The Darien National Park covers 579,000 ha of pristine primary forests and other habitats in extreme eastern Panama, and is home to some range-restricted endemics and near-endemic bird species. In fact, around 40 species of birds are only readily found for Panama in this park... so you can imagine why I was trying to visit this park. I have my own "Darien Gap" in my life list... and I wanted to fill it!
To be honest, this was not my first time in the park. On two previous occasions (you can read about it here and here), I have accompanied the Panama Audubon Society in its annual fieldtrip to El Real, which includes a short visit to Pirre Station (also known as Rancho Frío). This station is barely within the limits of the park, but surrounded by tall primary forest, making it a great place for birding. Besides, the installations are comfortable and ideally located next to the Peresénico river.
But reaching it require a two hours walk through muddy trails and creeks from the nearest town, making a one-day visit not exactly a good idea for quality birding... although surely you'll find widespread species like the eastern form of Chestnut-backed Antbird cassini, with distinctive small white spots on wing coverts and females brightly colored below, as shown in the photo.
I went to this station some days ago, taking advantage of my last days of vacations. I spend only two half days in the station... my main objective were the highlands of the Pirre range (more about that in my next post), but that was enough to see great birds... and even a life bird for me. The day of my arrival, my local guide pointed to me a HUGE cuipo tree next to the trail before entering the limits of the national park. A quick search with my binoculars revealed a wide nest atop the tree... a Harpy Eagle nest! After searching the surrounding, Isaac found a young Harpy close to the nest... what a great way to start my birding trip! Not every day you see a Harpy Eagle!
We were not even 15 minutes from the station! Once in the station, I only had time for dinner and take a shower... soon it got dark and the sounds of the night took over the place. I heard both Crested and Spectacled Owls, and a Vermiculated Screech-Owl behind the station. The next day I hiked to the highlands, leaving the station in the darkness of the dawn and returning at night; however, I still managed to photograph a Spectacled Owl in the darkness.
For the last day, Isaac took me to a spot 10 minutes away of the station, crossing the river. It was a little bit dark, but we heard (and saw) both Streak-chested and Black-crowned Antpittas, Spotted and Chestnut-backed Antbirds and a Bright-rumped Attila. We stopped next to a tall tree with a wide nest on it... another eagle nest! This time, the tree was considerably smaller than the HUGE cuipo tree we saw two days before with the Harpy Eagle nest. This nest was empty... Isaac began to whistle... I waited. Suddenly, a ghostly shape flew under the canopy, perching in a nearby tree. I was able to see clean white underwings... a young Crested Eagle!
I was able to see the field marks that separate this young bird of the very similar young Harpy we saw before: single-pointed crest, less massive bill and longer, less massive legs. But the show was about to start... after a couple of minutes, an adult eagle arrived to the nest, and started to vocalize.
We spent more than 1 hour seeing both birds... but I needed to go. Reluctantly, I left the eagles interacting between them... what a great life bird... and so close to the facilities! Amazing. I started and ended my flash trip to Darien National Park with two huge eagles, the largest eagles in Panama... but those were not my highlights of the trip (not kidding)... check my next post if you want to know!