Photographing the Sickle-billed Hummingbird 1

In Search of the Sicklebill


The White-tipped  Sicklebill Hummingbird is difficult to photograph. It does not come to feeders. It visits flowers on a trap-line basis flying from flower to flower over a long circuitous   route.  Our techniques require setting up an outdoor studio using multiple low power flash units surrounding the spot we expect the hummingbirds to visit often. Typically we set up in front of a popular feeder. A different approach is needed for the Sicklebill.

The Bosque del Rio Tigre Lodge is located on the Osa peninsula in southwest Costa Rica near the border of Corcovado National Park. It is situated in the forest  among lots of birds and other wildlife but across a river from civilization. Only solar power is available. Sometimes the river is not fordable.

Tourist office at Dos Brazos del Rio Tigre, Costa Rica

Several years ago our friends Liz and Abraham , owners of the lodge, told us that they knew where the Sicklebill nested. They have been studying the local bird behavior for many years and are the most informed local knowledge available.

It was at a very difficult spot to reach about one kilometer up a river not far from their lodge. There could be a small window of opportunity, as mom would be feeding the chicks for about 3 weeks after they hatched and until they fledged.  The timing of these events varies depending on the weather and food availability from year to year in an unpredictable fashion.

This meant that we had to be ready to go to Costa Rica on short notice. We also had to modify our lighting scheme since the nest might be out over a river and we also wanted to keep much further away than usual to avoid any disturbance to the chicks. Last year the timing did not work out but this year we were ready to go with  a lighting system that had not yet been proven in the field.

Our base of operations is with Julio, Cindy’s brother, who has a house not far from the main airport in Costa Rica. We arranged to fly by light plane from a small nearby airport to Puerto Jimenez. It is only an hour’s flight, but driving to that remote location could be long and difficult.

Our problems started when then bridge between Julio’s house and the local airport had a major failure. It was still passable, but being the only feasible way in and out of San Jose, the capital, traffic was terrible and tightly controlled. The bottom line was it took 2 hours for what was normally a 20 minute trip. We also had to get across the bridge before 5am.

The good news is that all that went pretty well. We arrived early in Puerto Jimenez where the plane had a flat tire on landing. The engine also would not restart so the plane had to be pushed off the runway. Not really our problem but we were counting on that plane to get us back home at the end of our stay.

Small plane with a flat tire at Puerto Jimenez airport in Costa Rica

We were met by a local taxi that took us to Rio Tigre lodge. There was a river to ford but the water was low so no problem.

car fording the Rio Tigre in Costa Rica

We took a recon trip to see the nest. It was a very difficult one kilometer walk up a small river. The water level was way down so that the depth varied for 2 inches to 2 feet. There was no path along the river . The river bed was just a mass of slippery stones. We made it up and back, the nest was in a good spot but mom was only coming about once per hour for about two minutes to feed her chicks. The location was such that we would be able to photograph from about the first feeding one hour after sunup to about 9am. Since we wanted to disturb the birds as little as possible, we limited ourselves to two, two minute sessions per day over the course of three days. Not very much, but enough to get some good shots

The hike in was too much for our old bodies so we made arrangements to go in on horseback and to have an assistant to help out carrying stuff.

Chuck Fritsch riding a horse on a small stream in the jungle of southwestern Costa Rica

The trip home was uneventful except for a little problem getting the plane started. A following blog will show mom feeding her chicks


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  • You are right Myra. Normal people would not do these things. We suffer from ‘Hummer_Addiction’.

    • Chuck
  • Wow! You guys are so brave! I can’t believe all you had to do to get pictures of this ONE little hummer! I love to travel the world to get good nature pictures, but I think I would have had second thoughts after the plane that brought you to Rio Tigre would not restart! Still, thank you for sharing the story and the great pictures!

    • Mayra Rodriguez