“Donde estan los quetzales?”

Bird watching in Panama is very much like driving through the Kruger and constantly being confronted by “Big 5” hunters.  Instead of constantly having to reply to “have you seen lions?”, in Panama the question that you are confronted with is more like “donde estan los quetzales?”

In my estimation, the Resplendent Quetzal is one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful bird in the world. Naturally, birders from all over the planet visit Boquete and the Chiriqui Highlands in their droves during the nesting season between February and April, in order to just get a glimpse of this relatively common but very elusive bird in the glory of it’s breeding plumage.

Silvia and I have seen them quite often, but have only had a single opportunity to photograph them at close quarters, and that on a miserable day in late February 2020 with dense cloud cover. We had nothing better do that day than to go check out a pretty vague tip we had been given by friends who had been taken to see quetzals by a local tourist guide.

It took some time and effort to eventually find them high up in the hills in dense cloud forest vegetation. “Cloud forest” means just that 80% of the time, a tropical forest cloaked in dense cloud. Even though the male quetzal was sitting motionless on its tree perch less than 10 meters away from where I was kneeling, the conditions for photography were pretty grim considering the absence of sunlight to penetrate and light up the dark canopy. It was frustrating having to shoot at low speeds and ISO setting upwards of 6’400, knowing full well that graining of the final images would not be very pretty despite the excellent noise reduction capabilities of the DxO editing software I use.

Then, totally unexpectedly, a gap appeared in the cloud cover, allowing the sun to light up the forest and the quetzal for a few moments, providing a window to shoot at much friendlier speeds and ISO levels.

The result is this first semi-decent quetzal image that I can use for my blog.

Since then, Panama along with the rest of the world was forced into a plague induced lockdown. In our case we had to wait over a year before we could again venture out into the rainforest.

During the year-long “incarceration” on our Boquete estate, Silvia and I had lots of time to reflect on our lives and ask the questions “what really makes me/us happy?” and “what is really important to me/us?”. We both admitted to ourselves and each other that we were not truly happy in Panama, and came to the realization we were only happy and content when we were in the bush and with our friends in South Africa.

Silvia and I have now relocated to George, South Africa. It was not an easy process, but, absolutely worth it.

I must confess that one of the birds that’s been on my “bucket list” for some considerable time is the Nerina Trogon, which is a close relative of the Resplendent Quetzal. I’m still hoping to find one when next we visit the Lowveld. I admit I have often been heard asking around, “have you seen a Nerina Trogon?”