"I was hunting quetzal," Green Valley birdwatching guide Laurens Halsey wrote on his blog Thursday.
And for the first time in six years, he bagged one.
Halsey got a glimpse and heard the call of the rare, breathtaking Arizona visitor in Madera Canyon south of Tucson. Around 10:10 a.m. that day, he first heard the eared quetzal's “kwreeee chunk" call, then got an obscured view of it, then heard a second call before it flew away.
All this on the Carrie Nation Trail, the same trail where its much more common (in Arizona) relative the elegant trogon regularly breeds each year. Halsey said he believe the quetzal was an adult female and that it was definitely not an adult male.
"Though my view was somewhat obscured, I could clearly see the transition from the dark gray breast to red belly without a separating white band, the under tail appeared unmarked white and the shape was all quetzal (small head, thick body, broad tapered to a rounded end tail)," Halsey posted Thursday on a popular birding listserv. "In flight directly away, it looked dark; dark gray head and neck, dark green back and blackish-blue rump and upper tail. Only saw the white in the tail briefly when it spread its tail in a slight bank turn."
The eared trogon, a native of the Mexican Sierra Madre range, has been reportedly seen a few times in the Chiricahua and Huachuca Mountains in the past few years, but "it is rare and not annual," Halsey wrote in an email to the Star.
"Or at least birders do not find one every year," he continued. "This species is difficult to find, they have the whole canyon (and even the mountain range) to wander and so much is inaccessible. Had it not called a few times . . . I would not have seen it.
"The one that visited Madera Canyon in 2007 was seen or heard by very few people despite many people trying," Halsey said.
If you want to try this time, here's Halsey's directions -- to a spot more than 1.5 miles uphill, gradual miles to be sure, from the Mt. Wrightson Picnic Area parking lot at the end of the Madera Canyon Road. To start, first go up the old dirt road from the parking lot's right side. Then, pass the Old Baldy trailhead that takes you to the top of Mt. Wrightson and you'll eventually reach the Carrie Nation trailhead.
Then, he says, at the trail's third stream crossing, the trail switches back to the right and climbs out of the stream bed.
"After 150+ yards, it switches back to the left to follow a ridge, and this section is fairly steep with stretches of loose rocks. Follow the trail for a ways, crossing or going around several fallen logs. Continue until you come to an area of many Gambel's Oaks (lobbed oak leaves in the trail), and you can see the stream bed below you to your left. The quetzal was to the right, up the slope from here," Halsey said.
In Mexico, the eared quetzal lives in six states, including northeastern Sonora and northwestern Chihuahua, says the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. It was first reported in this country in 1977 at the South Forth Cave Creek birding hotspot near Portal, Cornell says
Here is a published account from 1992 of the discovery of a nesting pair of eared trogons the previous October in the Huachuca Mountains near the Nature Conservancy's Ramsey Canyon preserve. They gave birth to two young. Unfortunately, both chicks died due to a cold storm, Cornell said.