Three Years ago today I launched IncidentalNaturalist.com with a post about my encounter with Hummingbirds in San Francisco. Today I am revisiting these sparkling sprites, but this time my encounter occurred in the wildlife wonderland that is Panama.
We wound our way through narrow roads, up into the highlands, through the charming little town of Boquette and on, turning off the main road into the picturesque coffee plantation of Finca Lerida. I was plunged into a metallic supernova, with air that vibrated with the electric buzz of hummingbirds. I gathered myself over a sumptuous shot of plantation coffee, and set off for a walk around the sprawling grounds in the last of the afternoon sun.
The bushes were coruscating with hummers, each defending their own branch or patch of flowers. My 200-500 mm camera lens was cumbersome. It felt like I was trying to swat a mosquito with a bazooka. Finally a Lesser violet-eared settled and I was able fire a shot (above). Then it seemed, with a blink, they were all gone. I walked on, through the plantation, heading for the higher ground. Rain had started falling and the gloom was gathering. As I climbed higher, spectacular flowers gave way to the dark green leaves of coffee bushes. A buzz tickled my ear as a tiny hummer shaved my cheek. It is always the case with hummers; they fly past the largest, most ornate flowers, preferring to visit leafy bushes decorated with wax droplet flowers that designed themselves entirely to fit the probing beak of hummingbirds. The female Purple-throated mountain-gem dipped her drinking straw into the tiny, blushing flowers beside me.
There are 59 recorded species of hummingbird living in Panama. I was faced with the overwhelming prospect of trying to identify each different species that I spotted. This is a challenge with any bird that I’m not familiar with, but when they were the size of a lip balm and move like lightning cracks the challenge is doubled! This is why I need the camera. If I can freeze the action, even if it is a little blurred, I have a chance of making an identification.
I walked back down the slope towards the ornamental gardens. It didn’t take long for the air to come alive around me again. An electric flash arced around me and I was able to freeze a Lesser violet-eared in flight. Then a Snowy-bellied feeding in the same area.
I walked along a path decorated with a golden flower that surely presented itself as a champagne flute to a thirsty hummer. Just for a moment the clouds yawned open and the last of the honey sun trickled down. In this splinter of time I was regaled by a shimmering supernova of Lesser violet-eared hummingbirds. My camera machine-gunned as the hummers hummed and finally I had the photographs that I desired.
The following morning I was up and out at first light. I only had an hour before I had to check-out of Finca Lerida. It was gloomy and a misty drizzle hung in the air. My camera was not going to enjoy the morning. Suddenly the gloom was torn open as a Violet sabrewing bust incandescently from a tree, crackling across a hedge adorned with pink flowers. The bird was fast, angry and in no mood to pose for photos. He was intent on keeping the first ooze of morning nectar to himself, and he was ready to fight for it.
I dearly wanted to capture a wall-worthy photograph of this ultraviolet sprite, but Mother Nature wasn’t ready to give me that blessing. But she did give me a few precious moments in the presence of exquisite beauty, and a few photographs to help me remember the encounter.
An American gentleman walked passed me and said “you’ll be lucky to catch the sabrewing this morning. There is a Magnificent beside you, though. good luck!”. Sure enough, a Magnificent hummingbird sat beside me, patiently waiting for its turn to drink.
I left Finca Lerida behind for the smoldering heat of Bocas Del Toro, and on to the heat and energy of Panama City. During a visit to the Rainforest Discovery Centre on the outskirts of Panama City I encountered a hummingbird feeder that was exploding with life. The weather was miserable, with heavy rain in danger of washing away my once-in-a-lifetime chance to walk the birding Mecca, Pipeline Road. I waited under a canopy for the rain to ease, watching the different varieties of hummingbirds fight for position on the feeder. The sun hadn’t made it up and was showing little signs of doing so. I took the video below using my iPhone on SLO-MO mode. The quality is questionable but the chance to capture the speed and wing movement of these aerobatic White-necked Jacobin, in real time and slow motion, was unmissable!
By the end of my trip to Panama I had seen 15 of the 59 species of hummingbird. These were incidental encounters. All birds spotted and photographed during a family holiday touring the country. I can’t pick a favourite species because they were all so different, each with their own qualities. I can say that the encounters with the Violet sabrewing and the Lesser violet-eared were the highlights.
With so much beauty in the world it is difficult to say for sure that I have a favourite bird. There are so many extraordinary species to choose from. I can say for sure that there is no species that I like more than hummingbirds. Their electric flight, iridescent feathers and feisty attitude make them a joy to behold. Someday I hope to get back to Finca Lerida. After all, what better way to pass time than with exquisite coffee, a sticky slice of Passion fruit cake, and the company of hummingbirds?
Join the conversation below. Have you encountered hummingbirds? Do you feed them in the garden? Perhaps you have trekked to remote places looking for a rare species?
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