Resplendent Quetzal Courtship; Prose, Fotos and Audio

September 28th, 2019

Thomas Bancroft sent us a wonderful email of fotos, audio and prose on his experience here at Mount Totumas last spring during the courtship season of the Resplendent Quetzal. Here it is. Enjoy.. You can here in the background that courtship was also in full swing with three-wattled bellbirds and black-faced solitaires as well.

Resplendent Quetzal Display
Keow-kowee keow k’loo keow k’loo keeloo came from right over our heads, making us stop abruptly. Jeffrey, my hiking companion, whispered, “Quetzal, courtship.” My head was already crunched all the way back so I could stare directly into the canopy of this tropical forest. Resplendent Quetzals were in courtship. The male flew from one branch to another, his long tail waving behind him; the female also was moving back and forth, twigs swaying with her activity. My parabolic reflector pointed right at them; I was capturing their courtship on my sound recorder.
This was the sixth of eight days in the mountains of Western Panama, up close to the Costa Rican border. Just that morning, we had left Mt. Totumas Lodge an hour before sunrise to hike up the Rio Colorado Valley, so we could listen to the dawn chorus by a grande aguacate tree. Howler monkeys greeted the first hint of light, followed by a plethora of birds. An hour later, as we packed our gear for the walk back, a Collared Forest-Falcon called, telling us how great the day was.
A fluttering of wings disappearing up the hillside indicated that the quetzals had flown, but at least six Swainson’s thrushes were giving their whit calls. These thrushes were probably the most common bird seen and heard during my April trip. They use Panama as a waypoint on their northward migration from wintering in South America to their breeding grounds. Other migrants, familiar from the United States, had been here, too. Wilson and Tennessee warblers, Scarlet and Summer tanagers, Rose-breasted grosbeaks, and the acrobatic Swallow-tailed kites had all shown themselves. But the Neotropical birds captured the imagination and left me mesmerized. Ten species of hummingbirds, tinamous, guans, a plethora of flycatchers, wrens, redstarts, tropical thrushes, and so much more. My thoughts were interrupted by the screeching of a Three-wattled Bellbird as if it wanted to make sure I didn’t forget about him. Their far-carrying bell-like note and strange metallic screech had filled the forest each day.
Jeffrey tipped his head to ask if I was ready to continue. I nodded. The network of trails here had been outstanding. Each day we’d explored a different area. Jeffrey went with me on that day, but on most days, Reinaldo had accompanied me. This young man was a remarkable birder. He knew all the local calls and could imitate thirty or more bird species. But most fantastic was his ability to spot things in this thick jungle and then show them to me. Twice we took bag lunches and hiked deep into this magical place. Other days we came back to the lodge for a late lunch, and I spent the afternoon watching hummingbirds or exploring on my own. One day we climbed Mt. Totumas itself, an extinct cinder cone that rises above these forests. The top was covered with gigantic Costa Rican oaks and had the lushest community of epiphytes I’d ever seen.
As I followed Jeffrey over a little knoll on that early morning, the red roof of the lodge came into view and made me think that this place would be great to visit again. I will return in 2020 for my fourth visit to this magical place.

Read about and listen to Swainson’s Thrushes in this cloud forest.
An album of the Dawn Choruses and bird songs at Mt. Totumas, Panama is available here.

Dancing Clouds

July 3rd, 2019

Early morning celestial courtship as clouds from the Pacific (lower clouds) drifting up and met with the clouds streaming over from the Caribbean (upper clouds).

Cacomistle Calling at Dawn

April 9th, 2019

William Adsett corrected the ID of this call. It was not a mountain lion but a cacomistle, related to the olingo and kinkajoo.

Thomas Bancroft recorded the call at 5:30am on the Roble Trail.

Panthera onca: The Jaguar

August 12th, 2018

2nd time in 5 years that we can document a jaguar here at Mount Totumas. This video was taken August 3rd 2018 at 11 in the morning. This cat clearly is limping on its rear right paw. A stunningly beautiful animal that has me deeply humbled that we share the same space with this endangered species. The camera was located at 2630m at the top of Mount Totumas.

There is something poignant though seeing this cat in its intact habitat limping. It reflects the state of this species; still present, endangered, but limping. The Central American population is fragmented and only still found in large preserves like La Amistad National Park, the Darien and some sites up north. In the Amazon basin of Brazil you find the last refuge of healthy populations.

Just two hours before this jaguar passed by the camera trap a group of collared peccaries passed by. Clearly this cat was following behind tracking the peccaries.

Interesting that 4 days later at the same spot a Mountain Lion passed by

Back in May at the same spot we captured an image of Red Brocket Deer. Both the peccaries and the deer are important prey of the Jaguar. Intact habitat and abundant prey is what keeps has allowed the Jaguar to hang on in La Amistad National Park.

During 5 years of placing the game camera on our marked trails where many tourists walk we never captured an image of a jaguar. We do capture many images of mountain lions on the marked trails. Since the camera that trapped the jaguar was in a remote area on top of Mount Totumas this would seem to indicate that the jaguar prefers remote locations with intact habitat far from contact with humans and agriculture.

Thomas Bancroft; The Swainson’s Thrush

July 26th, 2018

Thomas Bancroft visited earlier this year in April during a time when our forests are full of song and sightings of Swainson’s Thrush, a bird that arrives at this time of year during their northward migration. Here is a link to a sound recording of this species in our forests along with a beautiful essay he wrote about this bird. Enjoy!


