Ecuador Photo Journey
Hummingbirds, Tanagers, and High Andean Scenery
Ecuador is famed for its extraordinary diversity, but perhaps less well known as a top quality destination for a photo safari. This short tour will visit two famous hummingbird lodges: Tandayapa Bird Lodge on the west slope, which boasts extraordinarily high species numbers; and Guango Lodge on the east slope that has a very different selection, including the incredible Sword-billed Hummingbird, a living cartoon.
Day 1: Quito. You will be met at the airport and transferred to a comfortable Quito hotel for the night.
Day 2: Yanacocha to Tandayapa Bird Lodge. We’ll leave the capital behind and make the short journey into the forested hills of Yanacocha, where as well as some great hummer feeders with Buff-winged Starfrontlet and Sapphire and Golden-breasted Pufflegs, we also have the chance to photograph two antpitta species that have recently been habituated in the reserve: Rufous and Tawny Antpittas. After a morning in the reserve we will continue on to the Tandayapa Valley, for a four-night stay. The lodge is nestled within lush subtropical forest (1750m/5740ft) on the west slope of the Andes, a renowned area for high bird species diversity. This is especially evident in the impressive hummingbird community found right around the lodge that will occupy much of our photographic energies. The lodge feeders attract thousands of individual hummingbirds, and on some days over twenty different species drop in within a single hour!
Days 3 – 4: Tandayapa Valley. Two full days will be spent in the rich forests of the Tandayapa Valley, that hold a myriad of colorful tanagers, toucans, barbets, and of course, hummingbirds, lots and lots of hummingbirds. For those who cannot resist the Tandayapa Bird Lodge hummer feeders you can stick to the considerable task of shooting them and remain at the lodge. Entrenched among a myriad of glittering hummingbirds, many of which are local species not commonly photographed away from this world-class hummingbird lodge. Among the many regulars is the outrageous Booted Racket-tail, the male of which has a strange long tail, with two motmot-like paddles at the end. This bizarre hummingbird makes for a great photo subject for this reason, and on top of that it is also one of the commonest birds at the lodge. Other regular drop ins are a number of glistening species that are only found within this rich region of Ecuador and in Colombia (the so-called Choco region) like the audacious Violet-tailed Sylph, the standout Purple-bibbed Whitetip, the gem-like Western Emerald, and the more subtle Brown Inca. Less local in their range but just as spectacular and just as approachable are the numerous dinky Purple-throated Woodstars that regularly buzz around the Tandayapa balcony. If hummingbird photography is your goal, you are certain to walk away with thousands of shots of over ten species of hummingbird, many of which are hard to photograph away from Tandayapa. Fruit feeders at the lodge can also produce Technicolor birds like Red-headed Barbet, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager or even Red-tailed Squirrels, while the forest blind regularly attracts Russet-crowned Warblers and Immaculate Antbirds in the early mornings. Other birds that regular roam right around the lodge include White-winged Brush-Finches, and a delightful pair of Masked Trogons. For those who like a bigger challenge, or wish to try shots of other Tandayapa residents we will break up our time at the feeders with visits to other parts of the valley, where passing flocks can be loaded with colorful tanagers, warblers, woodcreepers, treerunners and other flock followers, and the other areas of the valley also offer the chances opf running into some of the more spectacular species of the area like the Toucan Barbet or Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan.
Day 5: Milpe. For those who want to venture into another exciting corner of the Andes we offer this side trip from the lodge, lower down slope to a small reserve within the foothills of the Andes that subsequently offers a very different suite of birds. This reserve, run by an Ecuadorian NGO, the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation, has some nice forest and a tiny café with very busy hummingbird feeders alongside. The beauty of this combining this with Tandayapa is that you will get a while new set of hummers to compliment the ones found higher up at our lodge that include the incredibly cute Green Thorntail, the exquisite, jewel-like Green-crowned Woodnymph, and butch Green-crowned Brilliant, in addition to the hyperactive White-whiskered Hermit. The area will also offer up other photo opportunities as fruit feeders both within the reserve and a local restaurant where we will lunch overlooking a stunning set of banana feeders that attract colorful tanager species, euphonias, and sometimes even motmots and small toucans.
