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In Search of Emeralds

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I always become frightened when I learn more about birds such as the Honduran Emerald.  One of the main reasons we ventured to Honduras was to find this tiny hummingbird, classified as the rarest bird in Central America and probably one of the rarest hummingbirds in the world.

Like so many other rare creatures that I’ve worked with the Honduran Emerald is a creature who has evolved without the need to diversify.  It has always occupied a specific habitat in Honduras, the dry cactus forests of the Aguan Valley, that sit in a rain shadow, directly behind the jungle clad Pico Bonito.

Access to see the Honduran Emeralds is difficult to arrange and fraught with both bureaucracy and a lengthy permission process.  I guess this fact alone, made our morning searching for them all the more special.

We departed for their sanctuary from the nearby town of Olanchito, before the sun was up.

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and drove out to the reserve where we set out on foot in the most unusual section of cactus and thorn forest I’d ever seen.

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Recklessly wandering through a forest of cactus and thorn trees is not a good idea.  All sorts of trees like thorny acacias and cacti slow you down. by grabbing any trousers brushing past them.

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We were however, initially looking for these.

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the tiny birdlike flowers of a cactus that the Honduran Emerald is known to feed on, alongside very few other species of cactus flower.

We caught a glimpse of the occasional bird and even had great views of one in a scope until we found a spot that one particular bird seemed to enjoy frequenting.  He buzzed past our ears as we approached, only to alight on a nearby branch which seemed to be one of his favourite perches.

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We spent quite a bit of time tearing our hair out trying to get good shots of this bird but found it hard due to the harsh broad daylight, the thick density of the forest and the fact that this tiny hummingbird’s green plumage made him blend well with his surrounding vegetation.

There are really so few of them around in the wild.  Officially classified as Critically Endangered, there is some thought that their classification may be downgraded to just endangered due to the discovery of other patches of habitat that they occupy.  Regardless, this doesn’t bode well for their future.  With no visible corridors connecting their different habitats and the birds being largely sedentary, they are genetically doomed without some type of external intervention or careful management.

I guess we should be just happy that we saw the three wild individuals we did that hot morning in the cactus and that they allowed us, for a very brief time at least, to share their world with them.

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