Tanager & Other Birds — Ecuador Photo Tours

Tanagers are one of my favorite families of birds in the tropics.  They are colorful, rather large, somewhat slow, and plentiful.  The Ecuador birding field guide lists about 66 species with tanager in their name.  We didn’t photograph that many during our Strabo Photo Tour Collections trip in March but we got a lot.

 

Black-capped tanager; Tangara heinei; Ecuador; Mindo Valley
Black-capped tanager — Mindo Valley, Ecuador
Blue-capped tanager KAC9857
Blue-capped tanager in the Mindo Valley.  This was a new bird for me.
Blue-capped tanager KAC9864
Blue-capped tanager
Blue-winged mountain-tanager KAC9997
Blue-winged mountain-tanager
Golden tanager; Tangara arthus; Ecuador; San Tadeo; Mindo Valley
Golden tanager — Mindo Valley, Ecuador
Flame-faced tanager; Tangara parzudakii; Ecuador; San Tadeo; Mindo Valley
Flame-faced tanager — Mindo Valley. What a great name!
White-lined tanager KAC9389
White-lined tanager — See the white line?

We found a nice variety of birds along the way.  These are all from the Mindo Valley of Ecuador on the western slope of the Andes Mountains.

Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, Buarremon brunneinucha,
Chestnut-capped brush-finch
Crimson-rumped toucanet KAC9716
Crimson-rumped toucanet
Crimson-rumped toucanet KAC9740
Crimson-rumped toucanet — here you can see the rump
Dusky Chlorospingus KAC0091
Dusky Chlorospingus — Love that name!
rufous-collared sparrow KAC0035
Rufous-collared sparrow — so common but so pretty.
Swainson's thrush KAC9427
Swainson’s thrush on wintering grounds.  It will be arriving in my area of Texas in mid-April on its way to breeding grounds in the north.

 

Here are a couple more hummingbirds from the last day of the trip.  The birds in Ecuador are amazing.

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My 2018-2019 photo tour schedule is on the Strabo Photo Tours site or on my website.

Hummingbirds — Ecuador Photo Tour

Long-tailed slyph hummingbird; Ecuador.; Guango Lodge

Hummingbirds are on the agenda for anyone taking a bird photography or bird watching trip to Ecuador.  Gary and I planned our photo tour in March to see as many hummingbirds as possible during our 10-day stay in the country.

Ecuador has more than 132 hummingbird species.  That’s more species than any other country and 40% of all hummingbird species in the world.

Lucky for us, hummingbird feeders are a common sight around Ecuador.  We chose our stops during this trip based on hummingbird feeding location so we could maximize our photo and viewing opportunities.

First stop was Guango Lodge on the eastern slope of the Andes Mountains.  Guango is great for photography with a new hummingbird “Pavilion” by the bus parking area.  There are natural perches by each feeder.  This gave us an opportunity to photograph the hummers as they rested between visits to the feeders.

We used flashes to bring out the sparkle in the hummingbird’s feathers.  Everyone used a diffuser of some sort to soften the light so the flash wasn’t so obvious.  I used the Lumiquest Softbox.  Someone else used the Rogue FlashBender 2.  No need for a flash extender since the hummers were 6-10 feet away most of the time.

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Our guide, Nelson Apolo Jaramillo, suggested that we leave Guango in the afternoon and visit a friend’s lodge about 45-minutes past Guango.  We all agreed and drove down to Rio Quijos Eco-lodge on Hwy 45.  The lower elevation gave us some new species.

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Our hummingbird photography continued a couple of days later as we moved across Quito to the Yanacocha Reserve.  The reserve headquarters has a nice café, restrooms, and trails.  These are situated near a covered hummingbird photography area.  Lots of natural perches around the hummingbird feeders.

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The target species here was the sword-billed hummingbird.

Septimo Paraiso; Mindo, EcuadorOur next stop was the Mindo Valley lower down the western slope of the Andes.  Our lodge in this area was  Septimo Paraiso.  It truly is Seventh Heaven in so many ways.

We gave everyone a full-day of photography and birding on the grounds of Septimo Paraiso.  There are several hummingbird feeding stations as well as fruit feeders for perching birds.

Booted racket-tail hummingbird; Ecuador.; Septimo ParaisoI set-up the hummingbird flashes in the garden under a nice pavilion that was ringed in hummingbird feeders.  Once I got the set-up working then we traded out every hour.  Each person in the group got to use the flashes.   Everyone got at least one nice photo with the multi-flash set-up.

 

The next two days were devoted to visiting several location in the Mindo area that featured hummingbird feeders and fruit feeders.    We went to Alambi Cloud Forest Reserve, San Tadeo, and the Birdwatcher’s House.

Each stop gave us a couple more species of hummingbirds plus more opportunities to photograph familiar species.

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Come back tomorrow for news about tanagers and other perching birds.

