Hummingbirds of Ecuador's Andean Cloud Forest

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Of the over 1,600 species of birds found in Ecuador, at least 130 are hummingbirds. Given the variety of sizes, shapes and colors, it is easy to see why hummingbirds are known as "flying jewels" and "living rainbows." For many wildlife photographers, they are among the most challenging and most fascinating photography subjects. And capturing their crisp image—in flight as they sip nectar from a colorful blossom—is a peak experience for any wildlife shooter.
"The Ecuador hummingbird tour was a fun and productive trip. Mark Thomas is a great group leader offering solid instruction, good humor, and tireless enthusiasm!"
- K. Canning

This trip could easily be titled "Hummingbird Insanity!" From the moment you step out onto the deck of our Ecuadorian cloud forest lodge, scores of hummingbirds buzz around your head! Simultaneously, at each of four strategically placed hummingbird feeding stations, 25 or more birds of 15 to 20 different species vie for position at a feeding port on a feeder. Jewel-tone feathers flash in the light and the air vibrates with sound as the birds fly in all directions. It is, perhaps, the most incredible hummingbird spectacle in the world!

Requiring over 100 pounds of sugar per week (75 to 100 US gallons of mixed sugar water) these high-volume hummingbird feeders afford an amazing opportunity for exceptional bird photography. It is no wonder that this region is sometimes referred to as "Hummingbird Heaven."

Photographing hummingbirds presents several unique challenges. Most noticeably, they are small and very, very fast. Focusing on them seems difficult, and shooting them "frozen" in flight requires advanced flash equipment. To make our hummingbird photography sessions the best possible experience, we have invested in several brand-new multiple flash systems that allow high speed shooting with a deep depth of field to get the entire bird in focus, plus a light-balanced background.

There is no need to worry about gear compatibility. It is easy to sync your 35mm DSLR to our equipment—each photographer will trigger the flash units via radio transmitter in the hot shoe of their camera—and virtually any brand of camera will work. You must supply a camera, lens (a 100-400mm is best or a 70-200mm is within optimal focal length for our hummingbird flash set-ups), Photographing hummingbirds in Ecuadoran electronic cable release and a tripod. Longer lenses, like a 500mm and a dedicated flash unit compatible with your camera body (and a spare if possible), are useful to photograph perched hummingbirds away from our flash set-ups, as well as birds like tanagers, euphonias, trogons, toucanets, barbets and other species that come to fruit-filled feeders and insect-attracting lights placed around the lodge.

To give us a break from the intensity of the frenzied hummingbird shoots, we have scheduled one morning to photograph spectacular polygamous Andean cock-of-the-rock, as the deeply red males ritualistically display to females at a communal lek. This is followed by an afternoon visit to a local wildlife reserve—also well-stocked with bird feeders.

Along with photos of over two dozen hummingbird species possible at our two lodge locations— birds flying, perched and feeding on nectar from colorful flowers—you learn the techniques to set up your own multi-flash system at home. You learn the proper camera and flash settings, how to set up flowers and natural looking perches—and have fun and be wowed while sitting amidst an unbelievable squadron of more than 100 hummingbirds!


Check out Mark Thomas' trip report from our 2016 hummingbird photo tour

Tour Itinerary

Day 1 (Oct 4)
Depart home for Quito, Ecuador. Transfer to our hotel with the majority of the arriving participants or arrange private transportation through our office.

Day 2
Following breakfast, we head to our temperate forest lodge on the eastern side of the Andes, crossing through the higher altitude páramo habitat. At the highest point of our journey, 13,400 feet, we cross over Papallacta Pass before beginning our descent into the valley. Our beautiful lodge is located 7 miles (11 km) from the hot springs town of Papallacta. This lodge, at 8,850 feet (2,700 meters) offers a number of hummingbirds and other species not found elsewhere during our trip. We arrive mid-morning and begin photographing hummingbirds using our on camera flashes while the hummingbird stations are set up. Shortly after lunch, we begin shooting at our stations where we will be able to capture our first images of hummingbirds frozen in flight. (BLD)

Emerald and rufous tailed hummingbirds feedingDays 3–4
Each morning, we may have the opportunity to photograph the first of 5 possible species of antpitta that we should encounter over the coming days. Though our east-slope lodge may not have the sheer numbers of hummingbirds that we will see later at our west-slope lodge,   it does offer several higher altitude species like mountain velvetbreast, tourmaline sunangel, chestnut-breasted coronet, golden-breasted and glowing puffleg, white-bellied woodstar, plus the beautiful long-tailed sylph and a host of other birds that are easily found nearby.

