In Search of the Holy Grail…um, Elegant Trogon

Costa's Hummingbird

Nope. This isn’t the Elegant Trogon. But isn’t he beautiful?

A year ago, Pedro and I spent time in the Chiricahua Mountains looking for an Elegant Trogon—a rare and beautiful bird (ok, I looked for the bird, he enjoyed the scenery and the mountain biking). We (I) didn’t find it—despite repeated attempts and long hikes.

This year, we went to Patagonia (Arizona, not Argentina) in search of the same bird (ok, not the same bird) because I’d received reports that an Elegant Trogon (or two) had been hanging around Patagonia Lake State Park (don’t ask—I may be on list serves for bird sightings in Arizona…and other states).

Why would anyone drive hundreds of miles just to see a bird? Have you seen the movie The Big Year? Well, I’m not those people (I claim), but I sure love photographing unusual and beautiful birds. Pedro goes along with me so that he can photograph me looking like those people in the movie (so far, I’ve eluded him or managed to close my mouth and wipe the vacuous look off my face before he can snap ‘the picture’).

Pedro snags a photo of my mom watching my dad take a photo of birders--I'm the Ms. Frizzle-looking youngish one.

Pedro snags a photo of my mom watching my dad take a photo of birders–I’m the Ms. Frizzle-looking youngish one.

I crawled out of my not-so-warm sleeping bag just as soon as the sky hinted at sunrise the next morning. I figured that walking the dog would warm me up. Which it did. A little. Then I grabbed some breakfast, found my camera gear and commenced my hunt for the Elegant Trogon.

I’d left my bear spray at home, so I was a little freaked out about wandering around in the early dawn all alone. I soon discovered that pretty much everyone out that early was over seventy and looking for the same bird I sought (ok, I carry the bear spray for any animals that might attack me….). I did have a pocketknife and my camera, which I could (reluctantly) use for a weapon (I’ve seen enough MacGyver episodes to know how little it takes to get out of any imaginable situation).

After almost two hours of searching for the elusive bird, I was a little grumpy—after all, others had seen it earlier that morning. How hard can it be to find a big bird in a small forest? And then Pedro texted me, wanting to know what the arrangements for breakfast were and when I would be back at camp. For some reason, this made me even grumpier. But, I texted back and told him I’d be out awhile longer and that my parents were fixing breakfast in the comfort of their RV.
Now I really had to find the bird and I needed to find it soon. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “This is ridiculous,” I thought. “Birding is supposed to be fun. I’m on vacation, for crying out loud!”

The liquid notes of a Song Sparrow caught my attention, and I could hear a hummingbird diving and chattering nearby. I had a lot to be thankful for (being able to hear the high-pitched sounds of hummingbirds means I haven’t arrived at that certain age when one needs a hearing aid—even though I need bifocals to read my text messages). The sun had warmed the day up, and I had found plenty of other birds to photograph—including some stunning hummingbirds and a cheery cardinal.

Who can be grumpy when gazing at this gorgeous bird?

Who can be grumpy when gazing at this gorgeous bird?

I stopped focusing on my failure at finding the target bird, and started focusing on all I had to be thankful for—health, a wonderful husband (who looks like the picture of health—nothing like he did eleven years ago at this time of year), two sweet daughters, a caring son-in-law, my awesome parents, and a wonderful job.

I decided to go just a little further up the trail (far past the area where other birders had seen the Trogon). I meandered along an equally meandering stream for fifteen minutes and finally headed back towards camp—content with my morning’s finds (even if they didn’t include the elusive bird) because I had so much to be thankful for.

The elusive bird, an immature male Elegant Trogon, seems a little camera shy.

The elusive bird, an immature male Elegant Trogon, seems a little camera shy.

When three hikers approached me from the other direction, I looked up, and there it was! The bird I had focused so hard on finding was hanging out on a branch right over the trail I had just wandered up not ten minutes earlier.

I held up my hand (I’m ashamed to say this—or rather, my husband is ashamed I did this) to slow the advance of the hikers and point out my fortuitous find. The hikers kept on walking, but the bird stayed in place. As the hikers passed me, I whispered, “There’s an Elegant Trogon right there!”

One of them turned around and casually glanced in the direction I pointed. The others sort of shrugged at the crazy bird lady (that would be me—think Ms. Frizzle with bed head and a huge camera slung around her neck) and continued on their hike.

I spent four or five minutes trying to get a clear shot of the bird. I climbed up a little hill, and when I turned around, the Trogon had silently disappeared.

