Cobalt-Winged Parakeet [Brotogeris cyanoptera] at clay lick, Ecuador
Nature and wildlife photographers Larry Kimball and Barbara Magnuson are a married couple based in Colorado. You may remember them from the showcase of their photos from Costa Rica that was featured on Loaded Landscapes. Barbara and Larry have also spent time photographing the amazing birds, animals, and landscape of Ecuador. They have kindly offered to share many photos from their trip, as well as details of where they went and stayed. These details can be really helpful if you are considering a trip to Ecuador, or simply curious about the wildlife of the area. All of the text and photos below are from Barbara and Larry. Visit their website to learn more about their work.
Maybe we should get some of the superlatives out of the way first. Ecuador is a small country, about the size of our home state of Colorado. Rivers that start in the Andes run to the Pacific Ocean on the west, into the Amazon on the east. The Andes themselves contain a number of live volcanoes (8), and peaks up to 20,000+ feet in elevation. The Galapagos are a class of their own. Sitting on the equator, with this topography, life in all its forms comes in mind-blowing diversity. 1600 species of birds, 129 of them are hummingbirds. 25,000 species of vascular plants (17,000 in all of North America). 4,500 species of butterflies. 300 species of mammals that include the rare Spectacled Bear of the highlands and the Giant Otter of the Amazon. 460 species of amphibians, mostly frogs and 410 species of reptiles including the Black Caiman and Anaconda.
Of the 3 weeks we spent in Ecuador, 5 days were in the Oriente (meaning the east or the Amazon) at the Napo Wildlife Center in Yasuni National Park. This lodge is owned and operated by the local Kichwa people and is a truly wonderful place to stay and photograph the stunning diversity of Yasuni. From the Hoatzin (the only leaf eating bird), to an Anaconda sunning on the bank of Laguna Anangucocha, to a 15 foot Black Caiman guarding her nest, to the parrot mineral licks our Nikkor 200-400 f4 and 500 f4 lenses were in constant use. Travel is mostly by canoe with amazing guides. Flash is not always necessary but the rain forest is dark and rain clouds eat the light so bring a good flash.
Hoatzin [Opisthocomus hoatzin] dancing on log; Laguna Anangucocha, Napo Wildlife Center, Ecuador
Ecuadorian Poison Frog [Ameerega belinguis]; Napo Wildlife Center, Yasuni National Park, Ecuador
Sunrise over Laguna Anangucocha; Napo Wildlife Center, Ecuador
Common Squirrel Monkey [Saimiri sciureus sciureus] foraging in canopy; Yasuni National Park, Ecuador
Black Caiman [Caiman niger]; Laguna Anangucocha, Napo Wildlife Center, Yasuni National Park, Ecuador
Laguna Anangucocha view from Napo Wildlife Center; Yasuni National Park, Ecuador
We then reluctantly left Yasuni and went up the east slope of the Andes to Cabanas San Isidro above the Cosanga Valley. With elevation comes a whole new suite of critters, and we were now in birder’s paradise. They list 32 different hummingbirds, and with the new-to-science San Isidro Owl, our reluctance now turned to elation. I have to tell you that you will not eat better than at this lodge. There are Spectacled Bears as well as the Mountain Tapir, but in 6 days here we saw neither. All lodges have guides on staff so there is always someone that can help with IDs.
Green Jay [Cyanocorax yncas] perched; Cabanas San Isidro, Ecuador
San Isidro Owl [Ciccaba sp. ?] perched; Cabanas San Isidro, Ecuador
Chestnut-Breasted Coronet Hummingbird [Boissonneaua matthewsii] perched; Cabanas San Isidro, Ecuador
We traveled farther up in the mountains to the Guango Lodge for only one night primarily to photograph the unbelievable Sword Billed Hummingbird, its bill is longer than its body. At this higher elevation it was very cool and the almost constant rain didn’t help, but it was a stunning area and we did get our Sword Bill.
Travel across the 14,000+ foot Papallacta Pass was anticlimactic and we soon passed back through Quito heading for the Tandayapa Valley and another birders paradise, Bellavista Lodge. This is another high elevation cloud forest but the sometimes chill air was ignored with the numbers of hummingbirds like the Violet-Tailed Sylph (a 7 inch long hummingbird!) as well as the Plate-Billed Mountain-Toucan. Another specialty at Bellavista is the Olinquito, a new species. Easily seen at night in a feeding area set up for observing these and other nocturnal critters like the Kinkajou, flash isn’t allowed so bring a bright flashlight.
Olinquito [Bassaricyon neblina] foraging on bananas; Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve
While at Bellavista we made 2 excursions to other places in the valley. One was Paz de las Aves, a reserve for observing and photographing the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock and a number of Antpitta species which are very difficult to see let alone photograph.
At the end of this trip we took a day to experience Quito’s Old Town and visit a number of beautiful old colonial churches.
City street view in Old Town looking toward the tower of Iglesia y Convento de Santo Domingo & Monumento a la Virgen de Quito, El Panecillo
Spires of La Basilica & street views in Old Town Quito, Ecuador
Another day for a trip to Cotopaxi National Park was set aside to visit the volcano since we live near the small town of Cotopaxi in Colorado, actually named after the volcano by old silver miners. Of course a single day at the National Park which is part of the Avenue of Volcanos was way too short. This trip could have been much, much longer given how much there is to see and do in this small country. We will be back.
Marc is the editor of Loaded Landscapes, and he works with our team of writers to plan and organize the content on our site. He lives in Pennsylvania and enjoys landscape and travel photography and spending time with his family.