There is absolutely no question about it. Yeah, enough with the every creature is beautiful in its own right – if we’re talking about birds, the most striking and oftentimes the most memorable – are the brilliantly coloured Honeycreepers. Cousins of the well-known Tanager clan, they may not be as popular, but they are by no means less beautiful. Here in T&T, we have three species – Green, Purple and Red-legged Honeycreepers. A few weekends ago, we were fortunate to bag all three in a single mission.
Rumbling along the Arima-Blanchisseuse Road, keeping an eye out for oncoming vehicles, an eye out for potholes, an eye out for the sheer drop off the left side of the road, and another eye out for life – I suddenly stopped the vehicle. Jumping out and walking a short distance back, stuck in the middle of the valley was a lone mountain immortelle tree. There must be something feeding on these flowers – in any case the tree itself was gorgeous in the setting.
Although my first thought was to photograph the tree against the distant mountainside, that never happened. Green and Red-legged Honeycreepers, Blue-grey Tanagers, Bananaquits and Blue Dacnis were all in attendance. I focussed on tracking the male Red-legged Honeycreeper – for the sole reason that in Trinidad, one does not get this opportunity often – the other two species are the common species here. On Tobago, however, the Red-legged Honeycreeper is the only representative.
Eventually, I located the bird, and realized that he was hopping rather briskly along, not staying on one flower for too long. After all, it’s not like he had a limited selection!
When a brief shower of rain passed over, I scrambled for subjects. Environmental shot plus the element of water? Say no more. I think this image captures the bounty of the rainforest perfectly.
Green Honeycreepers do stand out wherever they are. Even in a dark Pommerac tree. But seeing them up close is heart-stopping. You’re never too sure of the exact shade of aqua – sometimes it can look turquoise – but close looks reveal the soft black cap, sunshine yellow mandible and blood-red iris.
At the Asa Wright Nature Centre, regular feedings make sightings like these commonplace. But no less special! Interesting to note even though these birds do not have the slender, decurved bills of the Red-legged and Purple Honeycreepers, they still are members of the family – fruits just make up a larger percentage of their diet than nectar.
Purple Honeycreepers rely heavily on nectar as a source of nutrition, so they need their slender bills to reach into flowers (sometimes they will pierce the base of the flower). They also ingest fruit and the odd insect now and again for a protein boost. Adult males like this one are unmistakable.
Even though I have been observing Purple Honeycreepers for some years, seeing this particular bird was a first. This is an immature male – an awkward teenager if you will – looking visibly unsure of the integrity of his decision making capability.