As much as I enjoyed my time at Canopy Lodge in Panama, I was really looking forward to Canopy Tower. I have heard so much about this place from other birders and from one of the guides--Carlos. It has always stuck in my mind as a place I need to go. It did not disappoint.
This was the view out of my bedroom (I had the Collared Forest-Falcon for those who have gone to the Tower before) I'm glad I started at Canopy Lodge, its cooler temperatures gave my body time to go from the extreme cold and dry air of Minnesota to the humidity and hot temperatures of Panama. The tower is not air conditioned but is well ventilated. I found it easy to feel comfortable in my room, in the dining area and especially on the deck. I pitted out totally on the field trips, but they were divided up throughout the day so I didn't get exhausted.
The tower was built in 1965 by the US Air Force for a RADAR to monitor traffic along the Panama Canal. You can read it's full history here but after it was closed in 1995 it was turned into an ecolodge to give people a unique change to enjoy the flora and fauna of Panama from up high. It's not glamorous, but adventurous. You must ascend stairs (no elevator) to your room and the dining area is on the top floor. Above that you take a steep set of stairs (practically a ladder) to get to the deck where you are literally in the tree canopy and can look down at tamarins or be eye level with the passing bat falcon.
This is sunrise from the Canopy Tower. The deck goes around 360 degrees and you can have a view of the forested mountains, the Panama Canal or of Panama City in the distance. I preferred the forested view. You could go up any time of day and while I was there a breeze or shade always kept you cool. I enjoyed sunrise the most, listening to the keel-billed toucans sing their creaky song while sipping coffee.
In the evening, tiny bat falcons cruised around the tower grabbing and eating insects on the wing. As if bat falcons buzzing your head wasn't cool enough, you could hear crazy and mysterious sounds coming from the darkening rain forest below, like the eerie great tinamou (and I insist that you follow that link and listen to that call) or a lone collared forest-falcon.
I couldn't help but notice the ear plug dispenser right outside my room. There were reminders all over about how easily sound travels in the tower--it was built for the military not for luxury. Birders take note--as cool and awesome as this place is (and will especially seem after a few more blog posts) this would not be the ideal spot for a bird watching honeymoon (wink wink, know what I mean). But human noise is not the only reason for the ear plugs. It's also quite noisy at night and I don't mean just the crickets, frogs and owls.
I'm talking about this dude specifically--the howler monkey. The above howler is male...if you couldn't tell already. Good grief, how do they swing around from branches so deftly without hurting themselves?
Unlike the red-bellied woodpecker, this mammal is aptly named. They say the sound of the howler monkey can be heard for three miles. They generally sing during the day, using their loud booming call to alert other groups of howler monkeys where their group is. However, the howler monkey day can start before dawn. One morning, I was fortunate enough to have them right outside my window. It worked out well, this was a morning when I needed to get up early and little did I know the night before that it was not necessary to set my alarm...the howlers were alarm enough. Here's a video of what they sounded like in the morning followed by some footage of one that was noshing on some leaves outside the tower during one of our lunches (do at least listen to that terrifying sound).
I wonder what early explorers thought when they came to Central America and they heard those crazy howler monkeys? How could you not think that Armageddon is about to descend upon you?
So, that is a taste of the Canopy Tower...more soon!