Dwarf squirrels in Western Panama

Fossil evidence proves that there were no squirrels in South America before the formation of Panama, the natural bridge that allowed migration in both directions, of a wide variety of species, known as the Great American Interchange.

Dwarf squirrels (Microsciurus), are found in evergreen tropical rainforest regions of Central and South America. Their small size, dull coloring, shy behavior and speed make them difficult to find. These are some of the reasons why not much is known about these little mammals.

Palo Seco Protected Forest

The home of the Pygmy Squirrel, evergreen tropical rainforest, Palo Seco Protected Forest, Bocas del Toro.

In Western Panama, two species of this group can be found, the Alfaro´s Pygmy Squirrel (Microsciurus alfari) and the Western Dwarf Squirrel (Microsciurus mimulus).

Both of the species look very much a like. The best way to differentiate them, is by the white ear spots on the Alfaro´s Pygmy Squirrel. However, the ear spots are absent on the animals found in Costa Rica and Western Panama, which makes it difficult to tell them apart in this part of the world, as their distribution overlaps and both species have similar behaviors.

Panama Wildlife

Pygmy Squirrel (Microsciurus spp.) photograph in the Palo Seco Protected Forest, Bocas del Toro.

None of the members of this genus are endangered, but it is hard to know the real numbers of their populations because of the lack of information and studies related to those cute creatures.



The ibises have a very particular appearance overall, long and curved beak, long neck and legs and a chunky body, which makes them easy to recognize from a distance. Five species of ibises are reported in Panama, two of them have very few observations in the country, and are considered as vagrant species. In Bocas del Toro we can find the other three species: Green, Glossy and White Ibis, in this same order of abundance, with the Green Ibis the most common of the three, and the White Ibis the rarest one.

Birding Panama

Mesembrinibis cayennensis

In poor light, the Green Ibis (Mesembrinibis cayennensis), may appear as a black bird, but when you get the right light and angle, the beautiful iridescent feathers on the back of its neck may be appreciated.

In Bocas del Toro the Green Ibis (Mesembrinibis cayennensis) is frequently seen near the mangroves and wetlands of the lowlands, where it feeds on aquatic invertebrates (worms, snails, insects, etc.) by walking slowly and digging with its long bill into the mud, dirt, and shallow water.

Easy to recognize and locate by its peculiar loud call, they actively vocalize at dusk and down. Flying calls are a series of corocoro… sound, which explain the reason of the local name in some regions: “the coró-coró”.

Green Ibis call. Downloaded from zeno-canto (http://www.xeno-canto.org/sounds/uploaded/WNGXTLHREQ/GreenIbisDamani111028_26.mp3)

Birds are often seen in pairs or singles, but occasionally in small groups up to eight individuals (personal observations). Their nest is built with twigs, high in a tree over water, and separated from other nests of the same species.

Panama Birdwatching

Pair of Green Ibises

Typically, these birds vocalize on a high perch, in a clear area, at dusk or dawn. Notice the particular shape of these birds, it makes them easy to recognize from the distance.

Updated Bird List – Fall 2017

I recently finished updating our Western Caribbean Slope bird list, based on the August 2017 Clements List. This last version shows some significant changes, such as, removing from the Thraupidae family the Rosy Thush-Tanager (Rhodinocichla rosea) and the Dusky-faced Tanager (Mitrospingus cassinii) and putting them in to their own family, Rhodinocichlidae and Mitrospingidae respectively.

As of this update, we have a total of 522 species on our list.  It is very likely that during the year this number will change, owing to Bocas del Toro’s outstanding diversity.

One of the additions to our bird list, is the Forster´s Tern (Sterna forsteri), a rare species for the country; only one bird was observed, resting with a group of Royal Terns (Thalasseus maximus), at the Changuinola River mouth, months ago. This species is easy to recognize in its winter plumage, by the black, coma type of shape, ear patch.

Birding Panama

©Brooke A. Miller

You can download the current Clements based bird list on our Birding page.

Beauty and diversity: Part 2

We all have encountered orchids in our lives, some species, such as the Phalaenopsis or moth orchids, are popular as a houseplants. In the tropics we find some plants of this group blooming throughout the year.

