Nancy Newfield 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.

May 1997

Follow That Dream (part 2)

Early on the third morning, my companion and I bounded out the door of the humble Hotel Wladimir in downtown Maracay, Venezuela, ready for our first full day of South American birding. We'd packed a few pastries and a couple of cans of Coca-Cola for the day's sustenance, opting to wait 'til evening for a real dinner.

Pre-dawn traffic was light as the two of us scampered across the Avenida Simon Bolivar to catch a local bus to the city's central terminal, where hundreds of aging and battered busses parked awaited fares and departure times. Locating the one bound for the coastal city of Ocumare was difficult. It seemed to be hidden and was much older than most of the other busses, but many seats were already taken. We hopped aboard.

Soon, the city fell away as the bus jounced along the narrow highway through Henri Pittier National Park. The terrain was mountainous. My companion pointed out the Rancho Grande Biological Station where we would bird the next few days. But, our destination for this fine day was a lowland road through cocoa and coffee plantations.

Several other people left the bus at the Turiamo Road stop. They seemed to be in a hurry. We were not. "Let's let everyone else get ahead, so we can enjoy the birds without interruption," offered my buddy.

I watched as the other passengers disappeared from view. A black bird with a brilliant saffron rump called as it glided past us. "Yellow-rumped Cacique," he stated matter-of-factly, "I've seen lots of them." It was another lifer for me!

Soon, we were ticking off lots of new birds. It was here that my pal's previous South American experience paid off—Wire-tailed Manakin, Venezuelan Tyrannulet, Scaled Piculet—all were new to me.

A small, clear river ran along the left side of the road. Spotted Sandpipers bobbed along the bank. Birding was lively at first, then as the sun beat down the birds quieted. Still, we would follow the road as far as it would take us. There seemed to be a real scarcity of hummingbird habitat as the roadside had few flowering plants.

The river's edge was cool and shady, a sharp contrast to the warm, sunny road a few yards away. Every so often, I picked my way through the brush to reach the water, where I could sit and watch for kingfishers.

"Look, a hummer!" my friend shouted.

I focused my attention to a patch of pink flowers on the far bank. There, a tiny, brown Little Hermit floated effortlessly from blossom to blossom. It lit upon a twig, but before I could get binoculars on it, zipped away.

A little while later, another hummingbird splashed into the river. This bird was large for a hummer, glittering green above and below except for a tuft of fluffy white under his black tail. "White-vented Plumeleteer!" my companion called out. Clearly, he had done his homework.

We watched for ten minutes as the hummer alternately dipped into the river, then perched to preen. His preening perch was shaded, robbing him of all the shimmering color. Hovering in the sun just before each dive, he glowed emerald-green. Wow!!! What a show! What a thrill!

Morning number four found us taking a taxi to the research station in Henri Pittier National Park. That way it would be easier to reach the site early, but stops for gasoline and smokes put us there well after first light.

A screeching flock of Blood-eared Parakeets landed in a tree near the gate as if in greeting. Walking up the paved drive, I noted many familiar hummer plants in full flower. I'd want to get back here to just sit and watch. But first, we would hike the forest trails. Birding was slow at first. Black-faced Antthrushes called from the underbrush.

I noticed a shrub with large red flowers, surely a hummer attractor! They were common throughout the forest, but scattered out, so none would likely be the center of a territory. I made a point to keep looking at them so as to catch a glimpse of any hummingbird that visited—a good strategy, but it didn't work. My companion spied several, but I never got on them quickly enough. Frustration!

The first hummingbird we found perched was a female Violet-chested Hummingbird, a large husky hummer with a tawny belly and a long, curved bill. She perched quietly facing us on a horizontal section of vine, allowing us to approach closely. At one point, she hopped up and turned her back to us, but remained on the same perch. She seemed very tame. This was the species my companion had used to lure me along on this Venezuelan adventure—and this bird was the only member of the species we would find the whole trip!

Later, we found a good fruiting tree filled with tanagers. It was easy to stand below and tick off the colorful birds. I had paid scant attention to a bush with small waxy, yellow flowers that grew within a few feet of my vantage point, but soon I heard the familiar—and very welcome—buzzing of trochilid wings very near. It was a male Booted Racket-tail hovering just a couple of feet from my face! I dared not move.

As he moved to a shrub farther away, I slowly put up my binoculars to get a detailed look—tiny, shimmering emerald throat and breast, bronze-green crown, back and belly, fluffy tufts of purest white around each leg. The most exciting part was his tail—dull black and very long. The outermost feathers were bare—mere wires—with discs of glossy black on the ends. He seemed unconcerned by out presence as he returned several times during the hour or so we remained in place. Ahhh!

"Let's go back to the headquarters building to eat our pastries," my compatriot suggested.

That was fine with me. We'd sit and watch the hummer plants along the driveway while taking a long, slow lunch.

I found a fairly comfortable, flat rock that gave me a view of a nice stand of scarlet-flowered Turk's Cap. Glittering-throated Emeralds chattered as they approached the shrubs. I turned to study a Bronzy Inca probe peach-colored blossoms of a ginger. Then, out the corner of my eye, I got a fleeting glimpse of a Long-tailed Sylph, a large, elegant hummer clad in stunning green with a very long, forked tail of electric blue and royal purple. It was only a fleeting glimpse.

After a long wait for the bird to return, clouds began rolling in over the mountains. Alas, it was time to catch a bus back to town.

[continued in June]

WILDLIFE GARDEN SYMPOSIUM AND PLANT SALE - May 24, 1997 - The Louisiana Nature Center in New Orleans is hosting an all-day program by noted experts and authors. I'll be presenting "Hummingbird Gardens" from 1:30 - 2:30 PM. Other speakers are Gary Ross "World of Butterflies", Charlotte Seidenberg "How to Make a Wildlife Garden", and Dan Gill "How to Plant & Grow Plants for Attracting Butterflies and Hummingbirds". There will also be exhibits, crafts, and book signings. Phone 504-246-5672 for more information. Y'All come!

Happy Hummingbirding!

Copyright © 1997
Nancy L. Newfield
Casa Colibri
Metairie, LA

Previous Hummer Notes columns: July 1996 | August 1996 | September 1996 | October 1996 | November 1996 | December 1996 | January 1997 | February 1997 | March 1997 | April 1997