Costa Rica & Panama Wildlife Highlights

Resident Ornithologist with One Ocean Expeditions, Simon Boyes, recently returned from his amazing adventures on our inaugural Central America Adventure. Now home in chilly Wales, Simon reflects on the spectacular wildlife that he and guests encountered on this very special trip. Early mornings meant beating the heat and catching a plethora of colourful birds and interesting creatures in the jungles of Costa Rica and Panama. Read more about his top sightings below. Thank you Simon!

Passengers met up in San José and visited a nearby coffee estate, where parakeets, woodpeckers and tanagers started off our wildlife list. As we boarded RCGS Resolute in Caldera on the Pacific Coast, we were welcomed by staff and crew…..and by Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Pelicans.

Curu Wildlife Refuge was our one visit to dry tropical forest. White-faced Capuchin and Howler Monkeys, Agoutis, Raccoons, Coatis and White-tailed Deer all showed themselves. Also visible were hummingbirds, trogons, motmots and araçaris (small toucans): just a few of Costa Rica’s brightly coloured birds. The snorkelers had their first opportunity to swim with reef fish off Tortuga Island. Curu is too dry for sloths, but we didn’t have to wait long….

Howler Monkey. Image by Ken Burton

Manuel Antonio National Park has superb rainforest stretching right down to its beautiful beaches. As at Curu, local guides helped us find the specialities, such as several different Three-toed Sloths and an amazingly camouflaged nocturnal ‘stick-bird’: officially called a Common Potoo. An American Crocodile submerged in the mangrove section was a great find, and we had close encounters with Capuchin Monkeys and Northern Raccoons.

Red-legged Honeycreeper (male). Image by Jason Ransom

The next day we landed at Puerto Jimenez, and set off in coasters for Corcovado National Park. Along the way we found a Two-toed Sloth, colourful Scarlet Macaws, Red-lored Parrots and Yellow-throated Toucans. Families of Coatis ambled through the pastures, long tails held high, with small youngsters among the adults. Troupes of Spider Monkeys swung acrobatically through the trees, while Spectacled Caimans remained semi-submerged in the creeks. Birds of prey included many Roadside Hawks and both Yellow-headed and Crested Caracaras – even a King Vulture appeared at one point. Hikes beyond the end of the road produced Tayras – a mustelid related to the North American Fisher, and a Tamandua, (a tree-climbing anteater).

Tamandua. Image by Jason Ransom

Golfito is a good place to find kingfishers, ibis, herons and shorebirds – such as Whimbrel and Willet – on the edge of the mangroves at low tide. During a visit to a small botanical reserve nearby, we found colourful birds such as Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Slaty-tailed Trogon and Cherrie’s Tanager; and the pick of the hummingbirds was a Long-billed Starthroat.

Green Heron. Image by Ken Burton.

After those Costa Rica excursions, we entered Panama and anchored off Coiba Island. Here most of the highlights were under water, such as Pantropical Spotted Dolphins around the zodiacs, and a suite of colourful fish around a sandy islet, admired by our many snorkelers. Hikes on the island produced the endemic Coiba Howler Monkey, notably smaller than its mainland cousin, as well as Blue-headed Parrots and Crimson-backed Tanagers. After dark, we were accompanied by a Swallow-tailed Gull, the world’s only nocturnal gull, which found food churned up in our wake. Unexpected seabirds appeared the next morning too: a Sooty Tern, and a Band-rumped Storm Petrel which landed on deck: a rare vagrant from Galapagos.

Toucan. Image by Ken Burton

Our anchorage off Panama City was a busy place with hundreds of pelicans and cormorants flying and fishing around us. One special highlight was an ‘early birding’ option to the Soberania National Park, not far out of the city. Climbing an observation tower at the Rainforest Discovery Center, we found ourselves level with the highest trees in the canopy. Here at sunrise parrots and toucans, tanagers and cotingas delighted the photographers, and a swirling flock of Mississippi Kites circled above us on migration. Green-and-Black Poison Dart Frogs, tiny but vividly coloured, leapt across the forest floor, and several species of hummingbirds visited the feeders. To us naturalists, this was a great alternative to a city tour!

Slaty-tailed Trogon (female). Image by Jason Ransom

Our final full day before we disembarked at Colon was the much anticipated transit of the Panama Canal. The observation lounge and top deck were busy as we made our way through the locks. Along the way we found Osprey, Common Black Hawk, Snail Kite and various herons. One vivid encounter was with a Ringed Kingfisher, perched on an anchor and diving into the lock alongside the ship. As we crossed Gatun Lake, we kept eyes peeled for Panama’s national bird, the enormous monkey-eating Harpy Eagle, but that was not to be. However, our voyage provided many other wonderful wildlife highlights and photographs!

If you are interested in travelling on RCGS Resolute in Costa Rica and Panama next year, please speak to your preferred travel agent or contact our sales team here.