The 15 Most Spectacular Hummingbirds!

There are about 338 different species of hummingbirds - an amazing family of birds found only in the New World. Their ability to hover for extended periods of time and even fly backwards makes them unique in the bird world. What they lack in size, they make up for with energy; the pinnacle of this being the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds incredible ability to flap up to 200 times per second during courtship displays. Though tiny, male hummingbirds are among the most flashy birds in the world; often sporting an array of iridescent feathers used to attract mates. Found from Alaska to the very tip of South America, from the rainforest, to the hot, dry desert, to the bone-chilling heights of the Andes, there are very few places where these adaptable birds can't survive. 

Here are 15 of the most spectacular hummingbirds in the world. Enjoy! 
 

Interested in photographing hummingbirds? Why not join me on a photography workshop in Central or South America? Click to see information on the trips I lead for Bartley's Photo Workshops in Ecuador, Peru and Costa Rica.

Fiery-throated Hummingbird

There are few other birds that rival the spectacular iridescence of the Fiery-throated Hummingbird. Found only in the cloud forests of Costa Rica and western Panama, for bird lovers, this bird alone warrants a trip to Central America!

Photograph this species on our Costa Rica Photo Workshop

Marvellous Spatuletail

The remarkable racket shaped appendages of male Marvellous Spatuletails are used in courtship displays and can even be moved independently. They are found only in a tiny region of northern Peru. Because of habitat loss and their small distribution, they're listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Red-tailed Comet 

Easily one of the most gorgeous hummingbirds in the world, with its dazzling colours and long tail. This species is found in arid, mountainous habitat in Bolivia and northern Argentina. 

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Anna's Hummingbird

The northernmost year round resident hummingbird. Anna's Hummingbirds regularly winter as far north as Southeast Alaska! During cold winter nights, they must go into a controlled state of hypothermia known as "torpor", when their metabolic rate drops by an astounding 95%! Their internal body clock wakes them about two hours before dawn and they slowly begin to shiver, eventually raising their body temperature back up to 40°c.

Ecuadorian Hillstar

Found at elevations upwards of 5200m or 17,000 feet in the northern Andes, this species' ability to withstand freezing temperatures and thin air is impressive to say the least! They feed nearly exclusively on the orange flowers of chuquiraga plants that grow on the slopes of volcanic peaks.

Photograph this species on our Ecuador Photo Workshop

Long-tailed Sylph

The spectacularly long, iridescent tail of male Long-tailed Sylphs is truly an unbelievable sight! Found throughout the cloud forests of the northern Andes, where they zip through the dense foliage, glittering streamers in tow.

Photograph this species on our Ecuador Photo Workshop

Crowned Woodnymph

This widespread hummingbird ranges throughout Central and South America. Their glaring purple and green iridescence will certainly get your attention as they zip through the rainforest!

Photograph this species on our Ecuador Photo Workshop and Costa Rica Photo Workshop

Rufous-crested Coquette

This tiny hummer sports what is easily one of the best hairdos in the entire bird world! Patchily distributed throughout lowland rainforest from Panama to Bolivia.

Photograph this species on our Peru Photo Workshop

Wire-crested Thorntail

The alien-esque appearance of this hummingbird truly has to be seen to be believed! Its long antenna-like head feathers are balanced out by its spectacularly long tail. They can be seen buzzing around the eastern slope of the Andes.

Photograph this species on our Peru Photo Workshop

Velvet-purple Coronet

This stunner boasts a brilliant array of unique iridescent colour. It can be found in the western foothills of the Andes, in Columbia and northern Ecuador.

Photograph this species on our Ecuador Photo Workshop

Booted Racket-tail

Adorned by fuzzy "boots" and spectacular, spatule-like tail appendages, this bird looks truly other-wordly! This species can be found throughout the cloud forests of the Andes, from Venezuela to Bolivia.

Photograph this species on our Ecuador Photo Workshop

Black-tailed Trainbearer

The impressive tail of the male Black-tailed Trainbearer is among the longest in the world of birds. During aggressive territorial displays, a loud crackling sound is produced as the tail feathers collide. Ranging from Colombia to southern Peru, this species is very hardy, capable of surviving the harsh, high elevation climate of the Andes.