Day 6: Paz de las Aves to Guango Lodge. On this day we will depart from Tandayapa Bird Lodge early and head to Mindo to visit one of the most important bird sites in the area, the wonderful Paz de las Aves. This beautiful little refuge is set within subtropical forest where the moist, moss-covered trees are burdened with bright red bromeliads. Our early rise will let us visit an area deep within the forest where a short time after dawn the bright scarlet forms of several displaying Andean Cock-of-the-rocks will start the day off with a spectacular forest performance from these vivid red cotingas. However, what has made this place such a joy for photographers and birders alike is the habituating of several rare and shy antpitta species. The highlight will be sitting quietly on a forest trail while a Giant Antpitta hops around on the trail just feet away from our trained lenses. Up to four different antpitta species occur on site, with Moustached and Yellow-breasted Antpittas being equally photogenic on many occasions too. On top of that the refuge boasts an incredible set of fruit feeders that, when on form, can bring in such dazzling species as the multicolored Toucan Barbet and charismatic Crimson-rumped Toucanet to well within photo range for even the smallest lens. In the afternoon, after lunching on site, we will drive across the Andes over to the eastern side of the mountains and the quaint Guango Lodge for a three-night stay. The lodge is set beside a rushing Andean river, and nestled alongside wet temperate forest.
Day 7: Guango Lodge. Guango Lodge is a small lodge that is rightly considered one of the ultimate hummingbird lodges in the country and will complement Tandayapa very well. The lodge is positioned higher up in the Andes and also on the opposite side, leading to a very different hummingbird community. Like Tandayapa, Guango has a varied set of feeders that attract hundreds of hummingbirds, and again will attract well over ten species, including such extravagant species as the cartoonesque Sword-billed Hummingbird, the dapper black-and-white Collared Inca, aggressive Chestnut-breasted Coronet, tiny White-bellied Woodstar, and sublime Tourmaline Sunangel. The hummer feeders are also a target for other local birds, most notably the indigo blue Masked Flowerpiercer that too will make for a wonderful subject for our cameras. The temperate forest that overhangs this comfortable Andean lodge also attracts passing flocks of birds, some of which can be remarkably confiding and photogenic, that includes the cerulean-blue Turquoise Jay.
Day 8: Papallacta or Guango. We will have two options open to us today. Those wishing to feast on the many hummingbird shots available at the lodge can remain there to do so. For those who want to do something different we will venture into the paramo grasslands of the high Andes, around Papallacta Pass (4000m/13 125ft) , that on fine days may reward us with spectacular views over the Andes and shooting opportunities at neighbouring volcanoes: Antisana and Cotopaxi. The other appeal of birding Andean habitats like the paramo is that the high altitude birds that reside there can be remarkably confiding. Comical cinclodes bound around on the paramo, Tawny Antpittas hop along the roads, and with the use of playback, high Andean birds like canasteros and tit-spinetails can often be brought in close. At lunch time we will return to Guango, where will have the whole afternoon to shoot at hummingbirds, walk the forest trails behind the lodge, or scan the river alongside for Torrent Ducks.
Day 9: Antisana to Quito. Our final morning of the tour will be truly spectacular and for good reason, we visit the open grasslands surrounding the enormous Antisana volcano. This is often voted as the favorite site of the tour by many, for the wonderful surrounding in which we will be shooting. The towering peak of the Antisana Volcano itself is impressive, with a large snow-covered top, and dramatic rocky sides. The grasslands are interspersed with rocky outcrops and scenic high Andean lakes dotted with high altitude waterfowl. Indeed the scenery itself may be our biggest photo asset. Aside from these breathtaking Andean scenes, the upper paramo is carpeted with Carunculated Caracaras, a striking pied raptor that occurs up there in impressive numbers and will provide us with repeated opportunities to shoot it. Black-faced Ibis patrol these high plains as do flocks of Andean Lapwings and large flocks of Andean Gulls roam the highlands too. It is a site that will leave a lasting impression, and provide ample shots for processing at the end of the tour. In the late afternoon we will return to Quito for another night.
Day 10 Departure. You will be transferred to Quito airport for international departures home.
Amazon Extension (6 days)
An extension to the Amazon is also available, where the extreme diversity of the Amazon rainforest will be all too evident, and the true stars are the myriad of colorful frogs and insects which make for amazing macro shoots. Although more challenging to photograph, the other wildlife, such as a healthy pool of primates (like the pocket-sized Pygmy Marmoset and the owl-like Night Monkey), and many colorful birds, such as toucans, tanagers, and cotingas, will not be ignored either, and can often be viewed close to the canopy walkways and platforms.
Day 1: Quito to The Amazon/night Sacha or La Selva Lodge (depending on availability)
Days 2 – 4: The Amazon/nights :Sacha or La Selva Lodge
Day 5: The Amazon to Quito/night Quito
Day 6: Departure
CLIMATE: Mostly pleasant, but can be very cold in Papallacta and Antisana, with a good chance of rain.
DIFFICULTY: Easy, with one steep, often muddy trail at Paz de las Aves. In the high Andes we will be spending two days at high elevations above 11,500 ft. (3500 m.).
ACCOMMODATION: Very good to excellent.