Along the Natchez Trace

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Going To The Birds - Part II

Hola!  This is Day 2 of our latest adventure.  We had traveled by bus to the Quetzal Paradise ...  the Hotel de Montana...  about 50 miles south of San Jose, Costa Rica.  At 8,862' it's WAY up in the mountains...  in the "Cloud Forest".  This is one place where the Resplendent Quetzal lives.  The quetzal is in the trogon family and before and during the breeding season, the male quetzal sports long tail-coverts.  During that time, the male, which is normally 14" in length, adds an almost a foot in length when you include his tail feathers.

The Hotel de Montana is owned and operated by Jorge Serrano.  His father moved here in 1957, raising his eight children.  He farmed, raised cattle and made charcoal.  In 1990, Jorge, the youngest son bought a part of the land and built the lodge and cabins as a tourist project, with the main attraction being the Resplendent Quetzal.

Our reservations included dinner on the day of our arrival, breakfast the following morning, a guided bird tour to see quetzals, unlimited use of trails, all the birding a person could possibly work in, and of course, the cabin with the fantastic view.  The cost of this was around $120 (American).

I've already covered Day 1...  let's move on to Day 2...

This is a typical Costa Rican breakfast
Rice and Black Beans, Eggs, Toast
Mango and Pineapple
Juice and Coffee

Actually, this breakfast was after the nearly 2 hour birding trek through the forest.  

A couple from Switzerland were also staying at the hotel, and that couple and Bill & I were the only folks in that morning's outing.  Jorge, the owner, leads the tour, although his son, who is in his early 20's is also an able guide.

Jorge has lived on this mountain all his life.  He KNOWS where the birds are.  I asked him if there are any times his tours don't catch sight of a quetzal.  He smiled and answered that around 99% of the tours are successful.

It was quite a hike through the woods, but there are well-trod paths.  
Howard and his wife, from Switzerland and Jorge.  We're all armed with binoculars, spotting scopes, cameras... and think Howard's wife has a video camera.

Jorge led us to this tree...
Kind of grainy picture, but... here's my first sighting of a quetzal.  This male is guarding the nest while the female is out having her breakfast.  There are probably 2 eggs in the nest.

We waited a while to see if the female would return, but Jorge said that she might be a couple of hours, so we moved on.

More walking through the wilderness.  Jorge is calling some kind of whistle as we walk.  

Success!  We hear calling overhead!  And...  a male is perched on a branch high above us...
Taken through the spotting scope, this is my first time seeing the entire bird.  This is a male, but since this isn't the breeding season, he has dropped his long tail feathers.

Taken with my Canon...  using the 300x lens.
You can see helmet-like crest; the glittering green feathers, the crimson-red breast, and some white in the tail feathers.

Resplendent Quetzal
Also using my Canon with the 300x lens...
Here you can see a bit of the maroon upper breast as well as the other gorgeous colors.

We were all just awe-struck by our good fortune!  While Jorge may have a great track record, there's still the weather (it rained really hard earlier and the fog kept coming in) and so many other possibilities to factor in.

We continued our birding tour...  saw several species that were new to me and Bill.  Then continued back down the mountain to the lodge.

There, Jorge showed us the newest member to his family...
A baby quetzal
Jorge was walking the trails a few weeks ago and saw that a storm had destroyed a nest.  One baby bird had already died, and this one was barely hanging on.  The parents had already abandoned the nest and had moved on.  Jorge brought the baby home and has been caring for it ever since.  On our walk through the forest, he picked up nuts and berries...  things that the baby could eat.
He has named her Esmeralda, but has a back-up name in case "she" turns out to be a "he".
Jorge puts Esmeralda outside on a tree limb at times during the day.  He expects her to get used to being out and one day she'll fly off and be on her own.
I expect that will be a bittersweet day for Jorge as he is very attached to her.

During our 2 days here, we got so we could recognize over a dozen new species of birds.  We saw others and were told what they were,  but I can't remember them all.

One very common bird was...
The Sooty Robin

Here's a Black-billed Nightengale Thrush feeding it's baby.  
Baby looks bigger than mom!

