There is never a dull moment during our Ecuador workshops, in fact all of us are hard pressed for time, since the country has so many species to offer. The beautiful forest lodges are well equipped with feeders, towers, canopies and raptor blinds from where you will not only get a vantage point to spot the birds but also fantastic photo opportunities of the rare and endemic birds of Ecuador. What makes Ecuador unique is the equator passing through it that renders charm to the varied topography and of course the brow sweat that you will have to wipe off often! Yes, the humid climate of Ecuador can bog you do down a bit but believe it when we say that capturing the birds with your lenses will make you forget everything!
Did you know?
Velvet Purple Coronet is a well-known Hummingbird species well known for its vibrant and shiny plumage. They can only be found in the humid forests in the foothills of West Andes in Colombia and Northwest Ecuador.
The bird photography sojourn started in the Ecuadorian capital Quito well known for its grand architecture, rich history, and delectable cuisine. We chose Quito as a meeting and departing point for this trip and our hotel had this beautiful garden that attracts many hummingbirds. Ecuador is replete with birds and you one has to train the eyes and lenses to spot them, the other attraction here is the orchids. We all met at the Mariscal Sucre International Airport and from there drove down to the hotel, where we stayed overnight.
Our pre-dawn photo adventure to Yanacocha started by clicking the lanscapes on the way. We stopped at several spots during the journey to capture the mind-blowing landscape, especially the snow-capped volcanoes Antisana and Cayambe. Fun fact – Cayambe is the only snow-covered volcano with the Equator cutting right across its summit! Well, Nature can surprise you in so many ways.
Andean Cock of the Rock
Violet Tailed Sylph
On our way to the highland forest reserve, we had a great time clicking some beautiful birds on the open grasslands like the Black-tailed Trainbearer, Black Flower-piercer, White-browed Spine-tail, Tawny Antpitta, and Yellow-breasted Brushfinch to name a few. Though the cloud forests at Yanacocha is situated at a higher altitude, walking through the trail was not tough at all. Our birdwalk rewarded us with some startling birds like Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Golden-crowned Tanager, Blue-backed Conebill, White-banded, and White-throated Tryannulets and a Rufous Antpitta to name a few. Since, the entire Northwestern cloud forests of Ecuador is a heaven for Hummingbirds, we indulged in advanced multi-flash Hummingbird photography to capture these vibrant, tiny and swift birds in flight. Some of the Hummingbirds we spotted were the famous Golden-breasted and Sapphire-vented Puff legs, Buff-winged Star frontlets, Tyrian Metal tails, Great Sapphire wings, and Sword-billed Hummingbirds.
We also spotted the White-throated Screech Owls and the beautiful Shining Sunbeam near the Hummingbird Feeders. We spent quite some time at the Hummingbird feeders at the lodge perfecting our hand at taking some natural close-ups of the gorgeous Hummingbirds. The open patios and observation decks gave us a comfortable vantage point to click these beautiful birds.
Did You Know?
Masked Trogons are mostly found in the subtropical zone of Western Andean slope in Ecuador. The male species of Trogons have a reddish-bronze coloured back and the females look slightly different.
Mindo Valley or the old Nino-Mindo is a tropical paradise with dense forest cover and has a large concentration of rare birds. We halted there en route to Tandayapa valley. We spotted the giant Hummingbird or the well-known Ecuadorian Hillstar, Crimson Collared Toucanet, Pale Mandibled Aracari, Violet Tailed Sylph, the Cock of the Rock displaying at the leks. At Mindo we also spotted the multi-colored macaws quenching their thirst, a flock of Cobalt-winged parakeets gathered in a congregation of sorts, the Blue-headed parrots, Booted Racket-Tail, Harpy eagle, the ancient Hoatzins (believed to be of prehistoric origin and only a few of these remain) to just name a few birds we saw. The photo workshop session was very intense and exciting.
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. The path to the tower involves some walk, but it is worth all the effort and 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. 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.
Glistering Green Tanager
Flame Faced Tanager
We finally reached the Tandayapa Valley and settled into the beautiful mountain lodge. There were feeders placed in the lodge that attracted many birds, so we plunged ourselves into a clicking frenzy with renewed enthusiasm. Early morning, we went for the jungle train in our quest for the birds and shot from the raptor blinds located at a stone throw distance from the lodge. We spotted the Three-striped and Russet-crowned Warblers, Chestnut-capped Brush-finch, White-throated Quail Dove, Rufous Motmots, Crimson-Rumped Toucanets, Spotted Barbtail to just name a few birds. Our lodge was full varieties of birds like Tanagers that come in vibrant hues like the metallic-green, Golden-naped, Flame-rumped, Beryl-spangled, Golden and Silver-throated, Black-capped and Mountain Tanagers. Here we also spotted the Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Slate-throated Redstart, Ornate Flycatcher and the Red-headed Barbet among other birds. Many birds gathered around the lodge during our meals which we also captured with our lenses and sometimes just enjoyed their company. It was a great feeling to wake up every day to chirping bird calls and the sound of the forest!
