Friday, 24 August 2012

Hummingbirds of Ecuador (part 1)

Fawn-breasted Brilliant

Violet-tailed Sylph

Beak envy

             The first questions to possibly ask is why Hummingbirds and why Ecuador?. Bearing in mind that I have already shot hummingbirds in Arizona and Cost Rica. Hummingbirds have always fascinated me; they are very photogenic with a myriad of different shapes and colours, they are totally indifferent to the proximity of humans and they push the bounds of metabolism and physiological dynamics almost past comprehension. There are around 325-340 species of hummers in the world with Ecuador, Columbia and Peru boasting over 100 species each. Ecuador leads the pack with 163 species, which is almost half of all species. Costa Rica on the other hand has a miserly 51 species. These little flying jewels have such a high metabolic rate that they need to feed every 15minutes to maintain their energy levels. Quite how several South American species manage the migration to North America, across the Gulf of hard to fathom. Apparently they need to double their weight to accomplish this. The smaller species can also flap their wings some 15-20 times per second.....amazing since the state of the art Canon and Nikon cameras can only manage 10 frames per second with advanced electronics.
         I signed up for the Ecuador trip in the middle of 2009. I managed to get a good deal on the total flights at only US$1600 all in. The main carrier ANA had some deal going whereby you were to spend two weeks in the US.....I cheated on that. The other flights were on Continental Airlines. The route was Singapore to Tokyo, Tokyo to Los Angeles, LA to Houston and Houston to Quito. I stayed two separate nights at a hotel near LA Airport to break the flights and get a horizontal sleep and a bathroom bigger than a broom closet..
         There were 6 photographers on the trip, which was organized by an American woman, Linda Robbins who for several years assisted one of the premiere bird photographers. She had an assistant, Rick, who knew everything and essentially ran the show. They reminded me of Don Quixote and Sancho Panchez. Linda was essentially OK but smoked a lot and was a little disorganized.

Quito from my hotel window

High altitude mountain pass

Traveller's fare
         The flights were relatively non-eventful. My computer bag was selected for an extra-inspection after the X-ray leaving Singapore....when it was opened I was horrified to see my field knife nestled in a pocket.....that was not what they were after apparently and although in full view about 15 inches from the nose of the inspector it escaped detection. I did offload it in Tokyo in a toilet bin as I did not want to be incarcerated in Japan...after reading too many wartime accounts of prisoner treatment.
         In LA I caught up with American daytime TV with Jerry Springer and accounts of how often miscreants had cheated on wives, girlfriends or their dogs. On the trip from LA to Houston I had a talkative, female music student next to me. She attended University in LA and was going home as her Dad was getting an award for shooting many deer in Texas. My hero.
         I arrived in Quito fairly late and was taken to the Hilton Hotel which was pretty nice. The next day I met up with most of the others on the trip and we went out together for lunch and dinner. Quito is a rather unattractive sprawling city in a cleft in the Andes. The Andes mountain range runs essentially through the middle of is not the magnificent rugged rock range that you see down in Chile but consists of steep triangular ‘hills’ that are generally covered with cloud forest.....except around Quito that is very barren.

Long-tailed Sylph

Masked Flower-piercer

Female Swordbill

Why the capitol was built at altitude, who knows.....since there is an apparently nice coastal domain. The people we encountered seemed nice but an elderly lady in the trip before ours was pick-pocketed by a bunch of kids. The restaurants we went to were very nice and the food and entertainment was top-notch. Pan flutes were a feature of the music. In the next 10 days we went to two locations east and west of Quito, which involved quite a prolonged exposure to Quito. While there are some obviously nice houses and suburbs the majority of this sprawling city seemed to be fairly poor with many of the dwellings in a semi-finished state. Most were built with concrete blocks and it appeared that adding to the house was a long-term project whereby blocks were purchased in ones and two and added on in a never-ending extension. One could imagine that an earthquake would do considerable damage in this city although a nearby active volcano, Pichincha could be a more imminent threat. Quito, or full name San Francisco de Quito is the second highest capitol city after, La Paz in Bolivia. The thin air is not a great problem when walking around at a leisurely pace although occasionally you are aware of taking a deeper or extra breath.

Guango Lodge front entrance

Guango Lodge dining room/lounge

            The following morning we travelled over a higher mountain pass to our destination on the eastern flanks of the Andes. We missed the view of Pichincha as the summit was covered in wet clouds. The altitude of the pass was about 1500ft under the level you need oxygen tanks......the air was definitely ‘thicker’ but no headaches or rashes on extremities.
The first lodge was Guango situated in a valley still somewhat higher than Quito. We had the lodge to ourselves with a small bedroom each with an ensuite on the second floor and the dining room lounge on the lower floor. The nights were quite cool and the open fire and a hot coffee were very welcome in the mornings. The staff was hard working and the food was excellent. We shot most of the day with the high-speed flash set-ups interrupted quite often by squally rain showers. The only other visitors were groups of birders.....with Ecuador rating highly with this interest group.

Female Swordbill

Male Swordbill

Andean Emerald

Buff-tailed Coronet

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