Fiery Throated Hummingbird
The natural beauty of Ecuador has the power to pull you back towards her lap, visiting her once is just not enough. It will take you a thousand lifetimes to rediscover the flora and fauna of the Ecuadorian jungles for its sheer abundance. Well this is great news for avian enthusiasts and photographers as it implies a zillion photo opportunities that we will get here. There is never a dull moment during your stay here as you will be hard pressed for time clicking the amazing birds which are in plenty, vibrant frogs and other adorable looking mammals in the verdant and misty highland cloud forests of Northwest Ecuador. 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!
Some Amazing Facts
Velvet Purple Coronet is a famous 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. One must stay a few extra days just to explore Quito. 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 have to train your 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. Since the next day, we would leave very early for Yanacocha we retired to bed early.
Our pre-dawn photo adventure to Yanacocha started by clicking the sunrise 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. Well, the amazing fact here is 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 Flowerpiercer, White-browed Spinetail, 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. We were rewarded 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 haven for Hummingbirds we indulged in advanced multi-flash Hummingbird photography to capture with our lenses these vibrant, tiny and swift birds in flight and while they are drinking the nectar from the tube-shaped flowers. Some of the Hummingbirds we spotted here are the famous Golden-breasted and Sapphire-vented Pufflegs, Buff-winged Starfrontlets, Tyrian Metaltails, Great Sapphire wings, and Sword-billed Hummingbirds.
There are many songbirds living here so you will be welcomed with their melodious tunes and our expert guides will help you identify the birds. 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 legendary birds.
Do 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 a large concentration of rare birds and we halted there en route to Tandayapa valley. Here we spotted and shot birds like 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 shoot here was very intense as we hardly got time to remove our eyes from the camera’s viewfinder, there were so many ‘wow’ moments that we experienced here.
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.
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. Here 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. Every time we walked down a few kilometers from our lodge we were welcomed by a huge flock of birds, which was overwhelming as we stayed rooted to the spot to get as many images of the varied types of 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.
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!
Sword Billed Hummingbird 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 here we fed 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 meeting with 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. This was one of the most awaited activity we all looked forward to and the sighting of these vibrant birds made our day!
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 each with a name like 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 here in North-western Ecuador spotting the birds and a large part of our time was spent shooting at Mindo. We spotted birds in almost every direction, we turned our heads!
Rufous Throated Tanager
We headed back to our base at Tandayapa Valley from where we drove back to Quito. Enroute we halted at Calacali for a while to capture some more birds with our lenses. Our camera hands got the best exercise as we were spoilt for choice in selecting subjects. Every day was action-packed and at the end of the day, we all sat for an interactive session on post-processing and best ways to capture the birds by using different photography techniques.
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. It was a National Geographic Moment coming alive!
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.