Friday, April 11, 2014

Northern Peru Hummingbirds #4

On my northern Peru tour this past February, one of the target birds that everyone knew about and really wanted to see was this Marvelous Spatuletail. It really is one of the most amazing hummingbirds. It’s now quite easy to see at the Huembo Center feeders about an hour west of the Owlet Lodge.

The feeders here had a good variety and were quite a bit different than at the Owlet Lodge (though since my last visit, the bossy Chestnut-breasted Coronets had increased here, perhaps a seasonal thing). This was the only place we had the White-bellied Woodstar, and all we saw here were males.

On the other hand, most, if not all of the female woodstars we saw here were Little Woodstar, only a little shorter-tailed than White-bellied, but distinctively rufousy throughout. (At the end of the tour, a male Little Woodstar was at the porterweed hedge at Waqanki).

While the Huembo feeders have been around for a few years, a 20 minute drive in the opposite direction from the Owlet Lodge is another bank of feeders that has been up and running for just a few months. It’s called Fundo Alto Nieva.

The stunted plant growth on sandy soils here harbors the right mix of ericaceous and melastomataceous plants for a couple species of hummingbirds that have a very patchy and localized distribution, and which have never been seen at feeders before. The most beautiful one is the all-blue Royal Sunangel (the green highlights on the left bird may be remnants of immature plumage or just the angle of the light).

The other species I saw at feeders here for the first time is this Greenish Puffleg, so little known that the available pictures in the field guides look nothing like the real thing.

We saw two other species at these feeders, this female Booted Racket-tail...

...and this Violet-fronted Brilliant.

The two guys running the simple station here are Kenny on the left, a very good birder who has done bird surveys for others in the region, and Wilmer on the right, the younger brother of Santos who runs the Huembo center for the Marvelous Spatuletail. Both of these guys know their birds well.

The other bird that this new Alto Nieva site is now famous for is the Long-whiskered Owlet. It’s a fairly easy 1-km hike up a trail to a couple of territories, about doubling the total number of this tiny owl reachable by birders. We finally saw one on our fourth try and final night, surely a result of the poor weather (raining much of the night) early on in our stay.

My next tour to this area is already set for February 19-28, 2015, with just five or six spaces left. I'm looking forward to it!

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Sword-bearing Sword-bearer

One species I left out of my last post from the Owlet Lodge was this marvelous bird, the Sword-billed Hummingbird. It has always been a very scarce bird in this area, or at least very scarcely seen by birders, and even then only very briefly amongst the lush roadside cloud forest growth. But two days before my WINGS tour arrived, for the very first time in the five years that feeders have been maintained at this lodge, this individual began visiting the feeders. It came in off and on all day long during our five-day stay.

Many hummingbirds are very inquisitive and will find nectar wherever it can be found. They just stick their bill into anything and see what it contains. That is why you can see so many species of hummingbirds at feeders that look nothing like real flowers – very close to every species that occur in an area will eventually be found at the feeders you hang there.

But a few species of hummingbirds are specialists on whatever flower they feed from and are rarely, if ever seen at feeders. I can think of a few, such as the often common Violet-headed Hummingbird, that I have never heard of visiting feeders.

This leathery-leafed, tall-climbing Passiflora vine, when open, is presumably one of the primary natural food sources for the Sword-bill here. The length and angle of the flower tube is perfect.

With its amazing bill, it's pretty obvious that the Sword-billed Hummingbird is rather a specialist, so it took an enterprising and bold (and maybe very hungry) individual to discover that these feeders, looking nothing like a long-tubed flower, had food potential.

The scientific name, Ensifera ensifera, is Latin for "Sword-bearing sword-bearer." Think of "conifer" meaning "cone–bearer" and "crucifer" meaning "cross-bearer" and you can guess that "ensis" is a Latin word for sword. Incidentally, a binomial consisting of two identical words like this is a tautonym, not uncommon in zoology, but not allowed in botanical nomenclature. My botany professor explained this with "Tonella tenella is not a total tautonym."

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Northern Peru Hummingbirds #2

Our main base for the Northern Peru tour is the five-year-old Owlet Lodge at the pass long known to ornithologists at Abra Patricia. It’s owned by ECOAN, a non-profit organization for which we’re very grateful, as they purchased the surrounding large tract of cloud forest, protect it from clearing and hunting, and make it available for birders.

The hummingbird feeders here provide endless hours of entertainment and photographic opportunities. It’s hard to justify just sitting at feeders though, when you know that there are dozens of exciting cloud forest birds in mixed flocks and in the understory along the trails. But the abundant rain we had on this tour provided the perfect excuse.

Chestnut-breasted Coronet is the most abundant and aggressive species here. They have a distinctive way of holding their wings up for a brief moment upon perching.

Emerald-bellied Puffleg is also rather common, usually managing to fly under the coronets’ radar.

The Collared Inca is larger than the coronets, but was quite shy and didn’t seem to like all the commotion.

The interesting Bronzy Inca (few hummers are so drab) was also not as aggressive as the coronets, but they managed to hold their own.

The Long-tailed Sylph is one of my favorite hummingbirds of all. They came and went as they pleased and weren’t bothered much by the more aggressive birds, preferring to chase each other.

We saw Speckled Hummingbird only a few times, when it would perch between the feeders and waited for a gap in the buzzing activity. It looks vaguely like a hermit but is not related to them.

This Amethyst-throated Sunangel demonstrates how the feathers of the gorget and forecrown are actually black. Only when the light is refracted through the external structure of the feathers at just the right angle do the fabulous colors show.

The banana feeder right next to the hummingbirds was probably originally erected to attract tanagers, but now it’s frequented by a couple of Tayras, a large, omnivorous neotropical weasel.