Costa Rica: Birding Puerto Jiménez

“Why are we going there?” I asked Steve, pointing to one of the most southern points of Costa Rica.

“Because I’m curious.”

That’s usually what drives our travels: Steve’s curiosity.

It was before our trip to Costa Rica and the place I was pointing to was the country’s Osa peninsula, which is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world with its pristine tropical forests and home to many endangered animals. The Corcovado National Park covers two thirds of the peninsula and protects much of the wildlife there.

This area receives quite a bit more rainfall than other regions in the country. It’s also off the beaten track for most birding tours, because it’s a bit out of the way and involves a lot of driving to get there, but it was worth it. In fact, it was one of my favorite places we visited. Perhaps it was because both the flora and the fauna reminded me of Panama, which made sense, given its proximity to the border.

Our Costa Rica adventure so far.
Steve, of course, looking for birds in the trees in front of our vacation rental in Puerto Jimenez.

We stayed at a vacation rental at Puerto Jimenez and unlike my attempt with the one in Guanacaste, I was pretty happy with this one. Our rental faced the Gulf of Dulce and local children played in the water and several groups of 3-4 people each stood waist-deep in the water, laughing and conversing.

Turns out the hosts (who live next door) were actually from Austin, TX, just like us and that’s always a great start to a renter/host relationship. It also turns out that hundreds of Red-lored Parrots roosted in the trees right next to our vacation rental, which made an astounding noise as they flew in to settle for the night. And in the morning, the parrots woke us with the same clatter and squawking, which if you’re birders getting up early isn’t a problem at all.

Puerto Jimenez is also known for its big game fishing and they were working on putting in a large pier there to rival the one at Golfito, which is on the other side of the gulf. “This will change everything for fishing here,” our host told us. He and his wife moved here and bought the property (both their home and our vacation rental), banking on the good fishing here.

Meanwhile, there was a LOT of banging as workers and their big machinery hammered steel footings into the ground beneath the water. I didn’t mind it, though. We weren’t going to be hanging around. We’d be birding.

We had invited my in-laws (John and Marilyn) to join us for this leg of our trip, and John joined Steve and me on our day of birding. I’m afraid poor Marilyn had to endure the early wake-up call by the parrots, but likely went back to sleep after we left for birding when the sun was just rising.

I found our guide, Javier Mendoza, through OSA Birders Tours before we left for Costa Rica and he was great! We birded along the edge of the Corcavado National Park along trails he knew well and assured us we would see the same bird species as we would if we had visited the park.

Variable Seedeater
Cocoa Woodcreeper

Our birding day began with a drive along on a roadside near fields where we spotted the Variable Seedeater, a Cocoa Woodcreeper and a very cooperative Tiny Hawk perched in a tree. The Tiny Hawk is the smallest hawk in the world and rare to find. It’s the size of a robin and specializes in hunting hummingbirds. (Which kind of makes me sad.) Other than that great find, it was mostly quiet even though it was early.

Tiny Hawk (photo credit: Javier Mendoza)

We returned to the street where our vacation rental was located and visited a restaurant for breakfast, overlooking the gulf. After breakfast, we walked around a nearby area with palms and other tropical, leafy trees where we easily spotted the Golden-napped Woodpecker and a very cooperative Red-lored Parrot in a tree with thorns to deter any predators.

Golden-naped Woodpecker
Red-lored Parrot

A short walk near the marsh had the usual suspects of wading birds and a charming Jesus Christ Lizard taking a rest on a log after we saw him sprint across the water. (We were also relieved to be away from the banging of steel footings.)

Green Heron
Yellow-crowned Night Heron
Jesus Christ Lizard (Basilisk Lizard)

I was particularly enthralled by the White Ibis’ beak (below). It’s not a great photo, but the light certainly makes the beak look translucent.

White Ibis

The rest of the day we drove further down the coast, about 40 minutes away and hiked along a dirt road within the tropical forest. A few times we had to navigate a stream, hopping across rocks. Though hopping is what everyone else did. I took my time and each of the three guys took turns guiding me across, telling me where to place my foot with each step, and giving me a hand for balance. I wished I was 20 again and could handle getting across a tiny stream with more grace and confidence, but that woman is long gone now. Aging has stolen any sense of balance I once had.

Spider monkeys interrupted our bird watching as they dangled from trees, chewing on fruits. They watched us as we peered through our binoculars looking at birds and I’m always pleased to see these acrobatic creatures.

Spider Monkey

One of my favorite things about our guide, Javier, was that he knew of some lovely spots along the way to rest and take in the scenery. I will never say, “no,” to taking a break to rest.

One of our rest stops along the way.
Javier poses with Steve and me with the Gulf of Dulce in the background.
Me, brother-in-law, John, and Steve at the base of a Kapok tree during our hike.
Scarlet Macaws on a nest.
A private garden where the Scarlet Macaws nest.

With each hour of hiking and birding the day became hotter and more humid. But I was enjoying myself, discovering new birds, watching monkeys overhead, including White-faced Capuchins, which I’ve never seen before.

I marveled at the crimson head of the Pale-billed Woodpecker that hammered away on a tree. And the Black-mandibled Toucan was closer than I’d ever seen. They’re so comical-looking that one forgets how predatory they are.

The toucan hopped around the tree branches in the same direction where we were walking, keeping his black eye on us the whole time.

I guess curiosity goes both ways.

Pale-billed Woodpecker
Black-mandibled Toucan
Black-mandibled Toucan (I wanted you to see the red on his behind. I think he did too.)