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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Leaving Panama

March 28th, 2011 · No Comments

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During the last three days in Panama I had an infection that got worse by the day. By the morning of March 15 I was feeling so weak that I turned back from birding down Old Gamboa Road. Bob, Floyd, and I rested on the trail between the two Summit Ponds while the others continued.

That was my only regret of my trip to Panama. Carlos took the rest of the group along a side trail to see a Spectacled Owl. But Larry captured a wonderful shot of this uncommon and colorful owl and shared it with me. In general he shares his photos on Discover Life, where currently 34 pages of his photos start here.

A Spectacled Owl

A Spectacled Owl

Photo Courtesy of Larry Thompson

Click on the picture above to enlarge

That day my left eye kept tearing so much that I couldn’t see clearly with it no matter how often I wiped it. But worse was the pain in my right ear. It got so strong that I had to take two Vicodins at a time to control it. Then, that night at about 3 a.m. the pain stopped suddenly.

But it stopped only because something in my ear broke and blood came pouring out. It was still bleeding when I got up at 5:30 a.m. for breakfast. Eric then gave me something to help control the infection, but I wasn’t up to participating in the morning expedition to the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center. The only outings that I skipped entirely were that one and the afternoon outing the day before to the area around the town of Gamboa.

As I write this a week later I am well again. Before I left Panama I emailed my doctor, and he had a prescription ready for me to pick up when I returned home on March 18.

I feel lucky to have got off so easily. I was also lucky to have email access at the beginning and end of my trip to Panama, especially after missing it at Canopy Tower until the afternoon of March 15. Their Internet service had been down for more than eight days, even before we arrived, because their ISP’s antenna wasn’t working. Since I stayed behind from the outing that afternoon anyway because of the infection, the timing was right for me to catch up on my email. I had 265 messages waiting for me.

My visit to Panama was no vacation. We got up every morning at 5 or 6 to see the birds at sunrise. We did have enough time for a mid-day siesta, shower, and sundry tasks that for me included backing up my photos to my MacBook Air laptop and my 120GB version of the HyperDrive Colorspace UDMA. This is a tiny hard disk that backs up CF cards, which my Canon 7D uses, and the even smaller SD cards, which my Panasonic Lumix uses. I made sure that I always kept my laptop separate from my HyperDrive Colorspace for further security.

After mid-day breaks we went out again in the afternoon until sundown. One night we even went out after dark to hunt birds and mammals with powerful flashlights. With all that birding we didn’t have much time for sleep.

And every day we had walks that were sometimes too much for some of the participants. For me they were especially difficult since I was carrying not only a heavy camera and telephoto lens but also a heavy tripod, ball head, and Wimberley Sidekick gimbal head adapter to hold the camera and lens.

The weather at Canopy Lodge in the highlands was delightfully warm. But at Canopy Tower near the Panama Canal it was hot and humid, reaching about 90° in the shade every day.

But what made the trip especially rough for me was the fall that I took and the infection that I contracted. My fall and my illness combined with the general conditions of photography in the tropical rainforest made for a rough trip. But certainly one that was worthwhile and one that I would do again even knowing what I know now.

In an area smaller than the state of Indiana, the country of Panama has more bird species than the entire United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, where we have 924 species, according to iBird Explorer Pro. Panama has 978 species of birds. Of these, 595 species are recorded from Canopy Tower and Canopy Lodge. Our group saw 280 of them as well as 15 species of mammals. But as Eric forcefully pointed out, our group was experiencers rather than counters intent on racking up high numbers of bird sightings.

Panama has the largest rainforest in the Western Hemisphere outside the Amazon Basin. Visiting in March was perfect for lots of sun and little rain. In fact, it rained only twice during my stay in Panama. Once was just as we arrived at Canopy Tower. While we ate lunch, it rained hard, but stopped just as we finished. The other time was while we were hiking the Pipeline Road on March 14. As the rain hit suddenly I barely had time to cover my camera and lens with a trash bag that I had stored in my back pocket for just such an emergency. While my tripod and I could afford to get soaked as I ran back to the truck, I saved my camera equipment, and waited out the storm by reading a book on my iPad.

In many ways Panama was an easy trip. The lodge and tower staffs feed me so much healthy and delicious food that I gained five pounds. But by strenuous dieting I have already lost that weight.

The country uses dollars interchangeably with its currency, the balboa. Electric power is the same as at home. Panama doesn’t require American citizens to have a visa and is friendly to Americans.
We didn’t need to get any special shots. While many people died from yellow fever or malaria during the construction of the Panama Canal, vigorous measures eliminated those diseases in Panama, except in Darien province near the Colombian border.

Panama is a democracy and one that is pro-business and libertarian. Like neighboring Costa Rica, Panama has abolished its army. Panama is building lots of new roads and other infrastructure from canal fees now that control of the canal reverted to it at the end of 1999.

All of the people I traveled with were really interesting and fun to be around. I got lots of good photos, exercise, and wonderful memories.

Canopy Tower is a unique birding site that well deserves its reputation as one of the world’s top sites. In Panama I continued to enjoy good luck.

On the morning of March 17, our last day in Panama, we drove for almost two hours to Panama Viejo on the Bay of Panama, where we looked at shorebirds.

My Group Scans for Shore Birds

My Group Scans for Shore Birds

Click on the picture above to enlarge

The first one we saw was a Saffron Finch.

A Saffron Finch

A Saffron Finch

Click on the picture above to enlarge

A flock of Laughing Gulls enjoyed a bath in an inlet.

Laughing Gulls Bathe

Laughing Gulls Bathe

Click on the picture above to enlarge

Then they flew away.

The Laughing Gulls Leave

The Laughing Gulls Leave

Click on the picture above to enlarge

So did we.


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