Photograph this species on our Ecuador Photo Workshop

Rainbow-bearded Thornbill

Sporting an incredibly colourful gorget, this hummingbird inhabits the high elevation páramo grasslands of the northern Andes in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

Sword-billed Hummingbird

The Sword-billed Hummingbird has the longest bill of any bird. Found throughout the cloud forest of the Andes - from Venezuela to Bolivia. This species has co-evolved with several species of long, tubular flowers. Due to its extreme bill size, it monopolizes these flowers, having nearly exclusive access to its nectar. To return the favour, the Sword-billed acts as a very effective pollinator - symbiosis at its finest! 

Photograph this species on our Ecuador Photo Workshop

Snowcap

Its tiny size and unique colouration make the Snowcap a very sought after hummingbird species. Found from Honduras to Panama, this primarily canopy dwelling species is often quite tough to see, unless you find its favourite patch of flowers.

Photograph this species on our Costa Rica Photo Workshop


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Top 15 Photos of 2015

This year, I was very fortunate to spend several months travelling. While photographing in five different countries, I saw some amazing locations and wildlife, some of which were totally new to me. I headed back up to Alaska and explored some new areas such as the Seward Peninsula and Katmai National Park. My travels took me to a country I had been wanting to visit for quite some time, Costa Rica. Further south yet, I spent over two months in Ecuador and Peru. Of course I also spent considerable time exploring the place I love most, my home province of British Columbia.

I've narrowed down my top 15 photographs of the year and would love to hear what you think - do you have a favourite? Feel free to leave a comment below...

Test Of Time Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada Sitka spruce trees grow atop an interesting rock formation along the storm-battered west coast of British Columbia's Vancouver Island. I sat in this location for a few hours one late winter evening, hoping the sun would break through the thick clouds. Just before sunset, as the tide was at its best, the sun briefly snuck through and lit up the southwestern sky.



Test Of Time
Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

Sitka spruce trees grow atop an interesting rock formation along the storm-battered west coast of British Columbia's Vancouver Island. I sat in this location for a few hours one late winter evening, hoping the sun would break through the thick clouds. Just before sunset, as the tide was at its best, the sun briefly snuck through and lit up the southwestern sky.

Mountain Goat Coast Mountains, British Columbia, Canada More than 50% of the world's population of Mountain Goats reside in British Columbia. Due to their affinity for steep mountain slopes, they are seldom seen by people. Inhabiting these precipitous cliff faces keeps them safe from predators such as wolves and cougars. Specially-adapted cloven hooves allow them to travel safely through this dangerous terrain.


Mountain Goat
Coast Mountains, British Columbia, Canada

More than 50% of the world's population of Mountain Goats reside in British Columbia. Due to their affinity for steep mountain slopes, they are seldom seen by people. Inhabiting these precipitous cliff faces keeps them safe from predators such as wolves and cougars. Specially-adapted cloven hooves allow them to travel safely through this dangerous terrain.

Violet Sabrewing Caribbean Lowlands, Costa Rica The first time I saw a Violet Sabrewing, one of the world's largest hummingbirds, I knew I wanted to get a great photo of one! This year, during my first trip to Costa Rica, I had the opportunity to photograph this species visiting beautiful heliconia flowers. An amazing example of coevolution - some species of hummingbirds have bills that match the sharply curved flowers of certain plants, as seen here. This symbiosis allows the hummingbird to draw out more nectar, and for the plant to be pollinated more effectively.


Violet Sabrewing
Caribbean Lowlands, Costa Rica

The first time I saw a Violet Sabrewing, one of the world's largest hummingbirds, I knew I wanted to get a great photo of one! This year, during my first trip to Costa Rica, I had the opportunity to photograph this species visiting beautiful heliconia flowers. An amazing example of coevolution - some species of hummingbirds have bills that match the sharply curved flowers of certain plants, as seen here. This symbiosis allows the hummingbird to draw out more nectar, and for the plant to be pollinated more effectively.

Home Temperate Rainforest, Southwestern British Columbia, Canada The temperate rainforest of the Pacific Northwest is where I've grown up. I think this self-portrait exemplifies my sense of wonder and awe for this environment. This particularly lush area, thick with sword ferns, vine maples and epiphytes, is just a half hour drive from where I live near Vancouver, British Columbia.


