Thursday, August 22, 2013

Into the Mists

About an hours trek south of Coban, we found the wonderful Biotopo Del Quetzal.  It's a reserve that has its roots connected to Mario Dary Rivera.  It was established in 1977 to protect Guatemala's quickly vanishing cloud forests.  He was murdered for his efforts and by his death, kept the logging companies out.  Today several of these reserves are run by a local university attracting birders from all around the world.  It's a wonderful park full of fantastic surprises.....and home to the rare Resplendent Quetzal.
My first trek to Guatemala back in 2006 didn't allow for a stay in Coban.  We had seen the city, but skipped it for the trip to Semuc Champey. I had wanted to visit the Biotopo Quetzal but I have to admit, I didn't like the area too much.  Many travelers will skip this spot and head straight to the much more popular Semuc.  As a birder, this was no longer an option.  The Resplendent Quetzal was found in this area and we had to stop. In fact, the Quetzal can be found in Coban, Semuc Champey, etc, but they are much more reliably seen near the Biotopo del Quetzal.

Rufous-collared Sparrow
Coban is still developing its tourism sensibilities and can be seen by some as "rough" compared to the much more accommodating services provided in Antigua or nearby Flores.  Many times birders are told that it's much easier to spot the Resplendent Quetzal in Costa Rica or Panama, but I was in Guatemala and wanted to try my hand again at this bird.

Fern Frond
The Biotopo is truly an exciting place full of botanical finds.  The paths are clear and steep but many times, we took it slow and stopped often to look at all the incredible vegetation found in the area.

Yellow and Red Thorn Spider
My friend asked me to go forward.  I quickly realized why.....spider webs!:)

Sneaky sneaky.  We had been the first ones to arrive at the reserve and I cleared the paths for all those who would hike later:)

It's also amazing how fast most people will walk up the trails.  We took our good natured time.  There was so much to see including a lovely waterfall and beautiful overlook!
Overall, the birds were very difficult to spot in this reserve.  There were a lot of birds here that were calling but overall, it was super difficult to find them.  I've heard and read several reports similar to this from other birders.  But it doesn't make the trek any less beautiful.  We still made unexpected discoveries....
A strange thing happened.  I believe that the bird I present today is probably our strangest find on this entire trip.  Not much information can be found on Unicolored Jays except that they live in the cloud forests.  And it was only by accident that we actually got a picture of this bird. A Montezuma Oropendula was moving around and caught my eye.  This is probably the most basic Jay I have seen. Apparently there are about 5 subspecies of this Jay resembling our Pinyon Jay in Northern Arizona. I enjoy reading about the birds discovered, but this one continues to make me raise an eyebrow! Fascinating!

Unicolored Jay

Of course, we spotted the bird below at Ranchitos Del Quetzal next door to the park.  While the birds actually live in the Biotopo del Quetzal, they are super difficult to find inside the canopy of the trees. Open from 6 AM to 4 PM, the Biotopo del Quetzal does not disappoint.  60 Q(around 8 US dollars) is the entrance fee. 
The Resplendent Quetzal
We had a successful day finding the target birds and the trip to Coban was well worth the stop.  We stayed at Hostal Luna and enjoyed our visit there.  The owner knows quite a bit about birds and has a list of them hanging on the wall.  There is a fantastic restaurant right across the street from the place.  And there are many more places to bird around the area.  We just hit the target spots as we were only there for a brief two nights. The journey to and from the Biotopo del Quetzal was an exhausting one.  There's nothing like finishing up a long hike and getting stuck on a crowded tiny bus back to Coban.  It's difficult to stay patient when I see a girl almost strangle a poor dog in a box(that has also gone to the bathroom) while trying to stand holding onto the bars with my neck crooked at an unnatural 90 degree angle because there were no seats available, and still keep an eye on my camera while sweating up a storm. Yeah it's a run on sentence.  What are you going to do about it?:)  That's exactly how we both felt.  When we arrived back at our hostel, we crashed onto our beds and took a nap! What we do to see these rare birds!!!  They certainly make for great stories, but at this point, I began to miss birding back home.  It seemed so much easier.  Our trip would only become much more difficult in the days that followed. 
But when it's all said and done, the bad things seem to be forgotten with the positive standing out.

And as you can see, we had some fun photo shoots to let the eyes relax a bit before searching for more birds. That's also a part of what birding is all about....enjoying the moment. Stay tuned for more.....


  1. Hi my friend.. Gorgeous pictures.. Fantastic scenery.. Cheers!!!..

  2. Oh the ups and downs in birding... Most of the 'downs' seem to be caused by other people around....

    The 'ups' are all of the times when you see that rare bird for the first time... Congrats.

    I laughed at your comment about clearing the path of cobwebs for those who follow.... Been there --done that... I will say that I 'try' to get George to lead most of the time... I also learned to stick out one of my walking sticks ahead of me... That helps... Funny thing is that even when I lead, George still gets some cobwebs since he's taller... ha ha


  3. Z pewnością "spacery" są męczące, ale widzisz wspaniałe nieznane ptaki i cudowną roślinność. Kochasz to i będziesz dalej "spacerować" :)
    Certainly "walks" are tiring, but you see the great unknown birds and wonderful vegetation. You love it and you will be referred to as "walk" :)

  4. Great pictures. What an amazing place to visit.

  5. What an adventure. Nice photo of you at the end. When we hike in spider webby places, we wave a hiking stick in front of us. I'm sure if anyone is watching us they think we're doing some kind of crazy ritual to the spirits or something. Ha!

  6. I can only detect "up" signs when reading your post today :-)

  7. Congrats! Definitely a great bird, Chris! And what an adventure going to see the Quetzal. Awesome shots and post! Happy Birding!

  8. Beautiful photos - I really love the landscape picture with fern in the foreground. Great to read of all your exciting adventures what a wonderfully exciting trip you had :)

  9. Beautiful colors..wonderful serie images...

  10. Another great post from your inspirational trip, Chris! And yes, the 'positives' really do stand out ;-}

  11. Thanks Chris, it is stunning what you find.
    Can you disable the lightbox so I can see them full size?

  12. Wow, really beautiful plants and birds and what an adventure you had!

  13. You really go through a lot to catch sight of these elusive birds and you do it in some gorgeous landscapes. Except for the bus.

  14. Chris, you are braver than I am and much more willing to suffer for your birds!

  15. When it stops being fun you know its all over hey Chris ! I feel its possible that you'll be birding until you're seventy..or more :))


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