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Studying Birds: Ruby Topaz

It’s been many years since I was first blown away by the brilliance of a male Ruby Topaz, that flash of bright red and gold while feeding an early morning in one of Trinidad’s southern wetlands back in 2011. Coming from such a dull, dark brown bird it was (and still is) nothing short of plain amazing.

But for most of that time, I haven’t had much good luck with this bird, only securing one or two decent shots over the years. After photographing it at its most resplendent (see here) I realized that the most interesting aspect of this transformation is not the end product, but the journey itself to get there.

Yes, most of the bird is brown but brown is still beautiful. I love when the hints of colour are just coming in.

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I used to think that direct light from the sun was necessary for the gorget to glow, so when I saw this little fella taking in some morning sun in the rainforest of Tobago, I was merely intending to create some atmospheric images.

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Within a few seconds, as hummingbirds do, he flew off, but perched again shortly thereafter on a nearby twig. While also backlit, he flashed his colours. Completely amazing how these birds can control light like this, as what we see is the result of both reflected and refracted light. Furthermore, I strongly believe this is some form of communication.

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Even in overcast conditions, the jewels kept glowing!

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It was definitely a fun exercise tracking this bird and making a few images as it fed constantly. If anyone knows the ID of this tree it’d be greatly appreciated. A few species of hummingbirds enjoyed these flowers and kept feeding throughout the day.

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My favourite of the lot, however is an obvious choice for those of you who follow my work – a backlit bird. I’ve written about backlighting countless times and incessantly blab about it to my friends and fellow birders. I just can’t get enough of it. Golden light filtering through flight feathers, it’s enough to feed me for a week.

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