After eight memorable days of cruising on the luxury Cormorant in Galapagos Islands I arrived in Quito, the capital of Ecuador on the 7th July 2012 by air to continue my photographic safari tour; focused on Hummingbirds on the mainland.
This country has the world’s highest diversity of Hummingbirds of 131 species and it is home to more than 1,600 species of birds which is more than twice the number found in any one of the entire continents of North America, Europe or Australia. I had planned to stay two nights at Tandapaya Bird Lodge situated in the Tandapaya Valley that boasts of a rich history of birding. It was one hour by car from Quito.
On the 8th of July 2012, at 5.30 am I was picked up from the hotel in Quito by the Bird Naturalist Mr. Joes Illanes, to commence the tour to the bird paradise in a Nissan SUV. Within thirty minutes of driving up a hilly tarred road with spectacular scenery, we arrived at our first stop the Yanacocha Reserve in the temperate zone. It is at an altitude of 3,200 meters on the slopes of Volcano Pichincha in the Polylepis forest. There were nectar feeders at different points to attract the Hummingbirds; it is indeed an easy way to sight them.
Joes was a fantastic bird spotter and had an excellent knowledge of birds. During our two hour walk in the reserve he spotted more than twenty bird species. At the feeders we saw two types of Hummingbirds namely the Swordbill and Buff-winged Starfrontlet. It was interesting to watch how the Hummingbirds fly towards the feeders to lap-up nectar from their lengthy tongue at the rate of 13 licks per sec. One could call them the Formula 1 of the flying world! Its heart beats 10 times faster than humans and it is also the only bird that can fly both forwards and backwards. Hummingbirds weigh between 2 to 20 grams with an average life span of 5 years. They are the tiniest birds in the world.
Apart from the Hummingbirds I was able to capture images of the following birds at the Yanacocha Reserve; Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Scarlet-bellied Mountain–Tanager, Glossy Flower Piercer, Masked Flower Piercer, Rufous-naped Brush-Finch and Spectacled Red Start.
We had early lunch at the reserve and thereafter continued our drive through the Polylepis forest descending towards Tandayapa Valley in the lower subtropics to our destination for the night. On the way Joes was able to spot an Adean Lapwing on the ground off the road, Red-crested Cotinga on a tree, and a Crimson-rumped Toucan at least 100 meters off the road on a branch of a tree. I was amazed at the way Joes spotted these birds, especially from a moving vehicle.
We arrived at the Tandapaya Bird Lodge around 1.30 pm for two nights. It had a few feeders for Hummingbirds as well as fruits placed on a branch of a tree for other birds, located outside adjoining the dining room. I spent the rest of the day close to these feeders sighting further six different species of Hummingbirds as well as other birds including a few species of Tanager.
The following morning at 6 am before sunrise, Joes guided me to a man-made hide-out in the cloud forest within close proximity to the lodge. It was flood- lit and had a feeder placed to attract the birds. We had a glimpse of a Streak-breasted Treehunter, an Immaculate Antbird and a White-throated Quail-Dove during our short stay at the hide-out. It was quite an experience to take pictures through the small openings in the hide-out. On our way back to the lodge, Joes sighted a male and a female Masked Trogon. What a colorful bird!
After breakfast, as suggested by my Bird Guide, we drove towards the Upper Tandayapa Valley searching for more bird species. Roadside Hawk was sighted closer to Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve. At the Bellavista Forest Lodge, three more species of Hummingbirds were sighted namely, Purple-throated, Speckled and Collared Inca. Their bright colours are not flashed all the time as sometimes they hide their colours. Later we had a brief walk at the reserve with Joes spotting Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan and Turquoise Jay; keeping me busy with my camera.
The Bee Hummingbird is the smallest species having a wingspan of only 2 inches sighted only in Cuba while the Giant Hummingbird is the largest of its family with a wingspan of 8.5 inches found between 2,000 to 3,400 meters above sea level in the Andes of South America, from northern Ecuador to central Chile and Argentina. Its wing beat is about 70 times per second and when diving, it goes up to 200.
We were back at our lodge for lunch. Later in the afternoon we went downhill to another location where feeders are placed to attract these magnificent Hummingbirds. There I was able to take pictures of Purple-throated Woodstar, licking nectar from flowers nearby the feeders. These birds also play a vital role in the eco system of the animal planet. In addition, Golden-headed Quetzal, Swallow and Silver-throated Tanager were spotted at the same location.
The following morning at 6 am we left for Milpe Bird Sanctuary in the Upper Foothills (850 to 1,300 meters). It took about 90 minutes to arrive at the destination via Quito- Mindo Highway. Birding guides consider this reserve as one of the finest sites in the area especially for birds that are endemic to Ecuador. We stayed out almost two hours which helped add one more species of Hummingbird to my photo collection, the White-necked Jacobin which is large and attractive. With the help of Joes’ recorded bird sounds player, more birds were sighted including the Choco Toucan. On our way back to Quito we sighted four Pale-mandibled Aracari which belongs to the Toucan family, perched on a branch of a tree on the outskirts of the Milpe Bird Sanctuary.
During the three-day tour on the mainland of Ecuador, apart from 17 Hummingbird species, I sighted over one hundred other bird species. Ecuador is indeed a Bird Watcher’s Paradise!
I returned to Sri Lanka on the 14th of July 2012 after a successful and enjoyable tour of Ecuador and its Galapagos Islands. Ecuador is a country not to be missed if you are a bird lover and photographer.