Friday, February 15, 2008

Finding the Quetzal

There are two quetzals in the picture. Can you find them? (Hint at end)

Quetzal is the currency of Guatemala, it is the favorite pursuit of birders in Costa Rica´s Monteverde Bosque and scavenger adventure in adjacent Panama´s Chiriqui Province.

Outside of the town of Boquete where we are staying for a month we heard rumors that the famed amazingly colored bird had begun its seasonal nesting. From our experience in the Monteverde Rain Forest we knew that the guides knew where to look, and that we didn´t have a glue.

By some fortune, we encountered an English speaking guide escorting two ladies through the well manicured and excellent ´eye candy´available at the standout attraction ¨Mi jardin es su jardin¨that lies just outside the center of Boquete on the road to Bajo Mono and Alto Quiel.

Eduardo Serrano Quiel (phone 507-6601-6479) speaks acceptable (not perfect) English and has a wealth of knowledge of the Boquete vicinity. After a short discussion in which he suggested a hike - one of a package he offers - we decided to hire him.

On Thursday we met Eduardo at a local spot at 9 bringing along our neighbors, Chris and Connie Smith, a Canadian couple from near Toronto. After explaining what we would do for the next three to four hours, we bought water and climbed into the Smith´s rented car, heading for the start of the trail.

The trail begins on a jeep road at a fork where a sign indicates park land. We had to cross private property owned by Eduardo´s uncle, but which anyone can traverse.

The area starts off relatively open. After about 15 minutes on the road the vegetation produces more and more of a canopy. Pipes conveying high mountain water to Boquete run along the roadway.

We cross three bridges over what is now fairly easily forded streams. Eduardo explains that streams become rivers for a large part of the year as rain is a constant feature for 9 - 10 months of the year.

The road ends at a path that leads to the farm of Mario - an elderly gentleman, quite fit, whom we met carrying a machete.

Aside from the birds that we more hear than see, there is an abundance of flora. Eduardo explains that many of the plants are used medicinally. There are many varieties of bromeliades hanging on branches and tree trunks - some of them flowering. One or two orchids appear on the same branches with spray of flowers.

We walk. We keep asking ¨Where are the Quetzals?¨

Eduardo responds, ¨Sometimes we see them, sometimes we don´t.¨ We get the idea, they´re here, but they are elusive.

About two hours into the hike, Eduardo motions for us to stop and be quiet. He´s spotted a tall dead tree with no branches and plenty of holes. ¨That´s where a quetzal nested last year.¨ Then he puts his finger to his mouth again looks up and advises us to do the same.

First two, then three, then four of the birds are seen darting among the tops of the trees - their long tails a sure sign of their species, the loud almost laughing sound they make a distinctive indicator that we have been successful. But most important is to see this magnificant bird sitting astride a branch and getting a photo. Eduardo took our camera and swiftly obtained photos that will be posted here at a later date. The most valuable one shows a male at one part of the tree and a female at another.

While our mission was accomplished, we continued to hike until all of us felt we had enough. We reached a small waterfall and were able to sit for a few moments and enjoy the site.

Eduardo had an additional mission. A friend of his knowing where he was going asked him to pick a bag full of watercress. For ten minutes Eduardo set about on his mission. Chris and Connie continued exploration and JoAnne and Murray decided that sitting was the preferred mode of the hour.

Returning to the city we stopped for a brief moment to witness the town´s claim to a petroglyph. There were indications of ancient drawings, but the entire stone was covered with moss and lichens. In town we bid adieu to Eduardo and headed for a grand meal at one of two restaurants offering Peruvian cooking.

Hint: One is at top left and the other is at bottom, right

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