Rainforest Photography in Ecuador
Straddling the equator from which it takes its name, Ecuador encompasses an area of 285,561 sq. km. (109,415 sp. mi.) UNESCO designated the capital, Quito, as a World Heritage Site in 1978, along with the Galapagos Islands. Sanguay National Park was later designate as a World Heritage Site in 1981 and the city of Cuenca in 1999.
In spite of its compact size, slightly smaller than the country of Italy, it boasts of having more species of birds than the United States and Europe combined and represents over half of the known avian varieties on the continent of South America. With over 1600 species registered, they have 22 avian orders with 82 families represented in the country. Ecuador has 44 endemic species and 77 species that are globally threatened.
In 2005, Ecuador became the first country in the Southern Hemisphere to recognize Important Bird Areas (IBA) as sites of public interest. The first IBA was recognized in 1997, registering the “Mindo and Northwestern Pichincha Volcano” area. Since then 106 more locations have been identified throughout the country.
The Photographic Challenge
Photographing birds in Ecuador can be challenging due to the terrain and climate. Most of the avian species reside in either the rainforest, which averages 68-78 inches of rain per year, or cloud forest where fog can cover the canopy areas nearly 90% of the time. This results in a low light, unfriendly environment for photographers. Many of these locations are difficult to reach and sufficient planning is essential. Without proper preparation, equipment and protection, bird photography can be a daunting experience.
Before commencing on a journey into the birding areas of Ecuador, it is best to first decide which zone you wish to tackle. The country has four distinct regions; the Amazon basin (Oriente ), the sierra or Andes Mountains, the coast and the Galapagos Islands. Each one of these areas represent a variety of avian species and can present different travel challenges.
Once the region has been chosen, this should be further divided in sectors representing north, central and south. Again, each of these zones can present a great diversity of birds and birding opportunities. The Mindo area alone, located in the northwestern part of the country, can harbor as many as 500 species. There are several guidebooks in print that indicate where different birds can be located.
After the birding region has been determined it is then necessary to prepare the equipment. Although there are areas where you can get extremely close to the quarry, most of the birds are going to be at a greater distance. Therefore it is essential to use long lenses, preferably in the 400mm to 600mm range. Due to the low light situations presented in the rainforest (cloud forest) regions, fast lenses are crucial. Base apertures of f2.8 to f4.0 are recommended. High ISO settings may be necessary in order to attain a sufficiently fast shutter speed to stop motion so a camera that minimizes noise at these setting is paramount.
Bird photography in Ecuador can be a very rewarding exploit. The terrain and weather can make for a formidable experience, but with a little planning and preparation it can be extremely rewarding. Ecuador is a country with vast opportunities for the adventurous photographer who enjoys a challenge.