 

 

 

Antisana Reserve — Ecuador Photo Tour

Antisana Volcano KAC8540-Pano

My husband, Gary Clark, and I got a chance to return to Ecuador earlier this month to lead a Strabo Photo Tours Collection trip.  Our trip visited the eastern slope of the Andes Mountains, the western slope, Quito, and the Antisana Reserve.

Antisana is a large tract of undeveloped land surrounding the Antisana Volcano.  The reserve protects Quito’s water supply and is prime habitat for the Andean Condor.

The Antisana Ecological Reserve covers 120,000 hectares or 296,000 acres.  The Antisana Volcano is 5758 meters or roughly 19,000 above sea level.  Most of the reserve is above the tree line and covered in low grasses called paramo. Rolling hills, cliffs, deep valleys, and even a lagoon round out the habitat.

Antisana Volcano KAC0634

Permits are required to enter the reserve so access is limited.  This means it can sometimes feel like you have the place to yourself even on a busy Sunday afternoon

 

Our first stop was a coffee shop near the entrance to the Antisana Reserve.  It’s called Tambo Condor.   www.tambocondor.com  This is a great place to stop for coffee or a snack but we were there for the hummingbirds.  The feeders attracted giant hummingbird (on the right above) and shining sunbeam (on the left.)  Andean condors roost on the cliffs across the valley.

On the day we visited, the skies were clear and sunny.  Wind was howling, though, but we were prepared and dressed for it.

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Gary and I got everyone out of the motor coach when we were high on the paramo for a fun time chasing and photographing carunculated caracaras and Andean lapwings.  It was cold, the altitude was killing us, but it was fun.

We ate box lunches at the lagoon.  It was too cold and windy to eat outside so we used the coach as a shelter.  We got in and out depending on the birds outside.

Andean condor; Ecuador.; Antisana Reserve; Vultur gryphusGary and our guide Nelson were great spotters.  We saw Andean Condors six times during our visit.  The last sighting was the best when an adult condor flew right over our heads and gave everyone a perfect opportunity for incredible photos.

 

 

Andean condor; Ecuador.; Antisana Reserve; Vultur gryphus;
Andean condor on the Antisana Reserve in Ecuador

Tomorrow — Hummingbirds of the Eastern Andes.

Heart-shaped Lights for Valentine’s Day

Heart-sharped bokah, bokeh, blown out background, blurry background.
Let’s get romantic with some heart-shaped lights this Valentine’s Day

 

Heart-sharped bokah, bokeh, blown out background, blurry background.
Directions are below.
IMG_1441
A heart stamp from the craft store makes a nice heart.
IMG_1442
Grab a piece of black construction paper.  Cut it into this basic shape.  The circular shape should cover your lens opening.      Notice that the heart shape has been taped to the center.  That’s because my stamp doesn’t stamp very far from the edge of the paper.  I had to cut the center out of the main shape and tape a smaller piece of paper with the heart shape to the main piece. (This is good because you can remove the heart later and add shamrocks for St. Patty’s Day)

 

IMG_1443
Attach the black paper object to the front of your lens.  I use a hair tie. 
IMG_1444
You’re almost ready to go.  I’ve found that a lens in the 100mm range makes the best heart shapes.
IMG_1445
Switch to Manual focus.  Blur the scene in front of you.                  The view through the viewfinder is dark.  It might help to switch the camera to spot or partial metering.
Heart-sharped bokah, bokeh, blown out background, blurry background.
Bright lights work best.  This is a photograph is a busy street.  

Flashing Red Light On Canon Rebel

Question from a reader:  I was taking photos yesterday of my daughter at a gymnastics event.  A red light in the bottom right corner on my Canon Rebel kept flashing.  Once I saw the word “BUSY” in the viewfinder.  What was I doing wrong?

The red flashing light on your camera shows that the camera is accessing the memory card.

It’s normal to see a red light when the camera takes a photo. (Nikon users see a green light.)  The light should quickly go on-and-off  if all is well.

During a rapid burst of photos, the red light will flash as long as the camera is moving the photos to the memory card.  The camera has a memory buffer of 6-9 photos.  It’s holding those in memory and waiting to move them photos to the card.

If you take 10 photos in a row, the camera moves some to the card and then some to the buffer. Those in the buffer wait in line until it’s time for them to move to the card.

You’ll see BUSY in the viewfinder if you take too many photos and the buffer fills.  The camera won’t take any more photos until the buffer clears out and has room to store another photo.

You’re likely to see the flashing red light and BUSY in the viewfinder if you held the shutter button down and took a lot of photos.  Those photos need to process out of the buffer and through to the card.

Solution — get a memory card that records faster.  How fast?  That depends on the camera.  A 20MB camera that takes 7 fps (frames per second) is going to record 140MB worth of photos per second.  A card that records 64MB per second can record roughly three frames a second.  The other four frames are going to sit in memory.  That means you have three frames recording to the card while four photos are waiting in buffer.  That’s usually okay since the buffer will clear in a second or two.

