Cope NP sometimes. After having fun in Penonome during the first two carnival days, I went to this park with my friend Rafael Luck, and his guest Luis Isaza, last monday, february 20th (third carnival day). It is roughly one-hour away from Penonome, with good asphalt road all the way to El Cope and then a quite good gravel road to Barrigon. It is in Barrigon, after the elementary school, when the road becomes steep and deteriorates, making to have a high clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicle a need.
The contrast between the dry, hot lowlands and the fresh, greener hills of El Cope is evident, but when you actually enters the national park, it is like entering a different world: exuberant cloud forest covered in mist and a very chilly temperature with the occasional rain shower. From behind the park rangers' cabin, both towns down in the valley look so distant.
There are many trails to walk within the park. We chose La Rana trail, which is a 2 km long, narrow trail which eventually joins the trail to La Rica, making a loop. It is quite steepy in places, but crosses several creeks and is quite good for forest interior birds, but the day was so misty and chilly that we almost saw anything at all. A pair of Slate-colored Grosbeaks, some Spotted Woodcreepers and a Gray-breasted Wood-Wren were the only ones that did showed up (though we heard many others).
It was gratifying to see the exit sign; however, it only marks the middle of the journey... you still have a long way up until you reach again the main road close to the park facilities. At the Visitors Center, we took a rest before entering another loop trail, Los Helechos. It was a good idea, because a mixed flock was working the trees next to the Center. We enjoyed the sight of Hepatic, Silver-throated, Speckled, Emerald and Bay-headed Tanagers along with Shining and Green Honeycreepers, Bananaquits and a Pale-vented Thrush.
Los Helechos trail is much shorter than La Rana, and it also crosses a beautiful creek in its lower part (around 600 meters above sea level). There, we found the bird of the trip: bathing in a tiny pool, a gorgeous male Snowcap showed us why it is so sought after in this place. The little beauty perched close to the bridge and started preening itself... in the darkness of the trail its snowy white cap and tail flashed like reflectors! It was too dark for photos, but somehow Rafael managed to took these pics which show the bird (first without flash... shows a small dark hummer with white cap; the second was with flash, revealing the amazing purple color of its body... both images are copyright Rafael Luck).

We decided to follow the main road in the car,. all the way to El Calvario, the highest point of that road. That part of the road is only for the brave ones, with huge boulders and slippery mud all over, but the view of the distant Caribbean lowlands and the magnificent forest-covered mountains is worth the bumpy ride. The ride back down slope is scarier than the way up, but Rafael managed to brought us healthy and save back to the civilization.
A very nice trip for a carnival day, and a very special site, with the most beautiful forests of Panama!

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