The most beautiful bird I have ever seen: the resplendent quetzal. We ventured specifically to this valley in Costa Rica, where we understood there was a chance of seeing the bird, hired a guide. At the end of a long, narrow farm road in the Chiriqui Highlands cloud forest we found it.
We clambered up and down muddy steep trails, and started before the sun came up. That day we were lucky, found several pair.
The male has a long 15 inch tail of two streamers that quietly undulate in his wake. Both the male and female have a blue-green iridescence that shimmers in breathtaking brilliance; as well as fringed wing feathers and a red breast. Pharomachrus mocinno can only be found in Central America, where they flourish on wild avocados.
There are many myths and legends dating back to the Aztecs and Mayans revolving around this sacred bird. While in the forest that day I noticed that any person–birder, resident, potato farmer, bus driver–who saw this bird, regarded it with respect and awe. Even as the bird plucked the avocados from the tree we stood under, we mere mortals watched and photographed in silent appreciation. Sometimes their mouths were full and their faces misshapen as they ate the fruit; but still, they were divine. Then, as if in jest, this gorgeous bird would spit out the avocado stone in a most unseemly way, and fly away. But somehow, as it goes with a mesmerizing creature, we still found them exquisite.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander