In Search of the Resplendent Quetzal

I don’t like to have a goal bird for a trip.  I have taken a few trips in Zambia where we have, as a group, a goal bird.  These birds were – the Shoebill, the Zambian Barbet, and the Black-cheeked Lovebird.  I was fortunate each time to see the “goal bird”  but I really do not like having a goal bird.  I prefer to look at it as planning a trip around the possibility of seeing a particular bird but then enjoying whatever birds you find, whether you find the “big tick” or not.  I sometimes will joke to Jonathan that every new tick is worth the same.  He disagrees.  To him it definitely makes a difference if it is a big, pretty or unusual bird as opposed to a “little brown job.” 

I had been to Costa Rica two times before but had not seen the Resplendent Quetzal.  We hadn’t been to any places where they could be seen really.  This time, we planned the trip around several stops where the quetzals were likely to be.  I didn’t want it to be the “goal” of the trip but I was definitely hoping to see one.  One problem with trying to see them in Monteverde is that you are in the cloud forest and all the trees obscure your view quite a bit. 

Fortunately we did not have this problem in San Gerardo de Dota.  The terrain was mostly fields with quite a few trees.  Along the “main” road there is  a small sign marking the “Quetzal Viewing”  (Mirador de Quetzal).  After climbing up the hill for a bit you come to a rather shoddily made viewing platform in front of a large avocado tree.  Once we arrived here, it wasn’t too hard to see a quetzal.  We were told that there was a female in the nearby stand of trees.  Then the male was also spotted, but they were pretty tough to see, far away and hiding in the shadows.

This was our first view of the quetzal:


Fortunately, as we hung around, and later went back to that spot several times, we saw the quetzals fly repeatedly to the fruiting avocado tree and were able to see them up quite close. 


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It is hard to capture the amazing beauty of these birds in a photograph but I thought Jonathan’s photos came out great.  One interesting thing about the quetzals is that their preferred food is the wild avocado.  They swallow them whole, digest them for about a half hour in their crop (I believe I have that right).  Then they regurgitate the seed back up.  This process is the reason why we would see them fly over to the avocado tree, then usually head back over to the cover of the other trees and rest for a while.

Here’s a picture of the female eating the fruit.  I was quite amazed to see the size of the fruit in relation to the size of her head.  Wow!



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Truly a beautiful bird!

All Photos copyright Jonathan Moeller.

For more great bird blogs try:  The Bird D’Pot  or  Wild Bird Wednesday


Trogon Lodge: San Gerardo de Dota

After visiting Selve Verde for just one night we took a bit of a longer drive, back down through San Jose and then to the east to the mountains and valley of San Gerardo de Dota.  After climbing up the mountain in our tiny SUV, we turned off the main road onto a narrow road that wound its way into the valley with hairpin turns.  This was a bit nerve wracking but finally we reached the bottom of the valley.  We were staying at Trogon Lodge and after a bit of a delay whilst waiting for the receptionist, we got our rooms and signed up for the Quetzal walk at 6 the next morning.

Although you are in the valley, you are still at quite a high elevation – around 2200 meters.  The air is crisp and clear and cold, and smells amazing because of the beautiful river running near the lodge.  The birding was amazing and at this elevation, almost all the birds were lifers for me. 

One exception was the Rufous-collared Sparrow which we had also seen at El Socorro but here it was even more confiding.  He sang all the time and he liked to pose for us:


Lifers included the Black-capped Flycatcher,

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the Sooty-capped Bush Tanager,

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the Collared Redstart,

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and more.  To be continued . . .


All photos copyright Jonathan Moeller.