Sunday, May 27, 2007

5. The Hunt For the Quetzal (5/27/07)

Caterpillar (Photo by Brynne)
Sunday, May 27, 2007
We entered the Reserva Biologica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde (Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, locally known as the "Crowd" Forest as it is very popular and better maintained than other reserves. However, we visited during the beginning of the wet season which is the low tourist season.)
The tall wild avocado tree (Aguacatillo/Ocotea sp.) was pointed out; its fruit is the favorite of the Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) that can be found in this area. The tree depends on the quetzal to disperse its seeds and so the two are interdependent.
Aguacatillo (Photo by Linda)
We were first led down the Sendera Bosque Nuboso (Cloud Forest Trail) in hopes of finding a quetzal nest and thus a quetzal. Instead we found strangler figs (Ficus sp.) which start as epiphytes high in the host tree's branches, but send down large woody roots which attach to the trunk before entering the ground. The roots so fully encase the trunk of the tree that it no longer is able to get sunlight or grow, and it dies and rots, leaving the fig tree with a hollow center. These fig trees don't really strangle their host, but perhaps suffocate it.
In Monteverde, the warm moisture-laden northeast trade winds sweep up the slopes of the Cordillera de Tilaran towards the Continental Divide. As they reach cooler temperatures at higher altitudes, the moisture condenses and forms clouds, keeping the area cool and wet with over 118 inches of rain per year. All this water results in an environment conducive to epiphytes, such as mosses and ferns. The mosses can absorb up to 20 times its weight in water, taking it directly from the air.
Epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants but do not harm their hosts) also include orchids and bromeliads. These epiphytes cover all the living tree trunk and branch surfaces available, and sometimes become so heavy as to break the branches. Many such branches littered the ground.
Epiphyte? (Photo by Kent)
Tank bromeliads (Photo by Linda)
Beetle (Photo by Kent)
Orchid? (Photo by Kent)
Bromeliad Guzmania nicaraguensis (Photo by Brynne)
Epiphytes are divided into holoepiphytes which spend their whole existence on the host and hemi-epiphytes that may start or end their existence on the host, having roots reaching to the ground for part of their lifespan. The strangler fig is a hemi-epiphyte, and we saw many others such as philodendrons and dieffenbachia.
Another cloud forest denizen is the Tree Fern (Cyathea stipularis). Saw many fiddleheads (called croziers here) of the young fern, but sitting atop a thin trunk.
Tree Fern (Photo by Kent)
Another plant was the giant-leafed Taro plant (Colocasia esculenta), a food source.
We backtracked on the narrow Cloud Forest Trail, with its open cement blocks underfoot to keep us from getting mired in the mud, to the wider more open El Camino (The Road), a favorite of birders. Jimmy heard a quetzal call, and it was repeated enough for the rest of us to hear it. But more frequent was the musical call of the Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush (Catharus mexicanus). Jimmy proved adept at bird calls and was able to attract a nightingale close enough for a sighting. 
Other birds seen were the Black Guan (Chamaepetes unicolor), Mountain Elaenia (Elaenia frantzii), Yellow-throated Euphonia (Euphonia hirundinacea) (Aren't Euphonias musical instruments?!), and Golden-browed Chlorophonia (Chlorophonia callophrys).
Kent spotted a lizard and Jerry immediately went to catch it, even though a false step would have him sliding down a steep hillside. Everyone got a good look at the Giant-banded Anole (Anolis insignis), as it hung on by biting Jerry's finger!
Giant-banded Anole (Photo by Linda)
Jerry holding the anole (Photo by Brynne)
Anole holding Jerry (Photo by Kent)
We took the El Camino all the way to the other end of the Cloud Forest Trail, and followed the trail at this end to try to find the quetzal. On a side path we did find an epiphyte-laden dead tree trunk with a hole near the top that was identified as a quetzal nest (and all this time I was looking for a twiggy or leafy nest!). Jimmy called and called, but the male quetzals are apparently out and about at this time of year looking for females, having already prepared the nest.
Quetzal nest tree trunk (Photo by Linda)
Fungus (Photo by Kent)
Time to head back to the Hotel de Montana Monteverde for lunch at 12:30 PM. Brynne had the mushroom cream and a Caesar salad. I had a veggie casado (plate of rice, black beans, small salad, fried plantain, and sauteed vegetables). Kent had the pennecita (little penne) with a meat sauce and an Imperial beer.
The serious birders were out on the balcony looking for birds as they waited for the meals to arrive!
Next: 6. Monteverde Skywalk.

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