Costa Rica: quetzal quest in the highlands

30 Apr

We’re near San Gerardo de Dota, in the mountains, and it’s quite cold except in the sun. We even lit the fire in the room at night.

The weather is splendid in the morning and we set on a walk yesterday, looking for quetzals. We were told about a couple nesting not far from the lodge, by the dirt track.

On the way, we saw tall trees covered in moss and epiphytes.

Epiphyte & moss

Epiphyte & moss

And some birds, too. Although we heard many more than we saw, a species of woodpecker was all over the place. Here’s one at the entrance of a hole in a tree.

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker

We kept walking toward the small church and soon enough we spotted a group of people with a guide by the fence of the dirt track. A binocular was aimed at the top of a beheaded tree, some twenty meters away. Two long green and blue quetzal feathers emerged of a hole in the trunk –the nest, and were flying in the breeze.

Male quetzal feathers

Male quetzal feathers

The group had been here for a while already and they had been lucky to see the male quetzal outside of the nest, ruffling its feathers in the sun. The guide said the female would be back shortly, as she goes away between 45 and 60 minutes and then the male can leave.

Our wait was interrupted by the thunderous and surprising sound of horses galloping. Seven or eight horses were coming at us at high speed. My 100-300 lens was fitted on the camera and I could photograph but details of them as there was a curve near us and they soon disappeared.

Horses galloping

Horses galloping

The wait continued. After an hour, the group left. The female should have been back a half hour prior and the people had other things to do. We waited some more. A little wile afterwards, we saw the head of the male quetzal emerging from the nest, looking in every directions. I took a few photos and suddenly it plunged and flew away behind foliage. We never saw him again and thus, couldn’t get a picture of its full body.

Male quetzal head

Male quetzal head

The female had to be back sooner or later… A half hour later I spotted a bird landing in the distance, zoomed in and it was her. Green with a medium length tail that appeared spotted or striped. She ruffled her feather and I noticed some red below her chest, under her otherwise green feathers. She stayed on that high branch in the distance for 25 minutes before she flew to the nest at noon.

Female quetzal rejoins the nest

Female quetzal rejoins the nest

Soon after, she got into the hole, hidden from view. We didn’t see the young. Her head and upper body emerged 45 minutes afterwards, she looked left, right, top, tilted her head a few times, and went back in. We waited some more. By now the weather had worsened. It was raining slightly. Woodpeckers were still flying from one tree to another, entertaining us. Here are three aligned on a bare branch.

Three little birds

Three little birds

We decided to wait till 1.30 p.m. and leave, weather we see the male again or not. And we didn’t. Meh. The rain was coming down harder anyway.

The mountain had been pretty in the sun, but in the rain, with low hazy clouds visible, it was even prettier.

Meadow, trees, mountain, clouds

Meadow, trees, mountain, clouds


House and clouds not far above

House and clouds not far above

It was pouring rain by the time we reached the lodge. We rewarded ourselves with lunch; it was 2 p.m. Sheltered by the roof outside we looked at hummingbirds, mostly black ones with a straight long beak, but also green ones with a curvy beak.

Hummingbird

Hummingbird

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