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Birding Pipeline Road: day tours

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From$80
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From$80
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Day tour
Availability : Year-round
Your hotel in/around Panama City
Your hotel in/around Panama City
Max People : 6 por guía
Pipeline Road

During WWII, a petroleum pipeline and its service road were built across the isthmus of Panama. The pipeline was never used, but the single-lane, gravel-and-dirt road persists and allows entry through the center of Soberanía National Park. It’s easy to bird there all day and not even notice the two old pipes off in the forest.

The road starts just west of the small town of Gamboa, about 45 minutes west of Panama City, and terminates 17.5 km north, passing through the center of the 22,100-ha (55,000-acre) Soberanía National Park. 

Pipeline Road offers what is arguably Panama’s best lowland rainforest birding, quite a statement for a small country packed with over 1,000 species. Here “best” means the combination of several attributes:

1.Amazing bird diversity:

According to Angehr et al. (A Bird-finding Guide to Panama, 2008), “Pipeline Road is one of the best places to see tropical forest birds in the Americas, with a species list exceeding 400.” They didn’t limit this praise to Panama; they included all of Central and South America. The number of species we see during a morning at Pipeline Road and Ammo Ponds during the dry season typically ranges from 65 to 85, with another 35 to 40 heard but not seen, for a total of 100 to 120. During 5-1/2 hours of birding, that’s 12 to 15 new species seen per hour or about 1 every 4 or 5 minutes! Often, we see more than 40 species during the first couple of hours.

2.Fast access:

The entrance to Pipeline is located only a 45-minute drive west of Panama City, and only a few minutes from several hotels and B&Bs in Gamboa. This makes it ideal for short, one-day birdwatching tours. The first 2 km of the road is a wide, level, gravel road easily driven by car (a 4WD vehicle may be needed during the wet season).

3.Easy walking

The entire 17.5-km length of Pipeline Road is easily walked. The first 7-km section is mostly level, whereas the 10.5-km section farther in is more hilly. Walking off-road in the forest is quite easy because the mature forest canopy precludes most understory growth.

4. Close viewing

The narrowness of the road allows the tree canopy to continue uninterrupted, so birds are easily seen both in the forest and directly overhead. From 2 km onward, the road is barely wide enough to permit passage by a 4-wheel-drive vehicle; there, the road seems more like a trail. In that section, birds including antwrens, trogons, motmots, and puffbirds often are only 2 to 10 meters from the birders.

5.Few birders

During the wet season, only a few people can be found anywhere along Pipeline Road; many days, no one is there. During the height of the dry season, only about 10 to 25 birders/walkers will be there.

Photos

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Data of interest
In the Pipeline Road area, there are three great sites to bird:
  • Pipeline Road proper provides the most habitats and, therefore, the most species; includes the Ammo Ponds, with a variety of wetland species.
  • Rainforest Discovery Center is a non-profit concession within the national park, located 2 km inside the front gate of Pipeline Road. It has a tower above the forest canopy (you need to walk up and down 175 steps), trails, forest pond, and hummingbird feeders. There is a $20 per-person entry fee to the center if you go with a guide (guides are not charged).
  • Plantation Road has more open understory with easy viewing of a good number of birds.
What time of year to bird?

Many folks like the dry season (about December through March) better than the green season, but each season has its pluses and minuses. In the dry season, the days are sunnier: birds may quiet down earlier, and it also gets very hot earlier. For photography, the light can get very harsh. In the green (rainy) season, it tends to be cloudier, cooler (the birds may stay active later), and muddy, but it may rain. However, most days during the green season are wonderful birding all morning; typically, it starts clouding-up when we get back to the vehicle and rains en route to the hotel or when you’re back in your room taking a nap. For photography, light is often softer, allowing for longer shooting hours.

What to bring (many of these items may sound obvious, but on short day trips it’s easy to oversee some essentials):
  • Drinking water: We will have a cooler with drinks in the vehicle, but you want to carry a personal bottle.
  • Snack or lunch.
  • Binoculars! If you don’t have a pair, let us know in advance and we may be able to lend you one.
  • Good walking shoes or boots during the dry season (roughly between December and March), and waterproof boots or footwear that can get muddy and/or soaked during the wet season (about April to November). In our opinion, there’s no substitute to rubber boots for rainforest birding, especially if you want to walk off-trail. This is not a hiking tour: typically we walk only about 1 to 2 km, and we do so slowly so we can hear and see as much as possible.
  • Long pants that can be tucked into your socks or your boots. The long pants will greatly lessen the chance of being scratched by thorny vegetation; tucking-in your pants will keep biting insects from crawling up your legs.
  • Clothes in relatively dark, neutral colors: you don't want to spook the birds. T-shirts work fine, but you might want to wear a long-sleeved shirt to protect you from the infrequent mosquitoes and from getting scratched by branches in the woods. During the wet season (about Apr to Nov), it's good to have upper-body raingear or a small, collapsible umbrella. You should bring rainproof covers for your photo equipment: keep in mind that a downpour is always possible even during the dry season.
  • Sunscreen, hat, insect repellent. Sometimes mosquitoes can get annoying.
  • Field guide (bird book). Your guide will carry one, but you may want to use your own. We recommend The Birds of Panama: a field guide, by George R. Angehr & Robert Dean (Zona Tropical / Cornell)
  • Sandals and an extra, dry shirt to change into after we finish birding.

Departure and return

Your hotel in/around Panama City

Difficulty

Easy

Group

max. 6 people + guide

Tamandúa guides for this tour

Nando Quiroz
Michael Castro

Price

Birding Pipeline Road and surrounding area from 6:15 am to noon (approx.):

$210; 1 person
$225; 2 people
$270; 3 people
$360; 4 people
$80 per person for 5 to 10 people

· For the Rainforest Discovery center, add a $20 per-person entry fee (guides are not charged).

· There is no charge for pickups or dropoffs anywhere in “regular” parts of the city (e.g., along Avenida Balboa, Casco Viejo), or hotels and resorts in and around Gamboa.

· There may be a charge for pickups and/or dropoffs elsewhere (e.g., other parts of the city, Playa Bonita).

Some of the most sought-after species in and around Pipeline Road

  • Pheasant Cuckoo
  • Rufous-vented Ground-cuckoo (very occasionally)
  • Streak-chested Antpitta
  • Blue Cotinga
  • Green Shrike-vireo
  • Ocellated Antbird
  • Brownish Twistwing
  • Tiny Hawk
  • Semiplumbeous Hawk
  • Spot-crowned Antvireo
  • Gray Elania
  • Great Jacamar

Mammals often seen on our day tours

  • White-faced Capuchin monkey
  • Mantled Howler monkey
  • White-nosed Coati
  • Central American Agouti
  • Perezoso tridáctilo
  • Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth

Birding Pipeline Panama

birdingpipelinepanama.com

is now Tamandua,
offering the same Pipeline Road
birding tours expertly guided
by Nando Quiroz