Lesson learned. Focusing on one thing for too long won’t always get you the results that you desire—it might even leave you feeling grumpy and dissatisfied for no good reason. Focusing on your blessings will almost certainly make you feel peaceful and content. And, you might discover what you were looking for in the first place.

This week I’m linking up with Kristen Oliphant and other wordsmiths for Not So (Small) Stories.  Our prompt this week is ‘personal’.


Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a ‘recovering cancer caregiver’ who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • Although I am not a “birder”, I certainly understand that appreciation for the search and the joy when beauty is discovered! I love your humor in how you tell this story (all of the parentheses commentaries are wonderful!). And I resonate with the lesson learned.
    Becky Daye recently posted…The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the TreeMy Profile

    • Thank you, Becky :). Sometimes, I wonder if I’m too parenthetical–I’m glad it worked! I think I was always the smart mouth kid in the back row who made asides when the teacher said something that I thought was quirky ;).

      • I love the pictures! Even if you didn’t get the “perfect shot” I’m so glad you got to see Elegant Trogon. It’s fun just saying that! And, I too, love parentheticals.

        • Thanks, Amber :). Not getting the ‘perfect’ shot gives me an excuse to go out looking again, right? Hummingbirds are one of my favorite photography subjects–such small packages of energy and attitude with such amazing colors (plus, you can get really close to them…which is a good thing, since they’re so tiny!).

  • I’m so glad you found your holy grail! 😉 It’s a beautiful bird, as is the cardinal and the other birdie on your top picture. I also love the picture Dad took of Mormor watching Poppy taking a picture of you. Classic!
    Laura Melchor recently posted…The Writing Babies Didn’t DieMy Profile

    • Yay for beautiful birdies! Dad ALMOST got the picture that he wanted ;).

  • This is great! I love how you brought it around from bird watching to making me think about “where do I focus on the outcome instead of the journey?” PS – my sister in law is a birder! She works at a nature center out in Virginia 🙂

    • Thank you, Marianne! Lucky sister-in-law to work at a nature center :D.

  • This makes me want to watch birds! I love the way you can write with such ease about birding and also your gorgeous photos. Did you know I’m kind of the same way about alligators? Imagine me with no bear spray but a big knife, stalking around alligators sunning themselves a few feet away for a photo. Yup. 🙂 Thanks again for sharing this. I loved getting to see your frustration and also how you were rewarded. I’M SO GLAD YOU FOUND THE TROGON!
    Kirsten Oliphant recently posted…Remember When I Blogged about My Kids?My Profile

    • Oh! And I want to go alligator watching with you! I’m thinking you need to do a blog post with photos about this! I still don’t have the PERFECT Trogon shot…so I guess that means Pedro gets to go bird watchering (is that what you call a person who watches bird watchers?) again next spring break! My first Trogon sighting occurred a minute after Sarah and I scared a bear away…but that’s another story.

  • This reminds me of annie dillard’s saying that nature is very much a now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t affair. on the other hand, she says, it’s also a now-you-don’t-see-it, now-you-do affair. Like a magician, nature conjures up her tricks and then whisks them quickly away. It’s lovely that you were able to catch the moment, even if it only lasted for just that: a moment.

    I have been thinking about getting into birding, myself. I don’t know anyone who does it, but I feel like it would be good for my soul–to be silent, and observant, in nature. Sigh. You don’t live in Colorado, do you? I’d love to learn from an experienced birder! And I love your photographs!

    • I love that thought from Annie Dillard! Thank you for sharing it with me :). I live next door to Colorado, and this summer when I have some time, I need to go birding there :)–maybe we can spend a day birding! I’ve only been birding for about three years, and it’s the BEST therapy. I’ve gone on a few Audubon Society bird walks and ranger-led bird walks (where I learn a lot). I do a lot of photographing so that I can try to figure out the birds when I get home (or at least send the photos to someone who knows more than I do). Email me if you want more info…I could probably write a book ;).

  • Lovely story.
    Sarah recently posted…A-Z of Compassion: ArrivalMy Profile

  • Sarah Ojeda

    I love it! I definitely have this complex (focusing too much on something that bothers me and forgetting how blessed I am). Thank you for the reminder. I will definitely turn my thoughts to the good things in life in moments like this one. Patience and thankfulness. Your patience paid off! 🙂

    • :). We all get caught up in this complex at times–and we definitely need to go in search of another Elegant Trogon!

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