Resplendent Mountain Trogon
Resplendent Quetzal: San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica — If you have been following my series on the Trogons of Costa Rica, you might have suspected where it was going, or at least where it would have to end up. Because, while there are lots of Trogons in Costa Rica, and each one is a stunning bird in its own right, there is only one Quetzal, and it is Resplendent! (There are four other Quetzals in South America, but only one in Costa Rica.) The Resplendent Quetzal is, after all is said and done, just another Trogon, the largest of the Trogons, but it is a Trogon in fancy dress…dress fit for a costume ball. Believe it or not, it is actually a brown bird…but its iridescence, caused mostly by tiny bubbles of oil and minerals in the feathers, refracts the light and sends it back as brilliant greens, blues, and golds, over one of the brightest reds imaginable. Then add the textures: the fine filaments of the head and crest, and the exquisitely sculpted overlapping plates of the bib, the fringe-like feathers along the wings raised like a vest, the rich velvet texture of the red chest, the pure white of the proper tail feathers, and the long silly plumes of the tail coverts, blue or green as they wave in the wind…and you get…well you get a Quetzal…and there are few birds in the world, and certainly in the Americas, that come even close to it. It’s restricted range…humid high elevation forest (cloud forest)…its dependence on fruiting trees of the Avocado family…and its need for standing dead trees for nesting cavities, mean that it never was an abundant bird, and that it is near threatened by habitat loss today. It’s relative rarity…the need to travel to specific (and often difficult to reach) locations in Central America to see it…makes it one of the most sought after birds, among both birders and the general public, in the Americas. Probably six of very ten people who see it, see in and around San Gerardo de Dota, in the Sevegre River Valley on the Pacific slope of the Talamanca Mountains in Costa Rica. I have seen it in Honduras, and it is, of course, the national bird of Guatemala, sacred in Mayan cultures all through the region, but like most, my best sightings have happened when an wild avocado tree is fruiting along the road, or on an accessible hill side above or below the road, within ear-shot of the tumbling waters of the river. I have visited San Gerardo for over 10 years now, and I have yet to see the bird in what I would call good light. Soon after the sun hits the bottom of the valley the birds move up higher and further from the road where they are much more difficult to find, let alone see. Next year, while I will go back to the San Gerardo de Dota, I plan to add another location in Costa Rica to see if the birds will sit in good light for me. 🙂 I will say that this year’s third encounter with the Quetzals was the best light I have had so far, and the most cooperative bird. Quetzals do spend a lot of time “posing”. They swallow the small hard fruits of the wild avocado whole, and then have to sit a while to digest the outer flesh, before spitting out the pit. They have favored perches for digestion, and where we saw this bird, the land owners have provided just such a perch out in the open where the bird now sits on occasion, as it did the morning we visited. Still, the images required special processing to get the most out of them. I used Pixomator Photo for basic adjustments and to crop and enlarge to fill the frame with the birds, and then cut out the bird using the magic cut-out tool in Pixomatic…denoised the background in Pixomator again, and composited the two images in Pixomatic. This allowed me to maintain full detail in the bird’s plumage, while making the overall image much less noisy. Sony Rx10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with multi-frame noise reduction. Equivalent ISO 1600 to 2000 @ f4 @ 1/500th. the magic cut-out tool in Pixomatic…denoised the background in Pixomator again, and composited the two images in Pixomatic. This allowed me to maintain full detail in the bird’s plumage, while making the overall image much less noisy. Sony Rx10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with multi-frame noise reduction. Equivalent ISO 1600 to 2000 @ f4 @ 1/500th.