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.
A Letter From Trinidad
20 June 1997
Our flight last week arrived very late, thanks to a mega-thunderstorm in Miami. Everyone was pleased that Karen was able to join us on short notice. We had no trouble finding her in the terminal. Though our arrival was delayed considerably, the staff at the Asa Wright Nature Centre stayed up to greet us with broad smiles and rum punch. After being shown to my bungalow, I dropped off to sleep readily.
Dawn is always a special event in the tropics and first light on my first day found me exploring the spacious grounds. I knew that coffee would be served on the veranda at 6, so I hurried to join the group. Hummers were already hitting the feeders and also making use of the many flowering shrubs down the slope. What a spectacle!
White-necked Jacobins, large hummers with cornflower-blue heads and sparkling white tails, were trying to dominate all the resources. But the beautiful Copper-rumped Hummingbirds put up a good fight. One young Jacobin tried to guard an entire powder-puff tree, even chasing off the honeycreepers and Bananaquits!
Other hummers were more reticent. A Blue-chinned Sapphire kept to the shadows in an orange-flowered Lantana. Only when he turned just so did the rich cobalt-blue sparkle from his throat. A Rufous-breasted Hermit ignored onslaughts from the other hummers while probing every blossom on the shrub. The species mix was quite different from the last time I visited. Still, my most-wanted hummer was not around.
"Where can I find the Ruby-topaz Hummingbird?" I asked Sheldon Driggs, the staff naturalist.
"There is a female coming in to the vervain flowers near the cabins up the hill. I'll take you there," he responded.
I had to jog to keep up with Sheldon's quick gait. Judith kept up easily. Just when I felt I could run no more, the guide stopped abruptly and pointed to a rather plain hummer with a dark mark on her throat. "That's a female Ruby-topaz."
Judith and I watched as she worked her way along the purple flowers and disappeared from sight. Soon, we spied another hummer, this one tiny with a white bar across its rump. "That's a female Tufted Coquette." Sheldon instructed. Another tiny hummer had white tufts on either side of the rump. I puzzled over that one, but the breakfast bell rang before we had time to consult our guide.
The following morning, Judith and I wasted no time hanging around the veranda. We made for the upper hedge of vervain. The female Ruby-topaz was waiting and soon was joined by another one. A large husky Black-throated Mango dived in from a cecropia tree farther up the hill.
We ducked under the eave of one of the bungalows as a light rain began to fall. Karen joined us, hoping for a male coquette. She was not disappointed. The rusty crest and iridescent orange fans on the side of his neck set off the emerald-green of his throat, giving him the appearance of a psychodelic insect!
At a break in the shower, Judith headed back to the main house so she could stay dry for our day of birding. That was when the male Ruby-topaz dashed in for a quick sip. At first, all Karen and I saw was a flash of dusky gold. Then, as he turned this way and that, not four feet away, we marvelled at his glittering ruby-colored crown and shimmering topaz-gold gorget and long chestnut tail. He made not a sound nor did we, enthralled as we were. Wow! For me the trip could have been complete. But, there was more to come.
Trinidad provided birding thrills each dayScarlet Ibis, Red-bellied Macaws, Bearded Bellbird. Gorget aglitter, a Green-throated Mango perched waiting as we chugged into the Caroni Swamp. He turned his head as the big flat-boat went past, but he did not fly. That was an unexpected lifer for me.
All too soon, our Trinidad sojourn was finished. On the 17th, we gathered our gear and moved on to the Blue Waters Inn on Tobago. It didn't take long to find the hummers there either. Hummingbird feeders hung just outside the open-air restaurant, though two of them needed to be cleaned and filled.
But, the best hummer show was at one of the royal poinciana trees that graced the lawn. Each tree had its own clientele and hummer wars were constant. My favorite spot was a short walk up the drive, where I found another male Ruby-topaz defending his turf. This guy was missing several tail feathers and looked more than a little beaten up, but still he continued to prevail.
One of our goals on Tobago was to find the rare White-tailed Sabrewing, a spectacular gem of the forest of the Main Ridge. Rain fell intermittently all morning and the trail was quite slippery, but two males deigned to perch in plain view. Big hummers, with deep blue throats and white whisker-marks, these birds were much more beautiful than any of the guides had pictured. I could not believe our luck.
Yesterday held the biggest surprise, though. While getting change at the front desk of the inn, a female Ruby-topaz zipped past my face. I followed with my eyes and saw her come to rest on a little cup of fine down just twelve feet above the deck. A nest!! It appeared she was incubating.
Everyone in the group got a good look and Marty took some photographs for me. Other guests stopped to see what we were looking at so we were able to share with many.
During lunch, a tremendous storm blew in off the Atlantic. Winds buffeted the sturdy sea grape tree and drenching rain kept everyone inside. When the rain abated, I went to check on "my" nest. Though her feathers were soaked, she remained serene.
Last night was our grand finale. The Tobago Symphonettes, a steel pan orchestra, serenaded diners with melodies as traditional as "Island in the Sun" and as bizarre as "The William Tell Overture!" They played from the deck, a few feet below the hummer nest, as diners came and went. Some people danced and sang along with the tunes. Still, the little bird, my little bird was faithful to her role.
This morning, as the bus rolled away, I watched her gently rocking in the breeze. It is an image that will be will be a part of me forever. I wish you could have been with me to share . . . See y'all soon.
California HummingbirdersDon't miss the Central Valley Birding Symposium December 4-7, 1997 at the Stockton Hilton Hotel and San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, CA. It is hosted by the Central Valley Bird Club and the San Joaquin Audubon Society. I'll be giving a hummer ID seminar twice and also my grand survey of the hummingbird family "The World of Hummingbirds." Other speakers include Kenn Kaufman, Kimball Garrett, Jesse Grantham, Rob Hansen, Jan Pierson, Edward Rooks, Bob Stewart, Ed Harper, Ted Beedy, Don & Kathy Crump, Sid England, and Jack Wilburn. There will be food, field trips, and a birding marketplace, too! Sounds like fun! Hope to see you there. Call Cindy at 1-800-350-1987 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.Copyright © 1997
Nancy L. Newfield
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