Wednesday, July 31, 2013


There's something calming and meditative about watching hummingbirds. Like sitting in front of a good log fire, mesmerized by its crackling and warm, pulsating glow. I've been sitting here for over 6 hours and I'm still fascinated, held by the spell of the hummers.

"Here" is Madera Canyon in southeast Arizona. I've been at the Kubo lodge since 10:30 am waiting for the previously-reported Berylline Hummingbird. And there are few nicer places to wait…

Kubo B&B, Madera Canyon.

There are Broad-billed Hummers confidently flying around, seemingly oblivious to everything but the artificial nectar of the feeders. A shy Violet-crowned Hummer sneaks in occasionally, faithful to the same tiny red feeder. And the giant Magnificent Hummers zip around the place pretending to be "real" birds. But still no sign of the Berylline.

And the human birder show is equally interesting. I meet Jon Dunn and Dan Singer and reconnect with Laurens Halsey (who first photographed the Berylline - see here.) Jon is fascinating to talk to - and confirms the rumors that the Sage Sparrow has been split into two species - Bell's Sparrow (the previous subspecies of belli and canescens) and Sagebrush Sparrow (the monotypic nevadensis.) And like this year's addition of Purple Swamphen, and last year's Rosy-faced Lovebird and the Scripp's / Guadalupe Murrelet split, that means extra potential ticks this year that weren't available in the past. Oh - and a sigh of relief that my hard-earned trio of Rosy-finches weren't "lumped" into one species.

It's getting late. Slowly the birders drift away until there's just a few of us holding vigil. How long will I wait? I flew in this morning from California, and I'm tired. I could conceivably spend all day tomorrow doing the same, staring at the same feeder. At what point do I start going insane [Ed - umm….the point where you decided to do a Big Year?

And then at 5:04pm, 394 minutes after arriving, I see it. It's an odd feeling to be staring at the thing you've been imagining seeing all day - a kind of surreal experience. "Umm…that's…there's…oh wow…" I'm tongue-tied as I'm watching a bright emerald hummingbird with bronzed wings and tail. It stays a few seconds on the feeder - the same upper right feeder where it was seen yesterday - and then retreats to the tree behind…

Phew! And what a bird! A tiny beady eye set in the emerald of the head and upper-body plumage, and the bronze of the flight feathers. The bird returns again at 5:15 for a longer view, giving me time for some better digi-scoped images…

One thing I've learned this year is patience. In the past I'd have given up waiting after a few hours. But slowing down and waiting for the birds to come to you - and being patient - can really pay off. Obviously, that's not always the case. See here and here for examples of it not paying off - all involving Mountain Quail!)

My next trip is an entirely different target. I'm trading the diminutive frame of the Berylline Hummingbird for the giant chicken-like one of the Himalayan Snowcock - a bird of the high mountains. But like today's Berylline, it's a secretive bird, and I'm expecting an equally long wait. But hopefully not as long as the Mountain Quail…

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NEW YEAR BIRDS (1): Berylline Hummingbird

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