Week 9-10: Bird Photographs and report from Ecuador – The South – Buenaventura, Jorupe, Utuana, Tapichalaca and Copalinga.
From Cuenca I caught a bus south to the town of Pinas. The following morning I was able to hire a pickup truck to take me in to the Jocotoco Foundation’s Buenaventura reserve.
Buenaventura has a lot of really interesting opportunities for wildlife viewing or photography. There is a lek for the Long-wattled Umbrellabird, another for Club-winged Manakins, it is one of the only places to see the El Oro Parakeet and they also have fantastic hummingbird feeders. Definitely lots to keep me busy for the 3 days I would spend there
My time at Buenaventura went quickly. And although I was happy with some of the images I was able to create I never managed that one really special one that I was hoping for. But I definitely got some cool hummingbird shots!
My next destination took me even further south to the very edge of the Ecuador/Peru border and to the town of Macara. From Macara my plan was to visit two more of the Jocotoco Foundation’s reserves – Jorupe and Utuana. On my first morning in Macara I headed off to the nearby Jorupe reserve. I was excited to try for some of the many bird species that live here. But after 6 hours of hiking around all I had was a few more mosquito bites, a sunburn, and a bit of a sore back. I walked back down to the main road and hitchhiked back to Macara – extremely disappointed.
The next day I thought I would try my luck at Utuana. This reserve is about an hour from Macara and was a bit more difficult to get to. But the real difficulty began once I had arrived. You see, the main target for me at Utuana was the Rainbow Starfrontlet hummingbird. I wanted to capture images of the bird in flight and this meant that I had to carry over 80lbs of multi-flash gear with me several kilometres up the muddy trail to the area where the hummingbird feeders are located – not an easy task!!
Eventually I made it to the area. I was sweaty and muddy…but I had made it. Unfortunately, to my dismay, the situation for trying to photograph these little beauties couldn’t have been worse. I was confronted with direct sunlight (exactly what you don’t want for multi-flash hummingbird photography) and not a lot of options in terms of what I could do to move things about. It was very frustrating to have gone to all that effort to get there and then realize that I might not get the images I wanted so badly. But I was determined to make something work. I rigged up a shade for the area where I would be photographing the hummingbirds using some branches and one of my artificial backgrounds. This meant that I would no longer have to compete with the natural light and could go about trying to photograph the Starfrontlets. They were tough to photograph…but eventually I managed an image or two that I am proud of…especially given the ordeal to get there and then get set-up. Mission accomplished!!
I had originally planned to spend a second day at both Utuana and Jorupe but decided instead to move on directly from Utuana to Loja. I spent a few days there just relaxing and editing images before catching a bus towards Valladolid to visit the Tapichalaca reserve. On the bus ride to Tapichalaca we were stopped for 2 hours while a crew was doing roadwork. I watched as the heavy machinery balanced precariously on the edge of the cliff and was amazed that I did not witness anyone plummet down the hillside to their demise. Alas, the wait wasn’t all bad. I saw one of the most amazing rainbows of my life. It seemed so close. I felt like I could almost have gotten off the bus, reached out and touched it
For those who haven’t heard of Tapichalaca or don’t know the story – Cerro Tapichalaca is a mountain in southern Ecuador where in 1997 Dr. Robert Ridgely (Author Of the field guide to the birds of Ecuador) discovered a species of Antpitta that was new to science – the Jocotoco Antpitta. This discovery sparked the formation of the Jocotoco Foundation and the creation of the Tapichalaca reserve
Rather than have birders and photographers chasing after the extremely rare Jocotoco’s (perhaps as few as 10 pairs exist), the foundation decided to try to tame a few as has been done at other locations in Ecuador. After 3 months of trying to get the birds accustomed to coming in to feed on worms they finally succeeded. It is an amazing thing to come to this reserve and see such an extremely rare bird, one that has been known to science for barely a decade, at such close distances. It was a real pleasure to be able to spend a few mornings with these beautiful birds
On my second night at Tapichalaca disaster struck. I woke up in the middle of the night and immediately knew something was wrong. That night I was as sick as I can ever remember being in my life. It was brutal. I’m not sure if it was something I ate, or drank, or a virus, or what. But all I know is I would like to wipe the memory of those 6 hours I spent in the bathroom from my mind forever
Needless to say the next day was a complete write off. I slept for 22 of the next 24 hours. Miraculously though the next day I was fine
I spent one more (extremely rainy) day at Tapichalaca before moving on back to Loja and then on to Zamora and to Cabinas Ecologicas Copalinga
I spent an unbelievable week at Copalinga. It is such an amazing place. If you come to Ecuador and are anywhere near the south – YOU HAVE TO GO!! The grounds of the lodge are fantastic and there are so many great birds around (e.g. wire-crested thorntail, paradise tanager, spangled coquette, blackish nightjar, yellow-cheeked becard, etc.). Add to this that you can easily walk to Podocarpus National Park (3km) and also can visit the famous “old” Loja-zamora road and Copalinga truly has a lot to offer the birder or nature photographer. Furthermore, the owners Catherine and Baudouin are really fantastic people. Catherine is a wealth of knowledge about the local avifauna and on numerous occasions during my week at Copalinga she got me onto the birds
I spent a fair bit of time around the grounds of Copalinga and also visited the park three times to try for Ecuadorian piedtail and Coppery-chested Jacamar. One morning I went to the “old” Loja-Zamora road and another afternoon I went to the Cordillera del Condor region on the border of Peru to try for a few very restricted range species like Rufous-browed Foliage-Gleaner
The highlight of my time at Copalinga though was one incredible afternoon when I got onto a mixed tanager flock and was able to photograph 10 species of tanagers in less than 10 minutes. It was insane!! I would have to say that it was one of the most exciting events of all of the time I have spent photographing birds in the tropics
Later that evening I returned to my cabin to take a shower and get ready for dinner. Just as I was ready to step into the shower I realized I was not alone. I was sharing the shower with a massive (larger than my hand) tarantula! It took me a while to shoo him out of there…but eventually he did vacate the area and I was able to get cleaned up.
My week at Copalinga was so wonderful – perfect weather, fantastic hosts, a beautiful lodge, and of course great birds
I am now back in Cuenca for a few more days before I head back to Quito to take care of some business and then head to the coast