Birding guide and business owner, Vinicio Perez has more than 35 years of experience leading birding tours in Ecuador. When he decided to settle down to a single location, he chose a small property that skirts the twin valleys of Tandayapa and Mindo. Each and every element of his small but comfortable birding lodge takes both birders and photographers into account. As a result, I have to say that the Birdwatcher’s House in Santa Rosa de Mindo is an excellent location for photographing not only hummingbirds but many other species of birds.
The Bird Blinds
Before I tell you about the wonderful hummingbird garden, let me tell you about the two different bird blinds. Unfortunately, we arrived late in the morning (problems with cars and road closures put a serious dent in our schedule). Therefore, we did not get to enjoy the early morning moth feeding that takes place in bird blind number one. There, Vinicio has set up two white sheets with bright lights. These attract moths during the night. In the early morning, insect-loving birds flock to the breakfast buffet.
A second bird blind focuses on water elements and attracts birds throughout the day. However, the majority still prefer the early morning and late afternoon, times when we were on the road. Even without seeing birds in these locations, it is readily apparent that these blinds are well situated for great photography shots, especially for those working with a 300mm lens or greater.
Birds in the Native Forest
Despite not seeing birds within view of the blinds, we did see several great species. My focus was more the hummingbird garden but I still managed to photograph a Turquoise Jay, an immature Masked Trogon with his brown feathers mottled with the brilliant green plumage of a more mature bird, and several Dusky Chlorospingus.
We also saw some different tanager species and two kinds of flowerpiercers. Vinicio has also recorded many other interesting birds, including the Gray-breasted Mountain Toucan. This bird was a big surprise as Vinicio never expected to see this iconic species at about 2,100 meters (6,500 feet). His original hummingbird garden had included a few plantain feeders. Low and behold, this beautiful bird liked the feeders. Vinicio proceeded to convert this garden into his first bird blind.
Everyday is a good day for birds at the Birdwatcher’s House. Vinicio told us that the day before, he saw 26 different species of birds, including the coveted toucan! However, there are higher count days. December is usually one of the best seasons when migratory species are at an all time, adding to especially high counts for birdwatchers with lists of must see birds.
To see our checklist for the day, check out our eBird listing: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S50101501
The Hummingbird Garden at the Birdwatcher’s Lodge
But it was the hummingbird garden that we came to see. As part of our consulting business, we advice new business owners on how to get started with their own birdwatching projects. We were introducing a budding entrepreneur to hummingbird gardens in the region so that he could learn the best practices of each and apply them to his own project near Santo Domingo, Ecuador.
The Birdwatcher’s House provides an excellent example of how to use a garden-like setting of native and non-native plants to attract hummingbirds. While the hummingbird feeders are a big draw, the large selection of flowers made for excellent photography opportunities. Better yet, we did not have to resort to some of the common tricks of the hummingbird photography trade – injecting picked flowers with sugar water to attract birds in front of your lens.
What the Vinicio has done right is layer the garden so that there is almost always a softly focused, green background behind the birds, whether in flight or sitting on a natural, moss-covered perch. And the hummingbirds obviously agree. An average day brings up to 14 different types of hummingbirds. Throughout the year, it is possible to see as many as 37 different species of hummingbirds!
We had a fairly quiet day, with 10 hummingbird species in only a couple of hours viewing. My favorite to photograph were the stunningly gorgeous Violet-tailed Sylph and the aggressive Gorgeted Sunangel. The highlight hummingbird for many visitors is the Hoary Puffleg, a bird that generally does not visit feeders. A Hoary Puffleg has been a fairly regular visitor for the past few months though his hour of arrival can vary. We did see him but I am afraid I never managed a photo. Nonetheless, I have a hard time feeling disappointed as I spent a couple of hours engaged in my favorite hobby, hummingbird photography!
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Directions: The Birdwatcher’s House is currently listed via Google as Birdwatchers House Lodge in Tandayapa, Ecuador. Do not confuse it with a place of the same name located in Mindo.