La Leyenda de Quetzalcoatl, Cerro Buenavista

For the second photography workshop of the month with To The Wonder, we went to Cerro Buenavista, previously known as Cerro de la Muerte. I got up at 2:30 am and waited for the bus in San Jose at 4:15 am, well before sunrise. There was light rain at the time, but our spirits were still high. As we started climbing the mountain, the moist and cool air welcomed us, and by 6:30 we reached the Resplendent Quetzal’s nest. It was raining, so we decided to go to the hotel for steaming hot beverages and a tasty gallo pinto. The unpredictability of nature had beat us in the first round.

Luckily, we were guided by Alvaro Cubero, who’s expertise in Wildlife Photography and with being in the field would see clearly through the weather conditions and recommended the best course of action. So after breakfast, we tried our luck at another spot, not without photographing some hummingbirds before. A whole cloud of Fiery-throated Hummingbirds roamed the Restaurant’s Deck, fighting to get the best spots at the feeders. The birds were so accustomed to people that we could easily put our fingers below their feet, and they would instinctively rest on them while feeding. Along with the Fiery-throated, a few Female Magnificent Hummingbirds posed for pictures, both perched and inflight. The color show was breathtaking.

Since the second spot did not work out the best, we went back to the nest after lunch. The rain had subsided, so we took our positions and waited. Time normally flies away, but when you are waiting for a Quetzal to go outside the nest, one hour may seem like eternity. We learned firsthand just how important is to be patient when photographing wildlife. That part may easily be boring, so we enjoyed ourselves talking about birds and photography, and eating wild blackberries. The moment the male showed his head from inside the nest, the atmosphere grew exponentially in tension. We all wanted that amazing inflight picture, but saying it is easier than getting it. The bird perched on a nearby tree for about a minute, while we clicked furiously on our cameras. Afterwards, it flew away and disappeared for a few minutes, returning with a fruit on it’s beak to the same tree. It then flew to the nest, stood for a few seconds hanging outside, and finally entered again. In summary, we would wait for an hour, and then have about 3 minutes to try and get any pictures. Three hours indeed are an eternity like that.

From the nest, we set out for the towers to get sunset pictures, mentored by Luis Solano Pochet and Adrian Zamora. We battled with the cold as the amazing sunset colors unfolded in front of us. The red aura filled the whole sky. One person even asked: “Why are my pictures so red? Something seems to be wrong”. It was that unbelievable.

The next day we tried our luck again at the second spot, but the Quetzal was seemingly unapproachable. Yet our bus driver, who waited patiently at the bus, was able to take a picture with his cellphone, because the Quetzal decided to make its appearance right by him. He was probably close to touching the Quetzal’s tail. We left the place jealous of his luck.

After a few more shots of the hummingbirds and a great breakfast, we visited again the nest. This time, everyone was more focused and knew what to expect. We got some more pictures of the male, and even the female made its appearance. We finally reached the climax of the workshop, and realized just how lucky we are as Ticos, to have such beautiful birds roaming freely in our forests. Hopefully more people like the ones at Paraiso Quetzal Lodge will continue to work towards the conservation of natural areas, able to hold populations of this wonderful bird, relatively undisturbed.



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