Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Backyard and beyond: A Costa Rica winter visit

Tekiela traveled many hours to snap images of a resplendent quetzal. (Photo by Stan Tekiela)

Costa Rica is a wildlife photographer’s paradise. I just returned from two weeks of trekking through the country’s hot, humid lowland tropical jungles and hiking up its cold, cloud forest mountains, over 8,000 feet in elevation, while searching for a variety of birds and mammals.

Stan Tekiela

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

Our group of photographers drove up into the Costa Rican cloud forests. After settling in for the night at a local lodge perched on the edge of bluffs and ridges of the mountain, we got some sleep. Early the next morning, we were heading out in search of the quetzal.

The morning brought lots of clouds, which wasn’t surprising in a cloud-forest habitat. It was chilly, and I was happy that I brought a fleece and a rain jacket. We stood in the pre-dawn waiting for a local guide and a van to pick us up. Everyone was hopeful and excited by the possibility of capturing some images.

We arrived at a spot where several of the birds had been seen. The quetzal is 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 obvious perches available.

We stood in the light rain, everyone hopeful for the arrival of the quetzal. Meanwhile, our local guide was on the phone checking with colleagues to see if anyone was seeing the birds. Bad news: No one was reporting any sightings. Hours passed and still nothing, but then our guide’s phone rang, and in half-English, half-Spanish he ordered us to pack up and go quickly to another location.

Back in the van, we took off down a narrow, winding road until we stopped at another location. Again, we piled out and trekked across several open fields to the edge of the jungle to another avocado tree. We were told the bird was there but had flown off just before we arrived. Again, we set up and waited. And waited. The rain stopped for a few minutes, and the sun emerged to warm us up.

After a while, we figured the bird was not returning, and everyone was getting hungry. Our amazing guide called back to our lodge and staff delivered breakfast to our next location.

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

Later, we gathered for lunch and planned to return to our last location for the afternoon. 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 was on. An hour passed, then another. It was approaching 4 p.m. (with a 5 p.m. sunset looming) under a light rain. Suddenly, a flash of bright iridescent green shot past the group and landed in the avocado tree. After a gasp of delight, everyone fell silent and concentrated on capturing and three times came out into the open, some images of the unbelievably beautiful resplendent quetzal. evening, back at the lodge, we raised a allowing great photography. Later that toast to a gratifying day and an amazing The quetzal moved around the tree, bird. Until next time …

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