Fire star or rainbow orchid

A common orchid found on the roadsides or within the grasslands of the mountains of Bocas del Toro and Chiriqui is the Epidendrum radicans, known in Spanish as a fire star or rainbow orchid.  Its bright yellow, orange, and red flowers gets everyone’s attention. The flower opens with two colors, yellow and orange, and when it gets pollinated it changes color to an uniform bright red color.

Slipper orchid

Not as common, but a good example to show the diversity of this group is the Slipper orchid or Lady´s slippers (Phragmipedium longifolium). It has a wide distribution in the temperate areas from Mexico down to South America. Insects pollinate all Slipper orchids. The insects are deceived because all the species in this particular group of orchids do not produce nectar or any other reward for its pollinators.

Beauty and diversity: Part 1

Everything in nature is fascinating, the adaptations of life to succeed, exceed the imagination. Today I am starting a series of two blogs, about a very diverse and colorful group of plants: the orchids. With over 25,000 species around the world, orchids are one of the most diverse groups in the world. The complexity of its flowers and how pollinating insects evolved to pollinate specific types of flower is just brilliant! They grow in all different habitats, except the poles and extremely dry deserts.

Holy Spirit Orchid

Panama has over 1350 species of orchids. The national flower of the country belong to this group, known as Holy Spirit (Peristeria elata), because the central structures of the flower looks like a dove with open wings.

Unfortunately, the Holy Spirit it is in danger, the extraction of plants from the wild without control, for commercial purposes, it is pushing this orchid, and many others, to the extinction. Efforts to recover the population of the Holy Spirit are in process in Panama, through the MIDA (Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development), with the help of the Taiwanese government.  They have an active breeding program.


Panamanian Molas

The mola is part of the traditional dress of the Kuna women.  These indigenous people live both in Panama and Colombia.  In Panama their land is called the Kuna Yala and is located on the Caribbean coast near Panama City and the canal area.  Kuna people have migrated to other parts of the country over time and as such there are Kuna living in Bocas del Toro. This video describes how they make their molas.  It is a beautiful work of art that takes quite some time when completed by hand.

Tarpon Working Baitball

So, we received a drone for Christmas and have spent some time learning how to fly it and capture footage around the neighborhood over the past month after the end of high season.

Jay called back on the radio from the boat as he headed out to pick up guests recently telling Jim he needed to go check out the tarpon rolling around a large baitball near the lodge.  Fortunately for us the baitball was near the lodge for a few days.  Check out this footage of the tarpon, sting rays and snapper corralling the bait fish.  The change in shape of the baitball is all due to predators working the smaller bait fish.  Nature at its finest.

Knowledge, beauty and art to share – Part II

John James Audubon´s Birds of America is a really valuable contribution in the form of life-size watercolors and details about the behavior of birds. These compilations of 435 species of birds, over half of the species of United States, included 25 new species and 12 new subspecies. This work was printed between 1827 and 1838. After this project, he compiled a collection of 150 hand-colored lithographs “The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America”.


Audubon´s watercolor plate of the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)

One of the reasons I want to dedicate this series of blog posts to his work, is because, in addition to his incredible talent as an artist, he was a brilliant writer. Reading his very well documented journeys can transport you to the adventure as he experienced it, with exquisite detail of the landscape and the behavior of the birds (available at: http://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america , courtesy of the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove, Audubon, PA, and the Montgomery County, PA, Audubon Collection). In each one of the up coming photo series, I will be posting some of his plates of our avifauna species, and quote some of his bird biographies.


Knowledge, beauty and art to share – Part I

John James Audubon was not the first person to collect, illustrate and record detailed information about the birds of North America, but the quality and significance of his work places his name and work as a remarkable reference of the ornithology world.

John Audobon Portrait

Image 1. Paint of John James Audubon, by John Syme (Source: http://www.audubon.org/content/john-james-audubon?_ga=1.144911732.1729398225.1484368019

Jean-Jacques Audubon was born in 1785, in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now known as Haiti). Later in 1803 when he was immigrating to United States, he changed his name to a more Anglicized form: John James Audubon.

During his first years in the new country he spent a lot of his time roaming this very different territory. He was captivated by the wildlife in this new area, a passion that took him from one end of the country to the other. Through the years he saw an extensive area of the country. He changed the way birds were illustrated, “putting the spectator within the natural environment”: accomplishing an extreme similarity with the characteristics of the bird, and the environment where the scene took place. And he also developed the first recorded experiment of bird banding in America.