Birding heaven in the Bella Vista Cloud Forest, Ecuador - travelling through the archives

Birding heaven in the Bella Vista Cloud Forest, Ecuador - travelling through the archives

After 11 days in the Galápagos [see previous story], we arrived back in Quito to head to a very different sort of paradise - the Bella Vista Cloud Forest. This high-altitude region of Ecuador is considered one of the best birding spots in the world. And conveniently, with travel to the Galápagos ​leaving from Quito it's easy to tack on a side trip.

Nondo Mindo road and valley
Early-morning view from the Nono-Mindo Road
This region was in danger of having forest converted into farms, but may farmers have now found there is more money to be had from tourism. Although tourism has huge environmental impacts, in this case, it is also having a positive effect of saving this precious and unique ecosystem.

hummingbird
Andean emerald, Alambi Cloud Forest Reserve
The biggest attraction is of course the hummingbirds! Such an incredible variety from tiny booted rackettails with their little ugg boots to the brilliants with their iridescent colours. And despite being tiny, each had huge ferocious attitude! As we climbed in altitude, the species of hummingbirds changed, each evolved and adapted to that specific height. They were also quite tricky to photograph in the dappled forest, as they zipped around from flower to flower, stretching my novice photography skills.

hummingbird at feeder
Booted rackettail, Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve - not the greatest of photos but look at those fluffy legwarmers!!!
two humming birds fighting
Squabbling Jacobians, Milpe Reserve
scenic view
Panoramic view from Yanacocha Reserve, at around 3200m.
The area is also famous for birds from the toucan family, including the giant bumble-bee tummied pale-mandibled araçari and paint-box coloured plate-billed mountain toucan. My favourite bird from the entire trip though was the diminutive crimson-rumped toucanet who we found bathing in a bromeliad (see photo-art at top of this story). It is so fascinating to see these improbably birds eat as they have to toss the food up with their giant bills and hopefully catch it in the back of their throats.

aracari photo-art
Pale-mandibled Araçari, Milpe Reserve (photo-art)
plate billed toucan
Plate-billed mountain toucan, Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve, Ecuador
We're not twitchers but we did keep count of the number of species we saw in the four days we spent exploring - an incredible 127 (confirmed by our knowledgeable guide)! I much prefer spending extended time with just one species, getting to know them intimately, but on a whistle-stop trip like this, it's just not possible. And we weren't even trying to knock off as many as possible, it's just that there are that many different birds to see! It's really quite overwhelming, which is why here I decided to post about just the hummingbirds and toucans.

selfie
My very first attempt at a selfie, taken from at 4000m above sea level, Teleferico, Quito. You can just see Quito city, downhill, at the top.

A P.S. about intrepid travelling

Like I did for the Galápagos ​leg of the trip, I'd like to add some notes about travelling with a chronic illness. I was very anxious before the trip about the effects of altitude and potential altitude sickness. Alongside anxiety about seasickness, I'm surprised Lynn ever convinced me to go! So before the trip, we went through two rounds of "altitude training". This involves breathing a high-nitrogen mix of air through a mask for about an hour a day for three weeks. You can hire a system to do at home or there is a clinic downtown. Breathing this mix helps create new red blood cells which can then carry more oxygen and give a bit more energy. The effects last around 3 weeks or so. Other than huffing and puffing a bit more and having some trouble sleeping, we didn't have any altitude-related issues, so I'm glad we went to the effort.

What I did notice though was "land sickness". For about a week after getting off the boat after 11 days at sea, I felt the world moving as if I was still onboard. It was quite unexpected, but apparently it is a thing, and sometimes people never recover. Fortunately it wore off!

I was shooting with the Panasonic GX7 and 20mm, 100-300mm, and 35-100mm lenses, all bought especially for this trip and I loved how lightweight it all was. I was still learning how to use the gear, so a lot of the photos are sub-par. I'd love to return with my latest kit and better knowledge of how to get the best out of shooting in dappled forests (even with good gear, it's hard).

Do you have a bucket-list birding destination for when we can travel again?
Back to blog

1 comment

Again what a lovely set of images you captured Judi. I’m very grateful to have you galavanting the world with your love of life and wildlife. Keep up the great work.

Sam Edmonds16 Apr 2021

Leave a comment

  • Toutouwai reading a book - photo art

    Photoartistry resources - my top picks [updated...

    Aside from a good dose of curiousity and willingness to explore and try things out, I can recommend the following courses, software, and hardware to anyone keen on getting into...

    Photoartistry resources - my top picks [updated...

    Aside from a good dose of curiousity and willingness to explore and try things out, I can recommend the following courses, software, and hardware to anyone keen on getting into...

  • A tui looking between it's legs at the photographer

    Wildlife photography outtakes

    Birds are weird. And they don't always pose nicely! When seeking that perfectly posed wildlife photo, I do end up with a lot of outtakes, some of which are hilarious....

    4 comments

    Wildlife photography outtakes

    Birds are weird. And they don't always pose nicely! When seeking that perfectly posed wildlife photo, I do end up with a lot of outtakes, some of which are hilarious....

    4 comments
  • Titipounamu - deadly cute

    Titipounamu - deadly cute

    Conservationists were shocked to find this impossibly cute and tiny bird was capable of murder.

    9 comments

    Titipounamu - deadly cute

    Conservationists were shocked to find this impossibly cute and tiny bird was capable of murder.

    9 comments
1 of 3