18 November 2015

Ecuador - Part 1 (hummingbirds)

We've just returned from a quick trip to the Tandayapa Bird Lodge on the western slope of the Andes in Ecuador. Although we were planning on staying longer, my bad knees betrayed me and we decided to cut our visit short.

However, we still really enjoyed the birds at the lodge and I figured I'd share some of the pictures from that quick visit. Because there were so many crazy birds around, this particular post will only be devoted to the hummingbirds.

I know several of you have been to Tandayapa and know these little gems quite well but for the rest, let me start out by saying that the hummingbird spectacle at the Tandayapa feeders is world-renowned. The lodge can have 100+ hummers at the feeders at once and that usually consists of 10-20 different species. Although I'm not sure I saw 100+ at once during my short stay (numbers can vary seasonally), I can attest to a really fun diversity! After only 3 days, we had tallied 15 different species.

I'll run through the species roughly from most abundant to least abundant...

First up, and probably the most abundant species at the feeders, was the PURPLE-THROATED WOODSTAR. Although these guys were tiny, they weren't bad looking at all. Here's a male perched on a leaf near the patio:
Interestingly, this species would rarely perch at the feeders, they opted to hover instead. Here's a photo of a female noted by the buffy belly (it's quite a grainy photo but that's due to the shutter speed of 1/5000th of a second I used to try to freeze the wings):
This species of woodstar is only found along the Andes in Colombia and Ecuador. As mentioned above, the males would perch on leaves nearby and keep a patrol on their favorite feeder (I mean, they are hummingbirds after all). A male in nice light had the trademark purple throat:
I think the second-most abundant species at the feeders was the ANDEAN EMERALD, a species that's limited to Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. These hummers were pretty distinctive with their white bellies (not many other species there had that). The foreheads had a nice shade of blue with some green on the cheeks:
I'd call them a small hummer but not tiny, either way they really couldn't compete with the big brutes. This species would also perch nearby just waiting for a break in the activity to swoop in:
It gets harder to pick what species is next in line but I'm going to go with the BUFF-TAILED CORONET. Like the above hummers, this species is limited to northern South America (Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador). They're big, green, bold, and quite common:
Another fairly common species was the RUFOUS-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD, a widespread species that ranges from Mexico south to Ecuador. If you've been to the tropics here in the Americas, you're probably familiar with this one (they were the most abundant species of hummer for us in Costa Rica, at least). The reddish bill was an easy give-away:
The truly distinctive BOOTED RACKET-TAIL is my pick for the next common. These guys were quite tiny, one of the smallest hummers around. However, the males with their long racket tails made for a very distinctive silhouette. Here's a poor photo of a male perched (you can see the fluffy white "boots" as well):
Much larger than the racket-tails though is the next species, the hefty FAWN-BREASTED BRILLIANT. This species, native to the Andes in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, was quite easy to pick out, just look for the warm tan breast:
Quite widespread through the tropics, the GREEN VIOLETEAR ranges from Mexico south to Bolivia... and is my pick for the next common at the Tandayapa feeders. Here's one on the left (with a male Booted Racket-tail on the right):
This next photo is a bit busy (5 species at once!) but focus on the bird hovering in the back. The noticeable purple belly is a give-away for it being a SPARKLING VIOLETEAR, a closely-related species to the Green Violetear. Sadly, I'm not sure I focused on the species enough to take more photos of it.
The following were pretty uncommon but we saw GREEN-CROWNED BRILLIANTS about every day but only for a few seconds at a time. They were robust, that's for sure; bigger than many wood-warbler species! Here's a male that perched near the patio for a few minutes:
The following isn't a great shot but it shows two female Green-crowned Brilliants visiting a feeder at the same time (back left and far right). There is also another species in the back (that has appeared in photos above) that we'll mention later:
Now we're in the part of the lineup where we only saw singles of given species. It's hard to rank these, obviously, but from what I gathered, I could start with the BROWN INCA, a species that's limited to Colombia and Ecuador. They're a fairly large, dark species with an indicative white spot on the side of the neck (seen here with a Booted Racket-tail):
Here's another BROWN INCA although from a funny angle:
Next up is another species that we only saw one or two of. Although my only photo of it is horrendous, I really found the PURPLE-BIBBED WHITETIP to be a fascinating species. Its range is limited to the west side of the Andes in Colombia and Ecuador. It's the only dark green hummer at Tandayapa with distinctive white tips to the tail as seen below:
Although this photo is a bit busy, I'm going to focus on the far left bird, a BROWN VIOLETEAR:
I admit, this widespread species seems bland at first glance but when they turn the right way they actually have a brilliant purple throat! We wouldn't see more than one or two of these a day. If you scroll through the photos above, you might see this bird make another appearance or two.

During our entire stay we only saw one WESTERN EMERALD, a small species found only in Colombia and Ecuador. The male, who would visit daily, was covered in glistening greens that literally sparkled. Here it is on the left side of the feeder (Fawn-breasted Brilliant on the right):
Too bad this same WESTERN EMERALD wasn't facing us... but the small size and green coloration made it pretty distinctive:
It was always a treat when the one-and-only WHITE-NECKED JACOBIN showed up. They're never common at the feeders and although we saw this male just about every day, it was always noteworthy when he came in. Here he is with his white belly and bright blue head:
Last but definitely not least, I'll wrap up with one of the most spectacular hummers we saw. It's big, flashy, and quite a stunner in good light. I'm talking, of course, about the VIOLET-TAILED SYLPH:
Although we'll get to the ridiculously-long tail later, the neon green mohawk gleamed like a beacon!
This large species, which is limited to the western slope of the Andes in Colombia and Ecuador, is obviously well-named given its long tail:
As for the color of this said long tail, the right light completely lights it up:
Although these photos aren't destined for any magazine, at least I can show you the vibrant colors of the backend of this bird:

And yes, did I mention how sometimes the violet tail just glowed?
So there you have it, photographic proof of all 15 species of hummingbirds we saw at the Tandayapa Bird Lodge in 3-4 days. Next up, I'll post about all the non-hummingbirds we saw. Stay tuned.....