A Swainson’s Thrush in Panama
By Thomas Bancroft

The flute-like whistle began an upward spiral but then appeared to stumble. The bird started again and continued to misstep before reaching the ending that was familiar to my ears. It sounded like a person trying to remember a tune, knowing he knew it, but also knowing he still didn’t have it quite right, so the practicing continued. Finally, the full Swainson’s thrush song burst through the woods.
But, there I stood in a montane forest in Western Panama thousands of miles from this bird’s breeding range. It was late afternoon on an early April day, and I had hiked up the Rio Colorado valley in Chiriquí. All day, the woods had been full of the chip notes of hundreds of Swainson’s thrushes, and I had seen at least half a dozen individuals as they flitted through the understory. This was a thick tropical forest of broad-leaf trees, not the coniferous forests where this species breeds in North America. Bromeliads and orchids clung to many branches as well as dense blankets of mosses and ferns.
According to Jeffrey, this species had only arrived in the Mt. Totumas area in the last week, and individuals would be abundant throughout April, fattening on fruit and insects before their next leg north. They winter in northern South America — Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela — and were heading north to breed in the western United States and Canada. Ornithologists think that northbound Swainson’s thrushes can average 250 km during one of their nightly migration flights. After dark, the urge to fly north may overtake them, and they travel for as long as their fat reserves, their tank of gas, will last. They migrate at an altitude of a few hundred feet to six thousand, depending on wind, cloud, and fog, often giving their chip notes as they go.
The thrush I was listening to finally had his song down pat and was singing variations of it every few seconds. I remembered the first time I heard this magnificent song. I was in high school, and my sister and I were hiking in the mountains of western Montana. The melody seemed to float out of the dense forest and wrap around us. The valley in Montana had thick conifers, Douglas firs, western hemlocks, and red cedars. Those wet temperate forests were so different from this exotic tropical place where I was hiking in Panama.
By early May, the quickest migrants will arrive in the Pacific Northwest where I now live, and by early June, their numbers will peak as they start their breeding season. Swainson’s thrushes weigh about an ounce or approximately half a serving of dried wild rice. Yet, they can make this almost 5,000-mile journey on their own. It might take them 30-night flights to reach my home in Seattle and even more to arrive at the northern ends of their breeding range in Alaska. They orient themselves by the stars, earth’s magnetism, and the location of the sun in the evening and morning. All these travels are done through internal knowledge.
I stared into the forest, listening to that wafting, ethereal and rich flute, and thinking there was no way I could make it home from here on my own. I’d planned to stay a week and then take a taxi back to the airport and a series of flights to reach Seattle. Along the way, someone else would guide me, feed me, and point me in the right direction. The notes seemed to penetrate the forest, graceful, lucid, poetic.

Nature Photography with Bruce Taubert

July 21st, 2018

Bruce Taubert and Albert Thurman joined forces and organized a tour to Mount Totumas in July made up of 14 participants; entomologists, bird watchers and photographers. It was a grand event where every balcony and open area space became a laboratory. Here are some highlights

Sturnira bat from Mt Totumas

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Day flying moth

emerald glass frog (1)

lichen katydid

moth mt btotumas df

moth panorama 2








High Drama as Tarantula Hawk Wasp drags a tarantula to its doom.

April 12th, 2018

This Tarantula Hawk Wasp is a pepsid wasp that will lay a single egg in the tarantula which will then hatch in the still living body and fully develop therein.

These wasps are common here at Mount Totumas and both visiting entomologists and the locals have mentioned its life cycle. This is the first time we got to witness this pepsid wasp doing its thing!

Bothriechis lateralis & Bothriechis nigroviridis

March 24th, 2018

Bothriechis lateralis & Bothriechis nigroviridis. There are two species of palm vipers here at Mount Totumas. Laszlo Klein and Petra Rusche came back for a return trip and Laszlo was able to locate and photograph both species. Amazing snakes and amazing photographer!

























Isthmohyla tica Starrett’s Tree Frog

February 10th, 2018

Starrett’s Tree Frog Isthmohyla tica

Andreas Hertz, an expert on Panama’s amphibians, and his colleague Alex Shepak visited us in early January. This was Andreas’s 3rd visit to Mount Totumas surveying amphibians.

The Pandemic of chytrid fungus (Chytridiomycosis) effecting many amphibian species around the world is a focus of Andreas’s work. Many species formerly common in Central America are now feared extinct, a few have bounced back.

During their visit Andreas located a critically endangered Tree Frog, the Starrett’s Tree Frog Isthmohyla tica. This frog has not been seen on the Pacific side of Panama or Costa Rica in over 10 years. Here is the red list IUCN reference of this species:

There is hope that the remnant populations of this and other critically endangered amphibian species are made up of individuals with disease resistance. This may enable some species to bounce back. For this reason Andreas and Alex were taking tissue swap samples for further investigation.

Andreas taking a swab sample.
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Alex preparing a sample.



This individual represents hope for this critically endangered species.

The Howler Tree Cabin

December 28th, 2017


Introducing our latest accommodation. The Howler Tree Cabin. 20 feet high integrated into a live standing oak tree, this tree cabin is our only accommodation in closed forest. A private balcony offers an intimate view into the canopy. There is the sound of a nearby stream and monkeys and birds move through the forest throughout the day. A lovely single large room with queen bed, small table, a bathroom. Hot water, electricity. The Howler Tree Cabin is a WiFi and internet free zone.

Great for couples, solitary travelers and small families.