A Quetzal, in the Flesh

These are not quetzals. Close, but no cigar. (Graphite and pastel on Rives BFK paper, )
These are NOT resplendent quetzals. Close, but no cigar. (Violaceous trogons drawn from life in Panama, graphite and pastel on Rives BFK paper, 11″ x 14″)

All I wanted for my birthday was a Resplendent quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno).

The excitement this bird generates can’t be overstated. It inspires much grand hyperbole, often described as “the most beautiful bird in the world”. It is, technically, in the trogon family, a good-looking bunch of birds overall. Only one of them, though, has the panache, the fan club, the divine reputation, or even the currency of the emerald and scarlet Pharomachrus. It’s a highly coveted catch for Those Who Wear Binoculars, such as myself. But in all the years of tropical birding, I’d never encountered a quetzal in the flesh.  Just a lot of trogons.

Nope, no quetzal here. More violaceous trogons. Peruvian Amazon life drawing.
Nope, no quetzal here. More violaceous trogons. Peruvian Amazon life drawing with a spot of Nescafe.

Back in November, Ant Man asked me what I wanted for my birthday (I was born in March but he likes to plan ahead) and I asked for a quetzal. We considered a short trip to Costa Rica or maybe the Panama highlands. I conjured up a blissful vision of us standing on the slope of some cloud forest mountain, watching a quetzal’s long tail banners flutter in the breeze.

More trogons. Slaty tailed. In Panama.
More trogons. Slaty tailed. In Panama.

But then, as it happened, this and that and so forth and so on. Schedules maxed out with conferences and to-dos. There was a joyful bar mitzvah, and sadly, a funeral.

Yesterday was my birthday. I found myself standing on the suburban soil of the North American prairie, watching bluejays. Ant Man quietly gave me a bunch of flowers.

IMG_4768Whereupon I went to the Y, plunged in the pool, and swam twenty laps.

On the way out I passed the shallow end, and a tattooed man stood up in the water. There on his back was a quetzal, in the flesh. Literally. It spread across his scapula, its long tail draped artistically down his spine with tips curved upward to encircle his kidney. The man raised an arm to slick back his hair, and the skin of his shoulder rippled emerald and scarlet.

It was the most beautiful bird in the world.

13 thoughts on “A Quetzal, in the Flesh

  1. Becky Way says:

    What a wonderful, sweet story! An amazing treat for your birthday. And beautiful, beautiful drawings. Time for a birding/drawing workshop (she asks, greedily)?

  2. Janie says:

    Thanks. Beautiful. Sent pictures of your work and demo to terry Ludwig. Happy birthday and many more. Ditto what Becky said. Janie

  3. Ken Januski says:

    Always love to see your sketches Debbie and this time is no exception. Happy Birthday as well.

    Coincidentally I was just catching up on recent Panama posts by Ellen Snyder of the Spicebush Blog about her time in Panama in the 1980s. Some of the names rang a bell from previous posts here. So I pointed her to your blog. And you might enjoy her reminiscences of early 80s Panama as well.

  4. Pingback: Curve Drawer

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