Home
Temperate Rainforest, Southwestern British Columbia, Canada

The temperate rainforest of the Pacific Northwest is where I've grown up. I think this self-portrait exemplifies my sense of wonder and awe for this environment. This particularly lush area, thick with sword ferns, vine maples and epiphytes, is just a half hour drive from where I live near Vancouver, British Columbia.

Muskox Calves Seward Peninsula, Alaska, USA Alaska's Seward Peninsula is located just south of the Arctic Circle, a remnant of the Bering land bridge. A trip here in early June to photograph tundra nesting birds was a fantastic experience. Upon closer inspection, the seemingly stark landscape is vibrant and filled with life. In addition to the unique birds, the opportunity to photograph Muskox was a big highlight for me. Two youngsters investigate me while their mother grazes nearby.


Muskox Calves
Seward Peninsula, Alaska, USA

Alaska's Seward Peninsula is located just south of the Arctic Circle, a remnant of the Bering land bridge. A trip here in early June to photograph tundra nesting birds was a fantastic experience. Upon closer inspection, the seemingly stark landscape is vibrant and filled with life. In addition to the unique birds, the opportunity to photograph Muskox was a big highlight for me. Two youngsters investigate me while their mother grazes nearby.

Bluethroat Seward Peninsula, Alaska, USA One of the most sought after Alaskan birds - the Bluethroat. This subspecies of gorgeous songbird winters in Southeast Asia; migrating northward, crossing the Bering Sea to reach its breeding grounds in river valleys in the state's far north. Despite their bright colours, locating these guys can be challenging. First, myself and Glenn Bartley listened for their songs and scanned the sky above their preferred habitat of large swaths of dense willows shrubs where they make display flights. After tracking down this male, we observed for quite some time in order to determine his favourite singing perches. Using camouflage blinds as not to disturb him, we set up nearby and were able to get some closeup shots. Seward Peninsula, Alaska.


Bluethroat
Seward Peninsula, Alaska, USA

One of the most sought after Alaskan birds - the Bluethroat. This subspecies of gorgeous songbird winters in Southeast Asia; migrating northward, crossing the Bering Sea to reach its breeding grounds in river valleys in the state's far north. Despite their bright colours, locating these guys can be challenging. First, myself and Glenn Bartley listened for their songs and scanned the sky above their preferred habitat of large swaths of dense willows shrubs where they make display flights. After tracking down this male, we observed for quite some time in order to determine his favourite singing perches. Using camouflage blinds as not to disturb him, we set up nearby and were able to get some closeup shots. Seward Peninsula, Alaska.

Black-legged Kittiwake with Capelin Bering Sea, Seward Peninsula, Alaska, USA During a trip to Alaska, a Capelin spawn on the shores of the Bering Sea attracted large numbers of seabirds, particularly Black-legged Kittiwakes. Sitting on the shore with the sun at my back, I took a few hundred frames as the schools of baitfish were subjected to a barrage of attacks from above. Often times when Kittiwakes would make a successful dive, Jaegers and Glaucous Gulls would steal their prize before they could swallow it. 


Black-legged Kittiwake with Capelin
Bering Sea, Seward Peninsula, Alaska, USA

During a trip to Alaska, a Capelin spawn on the shores of the Bering Sea attracted large numbers of seabirds, particularly Black-legged Kittiwakes. Sitting on the shore with the sun at my back, I took a few hundred frames as the schools of baitfish were subjected to a barrage of attacks from above. Often times when Kittiwakes would make a successful dive, Jaegers and Glaucous Gulls would steal their prize before they could swallow it. 

Immersed Southwestern British Columbia, Canada A 70 metre waterfall plunges into a canyon in British Columbia's southern Coast Mountains. While others dried up to dangerously low levels, glacially-fed creeks and rivers surged with meltwater during our recent hot, dry summer. By positioning my tripod legs between submerged boulders and leaning on it to dampen the vibrations caused by the swift current, I was able to capture this angle of a small falls downstream - a chilly endeavour. 


Immersed
Southwestern British Columbia, Canada

A 70 metre waterfall plunges into a canyon in British Columbia's southern Coast Mountains. While others dried up to dangerously low levels, glacially-fed creeks and rivers surged with meltwater during our recent hot, dry summer. By positioning my tripod legs between submerged boulders and leaning on it to dampen the vibrations caused by the swift current, I was able to capture this angle of a small falls downstream - a chilly endeavour. 

