Banner Left Side








Trip Report:

Hummingbirds and Wildlife of
Ecuador Photo Tour



Cock-of-the-Rock, the iconic bird of the Andes cloud forest photographed by Judy Johnson; Western Emerald Hummingbird, Collared Aracari, and Four-Eyed Opossum.

Last year, a friend and I made a scouting trip to Ecuador, as I hoped to begin doing Photo Tours for hummingbirds in this beautiful, hospitable country. Our scouting trip was a success, and this year Mary and I did the first of what we hope will be an annual stop on our tours. The focus of the trip was hummingbirds, using High-Speed Flash at some locations and using Fill or Full Flash at others. Although Mary and I were usually too busy to do much more than logistics and set-ups, we still managed to photograph 24 different species of hummingbirds, and the group should have added another three or four species to that total. Additionally, the group photographed a variety of other birds, including the iconic Cock-of-the-Rock, an orange-red bird with a crest that extends above the eye and over the beak, making the male appear almost beakless!
bOur first stop was Tandayapa Lodge, where we set-up four high-speed flash hummingbird sets. Unlike last year, when it took hours for the birds to find our feeders and begin to visit them frequently, this year the birds were hitting the feeders almost immediately. I truly believe that some of the birds recognized the feeders from last year, and responded quickly, which drew in the other species. We photographed a wide-variety of hummingbirds, including Andean Emeralds, Booted Racquetails, Brown Incas, Brown Violetears, Buff-tailed Coronets, Fawn-breasted Brilliants, Green Violetear, Violet-tailed Sylph, Purple-bibbed Woodstar, Rufous-tailed, and Western Emerald on the grounds of the lodge.
For the shoot we used hotshoe flashes either hard-wired or fired via Phottix remote trippers. Like all of our hummingbird shoots, this one was gear intensive, as we carried 20 lightstands and ten Manfrotto Articulating Arms to mount the flashes, feeders, and other accessories.
bAt one of our stations, the beautiful Violet-tailed Sylph, a blue-black and violet colored hummer with a long, streaming tail, visited often, although it was frustrating, too, for the long-tail required a wider field of view, so smaller species of hummers were often small in the frame. Compose for the little guys and, more often than not, the Sylph flew in. Still, everyone managed to get shots during the time at the various stations.  I set up a Range IR and two flashes to try to get some nocturnal mammals at the lodge’s tanager feeder, and in three nights of shooting managed to photograph two species of Opossum and a newly named raccoon-like mammal, the Olinguito. On the second night I captured just one big opossum, and I failed to put in fresh batteries in the equipment that was used, and on, all night the day before.

The first afternoon Mary led the group on a bus trip into the high country where the group looked for trogans and photographed macro landscapes and some cloud forest scenes, although a rain literally put a damper on much of that shooting. I stayed behind to set up background frames and get the equipment ready for the next day. It is scary on a trip where there are no resources available if needed, and I must have spent over a week prior to the trip preparing backgrounds, testing wiring, testing flashes, and inventorying equipment. Still, that afternoon, one of the flash systems wasn’t working! I was hard-wiring the flashes to insure no stagger or stutter with the flashes, and somehow – don’t ask me how – one of the flashes had the polarity reversed. Eventually I figured it out, but it was not the way to start getting ready for a shoot!

Row 1, Buff-tailed Coronet; Booted Racquettail
Row 2, Purple-throated Whitetip; Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

