Birdwatching is a serene, calming way to connect with nature. If you’re new to this spectator sport, Panama is a great place to begin your birdwatching journey.
Panama’s dense forests are home to over 970 species of birds, including 120 migratory species and 12 endemic species. Despite its relatively small size, Panama hosts a greater diversity of bird species than the U.S. and Canada combined.
To help you prepare for your first birdwatching excursion in the tropics, these exotic birdwatching tips for beginners will ensure a safe and pleasant experience.
Get A Tour Guide
One of the fastest ways to become a skilled birder is to learn from an expert. If you’re new to birdwatching, it’s a good idea to sign up for a birdwatching tour so that a trained guide can show you the ropes. Your guide will be able to point out unique birds and give you interesting information about each species. Having a guide will also make it easier for you to live in the moment and enjoy the birdwatching experience without worrying about flipping through a guidebook.
As a native of Las Tierras Altas, Jorge Lopez—Cala Mia Island Resort’s expert tour guide—is one of the best people to guide your birdwatching journey through the tropical jungles of Panama. On a full-day naturalist tour, he will direct you to the best birdwatching locations on the island while providing specialist knowledge on each species you encounter.
Invest in Equipment
Preparedness is important for an enriching first bird-watching experience. The most significant item in any birdwatcher’s arsenal is, undeniably, a pair of binoculars. Consider investing in a high-quality pair, since cheap binoculars may provide a fuzzy view and take away from the experience. Plus, high-quality binoculars should last you a lifetime if you take care of them properly—if you expect birdwatching to become a regular hobby, the investment will be well worth it.
Additional supplies may include a journal and camera to document your findings. It’s also a good idea to bring sun protection, such as a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. You’ll be spending a lot of your time in tropical forest areas, so you should also consider bringing bug repellant to ward off annoying critters.
Familiarize Yourself with Birds in the Area
Before you set off on your birdwatching journey, it’s a good idea to do some preliminary research on the common species located in the area. Learning about bird species you may see on your excursion will help you know what to look for and provide a more enriching experience. Popular birds to look out for in Panama include hummingbirds, wood warblers, toucans, parrots, owls, and trogons.
A bird guidebook is one of the easiest ways for beginners to learn about which species they should keep an eye out for in a specific location. Field guides will help you identify different species based on their sizes, shapes, behaviors, and habitats. There are many field guide options for different birdwatching areas and levels of experience. You can even download one of the many mobile birding apps now available. eBird, for example, is one of the most popular free apps for keeping track of any species you may spot while birdwatching. Another helpful tool is Song Sleuth, which helps you identify birds based on their calls.
Go Early in the Morning
A bird’s sleep schedules will vary depending on its species, so you don’t necessarily have to wake up at the crack of dawn to have an impressive birdwatching experience. However, your chances of seeing a larger variety of birds on a cool, quiet morning will be far greater than during a hot afternoon. This is because, when it’s hot, birds will likely be hiding in the shade. As such, setting out on your birdwatching endeavor earlier in the day will increase your chances of seeing a more plentiful variety of birds.
Birdwatching requires more senses than just your sight. When it comes to birding, your ears are just as important as your eyes. In many cases, you can identify a bird by its calls before you can even see it. Try to make a conscious effort to notice as many details of each bird as possible, from the color of its beak to the melody of its songs. Your nose can also come in handy for recognizing the smells of flowers or fruits that may attract a specific species. Thus, training yourself to use more of your senses will help you better identify the exact species of each bird.
Document What You See
Writing brief notes about a bird’s appearances and calls can help you identify it later on. But don’t forget to stay in the moment. You never know how long a bird will stick around before fluttering away, and you don’t want to miss your opportunity to see a rare species because you were scribbling in your notebook. If you want to take notes, wait until the bird flies away before jotting down information. However, if you have a camera, feel free to seize the opportunity to snap as many pictures as possible when the bird is in your presence.
Be Respectful of Nature
The most important rule of birdwatching is to respect the birds. When you go birding, your goal is to observe the natural environment of the birds, not change it. As such, you should aim to make minimal impact on their habitat by walking on established trails and picking up after yourself. In addition, you should always avoid making loud noises, as this may frighten the birds in the surrounding area. By respecting the environment, you’ll be rewarded with a better birdwatching experience, since you’ll be able to observe the birds in a relaxed state.
Following these exotic birdwatching tips for beginners will ensure a safe and enriching introduction into this relaxing spectator sport. If you’re interested in starting your birdwatching journey off strong, our Panama birding tours—each lead by a local, expert guide—will provide an unbeatable nature experience on your next Panama family vacation.