Tufted Puffin Strait of Juan de Fuca, Washington, USA This closeup photograph of a Tufted Puffin was taken from a kayak in the Strait of Juan de Fuca - the water which separates British Columbia's Vancouver Island and Washington's Olympic Peninsula. Very small remnant breeding populations are still holding on isolated islands in this region. During this shoot, young Harbour Seals became very interested in my friend's and my kayaks, even nibbling on the rudders.


Tufted Puffin
Strait of Juan de Fuca, Washington, USA

This closeup photograph of a Tufted Puffin was taken from a kayak in the Strait of Juan de Fuca - the water which separates British Columbia's Vancouver Island and Washington's Olympic Peninsula. Very small remnant breeding populations are still holding on isolated islands in this region. During this shoot, young Harbour Seals became very interested in my friend's and my kayaks, even nibbling on the rudders.

Canada Lynx Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada This summer while scouting for myself and Connor Stefanison's Manning Provincinal Park - Wildlife and Mountain Vistas photo workshop, we had a brief but memorable encounter with one of the continents most elusive mammals - a Canada Lynx. 


Canada Lynx
Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada

This summer while scouting for myself and Connor Stefanison's Manning Provincinal Park - Wildlife and Mountain Vistas photo workshop, we had a brief but memorable encounter with one of the continents most elusive mammals - a Canada Lynx. 

Sea Otter Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, USA Tired from an hour or so of meticulously cleaning her coat, a female Sea Otter rests, afloat on her back in a secluded cove along the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska. Having little to no fat reserves, it's critical that Sea Otters keep their fur in good condition in order for them to stay waterproof and insulated from the chill of the North Pacific.


Sea Otter
Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, USA

Tired from an hour or so of meticulously cleaning her coat, a female Sea Otter rests, afloat on her back in a secluded cove along the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska. Having little to no fat reserves, it's critical that Sea Otters keep their fur in good condition in order for them to stay waterproof and insulated from the chill of the North Pacific.

Brown Bear Katmai National Park, Alaska, USA This year I had the opportunity to return to Alaska in August to work as the photography guide and naturalist onboard a Zungunruhe Birding Tours boat trip focused on bearwatching in some remote areas of Katmai National Park. Having never seen Brown Bears before, I was eager to get up close to learn as much as I could about these amazing animals. One of my most memorable experiences was when this male, weighing over 1000 pounds, walked up the shore of a river and plunged into a school of salmon just a few feet in front of me. Being splashed by and feeling like you could reach out and touch one of the world's most awe-inspiring apex predators was pretty amazing!


Brown Bear
Katmai National Park, Alaska, USA

This year I had the opportunity to return to Alaska in August to work as the photography guide and naturalist onboard a Zungunruhe Birding Tours boat trip focused on bearwatching in some remote areas of Katmai National Park. Having never seen Brown Bears before, I was eager to get up close to learn as much as I could about these amazing animals. One of my most memorable experiences was when this male, weighing over 1000 pounds, walked up the shore of a river and plunged into a school of salmon just a few feet in front of me. Being splashed by and feeling like you could reach out and touch one of the world's most awe-inspiring apex predators was pretty amazing!

Hoatzin Amazon Rainforest, Southern Peru While leading a photography workshop in the Amazon Rainforest of Peru, alongside Glenn Bartley, our group was enjoying a beautiful evening paddle on one of the region's many oxbow lakes. An amazing, prehistoric-looking bird called the Hoatzin is a fairly common sight along the margins of these lakes, so we were on the lookout. Just as the light was at its best, we spotted one soaking in the day's final rays on a fallen tree. I was pleased to capture it strutting along, displaying its amazing crest.   


Hoatzin
Amazon Rainforest, Southern Peru

While leading a photography workshop in the Amazon Rainforest of Peru, alongside Glenn Bartley, our group was enjoying a beautiful evening paddle on one of the region's many oxbow lakes. An amazing, prehistoric-looking bird called the Hoatzin is a fairly common sight along the margins of these lakes, so we were on the lookout. Just as the light was at its best, we spotted one soaking in the day's final rays on a fallen tree. I was pleased to capture it strutting along, displaying its amazing crest.   

