6 Apr 2014

Monteverde's Flying Quetzals

Resplendent Quetzal

Zoned as "The Mountains" in Barratt Lawson's "Where to watch Birds in Costa Rica", the area around Santa Elena provided the highest elevation birding that we did, at around 1,300  metres. 

Why go there ? Well, 39 out of Costa Rica's 89 endemics occur in the central chain of mountains. Including, of course, Resplendent Quetzal, a bird I'd lusted after since seeing Michael Fogden's photos of them in BBC Wildlife Magazine some time in the 1980s. (Edit - Read "AND" for "Including".)

We stayed at the "Cloud Forest Lodge".  It was a nice place with no TV in the rooms, which I regard as a sign of discerning management. Website here: https://www.monteverdecloudforestlodge.com

We tried Bosque Nuboso ("cloud forest") de Santa Elena first, and found it, well, cloudy.  Just imagine that.

But the following day dawned with views from the hotel all the way down to the Pacific Ocean.  Our pre-breakfast birding from the restaurant window was enlivened by an Emerald Toucanet posing in a tree at eye-level.
Emerald Toucanet

As the bird on the cover of our field guide, we took this as a good omen and bashed off to Monte Verde Cloud Forest Reserve.  Like Santa Elena, the site is not part of the National Parks system, it is privately owned. We paid our admission fee and hired a guide named Sergio.  It was money well spent.

We had not been long on the Sendero El Camino ("The Road Path") before Sergio heard the calls of Resplendent Quetzal. There turned out to be three of them, all males, and we had prolonged views.

Resplendent Quetzal

Resplendent Quetzal
Later we saw a fourth bird on a different trail.

Opposite the entrance to Monteverde reserve is a snack-and-souvenir shop called "Colibri Coffee". To get over our post-quetzal depression, we went over there for hot drinks and sticky buns.

The place has a fine array of hummingbird feeders, attended by a fine array of hummingbirds, some of which are shown below.
Magenta-throated Woodstar

Violet Sabrewing

Green Hermit

Purple-throated Mountain Gem (female)

White-tailed Emerald

Green-crowned Brilliant (female)
Hummingbirds, - you've got to love those names !


  1. Wow John you've outdone yourself here. Some brilliant pics esp the toucanet.

    1. Thanks, Stu ! We only ever saw one Emerald Toucanet up close, but luckily the camera was handy.

  2. A great post and I hate to rain on your parade but I have a question about your use of the term 'endemic'. To my mind, that means that the bird occurs there and nowhere else. For example, the Resplendant Quetzal occurs from Mexico to Panama. Not an endemic to my understanding.
    There are only two truly endemic species in Costa Rica. Coppery-headed Emerald, which you probably saw in Monteverde, and, Black-cheeked Ant Tanager that occurs in the Pacific Lowlands around Golfito.

    1. Thanks for bringing up the "endemism" thing... borrowing from "Where to watch birds in CR" the author says he's referring to the mountain ranges that go north into Nicaragua and south to Panama... "..creating an island of acceptable habitat for mountainous species." Snowcap would be one of these birds, not solely a Country Endemic for Costa Rica, but in parts of Panama, too.

      Resplendent Quetzal is the National Bird of Guatamala ! I didn't mean to infer that it was endemic solely to CR.

      Of course we saw a number of other localized species in the Monteverde area, but I didn't feel like name-checking them all on the blog.

      One more CR post before Hong Kong birds get a look-in again !

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  4. The Quetzal is simply stunning. Great shots of the other species as well. Certainly worth whatever fees you needed to pay.

    1. Thanks, Mun….the fees were about $25.-US per head for admission and the guide, but well worth it.