Ecuador is a country of incredible natural wonders. The geography ranges from the rugged Pacific coastline, to the high peaks of the Andes Mountains, and the lowlands of the Amazon Basin. Such a great elevational gradient (nearly 6,300m) spawns an array of different ecosystems and in turn, amazing biodiversity, namely – birds. Over 1600 species of birds have been recorded in Ecuador; a country the size of the state of Colorado.
Here are a few amazing birds that call this country home!
Click images to enlarge…
This colourful species sits motionless in the mid canopy of sub-tropical and tropical rainforests, waiting patiently for passing insects on which they feed.
The extremely long bill of this hummingbird is a special adaptation, allowing it to feed on the nectar of large, tubular flowers. Sword-billed’s are the only birds to to boast a bill longer than their body. They can be found above 2500m in the cloud forests of the northern Andes.
Resident throughout Amazonia, these strange and unique birds are often seen clambering about dense vegetation on the peripheries of rivers and lagoons. Young Hoatzins have two claws on each wing which they use to climb back to their nests if ever they were forced to flee from predators. Their diet consists of nearly 100% leaves. Bacterial fermentation takes place in their guts which helps to break down consumed foliage.
Living in fast-moving mountain rivers, it’s hard to believe adult Torrent Ducks can survive in such a hostile environment, let alone their youngsters. Stiff tails act as rudders as they swim underwater, foraging for their invertebrate prey. Long claws on large, webbed feet also aid their travels in swift water and on slippery rocks.
A denizen of shadowed blackwater streams and lagoon edges, the Agami Heron uses it’s massive bill to catch fish, amphibians and small reptiles.
The sinister appearance of these masked passerines strikes fear into the hearts of berries and fruits throughout Ecuador’s humid montane forests.
Everyday, special clay banks throughout the Amazon Basin are each frequented by hundreds, sometimes thousands of Parrots. Consuming the mineral rich soil helps to neutralize the acidic seeds and fruits that comprise much of their diets. Seen here are Yellow-crowned Parrots and a few Mealy Amazons.
A small, disjunct population of owls lives in Ecuador’s eastern Andean foothills. Similar in appearance to both Black-banded and Black and White Owls, some ornithologists believe these birds represent an entirely different species.
Small hummingbirds of the Andes, male Booted Racket-tails sport spatule-shaped tail feathers and cotton ball-esque leg puffs. This one is feeding on the nectar of andean blueberry flowers.
Females of this species select the male with the longest tail feathers to be their mate. It’s not all good news for well-endowed males though. The dazzling streamers become a hinderance to their flight in which they rely on for safety.
The Crimson-rumped Toucanet is generally found in the canopy of humid montane forests, where they forage for fruits, invertebrates and small reptiles.
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During a trip to Washington’s Olympic National Park earlier this year, I spent my initial evening at Second Beach. This isn’t a remote area that requires a long trek, just a one kilometre hike through tall sitka spruce will bring you to this beautiful patch of coastline. I generally like to avoid crowds and prefer to explore on my own, often finding my favourite photographs far off the beaten path. However, this place brings back great memories for me. My very first landscape shoot was at this very beach a few years prior, alongside my friend Alex Mody. A very enjoyable experience, albeit somewhat trying at times given the new environment and techniques behind the camera. Believe it or not, with all the fumbling, I ended up taking my very first magazine cover that evening. Regardless of the potential for an abundance of other beach goers, I happily strolled down the trail looking forward to the familiar view.
Unlike most all other times, I didn’t scrutinize weather forecasts or do much in the way of planning. This can often lead to being at the wrong place at the wrong time but on that day I let my intuition take over – or something like that. To my delight, I arrived at an empty beach. Only a few drift logs and some bull whip kelp bumped along the shoreline, kept in perpetual motion by the relentless pacific surf. For a few hours I travelled up and down the beach, moving slowly as I sunk into the soft, wet sand with each step. Moving out into the water, I pressed my tripod legs into the trillions of tiny rocks beneath me. As the frothy water surrounded me and receded I pressed the shutter over and over, feeling the strength of the ocean tugging on my legs; my favourite part. Before I knew it, I had taken about 500 photos and the nearly-full moon provided the only light. Even then I sat on the sand, letting the surf sweep all the way around me. In the distance, the running lights of a few fish boats cast a shallow glow in the surrounding mist. At that point I wasn’t sure if I had taken a single photo worth much of anything but was so content, even in my chilled waders.
Sometimes as nature photographers it’s very easy to become consumed by the computers atop our tripods. As pertinent as it may be to stay on top of the newest technology in the hopes of taking the best photographs you can, it can never be of upmost importance. I’ve seen it happen first hand many times and am guilty of it myself on a few occasions, being so focused on the myriad of buttons and settings that you’re incapable of recounting a feeling or a sense of place afterwards.
What inspires me to get up before the light of day, hike farther into the wilderness and deal with far more insects in an evening than most are subjected to in their lifetime is not just the final image, but the entire experience. Regardless of if you’re a professional or if each click of the shutter and footstep through the wilderness is an alien experience, be present each and every time, be in the moment.
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I have just returned from a short trip to British Columbia’s Cascade Mountains. Joining me were two of my good friends and very talented photographers: Glenn Bartley and Connor Stefanison. We spent two nights camping in this beautiful region of the province; photographing in Manning Provincial Park and further north high in an alpine backcountry area. Glenn had a couple species in mind that he had hoped to add to his growing Canadian bird portfolio. Connor and I knew just the place which gave us the chance to revisit some of our old stomping grounds!
One species of interest was the White-tailed Ptarmigan. During our time spent hiking in the alpine, we were fortunate enough to locate several families. No easy task as they are amazingly camouflage! Their plumage adapts to their environment throughout the year, making them very cryptic birds indeed. I spent most of my time photographing the tennis ball-sized youngsters. I was amazed at their independence. Perhaps less than a week old and already they strayed 20m or more from the safety and warmth of mom, gleaning insects and plucking seeds from the sparsely vegetated tundra.
Summer in the alpine is truly spectacular. Small tarns filled with fresh, cold water dot the rugged landscape; ridge tops decorated with wildflower-laden meadows seek the sun of long days and bird song fills the crisp clear air.
Aside from the White-tailed Ptarmigans and Hoary Marmots, we were fortunate to have this beautiful alpine area all to ourselves. There is nothing more peaceful than watching the night settle in from a backcountry campsite, high in the mountains.Canon 5DM3 | Canon 17-40mm f/4 | 30sec | f/5.6 | ISO 1000
Canon 5DM3 | Canon 70-200mm f/4 | 1.3sec | f/14 | ISO 50
I can’t wait to return to this great area of wilderness with great friends!