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The Day Got Better and Better. And the Puzzle Grew an Extra Piece.

I can assure you that the earlier you rise, the longer you take to actually wake up. Very often I found myself seated behind the steering wheel making a last effort to properly wake myself before I head out. The benefit with this is that there is no time for any wandering of the mind between the time my eyes open to the time I arrive at my destination. In particular that thought of ‘How’s today going to be? What am I going to see?’

I try to avoid expectations, generally. It is especially important to avoid expectations when you’re going to visit any wild place, the only given with nature is its unpredictability. And to go into the forest thinking that you’re definitely going to see that Chestnut Woodpecker that someone saw yesterday is just asking for disappointment. After all, nature is freedom embodied, the wind blows however it wants, the birds fly wherever they want, you get the point, right? Sure enough, you may be likely to see certain species given the habitat, however there are absolutely no guarantees.

Getting where you’re going early ensures that you can settle properly and tune in to all that’s around you. From the time the vehicles’ engines are turned off, the sounds of the gradually waking forest become more and more apparent. Your ears tell you what’s there before your eyes can even discern colour. Also, the low light levels gives one the opportunity to mess around with longer exposures, which I particularly enjoy doing. It’s a genre of nature photography that’s touch and go for many people, but after all, everything isn’t for everyone, and some things are for some people. A Scaled Pigeon zooming past provided the best opportunity for a glorified smudge :)

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It had seemed that the day was going to be a productive one, but once the sun peeked over the horizon everything seemed to move to the highest branches of the trees. A couple hours in, and there was nothing great to show for our efforts. Finally, we followed the trademark call of a Guianan Trogon to a low-branched tree where (surprisingly) we found her without much trouble.

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As promised in my last post, here’s an image of a female Green-backed Trogon I made in a drizzle three years ago for comparison. Can you pick out the differences between the females of both species?

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Strangely, as the day got hotter, activity increased. Birds were calling more, and within half an hour we got decent enough views of Yellow-breasted Flycatcher and White-shouldered Tanager. Perhaps the most gratifying bird for me was a beautiful male Long-billed Starthroat. This hummingbird is listed as common, many folks have seen it with a certain degree of regularity at hummingbird feeders in the northern range – however I could probably count the number of times I’ve seen this bird on one hand. And naturally, this bird stayed in the thickest of thickets, only flying off to feed every few moments. Fortunately for me, it kept returning to the same branch and I was able to do what I do best – wait.

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The activity was not limited to the trees, the warming air provided the perfect conditions for the efficient flight of larger birds. Vultures, hawks and kites (such as the Plumbeous Kite pictured below) ride the warm air currents called thermals to cover as much distance with the least possible effort.

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Just as it was approaching home-time (exact time of which is always determined by how hot it gets) we got a call about an unbelievable sighting from the gardens at the Asa Wright Nature Centre. A Rufous-shafted Woodstar. All thoughts about fatigue, hunger and any chores waiting at home were instantly thrown out the window.

On the way to the Centre, I thought about the woodstar. I thought about the starthroat that I had just seen. Was this all real? I was happy to call it a day once I had photographed the Long-billed Starthroat. The Rufous-shafted Woodstar would be the final piece of the hummingbird puzzle for me, that elusive #17 of the 17 species of these minuscule jewels found in T&T. It’s a high elevation migrant, measuring all of 7cm from bill to tail. The probability of me seeing one of these was next to zero. I tried not to think about it too much, lest I called a blight upon myself. By the time I arrived and flew down to the garden, I had absolutely no trouble locating where the woodstar was. At least five other photographers were stationed in a corner, lenses all trained on a particular powder-puff tree. I still didn’t want to believe that there was a woodstar present until I laid my own eyes upon the creature.

My photographer friends showed me their pictures of the diminutive bird. Cute as a button. But it had flown off just before I got there. Hummingbirds are creatures of habit though, and it was just making its circle, supposedly soon to return. I was anxious. I tried to occupy myself with a male Tufted Coquette that was feeding nearby. It was surreal with so many photographers around, all of whom were neglecting this bird which on a regular day would fill memory cards.

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Finally, the Rufous-shafted Woodstar returned. Everyone galvanized into action. I think we all had a lot of fun :)

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Even though it’s supposedly the same size as the Tufted Coquette, it just seems so much smaller. Perhaps it’s the way it poses, perhaps it’s the way it holds its tail. I have no clue. I couldn’t even believe that I was photographing a Rufous-shafted Woodstar. When it finally perched, we really got to appreciate how tiny it was.

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I couldn’t get enough of this bird. Its plumage told us that it was likely a juvenile male. One of my most treasured moments, for sure. My local hummingbird collection was finally complete, after many years of searching.

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A couple of weeks later, the eighteenth species of hummingbird was added to the list as an Amethyst Woodstar was recorded in the Lopinot valley. And the puzzle grew an extra piece. Hahahahaha.