We keep a "loose" list of what all we've seen.  Since arriving in Costa Rica we've recorded over 60 new species.  This may not seem like a lot, but since we've done a fair amount of birding in Mexico, we've been fortunate to have seen many birds there that we don't see in the USA.

While we were in the forest, we carry a field guide..
The Birds of Costa Rica
by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean

Jorges saw that we had it, and motioned to Bill to hand it to him.  I thought he was checking out a bird...  but, no...  he showed us his own name in the list of credits...  acknowledging him as a contributor for information in the book.
We asked Jorge to sign our book...  on the page with the quetzal.. Of Course!

Too soon it was time to head back.
An article that was in the Tico Times in 2008.  Tells about the lodge and Jorge's family.

We said our goodbyes...
This is a lovely place...  I hope to return!

Jorge and his wife had to go to one of the nearby towns, so they took us to the bus station about 5 miles or so towards town..
We waited for the San Jose bus...  it arrived...  Nobody got off and the bus was full.  We could ride - but it was standing room only.

We didn't know when the next bus would arrive...  nor did we know if it, too would be full...  so....
 I'm not sure if Bill was feeling woozy...  or it was me....  
I stood until I thought my arms were going to be stretched so much that my knuckles would drag...  finally sat down on the handicap space (floor)...  
 My view coming down the mountain...
I tend towards motion sickness...  but because we were constantly getting behind logging trucks and semi trucks, and...  passing them...   I think my attention was sufficiently distracted.
We only had to stand for about 40 minutes before a few people got off the bus and so we had seats for the next 40 minutes.
We got back into the traffic in San Jose...  headed back to the bus station.  This juggler was providing some entertainment at intersections with traffic lights.  He deserved some colones just for risking his life in that traffic!!!

We had planned to take a taxi from the Musoc bus station to the Coca Cola bus station, where we'd catch a bus back to Cuidad Colon.  BUT...  once we got off that bus, we took one look at each other...  and I think Bill knew how nauseated I was (I probably was as green as that quetzal)...  and suggested we just take a taxi all the way home.

There are lots of taxis waiting outside the bus station... we got lucky and were approached by Gilbert... who spoke English.  So, for $25 we took a taxi all the way home.

Gilbert entertained us ...  both with his stories and his driving...  Sure took my mind off being sick.

We got home to warmer weather, lower elevation, and a LOT of wind!

Our total cost for this adventure was around $200...
but, believe me...the experience was 

That's All For Today...


  1. Oh my goodness I am envious! This sounds such an amazing trip and I am not even a birder. But it would have been enough for me just to be in the forest and see the things you describe.
    I too get very nauseous in buses and I actually felt a bit ill just thinking of your trip ...groan.. thank goodness there was a taxi.

  2. What a wonderful experience! Thank you for sharing all the photos and details with us.

  3. Even the hummingbirds are fancier there! Beautiful!

  4. What stunning photos! And what a wonderful life you've carved out for yourself, doing what you love!

    This was such a wonderful post. Enjoy all your travels!

  5. What a wonderful way to spend $200!
    Isn't it amazing how close you can get to those hummingbirds?
    Love your photos,

  6. Oh thanks so much for the free tour! What a sweet person Jorge seems to be & what fun to see so many spetacular birds!

  7. Sharon,
    Thanks for your nice comment regarding the cactus flower on my blog. I think when the cactus are in bloom they rival most other flowers in beauty. We had a beautiful flowering garden at our house in Costa Rica and loved to sit on the patio and enjoy them.

    Keep up the nice work on your blog about Costa Rica. If we couldn't live in the USA, Costa Rica would be place we would like to live in.

    Your Quetzal pictures are great. I spent three month in Antigua, Guatemala and was fortunate enough to see some of the national bird of Guatemala. Beautiful birds to say the least.

  8. Love your photos!! I just found your blog today and am enjoying reading about your travels. Your pictures are beautiful!! May I ask what the camera is that you use? I am looking for one and your pictures are so clear and colorful.