Friday, March 31, 2006

Going Cuckoo in the Mangroves

Friday, March 31, 2006
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Early morning on the deserted wildilfe drive at Ding. On any other day there would be hundreds of other visitors.

This morning we were invited along on a mangrove cuckoo census survey with three local naturalist/interns, two of whom, Andrew and Debbie, work at Ding Darling NWR. This was the first cuckoo survey of the season, so we did not know what to expect. But since the mangrove cuckoo would be a life bird for both Julie and me, we eagerly accepted the invite.

We met the Ding crew at the visitors' center at 7 am and drove into the refuge via the legendary wildlife drive. What made today special, other than our quest bird, was the fact that Ding is closed to the public on Fridays. So we had the place to ourselves! After seeing the high traffic of yesterday afternoon along the drive, this was an amazing difference. Though I have to admit that the birds in the refuge seemed equally oblivious to human disturbance whether there were 20 cars along the drive or just our one official government truck.
My shadow led me down the road to get a closer look at some shorebirds.

Since it was still early in the season, we did not get our hopes up for seeing the cuckoo. In fact, we made a point to be very light-hearted about things, even calling it the "Mangrove Throat-Warbler" spoofed in Monty Python years ago (Andrew and his friend Stephanie were too young to remember this--which means, conversely, we are old enough to remember....)

On the way to the first listening site we stopped to admire some shorebirds and a very active osprey nest. The male osprey flew in with a stick to the nest, but this did not seem to impress the female. Both birds flew off the nest when a bald eagle began calling nearby.

A male osprey (note lack of dark "bra") perching near his nest along the wildlife drive at Ding.

Cardinals down here on Sanibel sound different to our Ohio-accustomed ears--these southern ones sound sweeter, higher, and more slurred than our midwestern birds. In fact, Julie initially heard one and thought it was Tennessee warbler. We ridiculed her for hours on that one. Until I misidentified a sharpie as a fly-by cuckoo--a taste of my own medicine.

How could I resist taking this guy's photo? A male northern cardinal in the Deep South.

During our third or fourth stop, Andrew and Debbie heard a distant mangrove cuckoo call. Jules and I were 50 yards away digiscoping a pileated woodpecker, and missed the call. I got that sick feeling in my stomach that I might have just missed my chance. The calling bird did not come closer. We moved along farther down the drive.

Just look at the excitement on the faces of these bird watchers as they ogle their life mangrove cuckoo!

A stop or two later a cuckoo called from close by and then came toward us. I spotted it flying but lost it, then we all saw it as it passed in front of us, crossing the road and showing us its buffy underparts. It perched where we could all see it and I got the bird in the scope. Ooohh-laa-laa! Such a lovely creature. And I snapped away with the camera while the cuckoo called and preened. He, too seemed to have the Ding Darling acclimation to humans. Debbie had to leave us after this sighting, so we exchanged high-fives all around (and e-mail address so I could share some of my photos).

Ten minutes later, just after a large flight of roseate spoonbills flew over us, and a young bald eagle made large circles in the sky, another cuckoo began calling very near to the road. This bird made our first one appear skittish. I took about 40 digiscoped photos of him--getting about 85% keepers.
The world's most cooperative mangrove cuckoo.

We spent at least 20 minutes with this mangrove cuckoo. What a bird!

A fabulous finish to our short Florida adventure. As we headed back to clear out of our hotel, Julie asked me our standard bird-trip question: "What was your favorite bird of the trip?"

"Why the mangrove throat-warbler, of course!" She knew what I meant....

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Ding Darling NWR

Thursday, March 30, 2006
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I could not resist photographing this tricolored heron in high breeding plumage.

Today was our program at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, and things went surprisingly well, despite a few AV problems. We were the last lecture in the seasonal series sponsored by The Ding Darling Wildlife Society. The series runs from mid-January through end of March each year and the lectures are free and open to the public.

If you've never been to Ding Darling NWR, well you are missing out. It's one of the must-visit places for birders worldwide because its a huge tract of preserved mangrove swamp which attracts all kinds of birds and wildlife. The birds at Ding are famously acclimated to people so this is a great place for bird photography and to work on your shorebird ID skills. The five-mile wildlife drive can be enjoyed on foot, on a guided-tour tram, on bikes, on roller blades!, or in your own car. We zipped around the drive in the morning before our talk, enjoying excellent looks at reddish egrets, tricolored herons, and a couple of large flocks of shorebirds.
A mixed flock of resting shorebirds. We saw almost no shorebirds in breeding plumage today.

