Nancy L. Newfield has been watching hummingbirds at her Louisiana home and lots of other places since 1975. Nancy lost her amateur status years ago, and now writes and lectures on hummers. She is co-author of Hummingbird Gardens, reviewed elsewhere on this site. Nancy is also a licensed hummingbird bander and a recognized authority on hummingbird distribution, behavior, and taxonomy.
Follow That Dream"Sternoclyta cyanopectus," came a gravelly voice from the phone.
"Who is this?" I demanded, "And why are you talking dirty to me?"
"That's the Violet-chested Hummingbird. Can you meet me in Venezuela?" asked a birding friend I hadn't seen in years.
"Sure!" I replied, as if I just dashed off to South America every day.
Was this the beginning of a dream or the end? Since childhood, I have yearned for adventure. The land of the giant condor beckoned. I dreamed of the Andes and the Amazon, the Pantanal and Tierra del Fuego, but this would be a more limited dream. We would bird the coastal mountains of Venezuela, a region rich in birdlife. It would be only nine days. I had no time for studying, planning, or making a target list. My friend would have to do everything.
We'd make it a budget triptravel by public conveyence, eat with the locals, stay in small pensions rather than expensive tourist hotels. But, it would be in South America, the land of hundreds of hummers. And it was to be nine days of birding, birding, birding!
At the appointed hour of the appointed day, we met in the Miami International Airport. My companion had not changed much and he didn't seem to notice that I had. Our long-standing friendship resumed as if there had been no interruptiona true friendship.
The wait to board seemed interminable. Several hours passed. Finally, we were ushered aboard the magic carpet that would whisk us away to the land of adventure. After a smooth take-off, the flight attendant began serving meals. I ordered the steak dinnerand two Champagnes! Why not!
It was very late by the time we arrived in Caracas. We'd see no South American birds that day. The dream would have to wait.
The next morning we got a late start, exhaustion from the previous day having claimed our bodies, though not our spirits. The area around the hotel was highly urbanized. No birding there.
A long taxi ride took my friend and me to El Avila National Park right in the capital city. Affluent urbanites, jogging or strolling, crowded the lower trails. No birds were about, so we ascended a steeper path. Almost immediately, we found a narrow stream with a pool created by little waterfall.
There a mid-sized green hummer broke the surface ever so delicately as it quickly dipped into the pool while still on the wing. It shook in flight and alit on an overhanging twig to preen.
My companion whispered plumage details as he observed, "Green back shading to brassy rump, red at base of bill, shiny metallic bluish tailslightly forked."
"I think that's a Copper-rumped Hummingbird," I ventured. "I saw them in Trinidad a few years ago."
"It's my first lifer for this trip," exulted my friend.
Then, before either of us could take another step, another smaller hummingbird zipped in and began repeating the exercise. Dip. Shake. Dip. Shake. Perch and preen.
The smaller bird showed a golden green crown and back, and emerald-colored underparts. Its tail was deeply notched like a Ruby-throat's, but shining green instead of glossy black. I pulled out the hefty field guide.
"This one's a Green-tailed Emerald. And, it's my first lifer in South America," I rejoiced, "We're on a roll now!"
The day moved quickly. Blue-gray Tanagers in fine azure plumage vied for our attention with more sublty hued Ochre-breasted Brush-Finches. Here, my fellow birder found a splendid Masked Trogon that slipped away before I could locate it. A Smoky-brown Woodpecker reminded us of a similar lark to Mexico in the early '80s.
The next hummer we spied kept to the shadows. It was difficult to see any color. But a square white spot behind its eye permitted us to identify the bird. "The only one with that field mark is the Violet-headed Hummingbird," I noted "I've seen them in Costa Rica many times."
"You're right," he agreed, "I've seen them in Peru and Bolivia."
After a full and satisfying day of birding, we retired to our hotel for the evening. The following day, my companion and I caught a bus for the smaller city of Maracay where we would base our expedition for the next five days.
Our hotel in Maracay was small and located in the center of town, a very urban environment that offered no birding experiences. So as soon as we'd grabbed a bite to eat, we caught a taxi for the more upscale Hotel Maracay, which offered tree-shaded grounds landscaped with scarlet-flowered shrubs.
The screech of parrot voices shattered the tranquil afternoon. Saffron Finches fluffed their golden feathers in a dusty patch of ground. Social Flycatchers sallied out from ragged palm fronds to snatch unsuspecting bugs in the air. Birding was definitely good!
"Tck, tck, tck."
I heard notes that had to be from a hummer and searched at length for the vocalist. Large, vermilion blossoms on an African Tulip Tree lured a rather plain-looking Glittering-throated Emerald, which was promptly rousted by a larger hummer. This one had a bold, dark stripe vertically down its throat and chest. I recognized it as a female mango, probably a Black-throated. These husky hummers have no trouble dominating most of the food in the area.
Darkness curtailed birding, so my companion hailed a taxi to return to the hotel. He had a full day of birding planned for the morrow. What hummers might be awaiting? I slept fitfully.
[continued in May]
WILDFLOWER DAYS - April 12 & 13 1997 - The National Wildflower Research Center in Austin, Texas, is hosting a two-day event to encourage and educate the public about the use of native plants in planned landscapes. I'll be giving two programs: "Learning to Identify Hummingbirds in the Field" (Saturday, April 12 at 4:00 PM) and "Hummingbird Gardens" (Sunday, April 13 at 4:00 PM). Additionally, I'll be signing copies of Hummingbird Gardens from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM on Sunday. Phone 512-292-4200 for more information. See you there!
ACADIANA AUDUBON SOCIETY - April 29, 1997 - Hummingbirders in the Lafayette, Louisiana, area are invited to the April meeting of the Acadiana Audubon Society, where I'll present "Hummingbird Gardens." Come learn how to attract those little buzzers into your life. The meeting is at 6:30 PM at the Acadiana Symphony Hall. Come on down!!
Copyright © 1997
Nancy L. Newfield
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