15 August 2011

The first hummingbird

Outside the El Colibri cafe last Sunday I took a deep breath and walked in, through the tree-shaded courtyard where apparently one could watch the hummingbirds (hence the name: el colibri, the hummingbird) and into the pleasantly cool main seating area. At the counter I explained in Spanish that I didn't speak Spanish; the attempt must have worked because the waitress said no more and slid a menu across to me. At least I understood most of the components of the dishes, so I eventually ordered a vegetarian tortilla and mineral water. The waitress said something I had no hope of understanding.
"No entiendo," I said.
"Sit down," she said, carefully. I assume her English was as rudimentary as my Spanish.

I found a little wooden table under the trees and sipped the water, glad I'd chosen the most effective form of rehydrating. A Great thrush, strikingly similar to the blackbirds I know so well, flew across the courtyard; an Eared dove padded about on the ground. Above me, a small, unidentifiable bird flitted through the foliage of a broad-leaved tree and somewhere else a bird made a sound like two stones being struck together.
"Dondé estan los colibries?" I thought, trying not to translate it into English but understand it directly. "Where are the hummingbirds?"

Still, even if they'd preferred somewhere else, this was a lovely spot —quiet, attractive, with birds clearly used to the close proximity of humans, and with enough trees to diminish the sense of being in a large city.

Another small bird flew across beneath the canopy and settled on a twig. This one, however, wasn't unidentifiable; on the contrary, as soon as I saw the long bill, the posture as it sat upright on the twig, and noted how small it seemed, I knew I was looking at the first hummingbird I'd ever seen. Un colibri at El Colibri, I thought. I watched, fascinated. I couldn't see the colours clearly because I was looking up and the bright sky, even broken up by the leaves, made the shadowed bird difficult to see. But as I watched, I saw it calling and realised this was the bird making the two-stones call. Later, after having enjoyed seeing it in better light and having consulted The Birds of Ecuador, I felt confident identifying it as a Sparkling violetear, and the persistent and potentially annoying "tik tik tik ..." call confirmed the identification.

I sat there, savouring my tortilla and drinking my agua con gas on a quiet Sunday afternoon with a mild breeze on a warm afternoon in the leaf-filtered sunlight, watching the pair of Great thrushes, the Eared doves, the Rufous-collared sparrows, and the little Sparkling violetear, and I thought, this place is idyllic.

When the waitress cleared my table I said, "Me gusta," then "Me encanta los colibries" — I love the hummingbirds.
"Ah!" she said, and thought for a few moments. "Is beautiful."

I couldn't have agreed more.

Photo: A poor photo, but the best I can do for the moment. The problem at El Colibri is that I'm trying to photograph from beneath the bird, with a bright sky in the background. Fill flash might be a solution, but would draw attention to me (not something I'm keen on in Quito) and in any case I have only the little built-in pop-up flash on the GH1 (a definite failing of this camera, which has no capability for off-camera flash, thus greatly constraining macro photography).

Update, 19 April 2012: I've posted a slightly better, larger photograph on the photoblog.

Photos and original text © 2011 Pete McGregor


Zhoen said...

Pretty good for a poor photo. The first time I saw a hummingbird in life I was hiking here, and they flitted around the wildflowers near the trail. Took me a few moments to realize what I was seeing, and then I was utterly charmed.

Oh, you might find this site useful,

Bob McKerrow said...

Superb photo and place Pete. Somehow 'El Condor passa' flitted into my brain. I suppose being in the Andes for such a long time, the Condor was s so grand to me, yet the hummingbird so beautiful. Enjoy your journey.

Leonie said...

We saw heaps last time we were in California. I stopped to try and get a photo but none of them would stop moving and I was technically unprepared to catch them in flight.

One flew so close to my face that Nic swears it only narrowly escaped crashing :)

They are beautiful. I hope you get to see many more.

Happy travels Pete

Relatively Retiring said...

How lovely....and that's a poor photograph?

Lesley said...

Congratulations on getting a photo at all, Pete. Those are not easy conditions. Lovely to see the detail of the beautiful colours on the feathers. I like seeing a hummingbird sitting still. All the other photos I've seen have been of them in flight.

Sounds as if you're in a good warm place. Better than the Pohangina Valley house at the moment, even if it does have mobile (should that be "maabile") woollen under-floor insulation!! Another so-called "Polar Outbreak" here, right through the country, and expected to go on for another couple of days. South Island cities and towns mostly at a standstill with the snow. C. says snow was falling in PN this afternoon and flakes even reached central Auckland. Great excitement everywhere, except for those in draughty, earthquake-cracked houses in the eastern suburbs, one of which (Sumner) also lost power.

