a teatray in the sky

Ecuador day 2: Yanacocha Reserve

Posted in 5D Mark II, Animals, Birds, Ecuador, Photography by firthefirst on September 2, 2011

we’re up dark and early on day two expecting to get driven out to the cloud forest, where we’ll get lumped together with other folks to go hiking and birding in the forest for the rest of the day.  not so.  instead, we apparently get our own guide (Galo) and driver (Miguel) who will be hanging out with us for all three days, and who comprise the entire rest of our group.  we get to make our own schedule and it’s as flexible as we want it to be.  now that’s traveling in style.

we’re not quite as high up as the pass from Huanglong to Jiuzaigou in China, but we’re close, at 4000 meters above sea level.  just over the cratered crest of Pichincha is Quito in all of its traffic and bustle, but here we’re nearly alone in the private Yanacocha reserve, famous for being the home of the highly-endangered black-breasted puffleg hummingbird.  since I know nothing at this point about hummingbirds, that means nothing to me.

seeing Galo whip out a tripod with a Leica scope attached lets me know I’m in the presence of a kindred spirit.  this is going to be a good time.

it’s a cold but enjoyable morning above the cloudline, where we learn a lot from Galo regarding Ecuador, nature, birds, and elderly American tourists.  we start with: what is a cloud forest anyway?  it’s a mountainous forest where the treetops literally catch the bottom of clouds and wick the moisture out of the clouds, shrouding the forest in a near-perpetual fog.  while it’s lush and verdant like a rain forest, and usually tropical, it really is nothing at all like a rain forest.

Tina and I have shown up for our little expedition looking like serious birdwatching folk, with a small car’s worth of equipment strapped to our backs — cameras, binoculars, tripod, lenses — but the truth of it is, neither of us have ever been birding before.  frankly, we don’t care what species we see, we’d just like to see some pretty fellows and take some photos.  that, and get the opportunity to hike away a serene morning.  Galo spends a little bit of time trying to gauge how fanatical of a birdwatching couple we are, and is relieved to find we’re pretty much as far from fanatical as you can get.

one of the odd things about photographing birds is that, while most reserves have banned flash so that it doesn’t disrupt the birds, almost all of the promotional material and professional work you see involves the use of flash photography.  don’t expect to see sparkly bodies, frozen wings, and perfect eye highlights like you would see on a National Geographic cover.  I didn’t mind the no-flash rule, it was a welcome challenge to myself to see how good of an image I could make using only natural light.  with the cloud cover and shooting at a maximum of f/5.6, it was certainly not easy, and I definitely could see dramatic improvement each day I shot (which is easy to do when you start at the very bottom).

in an ideal world, I’d be shooting with a 300 f/2.8 on a 7D body.  in the real world, I was shooting with a 2x on a 70-200 f/2.8 with a 5D Mark II body.  autofocus and max aperture definitely made me feel like I was shooting from the hip, but by the last day I felt I like had greatly improved my sense of control over the photography.  even if I came away with nothing, it would have been a great experience, sitting while hummingbirds literally thunder over your head (if you’re puzzed by the word choice, it’s because you’ve never had hummingbirds dart right past your ear), engaged in a ceaseless game of tag.

and at the end of the day … the food.  so good.

5 Responses

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  1. Tina said, on September 2, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    puffleg hummingbirds are the cutest ever!

  2. maybrick2001 said, on September 12, 2011 at 6:03 am

    beautiful shots there. I realy love the second one.

    • firthefirst said, on September 12, 2011 at 4:30 pm

      thanks, I personally like the b+w landscape a lot as well

  3. shetraces said, on September 16, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    That plate looks delish. And that first picture is amazing!

  4. fbimitko said, on September 16, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    I personally like Ecuador – OK
    На Български /Bulgaria/ език /lengwich/ много хубави снимки . С молба за още хубави картини.Едно голямо -Благодаря 🙂

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