At home in Labrador


Returning from our trip to Osa we had a day to prepare for a little party at Casa Castle. Ana had invited her sister Maria Julia, her niece, Sui-len with her partner Alejandro and their baby Diana, whom we were keen to meet as we had heard so much about her. Andy made a lovely chicken curry and our guests arrived bringing along a great nephew, Luis Alejandro.

Diana was a delightful little poppet, all smiles and laughing. We had bought a little dress for her back in the UK and Sui-len and Ale were delighted with it, though Diana seemed more interested in the wrapping paper! Also carefully packed in our luggage was an original piece of art. Some time ago Sui-len commisioned a mutual friend, Keith Desbois, to make a painting from a photograph of her mother, Maria Julia and her grandfather, Don Ismael (now sadly deceased). Keith produced a masterful painting and we carried it aboard flight BA2237. We surreptitiously handed it to Sui-len who presented it to her mother. Maria Julia was clearly very moved by such a wonderful and unique reminder of her dad.

We had a wonderful lunch in the garden, played with Diana and I played footie with Luis Alejandro. I’m sure I scored more goals than him so, for once, England beat Costa Rica! It was a lovely and relaxing afternoon and we felt entirely at home with our Tico family.

The following day Andy and Ana had to return to San Jose for the working week so we all piled in the car and drove to Escazu, on the outskirts of the city. After a bit of shopping Andy and Ana booked a taxi whilst we climbed into Andy’s 4×4. With some concerned looks from Andy I started her up, reversed out of the parking space and drove off to join the motorway and return to Labrador. I have driven a hire car in Costa Rica before and so long as you are cautious and don’t do anything too daft, like driving on the wrong side of the road, it’s not too bad. For the rest of the week we had free range of Andy and Ana’s home and their car. What greater, more trusting friends could you have.

At first glance you wouldn’t think there is much to Labrador. It’s a growing community in the middle of a fruit growing area. Mango trees abound here and, indeed, Andy has almost a dozen mango trees in his garden along side Jackfruit, oranges, limes and other fruit trees, all of which are attractive to birds. Even though Labrador is not a noted birding area we find that exploring the area on foot and in Andy’s car it is alive with birds.

The day begins about 5am when the dawn chorus starts up, the dogs start barking, the cockerels begin crowing and the Howler Monkeys start up their vocalisation. We find something magical in waking to the sound of Howlers at the start of the day and if you get up, have a quick shower and breakfast you can be out of the house by 05.45, just as the eastern horizon turns pink. At this time it’s still reasonably cool and the birds are very active.

A short car ride away there’s an old railway track (which Andy assures us has a weekly maintenance train working on it, though we’ve never seen or heard them). We walked the track seeing Tree Creepers and Wood Peckers, waved to the workers going off to pick vegetables in the fields and followed their portaloo strapped to the back of a truck down a dirt road. We weren’t desperate for the loo (well, not that desperate!) but we could see that the track led to the river and more birds – heron, kingfisher, egret, stilt – over a bridge and into the countryside. No-one objected to us walking the fields and three hours passed as quick as the flash of a parrot.

We returned home to find Dona Rosa, Ana’s part time help, cleaning the house, doing the laundry and generally taking care of us. How wonderful is that.

A little further afield, across the Rio Tarcoles, rises the highlands of Turrubares mountain with its small pueblos, masses of trees and plenty of birdlife. Walking down one dirt track we heard the raucous sounds of Scarlett Macaws. We met a man scything the grass verge and he lead us through a locked gate into a preserved area. There were Macaws screaming in the trees alongside other parrots and parakeets. A few were in cages and we gathered that this was a sort of rescue or educational facility, though our Spanish was not up to understanding exactly the nature of the place. Walking back to the village a young family, seeing the binoculars strung around our necks, motioned us urgently into their garden. A pair of Fiery-billed Aricari, a small toucan, were busy eating the fruit from a banana tree and we got great views.

Another day we started off very early in the morning and drove for an hour to Carara National Park which we last visited back in 2011. Then there was a rudimentary office to take your money and a series of rough tracks and we birded with our friend Keith and a local guide, Roy Orozco, who has sadly since died. Carara now has much better facilites and well maintained footpaths. We badly missed Roy’s exuberance and expert knowledge but we still had a great walk through the woods, seeing many birds and the odd monkey.
One of the great benefits of having a casa to come back to is that we can bird ourselves out in the morning and then rest up when the sun gets too high and the birds retreat into the relative cool of the forest. Second breakfast, followed by a light lunch, perhaps a late afternoon birdwatch, an early evening dinner and then in bed by nine became the order of the day.

Our routine was slightly altered Thursday afternoon when we picked Andy and Ana up from the bus station in Orotina, brought them home and cooked a meal for them. We thoroughly enjoyed our four days of intensive bird watching and have now amassed a local bird count of over 60 birds. But it was great to be back with our friends enjoying a beer and a chat.

Friday saw us paying for our bed and board by becoming immigrant workers. Andy had an orange tree which needed picking so we volunteered. After picking kilos of the fruit we went on to press a jug full of the freshest orange juice you could find. And there is still a huge bag left to process.

Lest you think that Saturday would provide time for a lie in, Ana arranged for a neighbour, Jairo, to take us all on an early morning jaunt. 5am saw us up again swallowing coffee and muesli before driving off with Jairo to watch the sunrise. Jairo is a land agent and he was able to take us to a finca (farm) which is up for sale. It has glorious views of the sun rising up over Turrubares which we watched drinking more coffee and eating freshly made bread spread with banana and honey. What better start to the day. This view, with the surrounding 25 acres of farmland, forest and river could be yours for $500,000. A Grand Designs style house on top and it would be perfect.

Jairo took us around the lot and we once again saw scores of birds, including the White-necked Puffbird, a new species for us. What with the waterfall, the river, the sunrise it was a perfect start to the day.

Sunday, we took Andy to the airport as he was attending a conference in Guatemala, checked out a new birding site not far away in Atenas and had lunch to the sound of a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl calling from a mango tree back at the garden in Labrador. Late afternoon we went on a walk and managed to bag another 2 new species of bird: a Gray Hawk and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The locals have become used to seeing a couple of gringos with bins around their necks and a camera in hand. Just goes to show what you can see if you really get to know a place.

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