The star of the show here is the extraordinary sword-billed hummingbird—the only bird in the world with a bill longer than its body! The bill, used for probing the deepest tubular flowers, is so long the bird can only use its feet to preen its feathers, and it perches holding its bill almost straight up to reduce neck strain and avoid falling off its perch during sleep! The nearby river is also home to torrent ducks and white-capped dippers, which may make for an interesting distraction if there is a lull in the hummingbird activity. (BLD)

Day 5
Following breakfast we head to the western foothill slopes of the Andes. Our destination is the Tandayapa Valley, home to one of the most amazing diversity of hummingbirds in the world. Following lunch we set up our multi-flash systems as some photographers shoot perched hummingbirds with their flash mounted atop their camera. At 5,740 feet (1,750 meters), our lodge is located in the heart of the western slope of the Andean cloud forest. Here, amidst more than 100 hummingbirds vying for a position at the feeders, it is possible to see more types of hummers in a 5-minute period than all of the hummingbird species in the United States and Canada! Following breakfast we move to the hummingbird flash set-ups. Except when we take a break for lunch, the flash set-ups (each accommodates two photographers) are available throughout the day on a rotational basis in case one set-up is favored by one species or another. We also shoot a variety of beautifully colored tanagers, barbets, toucanets and other cloud forest species that come to feed at fruit feeders located just outside the front door of our lodge. (BLD)

Fawn-breasted humminbirdDay 6 - 8
We spend the next 3 days photographing possibly 15 or more hummingbird species as they come in to dine at our flowers and feeders. One hummingbird species, the booted-racket-tail, stands out as the star of the show, but many others, including western emerald, Andean emerald, violet-tailed sylph, fawn-breasted brilliant, purple-throated woodstar, buff-tailed coronet, green violetear, sparkling violetear and brown violetear are well-represented in this hummingbird smorgasbord.

Depending on weather, and when space is available to us in the bird blind, we have two half-day side trips planned. The first will be to a “bird sanctuary” that maintains both hummingbird feeders as well as fruit feeders. Both can be quite productive. We are at a lower elevation at this sanctuary so we will see several new hummingbirds that we will not see at the lodge, including white-necked Jacobin, white-whiskered hermit and green thorntail. The fruit feeders are regularly visited by crimson-rumped toucanets, rufous motmots and a variety of tanagers and euphonias. We have lunch at a local restaurant overlooking a deep river valley. This restaurant also has fruit and hummingbird feeders that are always busy with birds. After lunch, we return to our lodge and shoot the rest of the day at our hummingbird setups.

Andean cock-of-the-rockOn another morning, we are up very early to travel to a private ranch that is home to a leking colony of Andean cock-of-the-rock. We shoot at the lek for about 45 minutes before moving on to try photographing 2 more antpitta species. From there we head further into the property where we will try to find and photograph the final two antpittas on our list. After that, we are treated to a delicious brunch before returning to our lodge. We shoot the rest of the day at our hummingbird setups.

If the weather and the creatures of the night cooperate, we will spend one night photographing bats as they come to our feeders and flowers to feed. This is a unique opportunity and requires no special equipment on the part of the photographers. Our leader brings the flashes and triggering system. You just supply the camera, tripod, lens (zooms work the best), and locking, wired shutter release. This is the exact same equipment used for photographing hummingbirds at our stations. (BLD)

Day 9
We spend the morning shooting around the lodge. After lunch, we head to our downtown Quito hotel. We meet for our farewell dinner at the hotel restaurant before retiring to our rooms to download images and pack. (BLD)

Day 10 (Oct 13)
We depart for home. (B)
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Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris Enrollment Information

Hummingbirds of Ecuador's Andean Cloud Forest

Oct 04, 2020 - Oct 13, 2020

A deposit and completed and signed Registration Form are required to reserve a place for you on a Joseph Van Os Photo Safari.


