Hummingbirds

Trochilidae

I have been fascinated by these magical creatures since at the age of about 9 years old, when I visited the wildfowl and wetlands trust's tropical house in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire UK, where I saw my first hummingbird. Years later I have been lucky enough to travel to Trinidad and Tobago and Ecuador where I have photographed the following species. If you are interested in Hummingbirds I can highly recommend these three places and there are links at the bottom of the page of recommended contacts.

Hummingbirds are confined to the Americas, where they are called 'Colibres' in Spanish, or in slang 'Pica de Flores' ('Gigolo of flowers') and in the native Quechea language 'Quinde'. They were considered magical by the Incas, and one of the famous and incredible designs at Nazca in Peru was of a huge hummingbird. They present an enjoyable challenge to the photographer, as they frequent dark shady areas usually under trees, and yet their wings beat extremely quickly and they are capable of lightening fast flight. The combination of darkness and speed is extremely awkward photographically, with the additional problem that sometimes its difficult to get very close to them. You need therefore a combination of a telephoto lens and a flashgun capable of very fast shutter speeds. Below left, is my latest combination of Canon EOS 350D camera, Canon 100-400mm IS telephoto lens, and Canon EX 580 external flashgun with a 'better beamer' flash extender.

All photos copyright S.Deere-Jones 2007 2008

Above left to right- Sarah Deere-Jones (musician and hummingbird fanatic!), and her photos of the Long tailed-Sylph, Swordbill, and Velvet-Purple Coronet.

Hummingbirds are extremely small and brilliantly coloured, their wings beating up to 80 times per second and making an audible buzzing sound as they hover. They are incredibly agile and dart about at lightening speed.

Left, right and both below, Black thoated mango, male.

In Tobago I used a basic kit of a Canon EOS 350D camera with a Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 telephoto lens. I didnt have an external flash so I waited until the feeders were in full sun, when the beautiful irridescent colours of the plumage change as they move and show off their full beauty. These black throated mangos measure around 4.5 inches and are commonly seen on Trinidad and Tobago, and range from Panama down to Bolivia and Argentina.

 

These two birds are female black throated mangos, differing from the males with the obvious black stripe along the breast.

The beautiful Ruby-Topaz hummingbird seen here, is an extremely difficult subject to capture as it flies particularly fast and never keeps still. Its fantastic colours also change in a fraction of a second so to capture it at its most stunning is a challenge indeed!

The Ruby-Topaz measures around 3.5 inches and is rarely seen on Trinidad, more commonly on Tobago. Despite their small size they are extremely aggressive and have even been known to attack birds of prey!

You will notice that in these next two photographs the birds look almost like two different species and this is one of the fascinating things about hummingbirds, the way the light picks up the colours of their feathers and changes it as they fly, they sparkle like jewels in the undergrowth!

The Rufous-breasted Hermit hummingbird seen here is noticable by being quite large and having an elegantly curved beak.

Measuring approx 5 inches, they are similar to the green hermit seen on Trinidad but this latter bird does not occur in Tobago. There are only six species of hummingbird found on Tobago and I have photographed all except the white-tailed sabrewing, which managed to elude me in the rainforest reserve where it is still found.

The copper rumped hummingbird is one of my favourites with its beautiful green and bronze plumage and little white trousers, it is a delight to watch.

At only 3.75 inches long it is a small but feisty little bird, happily chasing off other larger birds from the feeders.

The White necked Jacobin hummingbird here, is another one I found very difficult to capture on Tobago, The birding bible of Trinidad and Tobago by Richard Ffrench describes the white necked jacobin as 'uncommon', and they range from Mexico down to Brazil. At 4.5 inches it is one of the larger hummingbirds but still capable of flying at lightning fast speeds.

Left, female white necked Jacobin. In 2004 the hurricane that struck Grenada also had serious effects in Tobago destroying some homes and damaging trees in the rainforest reserve. Hurricane Flora in the 1960s was said to have a devastating effect on the population of the rare White tailed Sabrewing hummingbird on Tobago, which emphasises how fragile these bird populations can be.

Right,Purple bibbed white-tip hummingbird, Ecuador.

 These two beautiful Long Tailed Sylphs were photographed at Guango lodge in the Pappallacta area in the Eastern Andes, Ecuador. Left male, near right female.

Far right however is the Violet tailed Sylph photgraphed at Sachatamia lodge in the Western Andes. They are one of the most elegant hummingbird species.

Here left, the Andean Emerald is displaying its acrobatic skills in the pouring rain, whereas this little Western Emerald (right) is showing off its gorgeous metalic green feathers as it quietly perches on the beam of a very special house in the Tandayapa valley. We visited the house of Tony Nunnery, an american professional tour guide and vegan, who welcomed us onto his verandah to watch the hundreds of hummingbirds that come to the feeders in his private garden. Tony is also a musician so we chatted about music whilst admiring his birds and taking advantage of his knowledge and experience in identifying them! Here the rainforest was determined to justify its name, and it poured with rain all day English style!

The Mountain Avocet bill (left) is one of the more unusual hummers and we were lucky to see it at the Guango lodge, it is difficult to appreciate here but the bill is slightly upturned hence the name. By contrast we saw many Buff winged Starfrontlets (right) at Sachatamia in the lower Western Andes.

The Giant hummingbird seen here was a real treat, and we spotted it in the Antisana reserve in the high Paramo on the slopes of the Antisana Volcano. At around 10,000 ft altitude this area consists of dry and cold grassland tundra, and the giant hummingbird is seen here on the Puya succulent where it is clearly enjoying the nectar and the yellow pollen can be seen all over its bill on the right! This plant was in flower and gave us a rare opportunity to get close to this bird. Behind it could be seen the snowcapped peaks and flowing glaciers of the Antisana volcano.

