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CHILE February 1990 & November 1993

I have visited Chile twice; the first time as a participant of a birding tour lead by Peter Roberts and Michel Salaberry in 1990, and the second time co-leading a tour with Michel Salaberry in 1993. Both itineraries were virtually identical, visiting the far south (Punta Arenas; Porvenir; Punta Delgada), the south-central area (Temuco south to Puerto Montt), the Santiago area (including around Valparaiso), and the far north (Arica and Lauca National Park). Both trips included pelagics out of Valparaiso and Arica, and both ended with a 3 night extension to Robinson Crusoe Island.

Juan Fernandez Firecrown Sephanoides
fernandensis fernandensis. All the following images were taken on my first visit in late February 1990 except where stated:

This is the male; a stunning hummingbird unlike any other:

The crown feathers appear metallic gold in most situations (but if you catch it just right from the front, they appear a rich ruby-red):

This species has the largest feet (relative to body size) of any hummingbird, and they put that feature to good use, often hanging on large blossoms to feed:

Here is a male from early December 1993 - you can seen that it is most of the way through a molt cycle:

This is the female. They are so different from the males that they were described as different species and remained this way for about fify years until someone finally saw a fledgling male type and a fledgling female type being attended by an adult female:

This image from early December 1993 shows it to still be in wing molt; this is another example of using its large feet to hang on to the flower:

This female is showing off, using just one foot!:

This photo from early December 1993 shows the only time that I saw the male and female close to each other:

The nest. If I recall correctly, we were told back in 1990 by the ANCON (Chilean Forestry Service) rangers that this was the first and only nest ever collected as a specimen:

This is where they live: Isla Robinson Crusoe, Juan Fernandez Archipelago, some 394 miles west of Valparaiso, Chile. Note that the small part visible at the left end is Isla Santa Clara; the only other island is Isla Alejandro Selkirk some 69 miles farther west into the Pacific (where sadly the S. f. leyboldi subspecies of the Juan Fernandez Firecrown has been declared extinct...):

The Juan Fernandez Archipelago is host to two other endemic birds: the Masafuera Rayadito Aphrastura masafuerae is only found on Alexander Selkirk Island (previously known as Isla Masafuera), while the Juan Fernandez Tit-Tyrant Anairetes fernandezianus is found on Robinson Crusoe Island (previously known as Isla Masatierra) - CLICK HERE to see my photos of this species.

Robinson Crusoe Island is home to 132 species of endemic plants, including one entire family, Lactoridaceae (one species, a flowering plant). The endemic Cabbage Tree Dendroseris litoralis is (or was... see below) a large and prominent shrub in the only town of San Juan Bautista, featuring large hanging orange blossoms that the Firecrowns love to feed on:

Another endemic plant that is an important native nectar source for the Firecrowns is " Juan Bueno" Rhaphithamnus venustus. While no subspecies are described, there are three distinct color forms: This is the form found on Isla Robinson Crusoe:

- this is the form found on Isla Alejandro Selkirk:

- and this is the form (flowers are brownish-yellow) native to Isla Santa Clara. In 1990 all these specimens were being cultivated in a plot managed by ANCON, the Chilean Forestry Service. We visited with the staff, and they told me that the Santa Clara form was probably widespread on the island prior to the introduction of goats and rabbits, which destroyed virtually all the native plant life. I was told that at that time (February 1990) the only place where the Santa Clara R. venustus was clinging to existance in the wild was on a small islet/peninsula on the side of the island. This soil-covered rock is separated from the main island by a narrow but steep-sided cleft in the rock. I visited Santa Clara in 1990 and recall seeing this rock, and my memory was that the cleft was completely covered by water - but the current Google map shows a small area at the south tip that is connected. Either way, the sides of the rock are very steep such that goats and rabbits have not been able to get to the plants thereon - saving this form of Juan Bueno from extinction in the wild:

This is the Google map (at maximum zoom) of the rocky islet that is (was?) the last refuge for the Santa Clara Juan Bueno; note the scale at bottom left of the image... :

- and here is a wider view of Robinson Crusoe and Santa Clara Islands, giving the above map some perspective...

Another endemic flower is Sophora fernandeziana. I don't know if the Firecrown takes nectar from it, but I would imagine it does?:

Finally here is the endemic Chonta Palm, Juania australis growing on the high ridges. This slow-growing palm is in an endemic genus containing this one species, and is extremely hard to grow away from its native islands - Wikipedia says the only one alive outside of the Juan Fernandez Archipelago is found in Earlscliffe Gardens, Dublin, Ireland!:

NOTE: on February 27 2010, following an 8.8 magnitude earthquake off the coast of mainland Chile, the Archipelago was struck by a tsunami. It caused major damage and some loss of life. Video and photos of the aftermath seemed to indicate that everything in San Juan Bautista below about 25 - 30 feet was completely destroyed. From my memory the planted Cabbage Trees in this zone were a major food source for a number of Juan Fernandez Firecrowns. I have found it difficult to obtain information about the current status of the endemic animals and plants, and would appreciate getting any such data (or links to such data) - thanks.