Armchair Birding In Panama | @GrrlScientist

Not all of us can afford to travel, although most of us would love to feel like we can. Thanks to the magic of birdcams, now we can watch live streams of wild birds living in far away places — almost as if we are really there

by GrrlScientist for Forbes | @GrrlScientist

NOTE: This piece was a Forbes Editor’s Pick.

Collared Araçari (Pteroglossus torquatus).
(Credit: Panama Fruit Feeder Cam screengrab)

About one month ago, I discovered a lovely live streaming bird feeder camera that is located in the caldera of an extinct volcano — one of the largest inhabited calderas in the world — based in El Valle de Antón, Panama. Nestled in the mountains of the Cerro Gaital, the site where this fruit feeder cam is located is just over 2,000 feet (610 meters) above sea level. The featured feeding table is one of several in the area, and is located approximately 40 feet (12 meters) from the main lodge on the Canopy Lodge property. All feeders are restocked with a large variety of tropical fruits multiple times throughout the day — sometimes by hotel guests — so birdcam watchers, like me, and lodge guests can enjoy close views of the native wildlife that lives in the area.

Thanks to the magic of modern technology, when I plug in a data projector to my laptop, an entire wall comes alive with the antics and interactions of dozens of tropical bird species feasting enthusiastically on a cornucopia of fruits: the egalitarian Collared Araçari flocks that eat using their impressive “toucan fruit toss”; the seemingly ever-present Clay-colored Thrushes, a dusty-brown relative of our familiar American Robin; the conventions of long-legged Gray-headed Chachalacas that convene shortly after new fruits arrive and clear the entire feeder within minutes; the many colorful tanager species that look like brilliant jewels against the gnarled wood of the table feeder; as well as a number of birds that breed in the United States, such as Tennessee Warblers and Baltimore Orioles.

A Red-tailed Squirrel (Sciurus granatensis) sneaks up on two Rufous Motmots (Baryphthengus martii) who are breakfasting at the Fruit Feeder Cam in Panama.
(Credit: Panama Fruit Feeder Cam screengrab)

The most common non-avian visitor is the Red-tailed Squirrel, which is a rust-colored, flame-tailed version of the more subdued eastern grey squirrel, an invasive species that seems to have taken over most of the suburbs and parklands in North America. In those rare moments when the vertebrate drama dies down for a few minutes, you’ll see an Illioneusgiant owl butterfly or two arrive, opening its five-and-a-half inch (14 centimeters) wings to reveal the gleaming iridescent azure blue upper surfaces as it sips sweet fruit juices.

Illioneus giant owl butterfly (Caligo illioneus).
(Image composite by Bob O’Hara: dorsal:
Notafly / CC BY-SA 3.0 (L); ventral: Hectonichus / CC BY-SA 3.0 (R))

So if you’re like me, and would love to spend a few hours (or months …!) with the neotropical birds and wildlife that lives in an extinct volcanic caldera in Panama, but you don’t have the time or the money to make this happen, then this fabulous streaming birdcam is waiting for you.

I especially enjoy that you can tweet questions, comments, screengrabs, and species IDs to the people who monitor this cam and its twitter feed @PanamaFeederCam and get a reply within minutes. You can also check in to their website (here), hosted by Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, to read about new species spotted and the latest events at the feeder.


Originally published at Forbes on 28 January 2018.

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