 

The card on the left records 150MB/s.  That’s seven photos per second using a camera with a 20MB file.  This is almost more card than the Rebel needs.  Someone who shoots sport or action regularly might need this, though.

The card on the right records 45MB/s.  That’s two photos per second using the same camera.  Too slow for someone photographing sports or action.

The card you need depends on what you photograph and what camera you use.  I get my cards from Hunt’s Photo and Video.  Ask for Alan Samiljan (781) 462-2383 or email him at asamiljan@huntsphoto.com    His hours are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday & Friday, 8:30-5:00pm eastern

Let’s Bring Birds Into Our Lives

Pine warbler KAC9274

January 5th is National Bird Day.  It’s a great day to think about bringing birds into our lives.

Backyards big or small can be a haven for birds.  Birds will come to a large grassy lot with trees or a balcony with container plants.

Birds are attracted to a space that has three things:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Shelter
red-bellied woodpecker
Shelled sunflower seeds in a feeder with red-bellied woodpecker

Food is the first big consideration to bringing birds into your yard or balcony.  Shelled sunflower seeds are a favorite because the hulls have been removed and no waste falls to the ground to attract mice and rats.  Shelled sunflower seed is a bit more expensive but the food goes a long way because there is no waste.

Avoid packaged birdfeed that contains millet, milo, and wheat.  Watch for little white seeds common in bird feed that comes from a grocery store.  Northern cardinals, blue jays, and Carolina chickadee don’t eat these seeds.  Blackbird and grackles do, though.

Birdfeed from area nature stores such as Wild Bird Unlimited, feed stores, and locally owned garden centers is usually fresher than that found in big box stores.

Birds like suet.  Suet is a mixture of seeds, nuts, and fruit held together with a peanut butter matrix.  Carolina wrens, pine warblers, and red-bellied woodpeckers love suet cakes.

Pine warblerppKAC3731
In warmer climates, use suet cakes made with a nut butter matrix versus white fat.

Avoid suet cakes held together with a whitish or fat-based matrix.  These are designed for cooler, northern climates and spoil in our heat.

Bird baths are a great way to add water to your habitat.  Traditional concrete bird baths are best.  Birds only need an inch of water to drink or bath.  Concrete bird baths last twenty or more years.

Eastern bluebird. bathing in shallow pool.
Eastern bluebird. bathing in shallow pool.

 

The rough surface of a concrete bird bath gives birds something to grip in the event they need to fly quickly away to avoid a predator.  Glass or ceramic bird baths are pretty but the bathing area needs to be rough.  Toss in a few handfuls of dirt and let a bit of algae grow.  This creates a natural surface that birds prefer.

Shelter is the last item needed to create a bird habitat.  Birds need a place to hide when a hawk or cat enters the area.

Place feeders and birdbaths five to ten feet from a tree, shrub, or potted plant.  Birds won’t cross a vast open area to feed or bathe.  Place plants on two sides to create an ideal habitat.

Consider natives when planting around feeders in a yard or on a balcony.  Yaupon and American beautyberry are lovely to look at and provide berries for our birds.  Golden dewdrop  (Duranta) is a large showy plant with purple flowers in summer and golden berries in fall.  This can be grown in a container or in the ground.  Porterweed (Stachytarpheta) is another favorite.  It’s cold hardy and produces lovely purple blooms from spring to the first frost.  Butterflies also like golden dewdrop and Porterweed.

 

#nationalbirdday

 

 

Get Some Blurry Light Photos

This time between Christmas and New Years Day is a great time to capture some blurry photos of holiday lights.

Simple and easy to capture.  Turn off your auto focus.  Turn the focus ring until everything is blurred.  Then start looking for the composition.

Lights, blurred, spheres of light, bokah.
Simple white lights photographed at f/4 with the focus blurred.
Blurry background, bokah, lens test, holiday lights
Same lights as above with f/22 and the lens blurred.
Bokah, blurry, lights
Christmas lights in a store
Blurry light, bokeh, bokah, mood, dreamy
Lights dangling from a restaurant ceiling.  (click to enlarge)
Blurred, colorful, lights.
Lights along a street. 
Blurry Houston Skyline KAC0511
City of Houston in blur.  (click to enlarge)
Blurry light, bokeh, Puente Romano; Cordoba; Spain; Roman Bridge; Twilight
Bridge and cathedral in Cordoba, Spain  (click to enlarge)
Huntsville State Park, Huntsville, Texas, Autumn
Simple autumn leaves on a tree (click to enlarge)
Bokeh, blurred shapes, multi-color, Christmas lights.
Simple Christmas tree with f/4 and lens blurred.  (click to enlarge)

Have fun!!