Allen Hale has been visiting and leading birding trips to Panamá since 1998. Recently, he has made several exploratory trips to Nusagandi and the Comarca de Cuna Yala. Here it is possible to find many foothill species not easily encountered elsewhere, such as the Blue-fronted Parrotlet, Speckled Antshrike Xeornis setifrons, Broad-billed Sapayoa, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Carmiol’s Tanager, Blue and Gold Tanager, Emerald Tanager, and Sulphur-rumped Tanager. Allen also investigated the area around Torti in eastern Panamá province. Following is his first-hand account and a preliminary itinerary for a Spring 2016 trip to Panamá.
Over the past eighteen years I’ve had the good fortune to lead many birding trips to Panamá with expert Panamanian guides, from Chiriquí and Bocas del Toro near Costa Rica to Gamboa and Pipeline Road to Cana in Darien Province near the Colombian border. Last year I made my first trip to Nusagandi and the Comarca de Cuna Yala (territory controlled and protected by the Cuna people). By word of mouth, I learned about a place to stay owned by a Cuna family - Fonda Garduk, soon to be known as Garduk (orchid in Guna) Lodge. So enchanted with the Adamis family and the birdwatching opportunities, I returned in March and August of this year.
Nusagandi is located on the Continental Divide less than two hours east of Panama City on the only road leading into Cuna territory. While it is no longer a difficult drive from the Pan American Highway, it is a different world from the deforested lowlands. Electricity has only become available in recent years and the only communication with the outside world is by cell phone. At one time the Cuna maintained a bunkhouse on the border, but the two-story concrete structure now houses a detachment of frontier police. Burbayar Lodge once provided lodging for visitors, but it is no longer open. Fortunately, Yarisel Adamis and her family have established an open air dining area and a few thatch covered cabañas within the Comarca. Comfortable beds and delicious meals are provided at a very reasonable price.
Birding at Garduk and Nusagandi can be both easy and relaxing or difficult and challenging. Clouds and rain are the norm and trails are steep and slippery, but at Garduk you can sit in the covered dining area and see many species from the ever present Tropical Kingbird to the striking Scarlet-thighed Dacnis. Flocks of Tawny-crested Tanagers forage in the shrubbery, hummingbirds joust at feeders, White- whiskered Puffbirds sit quietly, and each day brings new species in view. To find some of the rarer species, it is necessary to enter the forest and walk the trails along the rushing streams. And, walking the road as it climbs and drops steeply offers open vistas where many additional birds can be seen.
For me a stay at Garduk Lodge was a delightful respite from the rarely relaxing world in which most of us live. Patient birding was always rewarding, highlights included a flock of Blue-fronted Parrotlets which had passed overhead several times and then, finally, landed in a small tree right in front of the verandah where they seemed to disappear in the leaves and mist. But on careful scanning the parrots could be seen hitching up the branches revealing the red on the wing and the blue crown. And, Swallow-tailed Kites migrating, 50 counted in one kettle last month.
Staying at Garduk Lodge may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I highly recommend it for the adventurous traveller. I can make arrangements for a visit by independent travellers for a small booking fee. And, I’m in the early stages of planning a Spring 2016 trip to Panama for a small group which would include a few nights in Gamboa on the Panama Canal, Gsarduk Lodge, and the Torti vicinity near Darien Province. Give me a call or send me an email if you’re interested.
Contact Allen at Buteo Books (434) 263-8671 or his cell phone (434) 760-1218.