Long-tailed Tyrant Amazon Rainforest, Southern Peru A male Long-tailed Tyrant descends from his favourite perch, in pursuit of a flying insect. A species of flycatcher found throughout parts of Central and South America, males of which are adorned by impressively long tail streamers. My workshop group and I photographed a nesting pair not far from our cabins where the Andean foothills meets the Amazon Rainforest in southern Peru.


Long-tailed Tyrant
Amazon Rainforest, Southern Peru

A male Long-tailed Tyrant descends from his favourite perch, in pursuit of a flying insect. A species of flycatcher found throughout parts of Central and South America, males of which are adorned by impressively long tail streamers. My workshop group and I photographed a nesting pair not far from our cabins where the Andean foothills meets the Amazon Rainforest in southern Peru.

Ephemeral Coast Mountains, Southwestern British Columbia, Canada My goal was to photograph this lake, located deep in the backcountry of Southwestern British Columbia's Coast Mountains, after the first major snowfall of the winter season, before it froze over. After hiking in and setting up camp, snow started falling heavily. I awoke to clear skies and a thick blanket of over 30 cm's of fresh snow. During the morning twilight, cloudy skies parted and the sun rose above the surrounding peaks, illuminating ice fog that lingered above the surface of the lake. It was one of the most memorable mornings I've spent alone in nature. 


Ephemeral
Coast Mountains, Southwestern British Columbia, Canada

My goal was to photograph this lake, located deep in the backcountry of Southwestern British Columbia's Coast Mountains, after the first major snowfall of the winter season, before it froze over. After hiking in and setting up camp, snow started falling heavily. I awoke to clear skies and a thick blanket of over 30 cm's of fresh snow. During the morning twilight, cloudy skies parted and the sun rose above the surrounding peaks, illuminating ice fog that lingered above the surface of the lake. It was one of the most memorable mornings I've spent alone in nature. 


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10 Amazing British Columbian Birds

British Columbia is the most geographically-diverse province in Canada, where seemingly endless rocky coastlines give way to ancient forests, tall peaks, arid deserts and grassy plains. Within it's million square kilometre boundaries, this variety of habitats make way for great bird diversity - with nearly 550 different species recorded. Below are a few of my favourite birds found right here in B.C.


Tufted Puffin

Found throughout the North Pacific, this comical-looking seabird can be seen along British Columbia's rocky coasts. They select steep cliffs and islands for breeding in order to avoid predation. Their ideal breeding habitat also has soft soil in which they dig their nesting burrows. During the winter months, nearly all of their time is spent out at sea.

Taking a whale or birdwatching trip from Tofino during the summertime is your best shot at seeing this spectacular species here in BC.

Red-breasted Sapsucker

A small woodpecker found in coniferous and mixed forests - mainly west of the Coast Mountains. As their name entails, they feed on tree sap. An anticoagulant is found in their saliva which helps keep the sap flowing and allows them to feed multiple times without having to re-chisel the holes. Hummingbirds also benefit from this as they will at times take advantage of this energy-rich food source. 

Stands of Bigleaf maple and western hemlock in lower elevation forests are a good place to search for this vibrant bird. 

White-tailed Ptarmigan

Our smallest grouse - one of the most cryptic birds in B.C. Found in the alpine, their plumage perfectly camouflages them during each season, making them very difficult to find. They spend their entire lives at or above tree line, in one of the harshest environments on the planet. Feathered toes and the habit of burying themselves in the snow as a form of insulation help protect them from the cold. White-tailed Ptarmigans feed primarily on the seeds of tiny alpine plants but also eat insects, leaves and small fruits during the summer months.

Terrain where short, stunted trees and shrubs give way to the rocky alpine where only small herbaceous plants and lichens grow is the best place to search for this species. Taking the gondola up Whistler or Blackcomb Mountains during the summer and exploring the myriad of hiking trails may yield an encounter with this awesome alpine bird! 