During our talk we performed some music, just to change things up a bit. Julie and I played and sang "Side of the Road" by Lucinda Williams, "Winter's Come and Gone" by Gillian Welch, and "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowbirds," with apologies to Willie Nelson. the last tune was done as a singalong, and several people in the audience, we think, need to audition for American Idol next year.
After the talk we signed books for an hour (fun!) chatted with Lise Bryant, the refuge bookstore manager, and split for our hotel and a siesta.

Later this evening we met Don and Lillian Stokes for dinner at a posh local restaurant. The conversation was both varied and interesting ranging from dogs to birds of Sanibel, to the book biz, TV shows, and land conservation easements. Mostly we exchanged info about our hobbies of blogging and photography. You can read their post about our program on their blog. And while you are there, check out Lillian's photos of flying pileated woodpeckers--lots of white in those wings!

All in all a good day. Tomorrow we enter the mangroves in search of mangrove cuckoo before heading for the airport.

Sanibel

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When we arrived on the beach, this is how the sunset looked.

Julie and I spent yesterday making the trip down to Sanibel Island, Florida. We're giving a lecture this afternoon at Ding Darling NWR for the DD Wildlife Society. It's our "Identify Yourself" talk about our book by the same name and we're looking forward to giving it.

Whenever we travel (and especially when we fly) we always try to guess the first bird we'll see upon arriving. Yesterday, upon landing at the Fort Myers airport, I guessed black vulture and Julie guessed cattle egret. We were both wrong. Boat-tailed grackle.

We soaked up the sunset from the beach behind our very nice hotel. And I did a bit of digiscoping. As we looked up the beach behind us, we could see dozens of camera flashes going off. We wondered why people would be using flash to photograph the sunset? Perhaps their cameras are still set on "Duh!" Every time I turn my camera on, it reverts to "Duh!" mode and I need to adjust it for digiscoping.

The white ibises (ibi?) were almost too close for digiscoping.

Anyway, great sunset, lovely sunrise this morning and some more digiscoping, too. I'd like to thank the very cooperative white ibis for their role in this morning's successful shoot.

Shutterbug Zickefoose strikes her action pose to get the perfect angle.

Minutes after our arrival, this is how the sunset looked. We took 4,000 pictures, each.

Sunset and extraneous minutiae. Photo by kindly bystanders.

Now, off to the refuge for some reconnoitering and (I hope) more digiscoping.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

My Guatemalan Birthday

Tuesday, March 28, 2006
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I started March 3rd off on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.

On March 3, 2006, I woke up before dawn to the roosters crowing GUAT-E-MAA-LAAA! in the town of Tolliman on Lake Atitlan. The air was crisp and smoky from the cooking fires of the village. Our group of birding tourism professionals ate a sleepy breakfast, slurped down some rich, dark cafe, and boarded a small boat, headed west across the lake for a trip into the highlands.

My fellow travelers and our Guatemalan hosts, anticipating my special day, had already sung me "Happy Birthday" the previous night, but throughout the day, at every meal or snack, they again sang "Happy Birthday" or "Feliz cumpleanos a ti...." and produced some sort of cake or treat. I was flattered.

We spent the day with several stops for low-key birding, including Corazon del Bosque where we spent quality time with some pink-headed warblers, one of the world's most stunning birds. As we made the long drive back east to Guatemala City and our farewell dinner, we enjoyed a frosty cold Gallo cerveza. A guitar was dug out of the back of the bus and I played and we sang songs and laughed all the way home. I thought "what a great way to spend my birthday!"

Back at the Hotel Intercontinental, we were to clean up and meet in the lobby for dinner at 7:30. While waiting for the rest of our group to arrive, we went to the bar. At some point I heard music coming from out in the lobby, just outside the door to the bar. I went out to investigate--it was a jazz quartet, and they were kicking it with some tasty Bossa Nova. Flute, piano, bass, drums--all four players were Guatemalan musicians. It was sad that no one was listening except me. So when they finished the song, I clapped loudly and complimented them in my basic Spanish.

The flute player: "Thank you, amigo. You like jazz? We take requests!"
Me: "You guys sound great! How about "Black Orpheus?"
All: "Hey! Good song!"
Bassist: "You play jazz?"
Me: "Well, yes, I play in a trio in los Estados Unidos..."
Bassist: "You must sit in, amigo! Please?"
Me: "Oh, no I.... OK!"

