“In Japan, we practice something called forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku. Shinrin in Japanese means “forest,” and yoku means “bath.” So shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere or taking in the forest through our senses. This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging.”
My friend, Marilyn, and I often go hiking, with a specific goal, miles to cover, a trail to be checked off. Depending on the season, that could mean Wasson Peak or Mt. Lemmon, perhaps the Ventana Canyon Trail or the Javelina Loop in the Tortolitas. But this time it was about ‘forest bathing’ in Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains. And, oh, if we just happened to see the elegant trogon, so much the better!
The elegant trogon is highly sought after by birders, a rare species in the U.S. that can only be seen in a few southwestern locations. Many make the trek from the world over to Madera Canyon in pursuit of this beautiful bird, often leaving disappointed. As Marilyn and I had both seen the trogon in times past, there was no pressure to find this forest gem. But still . . .
Instead, we were going for the pure pleasure of being in the trees, to feel the cool and gentle breeze blowing through the pines, to smell the clean mountain air, to listen to the quiet and be mesmerized by the fluttering of colorful butterflies. We ambled up the trail, stopping often to see an elusive warbler, to watch a scampering lizard, to chat with a fellow birder, to catch sight of a little brown creeper spiraling his way up a big tree trunk, and to marvel at the mighty sycamores.
Little pools of water persisted in the ephemeral creek, and nearby many bird species vied for our attention, or maybe that of potential mates. We were surprised at the number of butterflies – so many Arizona sisters, mourning cloaks, red-spotted purples, yellow sulphurs, and tiny blues. Yellow columbine bloomed along the creek bed and red paintbrush on the drier hillside. The odd barking call of the elegant trogon teased us all along the trail, now sounding nearer, now farther away. Just ahead of us a birder spotted two trogons, but she watched them fly out of sight before we could arrive. Sigh!
On the way back down the trail, crashing sounds in the forest signaled a big mammal, and, sure enough, a white-tailed deer emerged and spotted us too. We gazed at one another for a few moments. She seemed to be alone. Soon, the call of the elegant trogon could be heard again. We had almost resigned ourselves to not seeing the trogon this trip, and that was okay. But, the call got louder and louder, until finally we knew he had to be nearby. I scanned the trees just above us and there he was, right out in the open, not 20’ away! While he preened and called, we enjoyed the wonderful view and took many photos.
Elegant trogons (Trogon elegans) are medium-sized, stocky, potbellied birds. They are larger than a robin, with a large, round head, a thick neck, large eyes, and a short, stout bill. Trogons perch upright with their long square-tipped tails pointing straight down. Males are brilliantly colored, with coppery-green upper parts and a rose-red belly. A white band crosses the breast, the underside of the tail is barred, and the face and throat are black. Trogons are omnivores, consuming both insects and fruit. Woodpecker-created cavities serve as nesting sites. They are known to nest in four mountain canyons in southern Arizona. If you've never seen the trogon, I urge you to do so. It's a distinctly southern Arizona treat!
After giving such great looks, the male flew off, out of sight, leaving two happy birders and forest-bathers. Now, if we could just see the red-faced warbler . . . or how about the blue grosbeak!
Ah, well, we’re saving those for our next forest-bathing experience.
Read more about the elegant trogon.
Read more about forest bathing.