Asa Wright beyond the feeders
female Barred Antshrike digiscoped @ Asa Wright Lodge, July 08
One of the huge advantages of digiscoping is the ability to zoom in from a long distance away. For the image above I was standing >30' away taking the picture through a tiny hole in the foliage of a hedge, so as not to disturb this bird. In this same area Vervain bushes with tiny flowers were planted. This was important because tiny flowers attract tiny hummingbirds, with tiny bills, and every morning I'd see the amazing Tufted Coquettes here zipping from stalk to stalk. There were at least three in the area including a stunning male with unbelievable feathering that resembled a diminutive winged crown. I unfortunately never found him perched and he always alluded me as I attempted to digiscope him on the fly. The female perched in the image below though was still marvelous to view, and she was barely the length of my first two finger joints!
Of course, I'd be remiss if I neglected to mention how each day began at Asa Wright lodge. As I lay in bed just before first light I'd hear through my open windows the distinctive tooting of the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl perched just outside my room. After enjoying this for a while, the calling was replaced by that of the resident White-tailed Trogon, and as light increased he was joined by Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Bare-eyed Thrush, and even Yellow Oriole songs! On most days, I'd be up by Trogon thirty at the latest, but on the morning following a night trip to the beaches of Matura in search of nesting Sea Turtles, I stayed in bed later.... (never fear that story will be told soon as well).
On my first morning I'd barely ventured beyond the shelter of the veranda and was already seeing marvelous new birds along the first couple hundred feet of the nature trails. Bearded Bellbirds chimed overhead and numerous young males were challenging the adults here, Blue-crowned Motmots gave their familiar "booht-booht" calls as they swung their tails back and forth in the shadowed areas, followed by a pair of fabulous Chestnut Woodpeckers that crept up a dead snag at the first intersection. AMAZING... and I'd only just begun my hike!
It was at this point that I found a marvelous tree full of fruit and fruit-eating birds including Bay-headed & Turquoise Tanagers, Red-crowned AntTanager, Golden-crowned Warblers, and both White-bearded & Golden-headed Manakins. As it turns out there are multiple lekking areas for both of these species very near this tree. For those who aren't aware, Manakin males do marvelous displays in areas known as leks. On the lek, multiple males of these colorful little birds dance and slide up and down limbs, smack their wings together in mid-air making loud "snap" noises, and do whatever else they can to impress the females nearby. The whole scene is just awesome to see, and Manakins are a favorite group among many birders visiting the American tropics as a result of this fabulous spectacle.
Of course, one of the VERY rare treats found along one particular trail on the Asa Wright grounds leads to the infamous grotto where the amazing nocturnal Oilbirds breed and roost. Asa Wright staff is very protective of these wonderful birds bringing people down at intervals of once only every couple days. They do not linger long and will light the area near one pair for a very brief period and then show another to allow visitors the rare opportunity to see these enormous birds.
They must be doing something right because while we were there the numbers of Oilbirds in the famed grotto were at record high numbers with over 200 birds including chicks. You can't argue with success. I had basically one shot and set up the scope at a safe distance and had every setting ready. I had to shoot at a full 1 second exposure given the limited light, at a very high ISO so the picture is noisy (equivalent to grain in film). None-the-less, I count myself lucky to even see these odd nocturnal frugivores, a photo is just unreal.
Larger than most common gull species you might see at your local park, the Oilbirds take to the forests in search of their favorite fruits every night. Nature Centre staff know which trees are best and regularly disperse seeds near the grotto to insure the future of food plants for these magnificent birds. Of course, nature centre staffers have to remain ever vigilent and keep a close eye on other threats like encroaching aggregate mining just one valley away. I'm certain from everything I saw, the folks at Asa Wright will insure that future generations will be able to still enjoy this ever so rare treat in years to come though!