We proceeded to kick out the jazz jams. Oh man was I on a high! I know music is the universal language, but this was actual proof of that assertion. These guys could really play, too. And I was surprised to see that they used the same jazz "fake" (music) book that we use for our regular gigs. It's a small world.
Such great guys! And good players, too! (Photos by Julie Z.)

We played "Black Orpheus" followed by "St. Louis Blues" and by the time we got halfway through the first song, our entire group had come out of the bar to see what was up. They started dancing and clapping and hooting and hollering at me. The band now had a really nice crowd of listeners! It felt so wonderful to hang with these really good musicians, to play for my birding pals, and to feed my soul with some music.

"I'm known for me solos!"
Two jazz bass players from different parts of the world.

Like I said, what a great way to spend my birthday.

Monday, March 27, 2006

What Spring Looks Like From Here

Monday, March 27, 2006
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As we walked the kids out to the bus this morning, the chilly morning air nipped and gnawed at our bare hands and faces. A heavy frost came down last night here on Indigo Hill and, although you could feel that the sun would eventually win out, Old Man Winter's heavy hand still pressed upon us.

We stopped to admire our handy work from yesterday afternoon--new bluebird boxes with shiny, snake/coon-proof baffles swaying below them. The bluebirds are already building in two of them. We got them up just in time.

New Gilbertson bluebird boxes are replacing our old, worn-out boxes on our bluebird trails.

Back at the house, an unwelcome sign of spring appeared at the feeders--male brown-headed cowbirds. Not only are these guys pigs at the feeder, they utter these whiny whistles as they gesture threateningly to each other like some drunken and horny frat boys on Ladies Night at Hooters. The real trouble starts in a few weeks when the brown-headed cowgirls show up and the egg dumping starts. The only thing that makes me feel better about the cowbirds' arrival is thinking about the control traps set up around the Kirtland's warbler nesting grounds in Michigan. At least there, in the jack-pine forest, nesting birds have a fighting chance against these parasites. But I digress.....

The cowbirds are back. %$#@!

Blue spruce casting a frost shadow.

Frost stays wherever the sun does not shine. This is as true in nature as it is in life.

On my way home from work late this afternoon, I stopped by Newell's Run to see if any ducks were about and willing to be digiscoped. There were some very shy hooded mergansers and a blase pair of mallards.

Hiding hoodies at Newell's Run.
Tussilago farfara, also known as coltsfoot.

I took the dusty roads home and found one of spring's earliest wildflowers in these here parts, coltsfoot. In my misspent youth, my mom would always quiz us on the name of this small, round, yellow flower and Andy and I would make up names (though we knew it was coltsfoot). "Uh, it's kilt-thistle, right?" I'd say brightly. "No, it's milk-bonnet!" Andy would parry. My mom would bury her head in her hands.

Back to today....

When the kids got home, we snacked, then hit the concrete for a game of Midget 21. In this game we lower the hoop to its bottom setting, "midget height" Phoebe calls it. The normal rules of 21 apply--foul shots net 2 points, layups 1. You shoot as long as you keep making them. First one to 21 (but NOT over) wins. I cut Phoebe no slack and she kicks Daddy's butt about 50% of the time.

Phoebe shoots, she scores!
Is it still a dunk if the hoop is set on "midget?"

We then shifted over to NerfGolf, a game in which I hit tiny nerf golfballs into the air with a 9-iron and Phoebe tries to catch them or grab them (if she misses) before Chet Baker gets them and chews them to smithereens. We only lost a few tonight.

Nerf Golf. In our yard, the divots are an improvement.
Chet knows that Phoebe catches about 30% of the balls.
Fans lined the course to watch the NerfGolf competition.

All in all a good way to welcome in spring. Let's hope it does not snow tonight to crush these tender dreams we're nourishing of spring and its glorious arrival.
And the sun sets on another laff-a-minute day at Indigo Hill.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Around the Yard, Yesterday

Sunday, March 26, 2006
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Digiscoped male cardinal, taken through the north-facing studio window.

I was home all day yesterday while The Orchid Stalker journeyed to Cowtown to an orchid show with fellow OS Shila. The kids and I had a good day cooking, goofing off, and playing whiffleball (I cut them no slack--and there's no crying in whiffleball).

