The wildlife in the Amazon basin, both flora and fauna, is extraordinarily diverse. And in many cases it is very colorful. It is the planet’s most bio-diverse eco-system, and its vast rainforests are the lungs of the world, providing us with fresh oxygen every day. All critters pictured here are wild, none were captive, and photographed in their natural habitat. Many were somewhat habituated to seeing humans on a regular basis, but none were pets.
We saw many wild parrots and macaws, including the Orange-winged Amazon (pictured above), the Blue-headed Parrot and the Blue and Gold Macaw. Monkeys were also a common sight, including this Brown Capuchin Monkey. I’ve photographed the White-fronted (White-faced) Capuchin before, but I had never seen the Brown Capuchin. We also saw a large troop of Squirrel Monkeys foraging in the forest one morning.
The Hoatzin is a large and dramatic looking bird. It has the unfortunate and dubious nickname of “Stinky Turkey.” I think that it is much too beautiful to be called a stinky anything. I photographed this specimen along the river shoreline during one of our many outings on the waterways.
Bats are another common sight along the rivers and streams. During the day they often roost underneath tree trunks that have fallen into the river. If you approach too close they will take flight and flutter up into the sky. As our panga silently glided up to these roosting bats, the sound of my camera’s shutter clicking sent them off in a frenzy (there were about six bats roosting under this log, and as they took flight they startled me and made me jump—Karma I suppose). They are very small, and even with my 400mm super-telephoto lens shooting at about 4-meters, they appeared small in the frame (I further cropped this image tight in Photoshop to provide a closer look).
Like his namesake, this Rufescent Tiger-heron (possibly a juvenile) easily blends into his natural habitat just as the tigers of India blend into theirs. Thus camouflaged, I would never have spotted him were it not for the keen eyes of my wilderness guide David Buitron. In situ he was almost impossible to photograph successfully. I was shooting from a rocking panga, handholding my 400mm super-telephoto lens, all the while trying to hold my single focus point on his head (always keep the eyes sharp). My focus point kept wandering to the tangle of sticks, immediately throwing the heron out of focus. Using fill-flash helped with the darkness, but the focus was the critical element. I took approximately ten images, and only this one was tack-sharp (click on the image to enlarge for better viewing).
We were out on the river early one morning (just the four us), when this magnificent Slate-colored Hawk swooped low over our panga and came to roost on a tree branch high overhead. We quietly paddled (our canoe had no motor) as close as we could. Keeping as quiet as possible, and moving slowly, I raised my 400mm lens to grab this shot. I wish that I could have gotten closer, or at least had a longer lens (500mm, 600mm or 800mm), but such is wildlife photography. A lens of that size easily runs $10,000 to $20,000 USD, and they are very big, bulky and heavy (no handholding, they require a tripod). Note: There was no color enhancement done in Photoshop (other than White Balance); the colors you see, the yellow eyes and red face coloration, are completely natural.
The Kingfisher is possibly the most difficult subject I have ever photographed (that includes shooting monkeys in the wild). Any experienced wildlife photographer will probably echo that sentiment. They are extremely camera shy, very skittish and move like a rocket. They are fast. Most successful Kingfisher photos are taken from photographer blinds in the water, rarely can you get close enough any other way. I almost didn’t include this photo, because I don’t think it is a particularly well-executed photograph. But it is rare. David told me that they rarely see the American Pygmy Kingfisher, and when they do they never manage to get a photograph of it (at least not a very good one). This one isn’t stellar, but it is acceptable. David had me send a copy to him for his records. David spotted this little guy (and he was little, hence the Pygmy in his name) from quite a distance. We allowed our panga to drift silently down stream to him (we moved not a muscle). We actually got to within the minimum focusing distance (MFD) of my lens (approximately 4-meters), and I quietly began clicking away. This was the best unobstructed shot from about 20 images. Even from only 4-meters away he was hardly more than a speck in the frame; I tightly cropped the final image in Photoshop to get this much coverage (any further cropping would have destroyed the resolution of the photo, making it a fuzzy blurry mess). Like the Slate-colored Hawk, the colors represented here are his natural colors (no enhancement). A bittersweet moment: I wish the photo had been better, but I am thankful that I got something to remember the experience by.
I will bring this post to an end by sharing this beautiful wild orchid I encountered in the rainforest. Slogging along the muddy trails in my rubber boots; dodging thorns, snakes and stinging insects I came across this small miracle of nature. The only rival to its exotic beauty might be the myriad tropical butterflies, their iridescent wings flitting in and out of the jungle gloom, like fireflies on a summer evening.
My special thanks go out to my wilderness guide David Buitron and Caiman Eco-lodge. They provided us with the experience of a lifetime that will not soon (never) be forgotten. To visit the Amazon has been a lifelong dream of mine, and now I have been able to finally check it off my bucket list. David is a native Ecuadoran, and a University trained naturalist. He spent over a year living with the indigenous people of the Amazon while completing his college thesis, and his knowledge of the forest, its people and its flora and fauna is staggering. I hope to hookup with David again for some private wildlife excursions before we leave Ecuador. David is also an experienced photographer, and therefore knows exactly what I am looking for. With his keen eyes and wealth of knowledge his assistance has been invaluable.
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer and World Traveler
Northern Amazon River Basin – Ecuador