Tag Archives: Quetzal

Day 19 – San Gerardo to Alturas: ¿Quetzal?

Thursday 9 March 2023 – In Spanish, “¿Qué tal?” is a friendly greeting, meaning, among other things, “what’s up?”.  In our case today, what was up was us and when we were up was 0430. The reason? We had to meet a guide at 0515.  Yup – we were looking for wildlife again.

Specifically, we wanted to see the Resplendent Quetzal. Well, more Jane than me, to be honest; at that time in the morning what I wanted was more sleep.  However, the chance to see one of these birds wasn’t going to present itself again, and the chance to do so was the reason for our precipitous plunge into the San Gerardo valley; for the Resplendent Quetzal can be found here, if you get your timing right – and we were in Quetzal season.

Accordingly, at 0515 our guide, Marco, turned up and we set off in his 4×4 back up the trail we’d driven down last night – somewhat more rapidly than I would have done, if I am to be honest.

The morning was rain-free, thank goodness.

Marco cautioned us to stay close to him as he might move quickly to get to a vantage point to see something.  He also made sure that we had phones with us, not, to be sure, so that he could contact us in extremis, but so that he could set up photos with them using his spotter scope.

As the day lightened, it became clear (unsurprisingly) that in our quest for the Quetzal We Were Not Alone.

There were several groups, mostly accompanied by guides all of whom were communicating with each other, often over radio, about what could be seen and where. In total, I’d say there were about 40 people all trying to see the same species.

What followed was a typical Birder morning. Here, in 15 seconds, is a summary of our movements for the next 150 minutes, over a range of about three miles.

So, did we see a Quetzal?  Was it easy?  Was it quickly achieved?

Yes. No. No.

The first excitement was a group of Black Guans.  There being nothing else even remotely Resplendent to be seen, we spent some minutes and several frames on capturing them.

Marco proved to be extremely adept at getting mobile phone camera images through a spotter scope.  To give you some idea of what he could achieve, his image, using Jane’s phone, is on the left, mine, achieved with my Big Lens (10-400mm zoom for you  camera buffs out there) is on the right.

There was also a frisson when someone spotted an Emerald Toucanet, a small bird Jane had particularly wanted to see because it’s such a weird construction, like a Finch has had a Toucan beak bolted in Photoshop.  Here’s a good photo of one, courtesy of Flickr – see what I mean?

Emerald Toucanet

They’re serious creatures, though, and a major predator of Quetzal chicks, apparently.  They’re bastards, same as all Toucans.

To give you some idea of the frustrations and disappointments of birding, here are the results we got in trying to photograph this elusive bird.

I still have difficulty seeing it even in the spotter image.  Here it is closer up.

As ever, with my shocking eyesight, all I ever saw was a flicker of movement as the little fucker flew away, never to be seen again.

I busied myself with getting a photo of a Big-Footed Finch, which was stamping around in the leaf litter to disturb insects to eat.

It’s not a big bird, but since it was only about six feet away, even I couldn’t miss it.

Marco spent a lot of time looking for a Quetzal

even going so far as to mimic its call to try to lure one into some kind of visual contact.

Eventually, reports of a sighting filtered through and we raced along to where it had been seen.  Courtesy of lots of patient explanation from Jane and Marco, I eventually set eye on my first (male) Quetzal.

It’s there, right in the middle of your picture.  Honest.

It was creating a nest.  I even got some really crappy video of it pecking away at the tree. (This was about 0630, by the way, so we’d been looking for an hour or so.)

For a while, as we belted up and down the track, I began to despair of ever actually getting a decent photo of one of these damned things, because of a combination of my poor eyesight and the talent these benighted creature have for positioning themselves with leaves or twigs in the way, or against the light.

We did see some, though, even though the little buggers kept adopting the wrong pose, such as facing away from the camera,

or with bright light behind them, or sometimes both, dammit.

Jane and Marco were getting some success with her phone and his spotter.

and finally – finally! – one settled facing me where I could see it and take photos before it fucked off again.

Resplendent is such a good word, isn’t it?  The male grows those long tail feathers every year; the female doesn’t have that extravagant braggadocio. Here’s a female from Jane/Marco

and this is the best I could do

although – hah hah! – I accidentally took a photo of this female as she tried to get out of my shot.

We covered three and a half miles over two hours in our quest for these photos, sometimes in a car, sometimes at a run, more often than not at a standstill saying “where are you, you little bugger?” But it was ultimately very satisfactory, some might even say worth getting up at 0430 for.

It’s interesting to note the “shot silk” effect of the bird’s colour. As the angle changes, so does the colour you see.  For example, we saw long tail feathers of blue, but over the bar in the restaurant

they’re green.

Oh, how we feasted after our successful hunt! Well, avocado toasts and a cup of tea, anyway. Marco mentioned that Lauraceas had a garden just down the road and so we popped down there to see what we could see.

Jane also managed to get some video of a Volcano Hummingbird – no mean feat as, like other hummingbirds, it doesn’t hang about much.

But then it was time to leave the delightful scene by the stream

and head off to our next destination, Villas Alturas, in Domenical on the Pacific (west) Coast.

Of course, the first thing we had to do was to get out of the San Gerardo valley.  But it was not cloudy or raining, and six or so miles to get back to Route 2 only took us about half an hour.

However, when we got there, we discovered that we were well back into the clouds… and rain…

and roadworks! with steaming freshly-laid asphalt, which didn’t help speed the journey.

We eventually turned off Route 2 and once again had some pleasant countryside to drive through

before a final, very bumpy, half-mile up a track to the Villas.

However, once we were checked in, we discovered that we had a villa with a great view

to be seen from a delightful balcony.

We had gin and tonic for the fridge and some peanuts, the freezer already had ice in it and so we made ourselves at home with mucho gusto, as they say in these here parts.  The food in the restaurant is good, the service willing (albeit a little patchy), and they’ll do our laundry for us for $16. And, delightfully, we have nothing to do for 36 hours.

So, it’s now 1400 on Friday 10th March and you are up to date with the holiday travels for the moment.  We move on tomorrow, but have a few more delightful days of nothing organised until all of a sudden it gets serious again.  You’ll just have to keep checking back in to see what, if anything, has been worth reporting. For now, cheers!