The morning started off with a nice visit from our turkey flock. Then, after launching The Orchid Stalker on her journey, I prepared breakfast for our overnight house guest, Paul Baicich. Paul was returning to his Maryland home from a wildlife conservation conference in Columbus (or Cowtown to some of us longtime Ohioans). He and I had a morning of interesting conversation about birds, conservation, and the thousands of people we know in common. Paul is a dedicated and well-informed bird conservationist. In past working lives he has been editor of Birding magazine (plus a variety of other roles for the American Birding Association), coordinator of The Swarovski Birding Community, and now, a consultant for the National Wildlife Refuge Association. One area of his current work is focusing on expanding the Duck Stamp program to include non-game birds. Imagine if you could buy a "duck" stamp with a prothonotary warbler on it!Paul Baicich (left) passed through Whipple. We added him to our yard list. Photo by Phoebe Thompson.

The evening before, while in the tower with Julie, Paul found our first fox sparrow of the spring. My barely identifiable photograph of this lovely bird is at right.

As we ate breakfast, Paul and I enjoyed quite a few birds, including courting red-tailed hawks over the orchard, and a line of five great blue herons migrating northward along the western horizon.

After Paul's departure I tried a bit of digiscoping from the house, with mixed results. Shooting through double-paned window glass only works when there's no light creating a reflection on the glass. Unfortunately it was too cold to shoot with the windows wide open, but I still managed to get a few shots. One technique I am trying to understand better is using the manual focus option. Unless the camera's auto-focus unit has a clear, unobstructed shot at the bird I'm trying to shoot, it often focused on the first object it encounters. This is usually anything by the bird. So I've got some amazing shots of tree branches, blades of grass, and leaves, with fuzzy birdlike objects in the background. Clearly I still have some work to do.The male American goldfinches are beginning to molt into their spring finery.

Here are some of the things seen and photographed around our yard yesterday.
Everyone loves the corn we put out for our turkeys, especially the blue jays.

Carolina chickadees dig our peanut feeder. The scold us the entire time while we fill the feeders.

Late March and early April give us an interesting confluence of birds. The juncos are still around and the chipping sparrows, thrashers, and gnatcatchers will be arriving any day.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Stalking the Woodcock

Saturday, March 25, 2006
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If you squint really hard you might be able to see the woodcock in this photo.

On Thursday night I got home from work early enough to enjoy the dusk performance of the American woodcocks in our meadow. There was a band of glowing evening light, peach and crimson, on the western horizon as the dominant meadow male began peenting. Our male woodcocks always begin peenting from down in the woods, perhaps near to where they have spent the day loafing and sleeping. Then, when the light is at exactly the right level, they fly up into our meadow, which lies along our horseshoe-shaped ridge, and begin their courtship displays.

On this particular evening I could hear six or seven different males peenting and twittering while flying. And four or five other birds giving the aggressive cak-cak-cak-cak call as they flew from one spot to another. Perhaps these were females letting the males know they were there. Or perhaps they were newly-arrived migrant males looking for a bit of meadow on which to perform.

I've spent a lot of hours watching male woodcocks do their thing. Some males peent four or five times in a row, then turn to face a new direction, eventually rotating back to their starting point. Other males rotate a little with every peent. And depending on how hot the mating scene is, the males may peent only a handful of times before launching into the air for a display flight. Or they may peent a few times, then probe for some earthworms for a few minutes before resuming their peenting.

Woodcocks are weird birds. They are a woodland shorebird---there's an oxymoron for you. Their eyes are placed high on their heads enabling them to scan for danger behind and above them even as they are probing deep into the ground for earthworms. Their bill has a flexible, sensitive tip, which, when it senses an earthworm, can flex open to grip the worm for extraction.

The evening light was perfect to try a bit of digiscoping, as soon as the male began the meadow portion of his performance. But as any photographer knows, if the light is perfect and you think "Hey the light is perfect! I'm going to get my camera!" That's guaranteed to alter the light to "crummy" almost immediately. Sure enough, as soon as I got the scope and camera out onto the deck, the light faded. It was as if someone had replaced the warm, luscious sunset with a 15-watt bulb from a greasy toaster oven. But, since few things have ever stopped me from taking crappy photographs, I persevered.

I stalked Mr. Woodcock quietly. He mostly ignored me, but timed his flights for the exact moment when I finally had all my gear positioned and all the right buttons/modes/etc. ready on my camera. By the time I got close enough for some decent photos, it was dark enough that Mr. Woodcock and I could barely see each other. It was then that I noticed how cold I was (no coat). And because nature always smiles on a bird watcher, it started to pour rain.

