Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Hummingbirds of Ecuador

I had not been back in Ecuador for about twenty years.  Quito has a brand new airport that eliminated the anxieties of landing in the old one, where the landing approach was between the mountains, so close that it appeared that at anytime the tips of the wings were going to be torn away.  The drive along the mountain roads was then dangerous;  expecting that at the next curve there would be no road.  The highways now  are now first class (at least the ones I traveled on). Overall I observed great improvement. And the currency is the “mighty dollar”; no fuss with money exchanges.

  Photographing hummingbirds is easy; you visit various lodges in the mountain that specialize in this endeavor.  One select lodging is at different altitudes, since the vertical differences give one the opportunity of photographing different species.  Below is an Andean  Emerald followed by a Sparkling Violetear.

 Hummingbird photography has become very sophisticated but I only used one flash and sat near the feeders waiting for the flying jewels to fly by… easy to capture them since they are so fast.  Others use multiple flashes and enclosures to control the backgrounds.  And most likely when you see a hummingbird libating from a flower, it was a set-up where sugar water is added to attract them.  Yes, some of my images were done that way but when birds are flying it is a different story; these are mostly pure luck to capture since they are so fast.  The two images below have a great flaw that most observers will not notice.  First, a banana flower and when hanging from the plant, it points down; here it is pointing up and was filled with sugar water.  In the third image below, the flower was cut from the plant and held on a pedestal - also baited with sugar water.  Giving away secrets of the trade.  Below is a Fawn-breasted Brilliant  followed by a Booted Racket-Tail with a wasp (the hummers stay away from flowers with wasps).  Then the later image is again with a Purple-bibbed Whitetip and a Booted Racked Tail visiting a flower.

 The next images were not set-up; they were captured in a normal environment but no doubt were attracted to the area by the activities of the other hummingbirds.  These are not concerned with the presence of people and would at times land on your camera gear; I have red strap camera connectors and they will come and sit on them; these birds are definitely attracted to bright red and yellow flowers.  This  way the plants ensure that their flowers will be pollinated.  Hummers do not only feed on honey but on small flying insects and maneuvering while chasing them, perform aerobatics that would make the Blue Angels jealous. Below we have a lazy one, a Purple-bibbed Whitetip does not want to fly to get his sweets followed by the Violet-tailed Sylph, probably the nicest looking one I saw.

 Hummingbirds are very territorial and will claim ownership of a feeder and guard it by chasing the others away when they attempt to feed.  This results in lengthy battles and I witnessed at times them using their bills like thrusting swords to the body and at times locking bills.  But in the end, one is chased away. Those fighting are Booted Racket-Tails followed by the image of a Buff-tailed Coronet.

 Below are the Sword-billed hummingbird and the Long-tailed Sylph (in the background out of focus) who were visiting the same feeder. The Sword-billed did not stick the bill in the feeder but used the tongue to lap the liquid as a dog would drink.

 There are other birds that will fly by such as the Toucan Barbet that has caught a moth.  They don’t eat the wings so they beat the insect against a branch until the wings are dislodged.  In one of the lodges they had a feeder with fruits that attracted red squirrels closely observed by Crimson-rumped Toucanet; they seem not to mind each other.  And to complete this blog - a gorgeous bird, the Rufous Motmot.