Birding El Triunfo: Quetzals and the cloud Stories and Adventures from a Mexican Young Birder

After seeing the Horned Guans, we returned to camp. It was hot and humid, but it is always like that in the cloud forest. Meanwhile, various Black-throated Jays were making noise and flying about high in the trees. There was some Common Bush Tanager activity, and moving around with them we also found a small Rufous-browned Wren.

By Alberto Lobato (translated
by Jennie Duberstein)

(Read Part 1 of Alberto’s story

After seeing the Horned
Guans, we returned to camp. It was hot and humid, but it is always like that in
the cloud forest. Meanwhile, various Black-throated Jays were making noise and
flying about high in the trees. There was some Common Bush Tanager activity,
and moving around with them we also found a small Rufous-browned Wren.

We conducted monitoring
work in the mornings, returning to camp by 1pm, so I had the afternoons free to
bird. And of course I took advantage of this opportunity! I started to walk
along a small trail, looking for activity and paying attention to what was
moving around on the ground and in the branche of the trees. I spotted a
Slate-throated Redstart jumping around, along with Green-throated Mountain-gem.

A Collared Trogon perched
close to the road, and for a second I thought it might be a quetzal. Although
it wasn’t, the trogon is still a beautiful bird to see. But suddenly I heard
something big moving in the crowns of the trees, just behind me. It was a
Highland Guan walking between the branches, moving rapidly and passing closeby
before disappearing into the forest. Everything was silent for a moment, but
then I heard something walking through the leaf litter on the forest floor. I
remembered that there are jaguars here, as well as pumas, tapirs, and other
large mammals that move freely through the forest, and my heart began to beat
quickly. I definitely did not want to enounter a puma at close range! I stood
still, waiting, and then it appeared: a collared peccary. It looked at me and
continued on its path through the forest.

As I walked
back to camp, the sun was setting and I spotted some Chestnut-capped Brush-Finches
that were making noise and moving along the ground. But the most exciting thing
that I spotted was a pair of Blue-naped Chlorophonia that were eating fruit,
along with a Rufous-collared Thrush. A Barred Forest Falcon was calling from
inside the forest, and the the trees and the mountains were beginning to turn a
reddish color as the sun set. The first stars came out and I heard Fulvous Owls
begin to call.

DSC00749Blue-naped Chlorophonia

Everyone staying in the camp (the researchers and the park guards) met for dinner. We told stories of pumas and jaguars that live in the forest, and also about the tapir that sometimes comes into the camp at night. When the stories ended and it had turned cold, we all headed to bed so we'd be ready for hte next day of bird monitoring.

The next
day sunrise arrived, with humidity at almost 100% and somewhat cool, cloudy
weather. We began to walk, again looking for quetzals and guans. We heard a
quetzal but weren’t able to see it. The large oak trees, the tallest tree in
the forest here, form the forest canopy. Below the oaks many other plants grow:
palms, large ferns, epiphytes. And in all of this vegetation move tapirs,
jaguars, and peccaries, as well as birds, like a Blue-throated Motmot that we
heard. And suddenly, we heard the quetzal again, but this time, this time the
bird was coming directly towards us and it perched three meters away. It was a
male Resplendent Quetzal, brilliant green and red, a marvel of feathers. As it
again took flight, it’s magnificent long, green tail feathers moving around
it’s body.

Setting out for a day of monitoring.

We took
measurements of the distance from which we saw the quetzal, and not much more
because we didn’t know what the bird had been doing when we spotted it—we saw
it, it saw us, and it flew away. As we continued walking we spotted
Gray-breasted Wood-Wrens and we heard a Ruddy Foliage-gleaner. We spotted a
small Wine-throated Hummingbird flying around three red flowers, and also found
a Hooded Grosbeak, similar to the Evening Grosbeak that lives farther to the

We arrived
to a spot where we found some Horned Guan "bañaderos"; these are
clearings where Horned Guans come to “bathe” with dirt and display courtship
behavior. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any guans here.

along the trail, we heard the quetzals again and they flew from an avocado tree
to an enormouse oak before continuing off deeper into the forest and out of
sight. This is one of the best-conserved cloud forests in Mexico, where the
atmosphere is always humid and the giant ferns grow together with tiny mosses. 

When we
were walking back to the camp, five Emerald Toucanets flew over our heads, we
heard a Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush singing from the side of tht rail, a
Yellowish Flycatcher caught some insects in flight, we passed a Spotted Nightingale-Thrush
jumping around the trail…and we finally heard a guan, the same deep sound that
we’d heard the previous day. It was a little difficult to hear over the sound
of the running water, but there it was. Although we looked for it, we weren’t
able to find it. It is incredible to me to think that a bird the size of a Wild
Turkey can hide itself so well. 

By the time
we returned to camp the temperatures were quite hot, but during the afternoon
it began to cloud up and by nightfall the clouds were quite thick. Then the
wind began to blow and the skies unleased a torment of rain. This continued for
the next day and we found ourselves stuck at the camp, trying to find ways to
amuse ourselves and pass the time and wondering how we were going to leave the
following day.

El Triunfo cloud forest.

following day at sunrise, we said goodbye to an “El Triunfo” camp still shrouded in clouds and began our descent. The lower we got, the more the
clouds dispersed. We spotted a Paltry Tyrannulet and a flock of Barred
Parakeets that flew over. It was a wonderful way to say goodbye to the El
Triunfo Cloud Forest in Chiapas, where the quezals still live, where jaguars
walk beneath the old trees, and where the mysterious Horned Guans live, a place
that will be forever in my memories.

AlbertoAbout the author: Alberto Lobato is a 16-year-old
birder who was born in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico. He has been birding since he
was 5 years old and is an active member of the Xalapa Birding Club (Club de
Observadores de Aves de Xalapa, or COAX). He has traveled with COAX to various
parts of Mexico. In addition to birding, he is a musician, with an interest in
traditional music. Alberto’s favorite bird is the Bearded Wood-Partridge.