What initially attracted me to Ecuador was the historic center of Quito and the photo opportunities it might offer. I soon learned that the country is a birdwatcher’s paradise, said to be home to more species per acre than any other country in the world. Mindo, a small town a couple hours northwest of Quito, has become famous for the surrounding cloud forest and the birds therein. I have had mixed results with wildlife photography, but this seemed very much a “when in Rome…” situation, so when our lovely guide Vivian offered to put us in touch with a renowned birding guide, it was an opportunity I felt I shouldn’t pass up.
Thus we found ourselves hiking in the pre-dawn hours towards a place in the jungle where the ridiculously plumed cock-of-the-rock was known to be found. One of the neat things to notice close to the equator is just how quickly the sun rises and sets, and I watched the sky go from a deep murky gloom to bright day in the twenty minute walk to the spot. We could hear this bird long before we could see it, as its decidedly un-melodic screech easily cut through the foliage. Once there, I set up my tripod and started shooting. It was easier than I thought it might be; my biggest challenge initially was getting the settings on my camera right. In the end I came away with a few shots I’m not ashamed of.
I’m told the cock-of-the-rock is a big deal among birders, and I think I see why. A very loud, chicken-sized bird the color of a fire engine definitely makes for good eye candy. But the Mindo cloud forest is most famous for its hummingbirds. They are not particularly hard to find, but some locals set up veritable galleries where photographers can sit or stand in relative comfort and watch the birds flock to dozens of feeders. Our birding guide, Rolando, had quite a nice place like this, and many of the shots below are from here.
The locals have a neat trick to wow city slickers like us. First, all the hummingbird feeders are collected and put away, save one which is given to the tourist, in this case my wife Shawna, to hold. At first, the birds are upset that their smorgasbord has been taken away, but soon the braver ones will notice the remaining feeder. If it is held still, the hummingbirds will soon to perch on the tourist and feed. It’s quite a sight.
Below are a couple toucanets
And a real toucan!
What surprised me was just how many exposures you’ll take when doing wildlife photography. I’m used to taking a long time to set up an exposure, where here you are shooting rapid fire. I took more photos at these couple birding stops than I took the rest of the week combined. I had a lot of raw material to go through, and with my inexperience I really don’t know what makes a good shot of this kind. So, in no particular order, are the other shots that seemed to clean up well. If any actual birders stumble across this post, I’d welcome any feedback you’d care to give!
In the next post post we will stay in and around Mindo, showcasing the landscape as well as a bit of jungle rurex (of a sort) that I was lucky enough to get to see!