Although this photo of a Buff-fronted Quail-Dove is among the first bird photos that I took when beginning to photograph birds in 1985, it still remains my all time favorite bird photo not only because of the beauty, color, perfect lighting, and composition of the photo itself but also because of the extraordinary circumstances and difficulties involved in taking this particular photo. Prior to my 5 day visit to the Monteverde Cloud Forest in April 1985 I had observed two other species of quail-dove, the White-faced Quail-Dove Geotrygon albifacies in the Biotopo del Quetzal in Baja Verapaz in Guatemala in February 1982 and the Ruddy Quail-Dove Geotrygon montana in Tikal National Park in May 1982. They are both fine looking birds, but they don't possess the heavenly elegance of the Buff-fronted Quail-Dove. I have not seen a single field guide illustration of the Buff-fronted Quail-Dove that comes close to doing justice to the sublime splendor of this bird.
During a 5 day trip in 1985 to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in Costa Rica, I encountered a Buff-fronted Quail-Dove twice, the first time on April 9 as I was walking along a trail deep inside the cloud forest. My first view of the quail-dove was very brief and not very satisfying. There seemed to be discrepancies between what I had seen and the Buff-fronted Quail-Dove illustration in the field guide I was carrying.
Two days later I returned to the same trail in hopes of again finding the quail-dove. It was a beautiful day with sunny skies and although I was in a cloud forest, in places sunlight pierced the canopy to light up the forest floor. (The cloud forest at Monteverde is much more open that the cloud forest of the Biotopo del Quetzal in Guatemala which, among other things, makes observation of the Resplendent Quetzal easier in Monteverde.) Suddenly, up out of the forest flew a Buff-fronted Quail-Dove and it landed, incredibly, only 6 feet in front of me. It was a glorious sight and I didn't need binoculars to see clearly every detail. I remained as motionless as possible and observed my quail-dove visitor for about 5 minutes. I do not know if this was the same quail-dove I had seen two days earlier, but it is possible. That I was in the presence of a beautiful Buff-fronted Quail-Dove that had appeared seemingly out of nowhere and had set down right in front of me, almost close enough to touch, produced in me an extraordinary feeling of excitement and wonder as I stood there in this ineffably breathtaking eden. My senses were so alive. This was one of those once-in-a-lifetime spiritual moments in the natural world.
The Nikon camera I was carrying at the time had a manual film advance which meant that the instant I snapped the shutter, the resulting sound would make the bird take flight and a second shot would be impossible. The quail-dove was in very good light but this was the Monteverde Cloud Forest and the best I would be able to do was to handhold the camera and shoot at about 1/60 sec. I had been carrying the camera on top of a camera bag at my right side and to take a photo, I would have to raise the camera to my eye. I did this moving as slowly as possible (at an almost glacial pace), not knowing if at any moment the quail-dove would spook, explode into flight and disappear. When I finally had the viewfinder up against my right eye, I discovered that my Buff-fronted Quail-Dove was too close for me to bring it into focus. Luckily the lens had a "close focus" adjustment - but this would require moving the camera/lens unit again - first away from my face to see the control and make the lens adjustment and then back to my eye again. I was able to do so and the dove was still motionless in front of me. I then took a long time moving just a little bit to get the best composition possible. Then, finally, with the viewfinder pressed to my face and holding the camera with my right hand and the lens with my left, I pressed the shutter release button and this lovely bird was gone.
I wouldn't know what I had on film until about a month later when I returned to Guatemala where there was a film developer I trusted. The photo here is the only one I have ever taken of a Buff-fronted Quail-Dove and I never saw that special bird again.
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