Week 3-4: Bird Photographs from Yanacocha, Quito, Paz de las Aves, Scouting mission of NW Ecuador and more Tandayapa Bird Lodge – January 22 – February 7, 2009
The past two weeks have flown by. I’ve spent most of my time at Tandayapa Bird Lodge (TBL), but have also made a few day trips outside of the valley. The first was with my new friend Dubi to a highland area called Yanacocha just outside of Quito. To get to Yanacocha Dubi picked me up early one morning from TBL and we were on our way. We had a map drawn by one of the guides that appeared “fool-proof”…or so we thought. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we had missed a turn just after leaving the lodge and our map was now essentially useless. I would estimate that we probably stopped to ask at least 15 people for directions before finally making it to Yanacocha. But when we did the weather was perfect and it seemed like a great day for taking pictures.
I can’t emphasize enough how essential it was to have the help of a friend for getting to and achieving photos of hummingbirds in flight at this location. First of all, because Yanacocha is definitely not reachable by public transit and I would have definitely had to rent a car to get there. Secondly, because with my terrible sense of direction there is no way I would have ever been able to get myself there. Third of all, because the site is at roughly 4000m and walking even a couple of kilometres with close to 80 pounds of gear would have been nearly impossible. And I have to add that it is always a whole lot more fun shooting with a friend
After lugging all that gear along the trails of Yanacocha, Dubi and I found a good area to set up for some multi-flash hummingbird photography. For me the main target was the gorgeous Great Saphirewing (see photo below). I was also hoping to get the other species that are only found at these altitudes like the Golden-breasted puffleg and Sapphire-vented puffleg. I got a good multi-flash set up happening as quickly as possible and we managed some images that I think we were both very happy with. We then moved down the trail to explore the rest of the area and found another area that was equally productive. We shot until about 2pm when the rain forced us off of the mountain and back towards Quito
The trip back to Quito was absolutely ridiculous. Quito is the most un-tourist friendly city I have ever seen as far as driving around goes. There are no signs and the ones that exist are so poorly located. There are way too many one way streets and nothing seemed to make sense. Add to this the fact that we were trying to get to a hostel that I didn’t know the exact address of and you can imagine the kind of trip it was back to Quito. I promise you that we asked 30 people for directions. The standard response – “si, todo directo” (which means – “yes, keep going” and is almost always the wrong advice). Eventually we made it to the hostel and found some good food and a few beers as rewards for a challenging day of photography (and navigation).
The next day Dubi, his friend Noam, and I headed back up to Yanacocha – this time without the burden of all of the multi-flash gear. Travelling lighter it was a much more enjoyable hike and I managed to pick off perched shots of all of the target species.
Later that afternoon Dubi dropped me back off at the lodge. Yanacocha mission accomplished!
My next day trip was to return to Paz de las Aves with another group of tourists that were visiting the lodge. When I was there a few weeks back it was great – but I missed out on the Giant Antpitta that is normally pretty cooperative. This time Angel Paz was able to locate “Maria” the Giant Antpitta and she was extremely cooperative – jumping up on to a fantastic perch and posing long enough for me to snap off a few photos (and by a few I mean about 350 ☺ – see below)
After a few more days around the lodge I went on another day trip with a different guest who wanted to scout out some locations in northwest Ecuador for a tour he is going to lead in a few weeks. This was a really great opportunity for me because I got to see 5 or 6 different locations and assess whether they would be good photo locations for later in my trip. As it turned out a few that sounded great based on the descriptions that I had gleaned from websites turned out to be terrible from a photography perspective. At the same time, I was happy to find that others had a lot of potential. All in all it was a great day and I even managed to get a few decent photos.
The next day a group of Canadians arrived at the lodge without the assistance of a guide. With them being my fellow countrymen and women I felt it my duty to try to help them out and find a few good birds for them. As it turned out it was actually really fun to show them around Tandayapa and I really enjoyed the time they were at the lodge.
A few days back my friend Brian (who set me up with the volunteering gigs at Tandayapa and Milpe) dropped by the lodge to see if I wanted to head down to the Milpe and Rio Silanche reserves with him and his friend Juan. I had no reason not to go – so off we went. I actually didn’t even bring my camera because I just felt like a bit of a break from photography. It was nice to have a day to just explore. I saw some good birds at the two reserves (Choco trogon and Toucan being the highlights) and got to meet a few of the folks from the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation as well. One lesson I definitely learned was to not touch the fuzzy caterpillars! My hand inadvertently brushed up against one while I was watching for birds and it felt like I had been stung by about 10 bees. Each little spike left a welt and the sting lasted for at least half an hour. Ouch!
Today is my last day at TBL. It has been a great month. This place is so ideal for nature photography it is incredible. But after a month I am ready to move on to a new location, new birds, new people and hopefully lots of new photos.