All prices are quoted in US dollars and all payments must be paid in US dollars. For deposits only, we accept Visa, MasterCard or American Express. Final payment of the trip fee is due 120 days prior to departure and must be paid by check or bank transfer. Trip deposits are non-refundable and non-transferable.
We must receive written notice of your cancellation, at which time cancellation fees in the following amounts apply:
If Written Cancellation is Received:                                           Cancellation Fee:
90 days or prior:                                                                            100% of deposit
89 to 61 days prior:                                                                       50% of entire trip fee
60 or fewer days:                                                                           100% of entire trip fee
Emergency evacuation insurance is REQUIRED for this tour. As noted in Section 3 below, we send a brochure for trip insurance to US and Canadian residents. The policy offered includes the emergency evacuation coverage required for this trip. Participants purchasing trip insurance on their own—that is, not through our office—should confirm that emergency evacuation is included in their policy.
No partial refunds are made for unused portions or services of a trip for any reason whatsoever. Trips are sold as a package only. This policy also applies to tour extensions and independent travel arrangements. Cancellation fees are not transferable.

No partial refunds are made for unused portions or services of a trip for any reason whatsoever. Trips are sold as a package only. This policy also applies to tour extensions and independent travel arrangements. Cancellation fees are not transferable.

Protect your travel investment and purchase a trip insurance policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage. A trip insurance brochure will be sent with your enrollment confirmation.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris are within the capabilities of average people in good health. Some of these trips require the capability of walking for several miles over uneven trails, stepping from a small boat to a wave-washed rocky beach, flying in small planes and helicopters, and occasionally hiking at high elevations—all while carrying an assortment of camera equipment. If you have concerns about your own capabilities and/or fitness as it relates to a trip, please inquire with our office before reserving a space. By forwarding a signed Registration Form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you or other trip participants and you agree to inform our office in writing if changes in your health occur any time prior to the tour. We reserve the right to request a doctor's statement of good health. The company's or trip leader's judgment shall provide the ultimate determination of an individual's ability to embark upon or to continue a trip. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements. “Meatless” meals are normally available at most locations. Due to the remote nature of many photo locations, and the growing diversity of today’s dietary trends, participants requiring special food items are encouraged to bring their own.

Tour members are asked to refrain from smoking with or near the group.

Participants will receive three emails before the trip departs: 1. Initial Tour Information sheet confirms the deposit and provides pre-departure information. 2. Invoice/Practical Information provides clothing and photo gear recommendations, climate data, applicable health advisories and reading list. Visa information will also be included (if applicable). 3. Final Tour Information includes arrival instructions, itinerary revisions (if any), hotel addresses, trip telephone contact information and participant list. We provide the trip leader's telephone number(s) and/or e-mail address with final documents so you can inquire about special photographic questions you may have regarding your trip. We welcome your calls or e-mail messages to

Information supplied upon enrollment describes the specific costs that are included in your trip fee. Generally these costs include lodging in double room occupancy, all meals (specified in the itinerary as BLD denoting breakfast, lunch or dinner), ground transportation during the trip in vans or small busses, air transportation as specified, meal and baggage tipping, and guide services provided by the trip leaders. Not included are airfare or other transportation from your home to the trip staging location, airport departure taxes, insurance, alcoholic beverages and bar expenses (plus bottled water and soft drink expenses on international tours outside of North America), tips and gratuities to local guides abroad, phone calls, passport or visa expenses, laundry or items of a personal nature. Gratuities to Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris trip leaders are optional and always appreciated. Rates are based on group tariffs; if the trip does not have sufficient registration, a small party supplement may be charged.

Single accommodations are available for a supplemental cost in many locations; see the pre-departure trip information or call our office for details. You will be charged the single supplement fee if you desire single accommodations or if you wish to have a roommate, but one is not available. In some remote locations, clients with single rooms are infrequently compelled to share a room due to circumstances beyond our control. In such cases, appropriate per diem refunds will be made reflecting the direct cost of the single room at the facility where clients are required to share. There is no additional single supplement fee on ship-based cruises, if you request a roommate and one is not available.

Cost increases may occur unexpectedly due to rising costs of airfares, ground transport, fuel surcharges, accommodations and currency fluctuations, among others. Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. may be compelled to amend prices, and we reserve the right to do so without prior notice. An increase in trip prices shall not be sufficient grounds for any refund of funds paid for the trip other than as determined by the terms of our cancellation policy.

