Bird Island – an all-time top ten

Something that it repeats in time, through the years and with an established pattern that joins us around an idea, can be called a tradition. On every VENT (Victor Emanuel Nature Tours) tour group that comes to visit us at Tranquilo Bay, the participants are asked by Tour Leader (and dear friend) Jeri Langham, to make a TOP TEN list of their experiences during the week-long tour.  Anything goes on the top ten list: a person, situation, color, smell or anything that calls our attention.

Panama Bird WatchingThrough the years I have seen and heard many top ten experiences. We have had many good moments to choose from, but there is one experience that is always highlighted is the visit to Bird Island (Swan´s Cay or Isla Pájaro).

This magical place is one of the few “all-time top ten” experiences such that is a traditional top ten experience. It is not hard to understand why it is so special, but it is really hard to explain the experience with words.

Birding by Boat

When you are traveling in the boat in front of the north point of Isla Colón you begin to recognize the massive “Swan with a submerged head” shape rock in the middle of the ocean. It is hard to believe that it could survive the exposure to the open ocean’s strength when other rocks around, like the “Sail Rock” are loosing their fight against time and elements.

Birdwatching Panama As you get closer, you see some white dots start circling around the jungle rock. Then as you are approaching closer still, the white specs become a white bird with an extraordinary long tail, the Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus). This rock has the only-known nesting colony in Panama.

Magnificent Frigatebird But that is not the only neighbor on the rock. Tropicbirds share the island with Brown boobies ( Sula leucogaster), Magnificent Frigatbirds ( Fregata magnificens), Pale-vented Pigeons (Patagioenas cayennensis ), and many other visitors like Kingfishers, Common Black Hawk (Beteogallus anthracinus), Green Heron (Butorides virescens).

Panama Birding

Mentioning their names cannot bring to your mind the spectacular display of sounds, jiggling feathers, interactions or just, the breeze of the ocean cooling you down while witnessing the natural piece of art that Bird Island is.

And that is why, we all share our Bird Island memories as some of the most precious souvenirs from Bocas del Toro.

Symbols of Bocas del Toro

Wildlife PanamaProbably the species most representative of Bocas del Toro are the Poison-dart Frogs (Oophaga pumilio), with all the different colorations found around the archipelago, but another very representative specie is the Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus), a graceful specie found in the some areas of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

Birdwatching PanamaThese birds are found in tropical and subtropical seas, they feed mostly on fish, caught plunge diving. They lived almost their entire life in the Sea. During breeding season they used rocky crevices on remote islands, cliffs are prefer, because it makes easier take of, this birds can not walk much. Both parents share the parental care of their descendants, which is usually one single egg.

Birding Bocas del Toro

Adult and chick of Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus), in their nest

In Bocas there is a small Island, known as Bird Island (Isla pajaro) or Swans’ Cay, which is known for its elegant white birds with long tails.  Everyone who sees them stare with an open mouth at their beauty. Bird Island is a limestone island. Next to it are two smaller islands that offer Magnificent Frigatebirds (Fregata magnificens) palm trees to rest and nesting grounds to Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster).

Birdwatching Panama

Juvenile Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) begging to one of its parents for food

Magnificent Frigate Bocas del Toro

Males of Magnificent Frigategird ( Fregata magnificent) in their resting spot.

Worldwide the population is declining, mostly for the introduction of invasive species, as rats and cats, which predated the nests. Let hope this Caribbean treasure stays safe of predators and human pressure for the join of all of us and the future generations.