The following day we spent the entire time rotating our participants through the four flash set-ups, using our special long-tubed hummingbird feeders for our attractants. Using these, it would be easy to Photoshop flowers in later for compositional freedom, and doing this also insured that everyone would get plenty of action on the first day.
On Day Three we visited two different locations for hummingbirds and other species. Our first stop was several thousand feet below the elevation of our lodge, and considerably warmer. When we arrived, nearly everyone’s lenses were fogged by the difference in temperature, but within a half hour or so everyone was shooting – woodpeckers, tanagers, hermit hummingbirds, and other species. The ranch owner took me for a long tour of his farm, which was a bit of an ordeal for me, 8+ weeks after major back surgery. I was careful not to slip on the wet trail, and survived, and had a good time doing so.
bThe owner and his wife pointed out a well camouflaged Three-toed Sloth, high in a tree and mostly covered by leaves, and a very weird conglomeration of caterpillar larvae. These dark-banded larvae were clustered together close to the ground, forming a diamond-shaped pattern on a large palm tree trunk. As we photographed patterns, I noticed that a large species of Fly were crawling about the larvae, and a closer inspection showed that the flies were laying eggs upon the caterpillars. The females would extend a whitish ovipositor, extending it out from their abdomen like a columnar tube to reach beyond their head, and then lay a single egg before moving on to the next larvae. These eggs would hatch, and the maggot would undoubtedly burrow into the body of the larvae, then either to pupate inside or emerge to pupate on the ground, where, eventually, an adult fly would emerge. It didn’t make sense to me for a huge caterpillar to congregate like this, and thus expose multiple individuals to this parasitic fly. Many species avoid parasitism by remaining solitary, and thus lessen the chances of being found. Here, it was a cornicopea for the lucky flies!
bOur hosts really warmed up to us and it was difficult to tear away, as every few minutes he or his wife would point out a new, well-camouflaged moth or butterfly or insect. One really stood out, a brown moth whose wings were twisted and rounded to resemble a curled, dead leaf. It was easy to see, perched on a lampshade, but in the bush – virtually impossible.

Green Thorntail; Whitenecked Jacobin

bFrom there we headed to another small eco-lodge where we photographed a few new hummingbird species, including Green Thorntails and Green-Crowned Woodnymphs, as well as Collared Aracaris, a toucan-like bird with a serrated, long bill, and Red-tailed Squirrels and several Tanagers that visited the bird feeders.


cOn Day Four most of the group left quite early to visit a ranch where a lek of Cock-of-the-Rocks (photo by Judy Johnson) was located. On our itinerary, this was planned for the following day, when we’d be headed to Guango, but we changed the day to give us more time at our last destination. Doing so, our group had to share the ranch visit with another group of eleven, mostly birders. The owner accommodated our photographers by putting the birders in the first group, at 6AM, and our photographers at 6:30AM, or so he said. As it turned out, both groups visited the blind at the same time, but the birders didn’t stay as long and the light only got better, especially after 6:45. Judy’s Cock-of-the-Rock is illustrated here, and she did some wonderful video as well. These striking birds congregate at a display area, where the males perform their dance and sing their raucous, chattering song to attract females. Known as a lek, these display sites are found with many different types of birds, from Prairie Chickens in the US mid-west to Ruff Sandpipers in Europe, and even to some antelope in Africa, all with the same purpose, for the males to display and attract the girls.
After the blind, the group went to the ranch house where they photographed aracaris, toucanets, barbets, and other species – almost as rewarding as the Cock-of-the-Rock lek.

Row 1 - Brown Violetear; Brown Inca
Row 2 - Fawn-breasted Brilliant
Row 3 - Green Violetear; Andean Emerald

Meanwhile, back at the lodge, Mary and I prepared for the day’s shoot where we would add or use flowers at the high speed flash set-ups. This took hours, as we tried several different ways to get birds in to the flowers. Eventually we settled on a few flowers where we could easily add sugar water, or where we placed a tube feeder nearby to help lure in the birds. Although the tube showed in the images, that was an easy, and effective fix.

Olinguito, a recently described mammal that is related to the Kinkajou (a distant raccoon relative); and a giant South American Opossum.

hDay Five, we headed to Guango, our last destination. En route we traveled through the high Andes, and we asked our guide why we weren’t stopping for photos. He said, the clouds, and there was no view – although we thought there was, at the time. We were so wrong, as we would find out later.
Last year, when we arrived in Guango for a short, half-day visit it was pouring rain, and our shooting was limited to under a gazebo facing a bank of hummingbird feeders. It was clear today, and we set up feeders, decorating the tubes with red and yellow tape to entice the birds to these new flowers. We even made a trumpet flower cup, but the birds were conditioned to the usual feeders andhits at our new spots were few. We spent the afternoon doing natural light and fill flash shots of hummers. It was a clear sky night, with a brilliant new moon hanging over the mountains, so we planned a visit to the pass at dawn.

