Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Charm of Hummingbirds

Violet Sabrewing
One would think that finding hummingbirds in the tropics would be easy.  After all, one just needs to put out a feeder and watch them come, right? 

Lesser Violetear

In theory, it would work but the problem here is that many people don't put out hummingbird feeders.  In today's report, I'll share with you TWO amazing hummingbird stations that are located near or in Monteverde's major attractions, Monteverde Cloud Forest National Park(the Hummingbird Gallery) and Selvatura(the hummingbird and butterfly garden). 

male Purple-throated Mountain-gem
The other challenge?  The hummingbirds were the hardest group of birds to ID! I would pull out my 2 pound bird guide and scratch my head. I was distracted by the very purple Violet Sabrewings because I love purple.  

Some of the green ones slipped our radar during our first observations because the pretty purple and blue ones stole the show!  So give yourself time and let your brain naturally sort itself all out. 

Coppery-headed Emerald
During our research to the Monteverde Cloud Forest National Park, we noticed a separate ebird hotspot near the entrance to the park that had a ton of reports on hummingbirds.  Now while we were in the park, we saw only two species of hummingbird AND in poor light!  As we exited and ate lunch, everyone kind of wandered around the area waiting for the city bus. Then I noticed a cafe nearby.  What was THAT? The Hummingbird Gallery? This didn't sound like a place to view wild birds, but what the heck, I'd check it out anyway. Turns out that they not only served pastries and coffee but a healthy dose of hummingbird species!

female Violet Sabrewing
We extended our day trek stay for another hour. Then the rain started coming down.  It's super cheap taking the local bus over the tourist ones.  The only catch with the local bus is, once again, making sure you know when the last bus leaves for the day.  And we were cutting it close. Again, it all comes down to the time we are given.

Our next day trek was scheduled for Selvatura and the hanging bridges hike. This is a great place for ziplining. Transportation to this location was part of the entrance package.  We also mentioned we were birders at our lodge and received free hummingbird passes. 

And at this point (and I'm going to be honest here), we headed to our next destination.  I was not impressed with the help at Selvatura Park. It was overpriced and the workers didn't seem to care at all about their jobs.  Nor did they know anything other than how to collect money.  The ONLY reason why we were there was to see their hummingbird garden and go for the hike to hopefully spot the Three-wattled Bellbird. I don't think it was worth the 30 some dollar package price.  However, I will say that this park is ALL about the ziplining and it looked legit. The guides for the ziplining were also legit as I eavesdropped on their conversations.  They were excited about what they did and the visitors they served.  The nature part is just back drop apparently:)

female Green Thorntail
The Monteverde Cloud Forest National Park had friendly and helpful people.  Selvatura, not so much.  We were there for the rare Three-wattled Bellbird.  I don't want to say that this was a disappointing visit but it didn't live up to the hype.  We did hear the Bellbird a couple times.  The hanging bridges were HUGE and scared several hikers!  There was one bridge where I couldn't stop or look down.  

However, the hike was beautiful.  I added several birds to my lifelist.  When our hike was done, I handed the hummingbird garden pass to the bored ticket taker.  We spent quite a bit of time in the garden watching the spectacular hummingbird show.  We went stretches without seeing these birds and then in two days, we had hummingbird overload!

Coppery-headed Emerald
The ID for this group of birds was the most difficult.  The females seemed easier than the males to ID.  But I can say that after two weeks of post study, I can now distinguish each species of hummingbird we observed. 

Stripe-tailed Hummingbird
Living in Arizona, I have come to know and understand all of our local hummingbirds well.  It took me years to distinguish the various female species but now, it's easy. And it gets easier the more one birds.  Instead of years learning bird ID, it takes weeks or days now thanks in part to all the background field experiences. 

So when it came time to ID'ing rain forest hummers, I was once again challenged by ID. Behavior and interaction were also key into understanding these birds better. 

female Purple-throated Mountain-gem
In the pic below, I'd look at the feeders and see green.  And these birds are fast, so we'd get brief glimpses before they'd zip off.  It was tricky. 

At the feeders, hummingbirds would perch on your fingers while they fed.  Some species were more trusting than others.  The Green-crowned Brilliant was VERY trusting. 

male Green-crowned Brilliant
However, the Green Hermit was VERY skittish. There was an even trickier hummer called the Purple-crowned Fairy!  I saw this bird several times on the trip and here's what I'll tell you all.  It's flies like a fairy....not even joking....and it's fast!  By the time I noticed the bird, it was gone.  The flight pattern was spastic and irregular.  I can usually predict a birds' flight pattern.  This hummer, however, was all over the place and difficult to capture on camera. 

