• Chris Miller

Magnificent Panama- A Bird Mecca

Updated: May 14

I was determined to see the Rufous-Vented Ground Cuckoo and the Sun Bittern- My friends on the trip said it would not happen. I never give up on trying to be part of my life's possibilities!!



On May 2021, my partner and I travelled to Panama to see their amazing birds. A window of acceptance into Panama had just opened up again and the four of us were anxious to get out of the house. Kathy (a longtime birder friend of Chantals) flew with us while Scott coming from Texas (another long time birder and friend of Chantals) met us there . We arrived by luck because the endemic had slowed down. Many countries had been hurt by the endemic r/t lack of available work and money to bring home, especially Panama.


We were to stay for 2 weeks and cover all three of the Canopy Bird-lodges well equipped with nice accommodations, great food and are home to some of the most beautiful birds of the world!!


The Rufous Vented Ground Cuckoo and the Sun Bittern

I never realized until birding became part of my third arm how much it touched my Mind, Body and Soul. The intellect, the cunning ,the exquisite beauty, and mesmerizing nature of Birds is like an addiction, you never see enough of them. You never stop looking to find the other one , the special one, that eats away at your mind! My friends told me don't bother Chris , you won't be able to see the Rufous Vented Ground Cuckoo, or the Sunbittern! They don't know me well . I never give up ,if I had in the past I never would have accomplished as much as I have in my life. That term is not in my soul thus not in my vocabulary!!. For the first week everything went pretty well we saw many beautiful birds and no one else was at any of the lodges but us. That was amazing and wonderful. We saw more birds close up!!. However,after the first week because there was so much rain , I found I was not able to get adequate photos. By the time everyone saw the bird it had flown off in the jungle and actually we really saw Bird anatomy in parts, not the whole bird, so photography was much more difficult. Also, I still felt something inside me that pushed me to try and see the Rufous Vented Ground Cuckoo and the Sun Bittern , at least I wanted to try. I told Chantal that the last week I was going to get my own personal guide to try and get more high level photos of the birds on my own.. Having four of us with the rain and the difficulty in the jungle to even see the birds made photography much more difficult. I wanted to try something different, I was going to get my own private guide for the last week. I hoped to improve my luck of seeing the two most coveted Bids on my list , the Sun Bittern and The Rufous Ground Cuckoo!!!.


The Canope Lodge is family owned and they run all three facilities, covering the north ,midway and south parts of Panama. The family got me a great guide. I meant Carlos at 06:00am monday morning and he asked me what I wanted to see. My response was , of course , the Rufuse Vented Ground Cuckoo and the Sun Bittern. As we walked to his car his phone rang, he spoke to someone in Spanish and after the conversation he said Chris lets go the Sun Bitter has been found! My jaw dropped open I couldn't believe it!! On arrival we headed into the forest on the swinging bridge with jungle surrounding us. There in the swinging Bridge in the middle, my jaw dropped open, I could see the Sun Bittern , but he was quite a distance away. We hiked down to the original site where he had been, but he was gone. My guide said "Chris, don't worry stay here , get your settings and be ready he will come up the river and land over there , your photos won't bother him. I'll go down to where he is and he will fly back up here . In 3 minutes I was looking at one of the mose beautiful birds I have ever seen!!! The male Sun Bittern singing and singing and singing . My photos were beautiful and I felt my money for this tour had already paid for itself!!!!!


I was there enjoying this magnificent Bird for about 45 minutes. His every moment and call were amazing. I left not quite believing what I had seen and how lucky I felt that I had photos to prove to myself that I had really seen him!!! As we headed up to the car Carlos asked to see my photos , he wanted to make sure I had good photos!

They were amazing photos of one of the most beautiful and rare birds in the world.

As we climbed up to the car Carlos got another phone call, this time it was his Dad. Carlos spoke to his Dad ,in Spanish ,then said to me "Chris they said that they heard the Rufous Vented Ground Cuckoo , he's coming following the army of aunts!!" My jaw dropped ,this was the main bird I had so wanted to see-OMG!!!

We got to his Dads farm and Carlos said , Chris can you go up that steep hill by yourself with your camera equipment- I said I am on my way. The hike up was extremely slippery and muddy and full of thorns and insect creatures I had never seen before in my life. The large ant swarm was huge and climbing on trees , the ground , and me biting in all directions! I made it to the top of the hill and I heard Carlos coming not far behind me.

OMG, OMG, I couldn't believe it there he was, the Rufous Vented Ground Cuckoo at the base of the hill. You could see only fragments of him as he moved between the trees climbing up the hill towards us very curious and yet wary . The steep embankment made it hard not to slip on the mud as I tried to see whatever part of him I could - an eye, a tail-a foot. Half-way up he stopped and looked right at me and my jaw dropped open he was so beautiful!!! He then picked up his pace and flew right past us landing to the top of the hill approximately 10 feet above me. I got lucky he stopped and looked back at me. As I was sliding down the hill Carlos grabbed my shirt and as I slipped to the ground I got photos of what was the most beautiful Cuckoo in the world-to me!!!

The morning had barely started yet still to this day, when I think about it a huge smile comes to my face and it is still an unbelievable experience to me and worth every penny!!! I was lucky enough to see two of these rare birds included on my list of some of the most beautiful birds in the world!

I hope other Bird enthusiasts will see either or both of these birds in their lifetime!!!


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