Quetzal

Happy April Fool’s Day! What’s quetzal, anyway? A noun, a verb, a symptom brought on in quarantine for the corona virus?

Glad you asked. The quetzal is a legend, a myth, a member of the trogon family, and one really cool bird. It’s also very, very elusive.

And what the hell is a trogon? Let’s start at the top. Until just now, I didn’t know. The term comes from the Greek and means ‘nibbling’, because quetzals carve through rotting wood to make their nests in tree trunks. The trogon family of birds is an exclusive club: they are the only animal with a heterodactyl toe arrangement. [1] The resplendent quetzal lives only in a narrow range of cloud forests at high elevations in Central America. They don’t migrate, and like altitudes of 4,000–10,000 ft (1,200–3,000 m).

A lot of people think it’s the most beautiful bird in the world. The quetzal was sacred to the Aztecs and Mayans. The Aztecs associated the bird with the snake god, Quetzalcoatl. Kings and nobles wore quetzal feather headdresses for special ceremonies.

And oh my god, those feathers…. The head and back of the bird are a brilliant green, the belly feathers are bright red. The female has more gray on her chest, and black and white in her tail, while the male has incredibly long streaming tail feathers that trail up to three feet (!) behind him. These don’t grow until the bird is at least three years old.

The quetzal’s big, about 36-40 cm or 14-16 inches long. But its brilliant green feathers are iridescent and blend perfectly into the cloud forest foliage. For a large bird, the quetzal is surprisingly hard to spot.

So when we planned our trip to Costa Rica (I write this in March, after two weeks of the virus lockdown, and it feels like a different life time that we took that trip, not just a few weeks ago), we hoped we’d get lucky enough to spot a quetzal. We went to the Monteverde cloud forest region. One day we joined a tour to the smaller and less crowded Curi Cancha Reserve. Amazingly enough we saw a pair of quetzals! Quetzals are monogamous – and there they were, male and female! Thank god for the guides that day, because there’s no way we would have sighted the birds on our own. They’re just too perfectly camouflaged. I only have one photo for you, but hopefully it was worth reading this post to get to it.

We present to you in all its shy glory: THE QUETZAL! This is the female, a brilliant emerald that dazzles the eye. Believe it or not her partner is much, much gaudier

It was magic to see a quetzal pair. We got lucky that day.

NOTES: [1] Dictionary.com explains heterodactyl is “having the first and fourth toes directed backward, and the second and third forward, as in trogons”. Well, what do you know. This is my second new word for the week. Trogon was the first. PS: This post is not an April Fool’s joke! Resplendent quetzal © Jadi Campbell 2020. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s animal photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

SPECIAL NOTE: If you try to comment in the wordpress.com reader and get the message “Sorry – there was a problem posting your comment”, click on the title of this post to get to jadicampbell.com and post your comment there. Sorry for the ongoing problem.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

 

Let it Rain!

What a difference a few weeks or even days makes… Today most of the world is on lockdown. A month ago I was in a cloud forest for the first time. I look at Uwe’s photos and am filled with wonder.

The first of many hummingbirds we saw in Costa Rica

February 2020

Monteverde in northern Costa Rica is one of the few cloud forests left on the planet. We arrived yesterday, using a bus service to travel from the hot, sunny Pacific coast. Now we’re at a higher (and definitely colder) elevation. Winds from the Caribbean smack into currents from the Pacific. The results are a steady light mist all day.

Green crowned brilliant

Or, like this morning, a heavy falling rain. Uwe and I both wear the super-duper, Chinese-made raincoats we bought last year in Borneo for a $1 apiece. We unfold them and discover that these are thin, glorified garbage bags with holes cut out for our arms and heads. I’m glad to have mine – it’s still pouring. Uwe’s bummed. It’s raining so hard that he has to leave his  camera equipment in its special backpack. It’s windy here, too! His camera’s way better protected against the weather than we are….

Magenta-throated woodstar

The park guide tells us about primeval forest, secondary growth, the Quaker settlers who came here and founded this nature preserve. We see almost zero wildlife, and that’s because everything is hunkered down against the shitty weather. He points out an orchid the size of my thumbnail as my sneakered feet and my blue jeans grow damper. It. is. cold.

Violet sabrewing

Uwe’s face is glum. His cellphone camera is a poor substitute for the Nikon. I try hard not to think about how little fun he’s having. Then the guide points to a pale slender green object on a leaf. I peer closer in the rain.

Purple throated mountaingem

It’s a walking stick! I haven’t seen one of these in the wild since I was a kid! I’m suddenly a kid again myself, I’m way beyond excited. “Any biosphere that’s got walking sticks is an intact one for sure!” I exclaim. Oh my god! I stand there and stare at it, wetter by the minute.

Thirty minutes later we’re back at the park entrance’s buildings. The downpour vanishes. Uwe gets out his telefoto lens to capture the 7 varieties of blue, emerald, crimson, orange, purple hummingbirds darting in and out to the feeders on the porch. A white nosed coatimundi scurries under the hummingbird feeders, licking up the sugar water that’s dripped down onto the floorboards.

“A walking stick!” I murmur.

Everybody’s happy.

Green crowned brilliant
Empress brilliant. The feathers overlapped in a way that made me think of snake scales

NOTES: I’m still mad at my spousal unit for not taking a photo of that walking stick with his cell phone! Monteverde orchids and hummingbirds © Jadi Campbell 2020. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s animal photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

SPECIAL NOTE: If you try to comment in the wordpress.com reader and get the message “Sorry – there was a problem posting your comment”, click on the title of this post to get to jadicampbell.com and post your comment there. Sorry for the ongoing problem.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.