Great Grey Owl

The world's largest owl by length and surely one of the most spectacular birds in the world. Here in British Columbia, we're fortunate to share the forest with this regal raptor. These owls are generally crepuscular (most active during the morning and evening hours) but can also be seen hunting during the middle of the day. Despite their large size, they have relatively small talons which they use to hunt voles and other small rodents. Using their incredibly acute hearing, they are able to locate prey buried beneath several feet of snow. 

One stronghold of this species in BC is found on the interior plateau, east of the Coast Mountains. Look for them especially during the winter time, hunting from perches at the edge of forest clearings and meadows in the Cariboo Region and similar habitat in higher elevation areas of the Okanagan and Thompson Regions.

Ruddy Duck

This colourful, cartoonish species of waterfowl boasts a bright blue bill and a stiff, propped up tail. Males compete for the attention of females by beating their bills vigorously against their breast feathers, resulting in an impressive display of ripples and bubbles on the water's surface.

Some spend the winter on lakes, ponds and shallow estuaries along our southern coast. However, they're far easier to find during the breeding season when they move eastward over the Coast Mountains. Ponds throughout the grasslands of the province's dry southern interior, generally surrounded by rushes, are the best places to find these birds. 

Black Oystercatcher

Our wave-battered coastline is home to this conspicuous shorebird. Often found in small groups, they forage for mussels and limpets in the intertidal zone.

This species can be found quite easily along our coast. Typically avoiding sandy beaches, check out rocky shorelines, especially at low tide when they will be more actively feeding. The waterfront of West Vancouver, Victoria and Howe Sound are great places to look!

A feature species on my Winter Birds of Vancouver Photo Workshop.

American Avocet

A large, striking and easily identifiable shorebird with a thin, upturned bill. Avocets sweep their touch-sensitive bills through shallow water in a scythe-like motion to capture small invertebrates.

They breed in ephemeral wetlands and alkaline lakes rich in their brine shrimp prey. Their distribution in British Columbia is limited to a few locations in the arid interior. Keep your eyes open for these unique waders if exploring the Okanagan Valley during the spring or summer.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

A tiny yet extremely energetic and hardy songbird, some of which spend the entire year here in B.C. At only 10cm in length, it's amazing that these insectivores can survive the sub-zero winter temperatures that lock much of the province in an icy grip during the winter months.

During the spring, listen for the surprisingly loud, accelerating whistling of this species as they stake out territory in stands of spruce trees in the mountains and atop high elevation plateaus east of the Coast Mountains. Come winter, the best place to search is in thickets and deciduous forests at low elevation throughout the southern part of the province - especially the Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island.

This species is easily found during my Ultimate Loons - Birds and Wildlife of the British Columbia Interior Photo Workshop.

Steller's Jay

Our provincial bird. This charismatic and colourful species is found mainly in coniferous forest. While quiet and discreet during the breeding season, they become very conspicuous during the fall and winter - often forming nomadic flocks.

Steller's Jay are often encountered throughout dense forest - from our temperate rainforests, up into the subalpine - but they are also a common sight throughout residential areas. Their raucous calls, vibrant plumage make them a favourite of many, especially those with backyard bird feeders.

Sooty Grouse

These large, forest-dwelling birds can be found throughout the Coast Mountains of BC. During the spring and early summer, their booming calls resonate deeply through the dense coniferous forests they call home. During the winter months, Sooty Grouse have the odd habit of moving to higher elevations where they sustain themselves by feeding on the needles of fir trees.

They're found from just above sea level up into the subalpine, particularly on the west side of the Coast Mountains. Cypress Provincial Park in the North Shore Mountains is a good place to search.

This species is one of the many highlights of my Manning Provincial Park - Wildlife and Mountain Vistas Photo Workshop


Back from Peru!

I've just arrived home in British Columbia after completing a month-long trip to the amazing country of Peru where I lead two nature photography workshops. Alongside me for the first trip was my good friend Glenn Bartley.

We started our journey in the beautiful city of Cusco. At 3,400m ASL, it's always nice to spend a little while getting acclimatized and checking out the beautiful city streets and shops. 

Panoramic view of Cusco, seen from the Sacsayhuaman Ruins.

Panoramic view of Cusco, seen from the Sacsayhuaman Ruins.

