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Looking for birds along the Pipeline Road . . .

We were supposed to head to Parque Nacional Soberanía the day after we exhausted ourselves hiking at  Parque Natural Metropolitano and then walking to Casco Viejo. Fortunately, we had to postpone our trip by a day because it was raining so hard. It gave us some much needed time to rest and we enjoyed an excellent meal of sushi and maracuyá sangria.

The next morning, we were up early and on our way to Soberanía with our guide, Miguel Ibarra (@nature_guide_panama on Instagram of Panama Road Trip Adventures. I highly recommend him!), one of the most accessible tropical rainforests in Panamá.

We hiked down the Pipeline Road, mostly in search of birds as the park is home to 525 species and holds the Guinness World Record for most species sighted in a day–nearly 400. I was lucky enough to be the first to spot a southern mealy amazon parrot perched high in a tree.


While one of the largest amazonian parrots at 15-17 inches length, the mealy parrot is rarely spotted except when flying.

I was fortunate enough to be able to grab a photo through Miguel’s telescope. My husband, Frank, was lucky enough to grab a shot of this anteater crossing the Pipeline Road:


This anteater is one of 105 species of mammals in the park.

We also saw agoutis, caiman, and heard howler monkeys, among other things. But what I found truly interesting was the termites, which are essential to the rainforest biome.


Miguel exposed part of the “termite highway” to show us the activity beneath.


The “highway” runs the length of the tree.

Recent research has discovered that termites are actually modified roaches with the oldest fossils being found in the Lower Cretaceous period (145-99 million years ago!), which makes them the oldest social animals currently alive. Who knew?

These Central American termites is the second largest species in richness but less researched than the termites of Africa and Europe. In the rainforests, termites build large mounds, usually on trees. These termites are particularly adept at breaking down the cellulose from dead wood in the soil because they have the highest gut Ph in the world at more than 12. This makes it possible for the termites to explore the thick humus layers under tropical rainforest canopies. We also got to see the unique relationship between bees and ants, which nest near each other.


This Psychotria elata is a plant native to Central and South America, which is slowly disappearing due to deforestation.

This striking flower is not actually a flower but bracts, or modified leaves. Tiny, star-shaped flowers will eventually grow from the center of the red leaves. The plant is also known as Hot Lips, Mick Jagger Lips, or, as Miguel updated it, Angelina Jolie Lips.


Group photo with Miguel, Frank and myself, and our daughter, Griffin.

Did I say that we also saw lots of toucans and hummingbirds? Butterflies, frogs, and caterpillars? A dead caiman with a basilisk or Jesus lizard (because it can walk on water) resting on its exposed belly? A live caiman carrying a plastic grocery bag full of intestines?

We decided that day that if we just saw one unexpected thing (three that morning) each time we went out, it would be enough. Dayenu.