mDay Six, we left our lodge at 6 for a 50 minute drive up to the pass where we stopped to photograph the nearest volcano, ….., before driving higher to a set of radio antennas at around 14,000 feet. From there we walked even higher to reach the end of the trail to photograph …. Volcano, hanging on the eastern horizon, and to our west, ……, which dominated the sky. Brown-bellied Swallows and Seedsnipe and small finches flew about, and a new Caracara was spotted, and a few deer. We stayed until 10 when clouds drifted in, masking the volcanos much as it did yesterday when we first drove over the pass. At the park gate our guide asked about Spectacled Bears, and one was seen within an hour, right along the highway, after we had driven through yesterday. None were seen today.



Row 1, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Collared Inca
Row 2, Tourmaline Sunangel, White-bellied Woodstar
Row 3, Swordbill
Row 4, Green-crowned Brilliant; Tyrant Metaltail

We spent the rest of the day photographing at the various lodge feeders. I set up a four flash station where the Swordbill Hummingbird regularly visited a feeder, and most people had some luck with the bird there. In the woods one station was having a lot of activity, with Long-tailed Sylphs and a Swordbill regularly visiting, in addition to several other species. Everyone was using their on-camera flashes, some with tele-flashes attached, and as we learned during our trip highlights, everyone enjoyed the natural shooting, even though most were of perched birds. Towards the end of the day I tried experimenting with three or four high speed flashes at a few feeders, and the results were mixed, as the natural vegetation backgrounds were far more distracting and vivid than the fake backgrounds we normally use. Still, it was a very productive day for everyone.
Day Seven started with a rain that began around 3AM. Since we had a huge packing job ahead we had taken down all of our flashes the previous evening, and planned to use Don and Judy’s flashes and stands today. It never stopped raining, and we nixed that idea before breakfast. With the rain, everyone stayed around the lodge, although Barry and Ruth had a very productive time at the porch feeder with a GoPro and an extremely tolerant hummingbird. I hadn’t seen the White-capped Dipper yet, and I took a stroll through the rain – almost slipping badly at one point --- to the river where I lingered at one likely-looking location and was rewarded with a brief glimpse. It was long enough to clearly identify the bird, but too short to savor, and so I stayed, and was rewarded five minutes later when three dippers flew to the closest rocks (still a far shot had I had a camera along) where the birds fed on the boulders above the shoreline. Dippers in the US often feed below the water surface, but their feeding here made perfect sense, as the river was a tumultuous set of rapids, a Class 5 it appeared, and so dangerous looking that I wondered if a kayaker could dare negotiate it. Mary had seen the river two days earlier when, without the rain, it was shallow and rocky, but today, after the heavy rains, no rocks but that of the dipper’s little island were visible, and the river did not look shallow. Instead, at times ten foot high blasts of spray would fly through the air, and the river roared. It was a dangerous place.
We had a late lunch, at 2, where we reviewed the trip and the various highlights. As always happens, as someone would mention some activity, site, or occurrence, someone would say, I forgot all about that! And that’s one of the fun things about the highlights. Surprisingly Guango, even without a high-speed flash setup, proved to be the majority of the participants’ favorite location, based upon the amount of feeders spread out widely, although still in a rather confined and easy to negotiate area.


Green-crowned Brilliant; Buff-tailed Coronet; Violet-tailed Sylph

We left at 3, with four of us arriving at the airport at 4:30, for a flight scheduled for 11:45. Some continued on for a visit with friends or family in Quito, and some did a lay-over in Quito for a trip later in the week to the Amazon.
We spent a part of our lunch and our drive back to Quito talking about our next trip, where we’ll include another lodge deeper into the Amazon basin, and spend two extra days between Tandayapa and Guango. We’re anxious to return, to see new birds, to carry a longer lens (only 400mm this time, because of our weight issue and my recovering from back surgery), and to visit another new site. We will be doing this trip again, in its expanded version, in 2015. If you’re interested, please contact our office!

Refer to our BROCHURE to get an idea of next year's trip!
Exact dates and prices may not be updated.

Visit our Trip and Scouting Report Pages for more images and an even better idea of what our trips to the Pantanal are like. There you'll find our archived reports from previous years.