There were more birds then we could imagine at the upper and lower Tandayapa Valley and our short walks yielded a lot of finds, must say you should be armed with stacks of memory cards! In normal sunny days, we caught glimpses of the Broad Wings and Barred Hawks, Double-toothed Kite, Short-tailed Hawk, Rufous-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Uniform Antshrike, Toucan Barbet, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Bat Falcon, Turquoise Jay and the speckled faced parrot in flight. We also created natural looking perches with dry branches of trees to shoot the kite and the outcome was very natural.
The lowe Tandyapa valley had more birds that we could have imagined. On a normal sunny day, we caught glimpses of the Broad Wings and Barred Hawks, Double-toothed Kite, Short-tailed Hawk, Rufous-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Uniform Antshrike, Toucan Barbet, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Bat Falcon, Turquoise Jay and the speckled faced parrot in flight. We also created natural looking perches with dry branches of trees to shoot the kite and the outcome was very natural.
Sword Billed Hummingbird is popular for its long beak which is even longer than its body, herein where its beauty lies. They are super photogenic when they suck nectar from tubular flowers with their beak, it calls for a mandatory click!
Though our base was at Tandayapa Valley we extensively explored the Choco Bioregion for its endemic birds. Our search led to excellent finds at the Mashpi and Amagusa Reserve like the Barred Forest-Falcon, Moss Backed Tanager, Orange-breasted Fruiteaters, White-tipped Sicklebill, Brown-billed Scythebill, Golden-bellied Warblers, Yellow-collared Chlorophonias, Glistening-green Tanagers, Rufous-rumped Antwren, Velvet-purple Coronets, Empress Brilliant (a famous Hummingbird species), Golden-collared Honeycreeper and the very rare Rose-faced parrots. We were very lucky to spot the Andean Pygmy-Owl, Barred Puffbird, Golden-winged Manakin, The Blue and White-tailed Trogons, Bronze-winged Parrots, Guayaquil Woodpeckers, Sharpe’s Wren, a very rare Rufous-tailed Jacamar and the Scarlet-Rumped Caciques.
Pinnochio Anole Lizard
We drove down to the Milpe and Silanche Bird Sanctuaries located at the lowlands around the Tandayapa Valley. We made several halts at the Silanche Sanctuary to capture birds like the Olivaceous Piculet, Lineated Woodpeckers, Brown-capped Tyrannulet, Hook-billed Kites, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, White-bearded Manakin, and the Band-tailed Barbthroat. We stopped for lunch at a popular local restaurant at the Blanco River Valley and guest indulged in feeding bananas to the colorful Tanagers that visited the open patio of the eatery. We also spotted and clicked the Swallow-tailed Kites. At Milpe Bird Sanctuary we had a chance to capture bright songbirds like the Yellow-throated Toucan, White-Shouldered Tanager, Orange-billed Sparrow, Spotted Nightingale-Thrush and Slaty Antwren.
Watching the bright red-headed Andean Cock-of-the-Rock displaying at the Leks was the most unique and rewarding sight that we saw during our stay at the highland cloud forests of Northwest Ecuador. We made a pre-dawn departure to the Refugio Paz de las Aves to spot the endemic Cock-of-the-Rock. Dawn is the perfect time to visit the Leks as the activity is at its peak. They were a delight to watch from behind the raptor blinds and we could take some stunning images of this ‘top-notch’ entertainer! Here we also spotted the elusive Dark-back Wood-Quail.
Plate Billed Toucan
A visit to Northwest Ecuador remains incomplete if you don’t spot the Giant Antpitta and the Resplendent Quetzal! Life came full circle for us since we saw all the five species of Antpittas, namely the Giant Antpitta (Maria) and Ochre-breasted (Shakira). We had brilliant photo opportunities at Paz De La Aves as we spotted the gorgeous Nariño Tapaculo, Golden-headed Quetzal, Resplendent Quetzal Mountain Wren, Plate-billed, Mountain-Toucan, Masked Trogon, and Toucan Barbet. It was like hitting a jackpot in a day for avian enthusiasts like us!
Other than birds we also spotted colorful tropical frogs like the red-eyed one and a black frog with yellow specks, a queer-looking amphibian that resembled a chameleon, a tarantula (very common here), monkeys goofing around, fruit-eating bats and a striped puma staring right into the camera. We spent five days in North-western Ecuador, which proved very fruitful and productive!
Rufous Throated Tanager
We headed back to our base at Tandayapa Valley to drive back to Quito. Enroute we halted at Calacali for a while to capture some more birds.
North-western Ecuador provided us great opportunity to learn bird photography in a true sense by providing us the best subjects right from the birds, mammals, flora, and fauna especially the orchids nature has abundantly blessed her with. The people here were warm, and we sampled great local food made with a lot of love. Though the weather was erratic (expected in a tropical rainforest located near the equator) but our great shots made up for everything. We discussed techniques to use flash when the lighting is poor which is usually the case in a tropical cloud forest especially when you are clicking a bird sitting at a great height from the forest floor. Our morning and afternoon trails were a great learning lesson as the lodge owner who doubled up as a super knowledgeable naturalist accompanied us to explain the names of different plants, flowers, and mammals.
We reached Quito in the afternoon right at lunchtime and spent a relaxed evening there exploring the city. Bracing up for our journey to the Ecuadorian Amazon the next day.
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