Whenever possible, our trip participants are lodged in comfortable, modern hotels. We select among the best available accommodations, but refrain from extravagance. Some interesting photographic destinations are far removed from modern amenities, however, and where necessary we will be accommodated in rustic country inns, cabins or tented camps.

Meals are always a special part of our trips for the camaraderie they engender and the opportunity they provide to try new foods from different areas. Depending on the trip and specific locale, participants order restaurant meals from the full menu or, less frequently, table d'hôte. Some trips include picnic lunches in the field. Fruit juice for breakfast and coffee or tea are included with the meals. Soft drinks are included with meals on tours within North America. Participants are responsible for their own bar tab (including bottled water, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages on tours outside of North America) at restaurant lunches and dinners.

Our itineraries are intended as examples only. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history or cultural events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. or our leaders.

The second tour leader (and any subsequent additional leaders) listed for each trip on the website will be added as the group size warrants. If only one space remains on a trip, and logistics permit, we accept two persons traveling together, even if it exceeds the trip maximum.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. and/or their Agents act only as agents for the passenger in regard to travel including, but not limited to, sightseeing, meals, lodging, transportation, and all other services whether by railroad, motorcar, motor coach, boat, ship or aircraft and they assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay or irregularity which may be occasioned either by reason of defect in any vehicle or for any reason whatsoever, or through the acts or default of any company or person engaged in conveying the passenger or in carrying out the arrangements of the trip.

They can accept no responsibility for losses or additional expenses due to delay or changes in air or other services, sickness, weather, strike, war, volcanic eruption, terrorist acts, political unrest, quarantine or other causes. All such losses or expenses will have to be borne by the passenger, as trip fees provide for arrangements only for the times and locations stated. Baggage is at the owner's risk entirely.

The right is reserved to 1) substitute hotels of similar category for those indicated and to make any changes in the itinerary or transport where deemed necessary, or caused by changes in air schedules or equipment substitution; 2) cancel any trip prior to departure, in which case full refund of the paid trip funds will be given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 3) substitute trip leader(s) for the leader(s) originally specified, in which case the substitution is not a basis for participant cancellation or refund other than provided by our normal cancellation policy; or 4) accept or retain any person as a member of any trip.

Trip prices are based on tariffs and exchange rates in effect at the time of publication and are subject to adjustment in the event of any change therein.

A Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section must be signed by each participant prior to the commencement of the trip. Participation by any trip member will be declined in the absence of the signed Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section, with no trip fee refund. No modification to the Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section will be accepted.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this agreement, the enrolling trip participant(s) agree(s) to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, the enrolling participant(s) agree(s) to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington. Certain ship owners require the use of pre-printed ticket forms that limit the ship owner's and operator's liability. When such tickets are used, the passenger is bound by the terms of these tickets with respect to the passenger's legal relationship to the owners and operators of the ship, their agents (Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc.), and the ship's crew.

Hummingbirds of Ecuador's Andean Cloud Forest: Easy Activity Level

Small bus transportation.  Photograph hummingbirds on lodge patio flash set-ups 30 feet from the dining room door.  Occasional easy walks to fruit feeding stations attracting other showy neotropical bird species.  Requires climb of two flights of stairs to initially reach the hillside lodge from its parking lot.

Trip Details
Oct 04 - Oct 13, 2020
Fee: $5,795 from Quito, Ecuador
Deposit: $800
Limit: 7 participants
Activity Level: EasyEasy
  • Learn to use high-speed flash techniques to capture crisp images of hummingbirds frozen in flight as they sip nectar from colorful tropical flowers
  • Discover how to arrange and position flowers and attractive natural perches with pleasing soft backgrounds
  • Photograph more than 25 species of hummingbirds that dwell around our two lodges situated at different elevations in cloud forest habitat
  • Sync your camera to our brand-new state-of-the-art equipment set-ups
Tour Leaders
Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas

Great birds, great guide, great photos!
—P. Gallagher
I am a videographer, not a still photographer, and had no need for the flash set-ups provided, but still had good success getting video of the hummingbirds and other birds around the lodges. Mark is a good trip leader, helpful in all ways, and I enjoyed the experience greatly.
—B. Corsi
Excellent trip!! Mark really works hard to help everyone maximize their experience.
—C. Clark