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Birding Costa Rica caribbean foothills Introduction

Rained Out Birding in Costa Rica at Laguna Hule

I have had the chance to visit a lot of places in Costa Rica to look for birds and for that, I am grateful. Birding trips, guiding, and living in the seismic land of the Mangrove Hummingbird has brought me to well known classic birding sites, lesser known spots, and birding locales waaaay off the beaten track. Nevertheless, I still have a bunch of sites I have never been to and there’s always more to learn and experience at places I have birded for years (such is the complex beauty of tropical ecosystems). One of the main places on my list of sites to hit was Laguna de Hule.

Sign to Hule.

This site was way overdue as a place I have never birded because:

  • I see signs for it every time I go past Cinchona.
  • It didn’t seem to be that far from home.
  • On Google Earth, it looks like it supports a fair-sized area of forest.
  • I have heard of a few good birds from there including possible Gray-headed Piprites and Tawny-chested Flycatcher.

I needed and have wanted to go to Laguna de Hule and this past Sunday, I finally got the chance to bird the place with my faithful birding friend, Susan. We drove up to misty Varablanca right at dawn and made our way past the La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Cinchona shortly thereafter. Given the better chances at birds in the early morning, we couldn’t help but make a couple of stops, one above the waterfall gardens, and one down past Cinchona. Some birds were calling and it was nice to hear Dark Pewee, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, and Prong-billed Barbet among other cloud forest species. It was quieter near Cinchona but we still picked up Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Elegant Euphonia, and a few tanagers.

Those colors are en Elegant Euphonia hiding in a Mistletoe plant.

After following the signs to Laguna Hule, we left the main road and began our rocky drive to the Laguna. It took longer than expected (which wasn’t a surprise since we didn’t know how far or how bad the road would be) but there was some birding on the way. We ignored the pastures but made brief stops in second growth and forested riparian zones to hear and see expected species like Slaty Spinetail, Dusky Antbird, wrens, saltators, and other edge species.

Habitat on the way there.

As we approached the Laguna, we saw a few overlooks for it and that’s when I realized that it was much bigger and much further away than expected. Actually, it wasn’t far but just deeper than expected.

A look at the lagoon.

Following the road past the overlooks brought us to more forested spots, and a muddy hole that we couldn’t pass, even with a four-wheel drive vehicle.

We saw this Crested Guan there.

We left the car and started hiking down the road. It passed through some nice foothill forest, second growth, and overlooks that took in the canopy of forest around the inside of the lagoon. We also saw a lot of clouds and mist but somehow neglected to bring umbrellas, ponchos, or even a plastic bag. That neglect was made even more foolish by both of us having first hand knowledge of the common, heavy rains that happen in Costa Rica along with lots of recent heavy rain on the Caribbean slope (where we were).

There was also a good overlook of forest canopy.
We saw a few birds, including these Short-billed Pigeons.

As we walked down the road, we saw and heard some foothill species here and there but it became increasingly difficult to look at them or take pictures because of the equally increasing mist. Just as we reached a stream, the mist coalesced into light rain that turned into a major downpour a few seconds later. This was the point when I wondered how I had possibly managed to not bring the umbrella I had left in the car, or why I hadn’t brought any ziplock bags in my pack like I usually do to keep the camera and recording equipment dry if it rains.

Misty forest at Laguna de Hule.

Without a word, we started walking back uphill as I frantically looked for some large leaf to use as an umbrella. Nope, there weren’t any of those “poor man’s umbrella” plants around but there were some promising Heliconias leaves. I grabbed one but couldn’t break the stem! By this time, I was pretty soaked and made a note to get a machete that would have sliced through that stem like the proverbial hot butter (or a stick of Numar- might not get that unless you live in Tiquica). As Susan walked ahead, I trudged uphill hoping for a big leaf as water streamed down my face.

Luckily, my birding prayers were answered as I saw a suitable, stemless leaf on the ground shortly thereafter! A ha! It was big enough to cover the top of my daypack and so on I went, clasping that leaf tight over the top of the pack and thinking about the dry interior of the car. Fortunately, the car wasn’t that far away although we were so soaked through that it probably didn’t matter if it was a mile or 100 feet. Even better, my lucky leaf had helped keep my stuff sufficiently dry to save it from total watery destruction.

We left Laguna de Hule with the briefest of birding gen but saw enough to see that the place definitely warrants a longer (hopefully drier) visit. We also stopped at the Cinchona Cafe to enjoy busy feeders and super close Prong-billed Barbets.

Super close Prong-billed Barbet.
Barbet at arm's length.

During the brief birding at and near Hule, some of the more interesting species were Crested Guan, Laughing Falcon, Brown-hooded Parrot, toucans, Rufous-winged Woodpecker, Spotted Woodcreeper, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Dusky Antbird, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, White-ruffed Manakin, Bay, Black-throated, White-breasted Wood, and Nightingale Wrens, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, Golden-crowned Warbler, and Carmiol’s Tanager.

I’m not sure what else is in there but the place definitely deserves more visits!

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