Creature Feature

02 Aug 2012

Blue-Chined Sapphire (Chlorestes notata)

Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

Photo by Atkin Isaac.

 

The iridescence of the Blue-chinned Sapphire can captivate anyone – from the avid bird watcher to the curious young child. As a member of the Trochilidae (Hummingbird) family, it is small, quick, and beautiful of course. The green feathers on its upper body glisten in the sunlight, contrasting with its dark blue tail. In the right lighting, it transforms into a brilliant subject to photograph, and the careful eye may even spot its namesake blue ‘chin’.

This species, which is common in Trinidad forests, is also found in northern South America, including the Brazilian Amazon. The feather-covered gem feeds on nectar and only occasionally eats insects. At our own Springhill Estate, it is regularly seen feasting on the nectar of the Vervine (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis) plants in front of the verandah but it feeds on all types of plants – large and small trees (e.g. Ryania speciosa or Bois L’agli), shrubs or herbaceous plants.

This hummingbird breeds from February to June and normally nests about two to five metres above ground. It makes large, deep cup nests out of plant down and decorates them with lichen. Although not easily heard, the song of the Blue-chinned Sapphire is a set of fast metallic notes of ‘ssssoo, sssoo’. Despite its 0.0889 metres in length, the Blue-chinned Sapphire remains a shining example of the avian fauna that can be seen at the Asa Wright Nature Centre.

– J.L. Ryan

References:

  • Hilty, Steven L. Birds of Venezuela. 2003.
  • ffrench, Richard. Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. 1991
20 Jul 2012

White-flanked Antwren

Creature Feature, Tropical Nature News

White-flanked Antwren (Myrmotherula axillaris)

 

The White-flanked Antwren is one of the most widespread species of its kind and is one of the most common in the lowland forests of the Orinoco. Its range extends from southern Honduras to Bolivia and eastern Brazil and, of course, Trinidad.

The males and females of this tiny 4-inched bird are dissimilar. Males are dark grey to black with white polka dots at the top of the wings. The edge of their tails appear to have been dipped in white. On the other hand, females are brown with yellowish underparts and rufous wings. The faint dots on their wings are barely noticeable. However, they have white flanks as do their male counterparts. For those who are unsure, flanks are the sides of a bird’s belly which are just below its wings.
An inhabitant of our primary and secondary forests, the antwren’s flanks are seen as flickers of white. It twitches its wings while foraging for its choice of insects and other small arthropods.
This antwren can also be heard chuckling rapidly, Chew- chew-cheew or whistling a high-pitched queep. It often follows flocks of other species, including antbirds and other antwrens.
Our tiny avian friend breeds from April to August and makes cup nests from leaves. Listen carefully for its song the next time you are at Asa Wright.

13 Jul 2012

Creature Feature: Tropical Mockingbird (Mimus gilvus)

Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

Tropical Mockingbird photo by Mark Hedden/Caligo Ventures

 

The Tropical Mocking bird is a member of the Mimidae family, Mockingbirds and Thrashers, which are restricted to the New World. Although it is indeed a mockingbird it is not known to do what you would expect: mimic the calls of other species, but it shares other features of the same family.

The talented singer has quite a musical repertoire, which is unique to its species. The enthusiastic and oft repeated melodic phrases are sometimes likened to certain human phrases. The interpretations of these songs are as varied as the places in which the bird is found: southern Mexico to northern South America to the Lesser Antilles. Apart from whistling a tune, the Mockingbird can cluck and wheeze.

This graceful bird, just about ten inches, yellow eyes, black bill, white eyestripes and ashen plumage (grey upperparts and whitish underparts), will aggressively defend its territory, having the impudence to chase off larger birds and lizards. It forages near or on the ground, runs swiftly, and stops suddenly with its tail pointed up.

The Tropical Mockingbird eats insects, small vertebrates and likes fruits as much as you and I do. It makes a bowl-shaped nest out of twigs and normally lays two to three pale blue green eggs with brown spots. In Trinidad, breeding has been recorded in all months except August and December.

If you live in the suburbs, its delightful song will make you look up to a telephone line or fruit tree where you’ll see the Mockingbird perched.

– J.L. Ryan

References:

  • Hilty, Steven L. Birds of Venezuela 2003.
  • ffrench, Richard. Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. 1991
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