How to Get Ready for Birding in Panama with a Digital Field Guide

By patrick on

A birding trip to another country doesn’t start when you exit the plane; it begins in the first stages of planning the trip, months before. Once we decide where to go, we have to figure out whether we should take a tour or do it on our own, figure out which sites to visit and where to stay, whether we want a guide or not, and more. For a successful birding trip of a lifetime, there’s a lot to take into consideration not the least of which is the birds we might see!

Like looking through the window of a candy shop, we page through field guides and wonder what a tinamou might look like in life, how we might enjoy those pages of colorful tanagers, and how many hummingbirds will be seen! We pick out favorites, and most of all, wonder how many species will be seen, which birds will be encountered. It’s the most exciting part of planning and a birder can study as much or as little as he or she wants but as with any endeavor, the more planning and study one can do beforehand, the better prepared you will be when living the experience of a lifetime.

In the case of birding Panama, the preparation can be daunting because we aren’t talking about a few birds here and there, or even a list of 200 or even 300 species. Do a one or two week birding trip to Panama that covers a diverse array of sites and we are talking about a fair chance of connecting with 400, even 500 species and that doesn’t even take into account the other one hundred or more birds that are possible! Heck, since Panama has a list of 1,000 birds, yeah, a LOT of bird species are possible on any trip to this fantastic bridge of biodiversity.

With that in mind, how does a birder even begin to get ready for Panama especially if it’s a first trip to the Neotropics? Follow these suggestions to enhance and make the most of any birding trip to Panama with a digital field guide:

Study Far in Advance

Did you decide on that trip to Panama a year in advance? Good idea, time to start studying now! There’s a lot of information to learn, begin studying the Panama Birding App now to avoid cramming later on. Take your time to learn as much as you can before become immersed in a wealth of birds.

A screen shot of the owl page from the Panama Birds Field Guide app.

Focus on Unfamiliar Families First

Begin with families like tinamous, puffbirds, motmots, and antbirds, families not found in the local patch. These birds will differ from the ones at home in all sorts of ways, best to start familiarizing yourself with them sooner rather than later! Use the field guide app to show birds by family, and the filter to search for birds by family.

 

Brush Up on Migrants Later

Filter for “resident” species to only show the birds that breed in Panama, the ones you need to study the most. Since migrants will be encountered, you should look at some of those too but that can be done just before the trip.

Screenshot showing filter and choosing Target and Resident species. 

 

Learn Obvious Birds but Don’t Waste too Much Time on Them

Browse the field guide app and note the birds that stand out, the ones that are easiest to learn because they don’t look like anything else. Since these are easiest to learn, you can sort of get them out of the way or not even worry about them because they will always be easy to identify.

 

Study Field Marks and Similar Species, Family by Family

After browsing those obvious species, get down to business with learning as many birds as possible. Study the images, read the field marks for each species, and most of all, use the similar species function to compare birds over and over. To avoid being overwhelmed, focus on one family at a time. Try filtering for a family of birds and focusing on those and no other birds for a few days.

Similar species function for Golden-green and Stripe-cheeked Woodpeckers.

 

Mark Target Birds

While going through the app, don’t forget to mark your target species, the birds you want to see the most! Once they are marked, you can also focus on studying those by filtering to show target species only.

 

Study Birds by Region

Another fantastic way to study before a trip is by focusing on birds grouped by region. Headed to the mountains? Try filtering for “Highlands” and become familiar with the birds possible during that portion of the trip. Likewise, do the same for birds of the Canal Zone and Eastern Panama and other regions to associate certain birds expected to be seen with others.

Choosing the Highlands region..

Highland hummingbirds

 

Learn 100 Common Songs

Save this aspect of trip study for last but give yourself a goal of say 100 species. One of the advantages of learning from the app is being able to look at images of the bird while listening to its vocalizations. But with more than 860 species with vocalizations to choose from, where to even start? Filter for the common birds first, by region, and other ways, and go from there to facilitate learning.

 

Browse in Your Free Time, Make Notes, Personalize Your App

Try browsing the Panama app whenever you get a chance. You won’t need Internet and every bit of studying and familiarization helps. You can also personalize your app well before the trip by making notes for any species, emailing those notes to yourself, marking target species, and studying with various filters. Play around with the app and see what you find.

The Panama Birds Field Guide app acts as reference and study material before the trip and a hand-held field guide during birding time in Panama. Which birds in Panama do you want to see the most?

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