It began about 15 years ago. The Curry family was traveling to Costa Rica for Fall Break and we ended up on a guided rain forest tour. It was there that we found out about (but did not catch sight of) the Resplendent Quetzal. Our guide had gotten very excited when he heard the bird’s call and led us scrambling along the path to try and witness the awesomeness of this feathered creature. The day ended in disappointment when we finished the hike with no success.
The Resplendent Quetzal is a brightly colored species of bird found in Central America that inhabits tropical cloud forests from Mexico to Western Panama. It stands at about a foot and a half in height with the male’s tail feathers reaching over 2 feet in length. The Quetzal is known for its iridescent green-gold to blue-violet body and vibrant red breast. The male’s head is also distinctly dressed with a helmet-like crest. The Quetzal has been hunted throughout history for it’s astonishingly long and beautiful tail feathers and is currently facing near threatened/endangered species status (depending on the source) for this reason as well as local deforestation.
Flash forward to March 20, 2013
Mom and Dad have come to visit me and we chose to spend a few days in Boquete, Panama after the adventures of pasearing to my home in the Comarca Ngabe-Bugle. The first day in Boquete, we decided to go on a hike in the local rain forest along a path called “Los Quetzales.” Our failure to see the Quetzal fifteen years ago had not faded from anyone’s memory but no one was getting their hopes up after speaking to a fellow tourist who had hiked this trail 5 times before and never seen the bird. Two and a half miles in we stopped for lunch and turned around, pleased with the peaceful walk through nature filled with sounds of hundreds of different birds and animals. Hiking back to the entrance we came across the same gentleman we had met earlier but apparently his luck and attitude had changed. He claimed to have seen multiple Quetzals and gave us details of where they could be found along the path. We immediately set out with one goal in mind: See the bird. A short while later we approached the spot indicated by our friend and after a few minutes, sure enough, there appeared a large but slightly less colorful than expected bird. We were excited but something wasn’t right. I knew deep down that that hadn’t been our Resplendent Quetzal. Upon arriving back to the entrance we showed a local ranger the photo my dad had snapped and he told us the bad news. It was a member of the Trogon family and related to the Resplendent Quetzal. But it wasn’t a Resplendent Quetzal. We all knew what this meant.
6:15 the next morning we were up and ready to go try again. The Curry family will not be defeated that easily and we will take every opportunity we have to witness this avian legend in the wild. Another two and a half mile hike out and we slowly wandered the path where we thought the Quetzal would most likely be. We were prepared. We had done our research. We knew its call. Around 10 we parked ourselves down for brunch and at 12 we realized the morning was gone. The opportunity had passed and we were still Quetzalless.
Like I said, the Curry family will not be defeated so easily. Is 6:15 too late in the morning? Alarms were set for 5:15 and we were back at our Quetzal spot an hour earlier the next morning. My dad had taken to attempting communication with the Quetzals by repeatedly whistling their tune regardless of my mom’s constant “Shut up, Kevin.” Around 8:30 we stopped our incessant strolling for brunch, feeling hopeless and on the verge of giving up. The sandwiches were good but emotions were down. My dad finished eating, stood up, and continued his whistling. All of a sudden a large bird flew into view and perched on a branch right above him! Another Trogon…By now we were all knowledgeable enough to recognize it. But strangely, the bird seemed to be responding to my dad’s call. He would whistle and the bird would whistle back. My mom and I looked at each other with wide eyes. The Trogon took off and my mom hissed “Kevin! Keep whistling!” Not five minutes later the unbelievable happened. We all saw it at exactly the same moment as a full grown, male Resplendent Quetzal swooped by and landed 60 feet away from where we were seated. Dear Lord. This bird was magnificent. On second thought, magnificent probably isn’t a strong enough word to describe it. Its size and colors and grace and beauty left us with jaws dropped. We jumped to our feet and quickly started taking pictures and staring in awe through binoculars at this incredible creature. After posing for us for several minutes it took flight again and we hurried to maintain visual contact as long as possible. Our friend didn’t go far and was soon joined by a female who helped him hunt insects out of a dying tree stump for the next 20 minutes. It was an ethereal experience for all of us and a moment that I’m sure none of us will ever forget. We hiked back to the entrance feeling deeply satisfied and lighter than a Quetzal’s tail feather. Mission Accomplished. Curry family rocks.