Several years ago, Edie and I decided to take our cameras and their support equipment on a different type of shoot. We had never done any planned bird photography and decided to try our hands at it. However, we had both been able to make some very good bird photographs during our normal forays afield. We had gathered a stout portfolio of local birds from the Cuenca area, most from higher in the mountains. We had it all from Curiquingues to Hillstars.
But, birds weren’t really our thing even though we have the equipment and skill levels to make compelling captures. They’ve simply been subjects of opportunity. Edie likes to photograph people the most and I like the grittiness of street photography which also often incorporates people in the compositions. After that, I enjoy the hard to get landscapes that involve grueling access. All that was about to change in short order.
I had retained a well-known guide out of Riobamba and arranged for him to meet Edie and I in the cloud forests of Mindo, Ecuador. He bussed himself there, which is common, and met Edie, El Fantasma and myself at a hostal we had selected to use as the base for a four day shoot. Edie and I are much more interested in getting great exposures and hanging with locals in lieu of pampering at expensive lodges. We don’t need the accoutrements and it leaves lots of extra money for local folks who you can help you in important ways. You do not need a fancy lodge to make a fancy photograph.
On the first morning, our guide Nelson met us at our hostal about 4:30 a.m. I had gassed and loaded out El Fantasma the previous evening. We left Mindo and headed up a winding rural road visiting quietly and getting to know each other a bit. Thirty minutes later, we were at the place where Nelson wanted us to begin the day. We slipped through a medium-sized wooden gate on a steep slope with dense foliage. Some high-discharge sodium lights were chasing away the gloom on the other side. It was still dead dark, but I heard one lonely chirp in the distance.
Within minutes, the softness of night began to slip away. Hazy light penetrated the overhead canopy. Birds had become active and were starting to move around, looking for their first meal of the day. Nelson began to direct Edie and I where to stand at this place as he identified various birds by their calls. I noticed there were some moths there. They were attracted to the bright sodium lights and there were quite a few flitting about.
All of a sudden, a bird shot through the inky sky like an F-18 fighter jet and snatched a morning moth for a handy, well-rounded breakfast. It was a fat bird and I saw it had very bright colors as it wheeled in the morning mist for another moth under the lights. Nelson identified it as a male Toucan Barbet. I was using off-camera flash mounted on a flash bracket. The bird captured another moth from the ground and headed for a broken branch with the moth in its powerful beak. I noticed the bird would lite and then turn the moths around after killing them. He would swallow them whole, head first. This bird doesn’t chew, one good gulp and bye-bye moth.
Two other birds of the same type had joined in on the moth breakfast buffet. As one lit to prepare a moth for munching, my camera came up and in a staccato burst captured his action forever. The combination of the flash and the eerie gleam of the sodium lamps allowed for an unusual exposure. Under the lights, the forest growth took on an odd, glowing green as a backdrop for the Toucan.
I captured over 1900 frames in the next four days. I probably shot a hundred frames of just the Toucan Barbets. There were only a couple of shots where the captured moths weren’t a gnarled mess of wings, body and legs after the birds landed with their mini-morsels. In the end, I only kept 18 of them. That’s right, 18 different bird photographs of 18 different birds in their natural environment. Edie and I shot from dawn to dusk daily. I was very excited to have that many keepers even though the total count was under twenty frames that I found acceptable for my purposes.
I finished post-processing the entire portfolio from our trip in a couple of weeks. I don’t know exactly what I will do with my photographs of the Mindo birds; perhaps they would be shown in another exposition like my last one in Cuencas El Centro Museum. Or, maybe I will put them in a book. I’ve had the photographs for almost three years and I still haven’t decided how I will show them all. I want you to know this, though.
Bird photography is cool and rewarding but this photograph of the Toucan Barbet was my least favorite selection from my Mindo portfolio. I like the other seventeen more. They are all better photographs than this one. Some of them also show birds with their prey but they have a more natural daytime lighting that my sense of sight is drawn to. I’m looking forward to a chance to share more of my Mindo birds with you. Right now, I hear some chirp-chirping coming from my backyard in San Joaquin. Excuse me, I have to grab my big glass and camera as there seems to be some colorful bird action about. Wonder if I could rustle up some moth bait for them…hmm…better shoot now, bait later! Ciao!