Green Hermit
Anyhow,  sometimes I think it would be fun to just do a hummingbird year in the Americas.  There are more than 300 hummers out there.  I printed the list off!  How fun would that be?!  Start in Arizona, hit Texas for 2 of their regulars and head south.  We did well in Costa Rica by the end of our trip with over 20 some hummingbirds seen. 

Most people, whether they like birds or not, are fascinated by hummingbirds.  They are a group of birds only found in the Americas(including the surrounding islands).  And some are in very very special places.  I am currently researching ONE hummingbird in a remote area that I hope to find this year.  Another hummer that I look forward to chasing is up in the Andes Mountains.  It's a chunky hopper that lives in another remote region. So you might be thinking, "What was your favorite hummingbird from this area?"  Ok.  I'll bite.  

male Green Thorntail
I love PURPLE.  So the Violet Sabrewing is awesome.  I also love the Lesser Violetear and Purple-throated Mountain-gems.  But the one that stole my heart was the Green Thorntail.  This tiny hummer with its slow bee like movement buzzed in and out of the feeders courageously.  The other hummers were aggressive but this species stood its ground.  They stick their tail up in the air to give them a wasp/bee like air so that the others will leave them alone.  Just take a look at the video above.  During the observation, I fell in love with this one female as she boldly went for the nectar.  

female Green-crowned Brilliant
Monteverde was a fun adventure. Our hummingbird finds wouldn't stop.  I was looking forward to San Jose and exploring the city and surrounding nature areas.  We'd meet up with friend and bird guide Serge Arias to explore two key spots near the Cartago area.  For birders looking for a guide in this area, Serge is one of the people to contact because he can coordinate your bird list needs with other guides.  But we'll explore that in our next chapter of travel.  For now, it's hard to say good-bye to the misty forests of Monteverde.  
Here are several of our checklists from our journeys in and around Monteverde. 
In Monteverde, the town itself, click here
For Monteverde Cloud Forest, click here
For Selvatura Park, click here.

Just a quick note about the hummingbird nectar used at Selvatura Park as we seemed to have had some comments on Facebook questioning the liquid solution used.  As most of you know in the US, we use 3 cups water to one cup of sugar.  In winter here in the Southwest, we up that sugar content by a little more to help our hummers deal with the cold nights.  No dye should ever be used with the mix.  The red platforms on the feeders will attract the hummers PLUS they are smart birds. The solution here is not honey but it's instead, sugar that has not been bleached.  In the US and many other countries, we "bleach" our sugar with bone char from cattle to give it that desired white look.  Gross but true.  Sugar in its natural state is brown and that is why the water is brown in these feeders:)

Until next time......  


  1. What wonderful birds - only seen hummers on one trip to the US. I did see a Humming Bird Hawk Moth today, which is about as closer to a hummer as I can get!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Grindelwald, Switzerland

    1. LOL! Those bugs are really cool! They are even treated by other hummingbirds as threats. It's fun to watch this little insect float around the flowers as if it were a bird:)

  2. Just love all those hummingbirds - wonderful wonderful photos. A super post Chris. By the way - you were very brave going over that bridge - I just don't think I could have done it! Just the thought of the height and the fact that it must have swayed alarmingly!!!!

    1. Thank you! We had an incident. A young lady from Texas couldn't cross this massive bridge so we helped her across just talking to her the entire way. There was a 20 something on the bridge trying to take a selfie right smack dab in the middle of the walkway. I had to clear him out of the way to make way for the two hikers. Our other birder friend, Gordon, would NOT cross! He just headed to the hummingbird gardens straight away:) It was a nice day though and not as birdy as I would have liked....but we had fun:)

  3. Hello Chris!:) What a fantastic experience that must have been, to see so many beautiful hummingbirds all in one place. Each one is delightful, and I also have a preference for the purple and violet ones. Lovely photos, and info about the nectar,...I didn't know exactly how much water to add, or that the sugar should be brown. We don't see them here of course, but I like knowing anyway. Great post!:)

    1. The sugar doesn't need to be brown. It can be white....just no red dye should be used as it can affect the bird's health. I think I wrote the bit about the brown sugar because it surprised me a while back when I found out we bleach our sugar. They take the molasses bit out which gives it that brown coloring....hope you are well. I have some unpleasant business to take care of but I'm hoping soon I will be able to sit down and do some reading again. Life sometimes takes center stage.

  4. I'm in awe Chris! That purple hummer is the most beautiful I've ever seen...gorgeous. What an amazing day. Thanks so much for sharing these jewels. A hummingbird year would be wonderful.


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