As I slogged the hundred or so yards back through the meadow to the house, I swear I heard, in between the woodcock's peents, the distinct sound of a sarcastic snicker.
I was close enough to hear the soft "whoop" sound the woodcock makes before each peent.
Their large eyes give this crepuscular creature excellent vision in low light conditions.

Friday, March 24, 2006

I Can Hardly Beer to Look

Friday, March 24, 2006
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My Canadian pal Rondeau Ric McArthur normally sends along funny images and one-liners, but this time he's crossed the line.

Some years ago Marietta, Ohio where BWD's massive corporate skyscraper is located, was ridiculed by Dave Barry as the Cow Parts Capital of The U.S. because we suffered multiple roadblocks of accidentally dumped cow parts. The locals here were indignant.

Now Rondeau Ric sends along this tragic photo and I must say, I'll probably spend the weekend recovering from having seen it.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Quetzal Resplendent

Thursday, March 23, 2006
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I traveled to Costa Rica in 1995 with Julie and we had fabulous birding there. Loads of amazing lifers including scarlet macaw and keel-billed toucan and scarlet-rumped tanager and orange-collared manakin, but we were never in the cloud forest, so we had no chance to see the totem bird of that habitat, the resplendent quetzal.

This beautiful painting of the resplendent quetzal is by Mike DiGiorgio.

If I had a dollar for every time a non-birder, who had been to Costa Rica on a "Rainforest Safari" had asked me: "Oh, you've been to Costa Rica? Me too! Did YOU see the kwetzil?" I'd be a thousandaire. In 2005, on my first trip to Guatemala, where the national currency is the quetzal, the national futbol team is Los Quetzales, and where quetzals adorn everything from billboards to Mayan temples I was determined to see this mythic bird. Some of the non-birders on our trip saw it on our half-day trip to The Biotopo Quetzal Reserva. In fact, one Texan woman on the trip said to me, "Well I don't know why y'all bird watchers is so fared-up about seeing the qwotwal. I saw one. and it's just a l'il old green bird with a long tail, perched way up high in a tree!"

Gee, that's perfectly sums up the experience of seeing a resplendent quetzal. Thanks for sharing.

My friends Marco, Ana Cristina, and Hector went out of their way to help me find my quetzal. We spent most of two days at a small local ranch, tucked into the edge of the cloud forest, trying in vain to see the bird. No dice.

The quetzal is a weird bird and it's a member of the trogon family, perhaps the bird world's weirdest family. They are one of those birds that you see while flipping through a field guide, but you cannot really believe they are real, seeable birds. In fact for many birders, the quetzal remains a ghost bird---something that quests are made of. Not only do quetzals reside in the highest elevation could forest, they can either be incredibly hard to see, or incredibly easy and cooperative (especially when they are gorging on ripe fruits). Over and over again during the past year, my friend Hector "The Manakin" Castaneda sent me e-mails from Guatemala describing his encounters with three, four, five quetzals, calmly feeding on a fruiting tree over his head, oblivious to any nearby birders. So I was really excited when our Guatemala itinerary was changed to include a day in the cloud forest at Reserva Los Andes.

The cloud forest at Reserva Los Andes.

We started the day on large buses leaving the fancy hotel resort where we'd stay for a couple of days, heading to the highlands and Los Andes. Buses will not make it up the narrow, rough roads into the highlands, but four-wheel drive vehicles will, and this is how I ended up riding in the open bed of a pick-up with Keith Hansen and his wife, Patricia, laughing and telling bad jokes all the way up the mountain to Los Andes. While our butts took a beating riding on the metal truck beds, we did manage to spot some white-bellied chachalacas in the trees along the road.

Once at the top, in the driveway at Los Andes, we stepped down from our truck bed gingerly and met the enthusiastic owners and staff. Los Andes is practically its own small village. It's a farm, growing coffee, tea, and other agricultural products. But since it is so remote, the people who work at Los Andes also live there, so there is a school, a soccer field, a bakery, and other necessities.
The Los Andes staff lined up to greet us upon our arrival.

