© Helen Baines 2004
PANAMA CANAL
Tuesday, 27th Jan. 2004

We were not able to disembark from the ship anywhere in Panama, so we bird watched from the deck or our cabin balcony. We actually saw more than we expected, including seven lifers.

Lifers marked*

We woke at 5:30 am, before dawn on this morning, so that we could get a look at the entrance to the Canal and perhaps see some new birds at first light. The very first bird was a Magnificent Frigatebird soaring over the ship while we waited to enter the first of the Gatun Locks. We then saw Black Vultures roosting in the trees at the forest edge and some common water birds: Great and Little Blue Herons, Brown Pelican and Ringed Kingfisher. There were also swallows flying around, probably Mangrove Swallows, a flock of Cattle Egrets and when the light got better, we thought we saw Purple Martins on the top of the light fixtures. However, these were actually a local martin, the Gray-breasted Martin*, having similar plumage to the female Purple Martin.
At 8 am our ship entered the first of the 3 Gatun Locks, which would raise us to the level of the Gatun Lake beyond. We set up our scope on deck and while we waited for the ship to proceed through each lock, we used the time to scan the woods to one side of the ship. We could see some parrots which were new to us: both Blue-headed Parrots* and Red-lored Parrots*; also seen: Great Kiskadee, Great-tailed Grackles in abundance and a Tropical Mockingbird. There were also several birds, which were just too far away, or seen so fleetingly that it was not possible to identify them. As we proceeded into the next lock we found that we were looking at a netting type fence and a field beyond. Here we saw more grackles and several meadowlarks, which based on range had to be Eastern Meadowlarks.

We then passed into Gatun Lake, which was formed during the construction of the Canal. Our ship had to wait there for some time before we could proceed across the lake, which contained many forested islands. We thought we might see birds on these islands, but apart from Turkey Vultures, they appeared to be pretty barren. While waiting for our ship to sail across the lake, we did see the swallows again and were now able to identify them as Mangrove Swallows*. We also spotted some Royal Terns, Neotropic Cormorants, Laughing Gulls and a White-tailed Hawk.

By the time we cleared Gatun Lake it was almost noon and we then passed into the Canal proper. On passing a dredging operation we saw an Anhinga and more Tropical Kingbirds. On power lines we spotted a Pale-vented Pigeon* preening - another lifer for our list. As we passed along this section of the Canal we saw several raptors, some familiar: American Kestrel and Crested Caracara, and some unfamiliar such as the Yellow-headed Caracara* and the Gray Hawk.

The next series of locks were the Miraflores Locks. Passing through these we had time to study the local birds, but it was very difficult, if not impossible to identify the passerines, even with the scope. We were able to identify several Rock Pigeons, though! From the Pedro Miguel Lock we saw another Yellow-headed Caracara, more Laughing Gulls, 2 Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, 2 Great Kiskadees and 2 Pale-vented Pigeons. We passed into Miraflores Lake and then proceeded through more locks as we descended towards the Pacific side of the Canal. It was now 3:15 pm. Here we saw a winter plumaged Spotted Sandpiper, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Little & Great Blue Herons, 4 Ospreys and 2 Fork-tailed Flycatchers* on top of some light structures.

At almost 5 pm we were passing under the Bridge of the Americas and could see Panama City to our left (east), as a fast moving rain squall was coming in. As we passed the tidal shore, we saw White Ibis, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, and then lots of Ruddy Turnstones and Sandwich Terns on navigation structures. We then passed out into the Pacific Ocean and turned north towards Costa Rica.

37 species with 7 lifers*

Species List:
Magnificent Frigatebird
Neotropic Cormorant
Anhinga
Brown Pelican
Little Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Cattle Egret
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
White Ibis
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Gray Hawk
White-tailed Hawk
Crested Caracara
Yellow-headed Caracara*
American Kestrel
Spotted Sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone
Laughing Gull
Royal Tern
Sandwich Tern
Rock Dove
Pale-vented Pigeon*
Blue-headed Parrot*
Red-lored Parrot*
Ringed Kingfisher
Tropical Kingbird
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Fork-tailed Flycatcher*
Great Kiskadee
Mangrove Swallow*
Gray-breasted Martin*
Eastern Meadowlark
Great-tailed Grackle
                                                                                

Our cruise ship transit of the Panama Canal (Jan 04)
© Helen Baines 2004

This page was last updated on: January 27, 2007

For best results when printing, set your left & right margins to 0.25 ins.