Category Archives: Ecuador

Ecuador Minus the Galapagos

I’m about to implement a serious revamp of www.tanagerphotography.com, which will include my 2010 wedding and portrait packages, as well as an overhaul of the galleries section by splitting weddings from portraits. While I was at it, I decided to take another look at the travel galleries, which got me thinking about whether I should include Ecuador in my portfolio, which got me thinking that Ecuador isn’t anywhere on the blog, which got me thinking how much I want to go somewhere pretty much at any moment now, which made me realize I’m not going anywhere for a while … what with the baby and all.


Just because I’m not traveling doesn’t mean I can’t spice up the blog with photos of faraway places here and there. Ecuador has been on my mind lately because of the birds and monkeys. Impending fatherhood naturally lends itself to daydreams of future adventures with the kid, and tops on that list is looking for animals in a rainforest, be it Costa Rica, Panama, Peru or some Caribbean Island.


We visited this magnificent country in April and May of 2007, visiting the Napo Wildlife Center in the Amazon, the capitol city of Quito, the Otavalo Indian Market, the rainforests of Mindo and the hot springs of Papallacta. Conspicuously absent from that list are the Galapagos Islands. Too much time, too much money, and being the mountain boy that I am, I’m always going to pass over islands to insist we see something like the Andes.


My lasting memory of Ecuador was a place of insane topography. Ravines inside canyons wedged between mountains with volcanoes on top. Quito’s size and scope was unfathomable because of the way the land buckles and swallows the city. It is amazing place to see from a window seat on arrival.


But right now, I’d bypass the Andes, the volcanoes sitting on top of them, and pretty much anything to do with that dusty wrinkled city, for a little hut in the rainforest and the sound of howler monkeys and parrots piercing the air.

NPR’s Morning Edition ran a great story on a Brazilian farm town’s efforts to restore the Amazonian rainforest and balance nature with farming. The soundtrack alone transported me back to Ecuador this morning. Soon enough, we’ll get back out there …

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What the Hell is a Tanager, Anyway?

So the other day I was looking at my WordPress dashboard, seeing my traffic, seeing where people were clicking and how they found the blog. One of the items it gathers is how people found the blog through search engines, and what those search engine keywords were. That’s when I saw this bizarre search request: “sexy tanager photo.” M’kay. It got me thinking: maybe I should do a post on tanagers so people can get it.

This was paired with a strange dream last night in which I was walking around a meadow with someone (just who slips my mind) and we spotted a black, gold and red songbird flying by. “Hey!” I said. “That’s a western tanager. That’s where Tanager Photography gets its name.” The other person simply said: “That’s lame.”

Anyway, lame or not, Hailey and I opted to name our photography business after a family of extremely colorful birds that migrate between the Americas. Most of them don’t go further north than Mexico, but one visits us here in Colorado — the aforementioned Western Tanager — and it is in my opinion the prettiest bird we get here.

So, do you get it? Colorful, migration (i.e. travel), beauty. OK….moving on.

The above collage is from our trip to Ecuador in 2007. Everyone of these birds are tanagers, with the bay-headed tanager (upper center) being the most ridiculous.

We were visiting a place in the Andes west of Quito called the Mindo Valley. It was a family reunion of sorts — Hailey and I, her parents, her brother Jason and his wife Ali — and we were spending most of our time birdwatching.

Now birdwatching and photography are like oil and water. They simply don’t mix. I have yet to get the hang of juggling binoculars and camera gear, and furthermore, most of the prettiest birds we’ve chased congregate in the tropical rain forests of Latin America. The environment is dark, wet, cluttered with tree branches, the birds are small, far away, and the highest any of my lenses goes to is 300 mm. It just doesn’t yield good photo results. If I had the Canon 40D I now own, I probably would shot in a completely different way since it does so much better with low light.

The tanagers and the pale-mandibled aracari (a small toucan) were all photographed in the span of five minutes at a restaurant in the town of Bancos. They were coming in to feed and I was basically in a blind. Hailey got the best shot, the one above of the toucan. It was the only time we got good results. The rest of the time in Mindo, I was getting shots of rain clouds moving along ridges, and the peculiar habits of birdwatchers:

That’s Hailey’s dad, Michael, smiling for the camera. He’s seen more than 2,600 bird species around the world. We did see some amazing wildlife on the trip…just few of them were photographed.

On our last day in Mindo, before crossing the Andes to the Amazon watershed to visit the hot springs at Papallacta, we rose at 4am, drove an hour to a rural farm, and were led to a blind where we watched — don’t laugh, don’t laugh — the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. It is one of those Holy Grail birds for birders, a bright red rooster-kind-of-pigeon that squeals like a pig to attract its mate.

Yes, we saw it. No, I don’t have pictures to prove it.

But afterward the farmer’s wife served us balones, a traditional Ecuadorean breakfast dish consisting of shredded meat served in a plantain ball. They were absolutely delicious.

Perhaps another day I’ll dip into the archives and do a post on Papallacta in the Andes, or the Napo Wildlife Center in the Amazon. Both yielded better landscapes and images. But until then, at least you now know what the hell a tanager is, and this whole thing can stop haunting my dreams.

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