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.
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.
Here are a couple more hummingbirds from the last day of the trip. The birds in Ecuador are amazing.
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.
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.
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.
The target species here was the sword-billed hummingbird.
Our 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.
I 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.
Come back tomorrow for news about tanagers and other perching birds.
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.
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.
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.
Gary 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.
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 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.
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.
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.