Friday, January 10, 2014

The Mangrove Hummingbird

The Mangrove Hummingbird (Amazilia boucardi) is one of just three species of birds endemic to Costa Rica; it inhabits coastal mangrove habitats from the Peninsula de Nicoya to the Peninsula de Osa, and only where its favorite species of mangrove, the Tea Mangrove (Pelliciera rhizophorae) grow.  The hummingbird is endangered, with an estimated 1,500 - 7,000 individuals remaining, and a population that appears to be continually declining as their habitats become scarcer.
Last year, we heard through the grapevine that a single individual, a female, was making regular appearances at a feeder at a bar in a town not far from Finca Pura Vida.  The bar is adjacent to a small mangrove estuary where the Rio Panica meets the Pacific Ocean.  We visited the bar, ordered drinks, waited, and within twenty minutes, we had living proof that Mangrove Hummingbirds are in the area.
Our very first Mangrove Hummingbird visiting the feeder at a local bar
Further searching, however, failed to produce additional sightings of these endangered hummers. Just the single female visiting the single feeder at the bar.  Last week, however, we had a breakthrough; while travelling elsewhere on the peninsula, we located a stand of almost exclusively Tea Mangrove.  This stand showed a lot of promise, so we returned the following day to explore.

The buttressed roots of Pelliciera rhizophorae
Sean Graesser and Nicole Guido searching for Mangrove Hummingbirds
Mangrove mud is not easy to walk through; it's like walking through knee-deep pudding that smells of particularly smelly hard-boiled eggs.  Some of the ground is more or less solid, but every few steps one encounters an unpredictable sinkhole that wants to steal your shoes.  Once you get past the mud, though, walking through mangroves is a great deal of fun; we quickly found ourselves surrounded by Prothonotary Warblers, Mangrove Vireos, and Northern Waterthrushes, which were seemingly oblivious to our presence, and were willing to come within a few feet of our cameras.
Northern Waterthrush
Not ten minutes after entering this mangrove forest, we spotted a hummingbird perched on a mangrove twig; the combination of the white belly, dark tail, bluish throat, and red underbill were more than enough to identify it as a Mangrove Hummingbird.  It remained perched for a few moments before flying into the canopy to dip its bill into the Tea Mangrove flowers above us.  Within a few minutes we had spotted several more zipping through the mangroves, pausing only briefly to sip from flowers or glean spiders from their webs.  How exciting it was to finally observe them in a natural setting!

Mangrove Hummingbird feeding from a Tea Mangrove flower
We watched several individuals make their rounds visiting the available Tea Mangrove flowers, interrupting their routine only to chase away intruding Rufous-tailed or Steely-vented Hummingbirds, or to be chased themselves by the much larger Scaly-breasted Hummingbirds.  Obviously these tiny birds lack the capacity to acknowledge just how special they are, so we spent some time acknowledging it on their behalf; we remained up to our knees in the mangrove swamp for nearly an hour while we admired them; the tiny, tough, and increasingly rare Mangrove Hummingbird, found nowhere but among its favorite trees in the mangrove swamps of Costa Rica.

No comments:

Post a Comment