Whether you go birding completely on your own or with a bunch of people wearing wide-brimmed hats, when it comes down to it, watching birds is an autonomous endeavor. It’s up to you if you want to count that bird seen through the binoculars. It’s up to you to lift the binos in the first place, and if you really want to learn how to identify the birds you see in the backyard, at a wildlife refuge, or in the jungles of Panama, you have to put in some study time with a field guide.
Although we do “DIY” (do it yourself) birding at home and in our favorite patches, it might not be suitable for a trip to Panama. This is because instead of having a few dozen birds to possibly look out, when you bird the Canal Zone, the number hits 300 plus species. Yep, that’s a lot of birds and not all of them are obvious, more than a few are rare, and many are tough to find.
Those are pretty good reasons for taking a birding tour or hiring an experienced guide for a day or two. Instead of wondering if that flycatcher up there in the canopy is a Forest Elaenia or a Paltry Tyrannulet, forget about the confusion and leave it up to the guide! Let him or her listen for and track down those antbirds, scan for swifts, and identify the hummingbirds as quickly as they come and go to the feeders.
That said, DIY birding in Panama is always an option. If you feel fine with identifying birds in the garden, have more than enough time to learn birds on your own, and don’t mind if you miss that Pheasant Cuckoo, you probably don’t need a tour.