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Tobago’s Magic Hummingbird

I remember my first experience with a White-tailed Sabrewing deep in the rainforest that is Main Ridge – a large, confident hummingbird that suddenly materialized out of the deep greens and dark shadows, hovered directly behind me, then faced me head on, and then went on to perch nearby, keeping a suspicious eye on me the entire time.

Since then, I have encountered the species countless times, for the most part at the feeders at Cuffie River where it’s an entirely different ball game. Constant battles for supremacy with the other hummingbirds, all smaller than it but not anywhere short of attitude. It’s tough being top dog-hummingbird. But it’s moments like that memorable first time that blur the lines between reality and fantasy, when the shape-shifting jewel of Tobago’s rainforest is in its true home.

There are many trails which snake through Main Ridge, all of them have their own individuality and character. Gilpin Trail is the most popular (and familiar) trail (some of the others have sections where the trail takes a holiday) and was my selected trail during our last visit to the oldest protected rainforest in the western hemisphere. Yeah. Tobago has a long history of ecological sensitivity, don’t let the propaganda set in.

The trails themselves always produce something different. White-necked Thrushes posed nicely, pretty unconcerned with human observers. While the birds did cooperate, within the rainforest photography is let’s say, interesting. A thick canopy blocks most of the sun’s light from reaching the forest floor, oftentimes cloudy weather further complicates the situation. Many of the birds found here are predominantly brown, so it’s a lot of fun.

white-necked thrush-4

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps the most unique find was a Grey-throated Leaftosser that amazingly wasn’t on the ground.

grey-throated leaftosser

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sporadic breaks in the canopy did yield a few well-lit areas, this Golden-olive Woodpecker couldn’t have been in a better spot! I have never photographed another bird within Main Ridge that was this well lit.

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And yes, the magic did happen. In the shadows of giant palms there was a flicker of white. Peering through a window into the life of a bird that was nearly wiped out completely is nothing short of exhilarating.  White-tailed Sabrewings have always been depicted in literature as green, but I’ve spent enough time with them to see them shift their spectral positioning into the blue zone. Of course, they are green birds…in “good” light that is. From the moment the light starts to fade, blue hues begin to appear. In the dim light of the understory, some of her feathers appear green while others appear blue.

white-tailed sabrewing low light-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

But when a thick cloud rolled in front of the sun, darkness quickly surrounded us all – and there in front of us sat a bird that was shimmering blue. You just can’t make this stuff up.

white-tailed sabrewing low light