White Eared Jacamar
No sooner our photo adventure at the highland cloud forests of Northwest Ecuador ended, we couldn’t wait to reach the town of Coca and experience the beauty of the dense Amazon forest first hand. Reading about Amazon forests and getting to experience it from close quarters is truly a dream come true for avid bird lovers like us! After a short break at Quito soaking in the sights and sounds of the historical city and indulging in delectable Ecuadorian cuisine, we felt completely rejuvenated for the Amazonian photo adventure. There is an enigma behind those thick entangled mangrove forests and as you enter it the mystery unravels in front of your eyes, to throw you completely off guard!
Some Amazing Facts!
Hoatzin belongs to the Canje pheasant family and it is also known as reptile-bird, Skunk bird and Stinkbird (for its unusual digestive system). They can be easily spotted in the swamps, mangroves and riparian forests of the Amazon and Orinoco basins of South America.
It took us roughly half an hour to reach Coca by flight and from there we drove down to Francisco de Orellana Port which takes only five minutes from the airport. The gleaming waters of the Napo river welcome us, the major tributary of the Amazon that flows through the jungle in Ecuador. It was so beautiful that we clicked some pictures of the river before boarding the motorized canoe that took us downstream to the secluded jungle lodge amidst the forest. It sounded like an adventure story coming alive and it was indeed a surreal feeling sitting on this canoe watching the Napo river flow past and sometimes spotting the herons and kingfishers diving into the water in search of fish. We had a great time clicking some stunning landscapes before we reached the Napo Wildlife Centre dock that took us roughly two hours. We took a short break from prolonged sitting for a while and got refreshed for the onward journey to the forest lodge in the heart of the Amazon jungle. We had to let go of the motorized canoe as we would be entering an ecologically sensitive zone, it was duly replaced by a splendid dugout canoe that reminded us of stories we read about in real jungle adventures! We floated past a narrow stream that led us to the Añangu Lake where our lodge was located. It was beautiful and totally cut off from civilization, this place would give you all the solace you need. We settled down in the lodge and explored around the premises and clicked some images of birds gathering around the feeders, a little warm-up before the real action begins you can say!
The second day was action-packed, and we started early by watching the sunrise on the Napo river on our way to the famed parrot clay licks of the Ecuador Amazon basin located in the Yasuni National Park and the Napo territory. The first parrot clay lick we will visit is only an hour away from the lodge. These clay licks are a rich source of minerals and birds like parrots, parakeets and macaws come to feed on it. Since the fruits and seeds, the birds have grown wild and some have toxins, the mineral clay helps them to wash away those toxins. The mineral in the clay helps them keep a healthy electrolyte balance as well. Here we will be clicking the vibrant Macaws dipping their beaks in the mineral clay, the flock of Cobalt-winged Parakeets, Blue-headed Parrot, Yellow-Crowned Amazon Parrot, and the Mealy Amazon Parrot. You might spot other birds flying to and fro from the clay licks. We hiked through the Terra Firme rainforest for another half an hour to reach the second clay click to photograph some more macaws and a larger variety of parrots that visit here like the Orange-cheeked Parrot, Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet, Scarlet Macaw, the Red and Green Macaw, Blue and Yellow Macaws, Orange-Winged Parrot, the Scaly-naped Parrot and the Golden-plumed Parakeet to just name few. You can also spot the White-fronted Nunbird here. There are several tree-top observation decks, blinds and covered shelters from where we shot the birds since it is always better to be inconspicuous while photographing the birds and mammals like Tapirs that frequent the clay licks. The best part of shooting at the clay licks is the eager anticipation with which you wait for the activity to begin and then you witness how the Parrots and Macaws fly down from the high branches of the trees to the ground to quench their thirst and peck at the mineral clay. Suddenly, the silence of the jungle is broken by loud chirps and beating wings. It is a delight to see a burst of colors in the feathery milieu.
Do You Know?
Scarlet Macaws are technicolor neotropical parrots are better known as Macaws. They are famous worldwide for their brilliant red, blue and yellow colors which make the most shot subjects in the Amazonian forest. You can see them in plenty flocking at the mineral clay licks.
After visiting the second clay licks, we sampled some delicious local cuisine for lunch that the lodge staff provided and went back to our lodge premises. Other photographing the birds visiting the feeders our evenings were well spent discussing post-processing of images and learning advanced techniques of bird photography.
After a scrumptious breakfast at the lodge, we set out for the Canopy Observation Tower built next to ancient and sky-kissing Kapok trees from where you can get a panoramic view of the Amazon jungle. Well a bit of hard work and sweating is required to reach those high towers, but it is worth all the effort, the view from the tower is simply beyond words. Some rare birds like vibrant Toucans, Blue and Yellow Macaws, and Tanagers that can’t be seen clearly from the forest floor can be viewed from a greater height. You can freeze these gorgeous birds with bright plumes in flight with your lenses. A memory that will live on forever! Here, you will not only get a bird’s eye view of the forests but some brilliant photo opportunities to create larger than life images. The entire morning right up to the lunch break was well spent creating an amazing portfolio of the endemic birds of this region. We paddled back to our lodge to refuel and refresh for the next part of the adventure.
Following the jungle trail, we entered the deep and dark forest of Amazon surrounded by tropical plants and here we encountered the ubiquitous Rain frog, the Black and Yellow patterned frog, lizards, poisonous vipers, the very rare Golden Mantle Tamarin Monkey, Spider Monkey, Howler Monkey busy playing among themselves, endemic insects and the Giant Otter cooling off in the waters of Añangu Lake teeming with fish, its source of nourishment. We experimented with macro photography while shooting the tropical frogs, lizards and the tiny insects. What we really learned here is to frame the subject from different angles to get a very natural image with a great backdrop.
Howler Monkeys are the largest of the New World Monkey species well known for their earth-shattering howls that pierce through the silence of the tropical rainforests.
After scouring the depths of the Amazon jungle, a dream that we lived for a few days it was time to return to the Amazon city of Coca. We followed the same route back, first paddling our canoe to the Napo Wildlife Centre dock and eventually taking the motorized canoe to Coca. Our photo journey to the Ecuadorian Amazon ended in a high note, with memory cards full of images and faces brimming with satisfied smiles.
Client Shooting a Yellow Headed Carcara
For us this photo tour wasn’t a digital detox as that was not the plan but the chlorophyll in the plants soothed our eyes, the fresh oxygen filled our lungs with pure air and the colorful raptors excited our senses beyond imagination, all a luxury for city dwellers like us. What more could we ask than experiencing the raw and pristine beauty of the Amazon forests with our own eyes, a story reserved for the posterity!