Tuesday 12 December 2017

NG Quest: Panama Canal Transit and Barro Colorado Island

#expeditioncruising .

From aboard NG Quest in Panama

Prof Meg Crofoot from Uni of California chats with Lindblad guests

Expedition leader, Margrit, was justifiably pleased with herself when we scored a daylight transit slot through the Pedro Miguel Locks on the Caribbean end of the canal. Small, low priority vessels like NG Quest often find themselves waiting until well after sundown for a spot.

But we weren't heading straight through just yet. Lindblad Expeditions have, through friendly back channels, managed to obtain a landing permit at Barro Colorado Island. What was once just another hilltop in the valley, it became a 1560 hectare island as the massive Gatun Lake was created during the flooding of the canal more than a century ago.

Wildlife sought refuge on the outcrop as the waters rose and as a result, created a natural refuge for the animals that once inhabited the now submerged jungle floor. It became a formal nature reserve in 1923. In the 1960s, the Smithsonian Institute arrived and established their tropical research station which now hosts more than 200 scientists and researchers who work year round on various projects.

Part of the Smithsonian's Tropical Research Institute

During our walk through the jungle we came upon Prof. Margaret 'Meg' Crofoot from the University of California (Davis) and her small team who were engaged in a study of primate interaction.

“There are some interesting behaviours among the troupes of Capuchin monkeys who live here,” Prof Meg explains as we rest along the steamy path, “the distinct communities sometimes socialise and at other times clash. We're studying the factors that might influence group decision making.”

A bit further along we find Roland Kays from the University of South Carolina who is here studying mammals. He is about to release a kinkajou sporting a new GPS collar. The animal is about the size of a cat and waits timidly inside the cage for its release. With the serene face of a possum, it also reminds me of the cute cuscus we found in PNG. With the trap door open the little guy gingerly sneaks out and makes his way into the undergrowth without any sense of urgency.

A shy kinkajou is released with a new GPS collar

As we complete our circuit of the jungle trek, our attention is drawn to frequent crashing and thrashing from within the undergrowth as little agouti (cat-sized rodents) forage in the leaf litter and noisy monkeys of some sort cavort up in the canopy. Birds sing constantly and we manage to catch sight of a vivid Rufous Motmot as well as a bold green and red Slaty-tailed Trogon which are endemic to the region.

Slaty-tailed Trogon (M)

Soaked to the skin even after this mild exertion in the steamy jungle, we make our way back to NG Quest to complete our transit as an escort to Windstar's Star Breeze through the Miraflores Locks and into the Pacific.

For more information about travel on any of Lindblad Expeditions – National Geographic vessels, see www.expeditions.com

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