About Me

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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Oddbills 1

This is the first in an occasional series celebrating truly wonderful bills. (Not the sort that charges you $4,358 for a month's electricity that normally costs about $60, or that includes the cost of a bottle of Moet that you didn't have with your Special Fried Rice!)

It was inspired by finally seeing the fabulous Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) very recently in Ecuador, at the delightful Yanacocha Reserve, 6,700 hectares of cloud forest on the northern slopes of Pichincha Volcano, across the ridge from Quito. Like other precious cloud forest reserves, it is run by the admirable Jocotoco Foundation. I'd searched for this bird for some time in Peru and more briefly in Ecuador, but this is a hot-spot for it and we were definitely not disappointed.

It is widely reported that this is the only bird whose bill is longer than its combined head-body; neither this photo nor more sober measurements cited in the literature quite support that claim, but there's not much in it and there's no doubt that it has the relatively longest bill of any hummingbird and probably of any bird at all. I'm not too worried about records, it is just an extraordinary bird.
Female Sword-billed Hummingbird, Yanacocha Reserve.
Another apparent myth is that it always rests with the bill elevated, to help balance it, but this one seemed to have no trouble supporting the gram or two it must weigh. Like other long-billed hummingbirds, the Sword-bill has sacrificed the ability to preen with the bill, so does a lot of scratching.

The bill's purpose is to probe straight tube flowers, including Datura (Angel's Trumpet), Passiflora (Passionflowers) and Fuchsias, though most of these would not seem to require such an extreme probe and I find it somewhat perplexing.
Fuchsia ampliata, Yanacocha Reserve.
Being perplexed however is one of the joys of immersing oneself in nature, and I am privileged to have seen this wonderful animal.

Back on Monday.

2 comments:

Juan Cardenas (Peru) said...

I know you've been dreaming about this bird and finally seen it. I couldn't show you the bird in Peru but we managed to find a place in Ecuador where it was easier. Lovely bird and great photo.

Ian Fraser said...

Very true amigo! And I'm very glad you were there when I finally saw it. Something else I'm grateful to you for.