Around seven years ago, when I was just getting into bird photography, I found the work of Dr. Theo Ferguson on Flickr – my preferred medium at the time. Prior to this, I had no idea that anyone locally was involved in this artform. I contacted him, and he very graciously agreed to meet with me to discuss my dreams and aspirations.
I remember entering his office, adorned with large-format, exquisite images of birds I had never seen before. He told me the story of photographing a flock of American Flamingos on the west coast a few years earlier. I was in complete awe. He asked about what gear I was using, and he very kindly remarked that I’d need to upgrade to something of higher quality; should my final product be printed images.
In the years that followed, we remained in contact, occasionally meeting up at the sporadic confluence of birders (i.e. at the appearance of a rare bird). Needless to say, I was thrilled when he opened his home – the home of the hummingbird – Yerette – to the public. Now I’ve visited Yerette far less times than I should – I must say that! Each time I visit I’m always promising myself that I’ll be back soon. And then months pass, years pass. I must fix that!
Yesterday I spoke about the tiny Amethyst Woodstar – which was the major driver for our visit to Yerette. But there were lots more to see and photograph.
Yerette has recorded fourteen of the eighteen species of hummingbird, and any visit on any day is sure to deliver a high degree of hummingbird variety. From the common to the seasonal, they all are beautiful. The Black-throated Mango is one of the larger, more conspicuous species, the female possesses a striking black stripe going down her throat.
Common, but decidedly shy, Blue-chinned Sapphires are very often chased by the boisterous Copper-rumped Hummingbirds. They very rarely perch for an extended period of time. This one presented an exposure challenge – but digital photography makes anything possible!
Another common bird that isn’t always seen is the female White-necked Jacobin. Everyone knows the charismatic male of the species, as he is popular at almost every feeder in both Trinidad and Tobago. Somehow females of the species seem to lay low.
On the topic of female hummingbirds (I’m feeling like I visited Yerette for the girls) we had a few Ruby Topaz Hummingbirds in the mix. These are migrants, albeit with very odd migratory habits – they disappear from September and reappear in December – just underscores how much we still need to learn.
Yerette also delivers some of the best views of one of my favourite local species – the Long-billed Starthroat.
Both adults and immatures fancied the feeders from the porch.
Speaking of best views – we had the absolute best views of a very common species. In fact, before this visit, I had never seen a Little Hermit perched anywhere. Based on this particular bird’s abnormal behaviour, Theo suggested that it probably isn’t in the best of health. No complaints from any of the photographers present, though.
But no matter what we were photographing, any time the Amethyst Woodstar reappeared on its perch we all abandoned the lesser subjects and hurried to get in position to create more images of this cute-as-a-button hummingbird, even in bright, harsh sunlight.
As lighting conditions changed, so did the feel of the pictures. The bird was so tame that I ended up shooting verticals. Glad I did, though! The different point of view sucked in some colour from out-of-focus flowers yet kept the deep green of the distant trees.
Around the same size as the woodstar but without the fancy tail feathers, a Tufted Coquette is always exciting to see. Almost looks like a large bee attending to the lantana and vervine flowers! Again – I photographed the female of the species 🙂
Yerette isn’t all about hummingbirds, though. A great deal of avian diversity can be seen – if you can tear your eyes away from the dazzling jewels buzzing around just a couple feet away that is. Some interlopers stay from a distance, like this Greyish Saltator.
Others come in close, we had a pair of Purple Honeycreepers slip through the undergrowth for a brief moment. The hardest thing about photographing these birds is rendering that purple as purple. I’ve seen far too many photographs of this species that depicts a blue bird.
Perhaps the highlight of the non-colibri adventures was a pair of breeding Tropical Parulas. Although fairly common, they are a bird that is generally known to keep to the canopy. As such, sightings are usually brief, from below, and neck-pain inducing. But their nest was on a tree on the Ferguson’s property – so this was incredible, unbelievable.
We observed the Tropical Parulas carrying both twigs and prey items – which was a little confusing I must admit.
Can you tell the difference between the birds in the pictures above? Being gifted the opportunity to observe them so closely, I was finally able to differentiate between male and female. Previously, I’d just identify these as “Tropical Parulas” – but subtle differences tell the real story. The male has a well-defined black facial mask, as well as a burnt orange wash to his chest. The female lacks both mask and orange. Nature – never stops teaching!
Much thanks to Theo and Gloria for having us, again I must say that I will return soon. Perhaps this time I’ll not let a couple years pass by!