After a light late breakfast, we remounted our trucks and headed up the dusty farm roads to the entry point for the cloud forest. Several local guides accompanied us, including Claudia, a graduate student studying the resplendent quetzals at Los Andes, and Jesus, a Los Andes resident of many years. Claudia, Jesus, and others at Los Andes had been erecting nest boxes for the quetzals--several of which had been used in recent years. And although we were not yet in the breeding season for the quetzal, the males had already shown some territoriality.
Tea is one of the many crops being produced at Reserva Los Andes. This field is adjacent to the cloud forest trail.
As we dismounted from the trucks once again, we geared up to hike up into the cloud forest. Below us stretched agricultural fields for miles. And far to the west was the gleaming Pacific ocean. Our focus was on the dark cloud forest where avian riches untold awaited us. Just a dozen steps along the path into the forest, the light dimmed considerably and we heard the cries of a black hawk-eagle overhead. Although the path was wide and the grade reasonable, we stopped every 50 feet or so to rest and catch our breath, the altitude getting the better of us momentarily. Another 100 yards and we heard the call.
Our group of quetzal seekers included several birders with lots of tropcial experience.

Impressively huge trees dominate the cloud forest in Guatemala. It's no wonder it can be hard to see a quetzal.

I remembered the hoarse, cuckoo-like call from a year ago, when we'd spent a hour trying in vain to spot a calling male quetzal in the top of a bromeliad-covered tree. The bird we were hearing now was close--maybe 200 yards into the forest. Jesus motioned to us that we get closer to the bird's location by simply following the curving path, so we did. Alvaro Jaramillo, one of our trip's participants, and a trip leader for Field Guides, asked if he could play a quetzal call to try to lure our bird in. Once we settled in farther along the trail, Alvaro played the called just twice and the male responded, coming closer.

For a while, Alvaro and I thought the only quetzal we'd see was on the Guatemalan currency.

Simon Thompson, another birding tour company representative, shouted out that he'd found the bird. He grabbed my scope, trained it on the quetzal, and beckoned those of us for whom the quetzal was a life forward to see our bird. I stepped to the scope and saw a dream come true. Greener and brighter than I'd imagined, the bird was perched on a thick horizontal branch about 50 yards away. Although the male quetzal is colorful and has those familiar showy tail feathers, it did not stickout in the cloud forest. In fact the opposite was true. The bird blended in almost perfectly. We were lucky that Simon had spotted it when he did. The male quetzal called again and then flew. I refound it, in a spot of sun, but it flew again just as I centered it in the scope. Now, its calls were from farther off. We let the bird go about its business and we began to celebrate quietly. I did an impromptu jig along the forest path, silently screaming YEAH! YEAH! OH HELL YEAH! to the heavens.
The view into the cloud forest from the precise spot where I saw my one and only resplendent quetzal.

I had seen my most-wanted bird of the trip. And I could still hear it calling. Oh I was happy. Everyone in our group knew how much this sighting meant to me and they all congratulated me with big smiles and high fives. I was not able to digiscope this exquisite creature, but the image of my first quetzal is forever burned in my mind's eye. I radioed Marco, leading another group on the far side of the forest, and I could hear the happiness and relief in his voice that I and all of us had seen the quetzal.
Jesus and I drank a watery toast to our good fortune with the birds at Los Andes, especially the quetzal.
Los Andes features a quetzal viewing tower, though climbing it is not for the faint of heart.
Opposite the quetzal viewing tower are several fruiting trees. Our local guides told us that when the fruits are ripe, and the quetzals are eating them, the birds are almost tame.

But our day a fabulous cloud-forest birding was just beginning. Farther up the trail we came to a set of rough-hewn benches in a small clearing. This was the stake-out place for one of Central America's rarest tanagers, the azure-rumped tanager, sometimes called Cabanis' tanager. After waiting for an hour or more below the fruiting tree where the birds are regularly seen, a feeding flock flew into the tree. As we picked through the birds high above us, we called them out. The light was horrible, looking into a milky-gray overcast sky. Soon a trio of the tanagers appeared and we whistled for the rest of our group to join us. Everyone got decent looks at the speckled breast of this odd tanager, a key field mark for the species. This bird was a lifer for nearly everyone, including a couple of our Guatemalan friends.
Simon, Hugo, and I worked hard to find the azure-rumped tanagers. We all got bad cases of tanager neck shortly thereafter.
Claudia helped us find our way around Los Andes, providing lots of insight into the local bird populations.

And although this bird might have been rarer, or harder to see than the resplendent quetzal, there was no doubt in my mind which bird made this day memorable. ¡Viva el quetzal!
We ended the day back at the main house, gazing out over the foothills and to the gleaming Pacific Ocean in the distance.

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