Left, the collared Inca, and right the Brown Inca.

The Green crowned brilliant here left ,is a truly beautiful hummingbird with its bright glittering green plumage and its little purple bib, it contrasts with the slightly duller fawn breasted brilliant (right) here seen at a feeder, both in the Western Andes.

Whilst in the Western Andes we visited a wonderful restaurant called the 'Mirador del Rio Blanco' which has hummingbird feeders on its terrace, and there we saw these gorgeous Green crowned Woodnymphs, (left female and right male.) Behind the feeders were the most spectacular views of the Rio Blanco valley with the steeply forested moutains and rich green meadows surrounding it. The food there also was extremely good and very cheap!

The coronets are a lovely group of hummingbirds, left is the Chestnut breasted coronet, and right the staggeringly beautiful Velvet-purple coronet whilst far right is the Buff tailed coronet.

The glowing puffleg is a pretty hummer found in the Eastern Andes, he gets his name from the little fluffy white trousers around his legs! Many hummingbirds such as this one live in quite humid rainforests at high altitudes, these forests are fantastically fertile and there is a vast selection of plants and trees and beautiful flowers to attract them. They naturally support a large variety of other birds and mammals too, and are wonderful places to visit.

The sparkling violet-ear is quite commonly seen in Ecuador, it was photographed here in the Tandayapa valley, but also we saw one in the garden of our hotel in the middle of Quito! Despite being common it is one of the prettiest hummers with its gorgeous bluey-green colours.

The rufous tailed hummingbird is, despite his name most easily identified by his pink bill, which is often seen more quickly than the colour of his tail! In the Western Andes these are extremely common.

We saw lots of these pretty Green thorntails in the Rio Blanco valley, here the male left shows his long pointed tail whereas the female on the right has a much shorter tail. They are quite small for hummingbirds and delightful to watch.

The Tourmaline Sunangel is a striking bird, we first saw them in the Eastern Andes and as you can see here there is quite a difference between the male (left) and the female (right.) Indeed faced with so many different hummingbird species which were all new to us at the time, we would have been totally lost without our excellent Ecuadorian specialist guides, Xavier, Marcello and Vinicio!

It was very exciting to see the Ecuadorian Hillstar hummingbird, as they are only found in one place, in the high Paramo grasslands of the Antisana volcano. We visited an old colonial ranch house where sugar feeders had been put out to attract them, the male is on the left showing his beautiful bright blue head. These hummers are capable of surviving freezing nights by lowering their temperature from 104 degrees F to around 59 degrees F entering a state of overnight torpor, a remarkable ability.

Likewise the White-tailed Hillstar is only found in a few areas of Ecuador, here we found it in the Pahuma Orchid reserve, a very wet little valley with a small stream and a fantastic variety of orchids.

The Tyrean Metaltails are small beautiful humingbirds that we saw first in the Eastern Andes, their usually subtle colouring will suddenly sparkle with the bright green bib you can see left.

These two hummingbirds were difficult to photograph and so I only have one photo of each. Here on the left is the speckled hummingbird found in many of the rainforests at quite high altitudes and cold and wet conditions, whereas here on the right is the White bearded Hermit which we saw in the Amazon basin at Sacha Lodge in completely different conditions, very hot and steamy!

The booted racket-tails are one of my favourite hummingbirds and I was thrilled to see them in the high mountains of the Western Andes, left in usual hovering mode, near left in aggessive stance and right perching.

The Cuban bee hummingbird is said to be the smallest bird in the world but these little woodstars are only the next size up!They are quite commonly seen and hover around the feeders in large groups, far left and right the White bellied woodstar, and near right, the purple throated.

I hope you have enjoyed my photographs of hummingbirds here. There are many people who have taken better pictures than me, I am a mere enthusiast, always saving up for better equipment and future hummingbird expeditions! I can highly recommend Trinidad and Tobago and Ecuador for hummingbird spotting and I add links below. T and T are beautiful Caribbean islands where you can also indulge in snorkelling and diving and wonderful beaches and scenery, whilst Ecuador is a truly incredible country with a wide variety of different climatic zones, fantastic scenery, delicious food, unsurpassed wildlife and friendly and genuine people.

Trinidad and Tobago

Asa Wright Nature Centre- lovely lodge up in the mountains in Trinidad with hummingbird feeders and rainforest walks. asaright@tstt.net.tt

Arnos Vale Hotel- Old colonial hotel in Tobago with private beach and bird tables and feeders. www.arnosvale.com

Blue Waters Inn- Good hotel in lovely location with its own beach and good bird walks around. www.bluewaters.com

Wildwings- UK holiday company specialising in bird holidays in T&T. www.wildwings.co.uk

Ecuador

Guango Lodge- small lodge in Eastern Andes with terrific hummingbird feeders.

Sacha Lodge - Fantastic jungle lodge in the Amazon basin, only a few hummer here but excellent other birds and wildlife. www.sachalodge.com

Sachatamia lodge - great lodge in Western Andes with hummingbird feeders. www.sachatamia.com

Mirador del Rio Blanco - restaurant near Sachatamia with fantastic views and wonderful hummingbirds.

Naturetrek - UK company organising trips in Ecuador www.naturetrek.co.uk

Neblina Forest - Ecuadorian tour company specialising in birds, lovely people! www.neblinaforest.com

Victoria Emanuel Nature tours - US tour company organises trips in Ecuador with Tony Nunnery. www.ventbird.com

 

Next stop, Costa Rica!!!!

 

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