A male Elegant Trogon is our consolation prize.
The rare bird alert came over as a text at 4:52 p.m. last Tuesday: “RBA: Eared Quetzal in Madera Cyn – streambed upstream of amphitheater parking. EAQU not confirmed but good description by visiting birder. 3:15 p.m.”
So I joined my friend Brian Gibbons the next morning to chase this mega. I’d actually seen one in Arizona once before – over 14 years ago. But most birders haven’t seen one in the U.S. even, so we had lots of company.
The habitat is Madrean Pine-Oak woodland, characterized by about 4 kinds of evergreen oaks and Alligator Juniper. It’s home to Dusky-capped Flycatchers and Painted Redstarts in summer and Whiskered Screech-Owl, Bridled Titmouse, and Mexican Jay all year.
We each staked out a tree to watch for a while, and after about 5 minutes I was alerted by a whir of wings belonging to a medium-sized bird behind me. Hoping for the quetzal, I slowly turned around to see a gorgeous male Elegant Trogon just about 2 meters from my face. I called Brian over, and we followed the bird for better views. I managed the photo above using my Canon S90 held up against my Zeiss binoculars. Crude, but by using branches as support was able to get a few shots. Brian has a very nice camera and lens and his photos are amazing. Elegant Trogon reaches its northernmost breeding location in the world in this very canyon, yet most of the population is migratory. Away from the Atascosa Highlands, one found in winter is always a nice surprise.
Here’s my GPS track superimposed onto Google Earth. The Eared Quetzal was seen down in the valley near the end of my blue track. Our Elegant Trogon was near the highest point of our hike up the side draw to the upper left. By now either bird could be miles away.
Photo at top: Elegant Trogon in Madera Canyon, digibinned by Rich Hoyer
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