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Resplendent Quetzal

Photo by Stan Tekiela

by Stan Tekiela
© NatureSmart

February 13, 2023

Costa Rica is a wildlife photographers paradise. I just returned from 2 weeks of trekking through the hot and humid lowland tropical jungles and hiking high up in the cold cloud forest mountains, over 8,000-foot elevation, all in search of a wide variety of birds and mammals.

But for anyone who travels to this Central American country, there is one species of bird that everyone wants and desires to see and photograph. It is the Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno). This is a magnificent green bird that lives only in southern Mexico and parts of Central America in the high elevations of the cloud forests.

My group of intrepid photographers made the full day drive up to the cloud forests of Costa Rica. After settling in for the night at a local lodge with individual rooms/cabin perched on the edge of bluffs and ridges of the mountain side, we tried to get some sleep because early in the morning we were heading out in search of the Resplendent Quetzal.

The morning brought lots of clouds, which shouldn’t be a surprise because after all we were in a cloud forest habitat. It was chilly and I was happy that I brought along my fleece jacket as well as a rain jacket. We all stood around in the pre-dawn waiting for a local guide and a van to pick us up. Everyone was hopeful and excited at the possibility of seeing and capturing some images of this amazing bird.

We arrived at a location where several of the birds have been reported. The Quetzal is well known for feeding on wild avocados. So, after a short hike on a muddy trail, we set up near a large avocado tree. The surrounding area was beautiful and there were several perches the bird might use that would allow the possibility of some great images.

We stood there in the light rain, everyone hopeful for the arrival of the Resplendent Quetzal. Meanwhile our local guide was on the phone checking with other guides in the area to see if any of these birds were being seen. Bad news, no one was reporting any sightings this morning. Several hours passed and still nothing, but then our local guides phone rang, and in half English and half Spanish he said pack it up let’s go quickly to another location.

Off we went down the trail and back into the van and we went off down a narrow winding road until we stopped at another location. Again, we piled out of the van and trekked across several open fields to the edge of the jungle where another avocado tree stood. We were told the bird was just there but flew off just before our arrival. Again, we set up and had great hopes of capturing some images.  We waited and waited. The rain stopped for a few minutes and the sun came out and warmed us up.

After a while it was decided that the bird wasn’t coming back to this location, and everyone was getting hungry. Our amazing guide suggested that he call back to our lodge and see if they could make breakfast for everyone and deliver the food to our next location.

The next location had a long steep muddy trail up to the avocado tree. Again, we set up our cameras just when our breakfast arrived. Everyone was hungry and needed some hot coffee. After eating we waited a little longer and still no bird. We headed back down the steep trail doing our best not to slip and slide down the hill.

We gathered for lunch and made a plan to return to the last location where we ate breakfast to wait out the afternoon to see if we can capture some images of the Quetzal. When we returned everyone was wet from the rain and had muddy boots. In these conditions we needed rain gear for our cameras and ourselves. Again, the waiting game started. One hour passed, then another. The sun set was around 5 pm and it was getting towards 4 pm with very light rain falling. Suddenly a flash of bright iridescent green shot past the group and landed in the avocado tree. After the initial gasp of delight, everyone fell silent and concentrated on capturing some images of this unbelievably beautiful bird.

The bird moved around the tree and three times came out into the open allowing everyone a good chance to see and capture stunning images. Later that evening back at the lodge we all raised a glass in toast to the most gratifying day it was and the amazing images this bird provided. Until next time…

Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the world to study and capture images of wildlife. He can be followed on www.instagram.com and www.facebook.com. He can be contacted via his website at www.naturesmart.com.



The nationally syndicated NatureSmart Column appears in over 25 cities spanning 7 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. It is a bi-weekly column circulated to over 750,000 readers.

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