Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fiery-throated Hummingbird

The male fiery-throated hummingbird on his favorite perch.

I've focused the last few BOTB posts on the first days of my recent Panama trip. During those initial field trips in Panama (a new entry on my Countries I've Birded In list) the best bird we saw (for me anyway) was the fiery-throated hummingbird. There was a very cooperative male fiery-throated coming to the feeders at the upper cabin owned by Los Quetzales Lodge and Spa in Volcán Barú National Park near Guadalupe in the province of Chiriqui. This was one of the stops on our birding tour of Panama, courtesy of Panama La Verde Birding Circuits.

There were dozens and dozens of other hummers there at the Los Quetzales cabins—and perhaps 10 or more different hummingbird species. But it was the fiery-throated hummingbird male that captured the attention of the avid photographers on this field trip. The challenge of course was getting a good photograph. In the low light conditions of the cloud forest, under not only a thick canopy of trees, but also under a sheltering roof, there were two choices: use a flash unit or open your camera way up and hope that a tripod offered enough stability to compensate for the slow shutter speeds. I opted for the latter strategy, sans flash.

Now I know just enough about the finer details of digital camera settings to fill a thimble halfway. And I try not to think about all the great photographic opportunities I've blown by being such a digital photo doofus. (Note to self: Ask Santa for a photography workshop for Christmas).

Lucky for me this male hummingbird had a penchant for a certain perch when he wasn't visiting the feeders, so I (and my more talented fellow camera-wielders) got ample opportunity to take pictures, check the results (LOVE that about the digital era!), change settings, and shoot some more. As I mentioned before, both Jeffrey A. Gordon and Mike Freiberg gave me some sage advice. Later on, at the David airport, I paid them back by buying them rounds of a Panamanian beer that made Budweiser seem like fine French wine, but I digress...

Everything on the male fiery-throated hummingbird seems to be iridescent.

We took turns stepping into the best spots for photographing the fiery-throated. Then we'd edge closer. Every few minutes the male would fly up to the feeders and we'd head back under the porch roof to await his return. Eventually, just before we had to leave, I got close enough to get some decent, frame-filling images of his fieriness.

In low light, when he faced to the side, the fiery-throated hummer looked like just another small, straight-billed, dark hummingbird.

In low light, facing to the side, only two gorget feathers of the male fiery-throated offer any hint of the colorful plumage.

But when any part of his head, breast, or gorget faced directly at you, a blast of color went right to your eyes.

When he turned slightly toward me, the colors began to appear.

After taking a bunch of images I decided I needed to see the bird better with my eyes, so I got the keys to the Land Rover and ran back down the muddy trail to fetch my spotting scope. Back at the cabin, scope set on the male on his favorite perch, I blissed out (despite my panting from the run down the hill and back) just watching the little guy sit, preen, snooze, and chatter at passing rivals.
Every so often I got lucky and captured a blast of iridescence.

This is one individual bird I am going to remember for a long, long, time.

Fiery-throated seems like an appropriate name for this little dude.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Panama Birding Day 1

My most recent trip was to the isthmus of land that connects Central and South America: the country of Panama. I was the guest, along with seven other birders, of an organization called Panama La Verde Birding Circuits. The Panama La Verde group is trying to develop ecotourism (especially birding) routes connecting (mostly) rural hotels and lodges in places that have not been traditional stops for most tourists visiting Panama. Our familiarization trip was aimed at helping to spread the word about Panama. I plan to write a feature article in Bird Watcher's Digest in the future, so I shouldn't share everything here at Bill of the Birds.

But I do want to give you a flavor of birding in Panama, so we'll be visiting that fine tropical land over the next several days.

I arrived in Panama City late last Monday night on a Delta flight from Atlanta with Jeffrey A. Gordon (BWD field editor, regular tour leader and Leica birding rep) and Mike Freiberg (Nikon's full-time Pro Birder dude) also on board. All we had time to do was schlep from the Panama City airport to our hotel, The Albrook Inn.

Before we went to our rooms for the night, Jeff heard and then squeaked up a tropical screech-owl in the garden of the Albrook Inn. The trip's first good bird (nocturnal great-tailed grackles don't really count)!

The next morning we'd get up at 5 am to go BACK to the airport for a commuter flight to the western highlands of Panama, a region known as Chiriqui. Within 36 hours, I'd go from doing The Big Sit in my birding tower on my southeast Ohio farm to standing in the cloud forest of remote western Panama.

I. Could. Not. Wait.

From left: Cristina Cervantes, Yenia Mendoza of Panama La Verde (obscured), Lisa White, Jeffrey A. Gordon, Kees van Berkel, and Liz Payne.

My fellow travelers on the Panama La Verde trip were: the aforementioned Jeff Gordon and Mike Freiberg, plus Lisa A. White of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Arizona birder and travel facilitator Liz Payne, birder/blogger/businessman John Ruitta, Cristina Cervantes general manager of birding tour company Tropical Birding, and Dutch birding tour leader Kees van Berkel.

¡Algo mas mañana mis amigos!

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