Great to travel with you via your blog.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

your poorest photo is still miles above the norm

Great to see the posts from your trip - i shall be looking forward to more

pohanginapete said...

Zhoen, thanks for the wordreference link; I'll add it to my list of references. The photo does the job, I suppose, but I'll do better eventually :^)

Bob, thanks, and I'm really looking forward to seeing condors — and toucans, and hoatzins, and ... ;^)

Leonie, thanks, and I think it's pretty much guaranteed I'll see many more in a place like Ecuador — one of THE places for them.

RR, thank you, but yes, it is a rather scrappy photo. If/when I manage a good one, you'll see what I mean :^)

Lesley, thanks. I'd heard about the snow in New Zealand. My brother, working in Wellington, looked out the window to see snow falling — at sea level. I do hope you're managing to keep cosy. Here, the weather's very agreeable, and other than a rainy season, stays pretty much the same all year round, I believe.

Hungry pixie, thanks :^) While I have the opportunity, I'm likely to be posting more frequently. Strange, isn't it? What's that saying — something about if you want something done, give it to a busy person?

Michael said...

I love good travel writing. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Pete, What a delight to watch your first hummingbird! In your mind's eye I am sure the image quality is much better:^)

I would prefer a literal translation for this tiny bird: violeta oído espumoso.

Wishing you many new adventures.


pohanginapete said...

Michael, thanks. I'll try to provide more, regularly.

Maureen, there's no substitute for the real thing. To my mind, photographs are often (not always) no more than an aid to memory, but that can only be true for the photographer, and perhaps those with him (or her) at the time. One of the other functions of photographs is to enable events to be shared, and for that purpose even a poor photo can sometimes be enough.
    Hasta pronto!

robin andrea said...

What a wonderful first encounter.Beautiful photo. You make me wish I could remember the first time I saw a hummingbird. I see them everyday at our feeders now. They are fierce, fast, and fantastic.

Barbara Butler McCoy said...

Wonderful story and beautiful post - and the photo is amazing! I confess I am amazed you've never seen a hummingbird because, like robin andrea, I've seen them so very often and they are indeed 'fierce, fast, and fantastic.' They are quite territorial - we used to watch the aerial fights of three or four in our backyard, and they wouldn't hesitate to buzz our heads on their way to the feeder if we were sitting on the deck! Hope this is the beginning of many sightings for you ;0

pohanginapete said...

Robin, having now watched hummingbirds for a little while, I can say your description — fierce, fast, and fantastic — seems perfect. (Best wishes for the non-return of the headache, too. I had several nasty ones when I first arrived here, but yours sounded nightmarish.)

Barbara, thank you. I've seen one or two aerial chases now, but nothing like the multi-bird fights you describe. Maybe later, when I start moving around after the lessons finish and I can devote more attention to the wildlife.

another michael said...

I think it's a beautiful photograph. I like how the bird holds a royal poise; I like the suffused softness of the background, the light, the contrast between here and there. It seems to capture so much of that joyous still moment.

pohanginapete said...

Michael, thank you for taking the time to say in detail what you like about the photo :^)

Lydia said...

Oh, Pete, I am ecstatic for you! This post brought tears to my eyes. And speaking of eyes, the hummingbird in your shot has a look of contentment/peace that I swear I have not seen on the hummingbirds here. As I have said before, they come in the summer (Ruby-Throated and my favorite, the Rufous), while the Annas stay in this valley year-round provided nectar is maintained in an unfrozen state for them (keeps me busy)...... However, they do not look "at home" as this Sparkling Violetear does in his natural home. I am used to seeing a nervousness, an on guard expression. So this was altogether fascinating for me.

As mentioned in comments at your previous post, I will be catching up on the rest of your trip posts later, and so looking forward to them.

pohanginapete said...

Thank you, Lydia. The camera with the telephoto zoom focuses slowly, so I find it frustrating for photographing birds; however, perhaps that forced me to wait until I had an opportunity to photograph the bird resting.
    Glad you're enjoying the posts :^)

vegetablej said...

I was also struck by seeing a hummingbird at rest. They usually pause for too short a time to ever get a photo. Yours is wonderful -- I can see the texture of the feathers and what brilliant colour.

You are carrying us on this adventure with you with these beautiful experience snapshots and photos and I'm so excited to follow along. Thanks so much for this gift.


pohanginapete said...

VJ, thanks for the kind words. Earlier in this journey (while I was on the way to Cotopaxi, in fact), I realised that although much of my travelling is apparently alone, I am indeed carrying my friends with me: I travel at least in part so I can share my travels with you. Hard to describe, but it's not just idle talk; during particularly wonderful moments I often find myself thinking of friends and family.