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

Before long, we were off to start our adventure into Manu National Park. The amazing thing about this park is the massive elevational gradient - stretching from 4,200m ASL, high in the Andes, to 150m ASL, deep in the Amazon Rainforest. The product of this highly variable landscape is the greatest biodiversity on the planet. Not to mention the staggering number of plants, insects and mammals, 10% of the world's bird species can be found in an area not much larger than the state of New Jersey. 

Our first stop is at 3,000m in a beautiful location just below tree line. At first glance, when compared to the lush, towering forests of the tropical rainforests below, this stunted, shrubby area doesn't seem very conducive to bird photography. However, once you explore further, that couldn't be further from the truth. Living in these elfin forests are some of the most beautiful species in Peru, the Mountain Tanagers. 

A Hooded Mountain Tanager perched on a moss-laden branch.

A Grass Green Tanager poses momentarily.

The clear night skies of the high Andes are truly incredible! 

After a brief but enjoyable stay at our little home in the cloud forest, we descended the world famous Manu road which is an adventure in itself. Switchbacking through the ever-changing forest, our bus squeezing through tunnels and under waterfall car washes, we eventually made our way to our next stop - one of the trip highlights! 

As we walked down a short trail, we could hear the strange vocalizations of Peru's national bird. We were arriving at the "lek" of a bird with an appearance as weird as its name. These vibrant orange creatures are actually a type of Cotinga that lives throughout the low cloudforest of the Andes, from Venezuala to Bolivia. We spent the next few hours observing and photographing approximately 15 Andean Cock-of-the-Rocks. Males gather at leks each day to compete for mating rights - squawking and jostling in their attempt to impress any females which may be nearby. 

A male Andean Cock-of-the-Rock perches in the cloudforest.

Lou and Betty filling their cards at the lek!

Lou and Betty filling their cards at the lek!

Travelling further yet, we soon arrived at what would be our new home for a few days. We were greeted by higher temperatures, humidity and best of all, even greater bird diversity!

A shy Andean Motmot perched on a vine.

A stunning Golden-eared Tanager.

A tiny, vibrant Tropical Parula sings out emphatically from the forest.

A Tufted Capuchin shows off its impressive canine teeth.

After enjoying an assortment of tanagers and hummingbirds, we packed up and headed for the lowlands. A few hours later we arrived in a small town on the shore of the Rio Madres de Dios. A short boat ride followed by a short walk and suddenly we were at our first of two stops in the amazing Amazon Rainforest. 

A pair of Blue-headed Parrots allopreening in the morning sun.

Speckled Chachalacas call out just before sunset.

Roots, vines - understory designs.

A male Long-tailed Tyrant swoops down from a branch, in pursuit of a flying insect.

A Roadside Hawk in the middle of preening and scratching after a torrential downpour.

After our time was up at our first Amazon lodge, we took another boat further yet into the rainforest - enjoying each meandering oxbow of the river and seeing many amazing sights along the way.

A gorgeous sunrise to start our morning commute.

A gorgeous sunrise to start our morning commute.

Lou snaps away as we pass by the last Andean foothills.

Lou snaps away as we pass by the last Andean foothills.

During the following days we would visit a macaw clay lick and several oxbow lakes, providing some of the best photo opportunities of the trip.

A group of Red-and-Green Macaws feed on mineral-rich clay to aid in the digestion of toxic seeds and fruit.

A Hoatzin struts along a fallen tree in evening light.

David offers an apple to a friendly Tapir. Take a look at the jaguar attack scar on its right shoulder!

David offers an apple to a friendly Tapir. Take a look at the jaguar attack scar on its right shoulder!

A Great Egret takes off from a marshy island in a large oxbow lake.

Soon, the long journey back to our home base was underway. In just a few hours we travelled from 250m ASL to a 4,700m ASL pass, cradled by glaciated peaks, and finally back into Cusco.

A Peruvian Hairless Dog seen along the way. Ugly or cute? I still have no idea...

A Peruvian Hairless Dog seen along the way. Ugly or cute? I still have no idea...

No trip to Peru would be complete without visiting the amazing 14th-century Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. Taken during our cultural extension.

Peru is one undoubtedly incredible. It's amazingly diverse landscape, plethora of birds and other wildlife, and rich cultural history, all come together to create one of the most spectacular and unique countries in the world! I can't wait to go back for another adventure next year...

If you'd like to learn more about the trips offered by Glenn Bartley and I, click here.