Ecuador - Sunwaysite

Buff-tailed coronet


3rd and 18th October 2018

Plate-billed Mountain Toucan

We had an unusual encounter with this inquisitive bird as he (it seems to be male) came to us rather than we found him as normally is the case.

This toucan lives in high elevation cloud forests.

We hoped to see it although the chances were lower than with other birds. Moving through the terrain in the forests was easier here on the western side for the weather, meaning the season, was drier. The encounter was more unusual in that the bird found us, rather than the other way round.

Stuck at one spot waiting for changes in light when shooting in the interior, Zlatka got busy behind the second tripod shooting a female of masked trogon that appeared nearby. Soon after this, the toucan showed up. This is how the best things often happen, when you stay silent at one spot for a while. Very thankful for the opportunity, Zlatka started to take photographs, and I was whispering mechanically possible suggestions into her ear, from the focus point and shutter speed reductions to composition, just in case they were of use. That’s what we do when one of us is under pressure of shooting a unique moment. Soon though, the routine seemed overkill as the bird looked relaxed. To our surprise, it moved and landed even closer, apparently, to have a closer look at us. It seemed to be the case of him actually taking an interest in us, and as we noticed before in the remote areas, in the clacking sound of the camera shutter and probably the lens – or in the whole unusual sight. This sound proved to be an irresistible draw to birds (quiet mode shutter that we use on our D750, even on continues drive most of the time). You can tell this by paying attention to the mood and expressions of the bird, something you normally do when shooting/observing. It had a berry-like fruit of a dark purple colour in its bill. So it seemed that it also had other things on his mind (his female or feeding the young), but it still got this curious. Similar to Hornbills or our Corvids, the Toucans are highly intelligent birds, and there is some evidence that explains more about somatic basis for it.


It seems that our bodies have a rather authentic composition within which they function. It seems logical. This may be a loose framework; we can use its flexibility and stay functioning and healthy. But the system that was developed in the course of millions of years has never seen changes so abrupt and happening over a few decades. It’s then likely that the impacts will also be radical.

Our mind seems to have a similar sort of framework that can stretch only thus far and that needs maintenance, coming mostly from its ‘normal function’. To continue the analogy, at a certain point those by nature more stretchy elements within the system can in certain conditions get overstretched, can throw the frames off and expose the parts that are underdeveloped. Why all that “stretching” and overstretching goes perhaps beyond a few lines. Let’s just say a commonly known fact that the point of the least pressure doesn’t always lead to the best results.

Controlling the framework remains our responsibility, especially concerning the kids that are born into the environment where an adequate source of reference to its parts is being crowded out. Extreme commercialism and consumerism driven by greed and then also a sheer need for survival do not always translate into progress. We could remember that in truly modern world progress is synonymous with happiness which in its nature is fickle for minds with a broad set of experience and reference. Narrow that and you can imagine happiness moving from fickle to downright elusive. The kids are born to the affected groups already, and unusual sorts of problems are becoming mainstream.

So the innovation is needed, plenty of it. We could speed up in the areas where we are half asleep if we notice or identify them, and update the vague and old-fashioned concept of progress. Then we feel something is done right. I think we have a history of doing it. It probably comes after we are losing sense of direction. We like to walk with purpose.

It has been raining on the eastern side daily, as it should be. We didn’t have our boots taped, the pole helped us to avoid some of the deep thin-mud bogs; there is a gear to be taken care of. The pole and Zlatka fit together. As a former biathlon racer in juniors, she has a chocolate box filled with medals from national Championship races somewhere, drilling this since a very young age. The old routines now help her to aim and control breathing when she is using the telephoto. I was a decent ski runner as well until I met her, I found out my level has dropped a notch then :) Anyway, we keep fit today too, exercising and putting on a pair of grippy Inov8 for our regular grass & soil-mud run to stretch our lungs. Feeling the rough terrain under the feet and the air. This also was sort of a run. You know that sometimes you need to cover the distance fast. But we will stop when the photography calls for it and readjust if possible - not always as easy as it sounds. That’s why we carry full gear with us most of the time.

On the other hand, we walk for days like ghosts, spend hours near a few spots and be coming back to familiar places time and again. Today it’s about getting to a spot a couple of hundred meters up and some miles on through the cloud forest as early as possible that is, as early as you can abuse the mañana (morning) because a third person is running with us busy with a machete. It may not look like that here on the way back but the path, jammed with walls of fallen trees and thick vegetation, disappeared completely several times so we didn’t know where to turn.

The poles are a great kit especially for long arduous descends where they take excessive strain off your knees and transfer it to other parts of the body that will happily absorb it - to its own benefit (Women’s Micro Vario Carbon single pole here). Similar for endless or precarious ascends when weighted down with a load. Here it was the mud that we knew will be here. The single pole helped us with it.

My camera had trouble focusing here and I was glad to get a shot at all. Technically, the second one is back-focused a little, the perfect focus is on the rubber boot. It shouldn’t surprise those using these f1.4 lenses on moving targets at close distance. Our D600s’ antique AF module is in a bad need for an update. There’re now worthwhile options available. Granted the D750 camera would have made some difference but it was on 200-500 VR and you think twice before swapping it.

Jenny (J as in Yellow) shows colours of the piranha she caught, and how it snaps at the leaf. She came after noticing I am shooting the fish. We were a few meters away shooting a scene nearby. But I was shooting with a 50 mm lens and was glad to get the wider framing. It goes back to the water, it’s too small.

On some days there is as many as five of us on the canoe while the other day just three. Apart from thanking our most frequent words are malo luz (we know about five words in Spanish). The people we are with are natural observers that quickly anticipated the instance when our ‘malo luz’ played a role. That would go for more or less everything, so our Spanish (and ditto for their native tongue and English) was never getting in the way.

But there is still no movement when the camera approaches the eye. Occasional sorry from either of us when shooting both. You need the right kind of people for this. When possible, we anchor the boat with paddles, steady it by grabbing branches or fight the current by coming back to the spot until the shot is done. As for talking, making sounds is not always what you want anyway, and the brief gestures work much better. Sometimes we start talking because the excitement or experience is too great and we want to share. We are on the hunt of a sort and so we think and read our thoughts the same way.

Ladies are leafing through some ornithology identifying any tiny songbird (and anything else) in English and passing it to the front. They know their world, and despite their pragmatic approach, they love it passionately. I have witnessed this many times before in other parts of the world. They can do it all day, whether in scorching sun or late in the evening. Sounds of the forest can tell that you need to prepare your lens or throw your body round the tripod a certain way and our friends hear what we can’t and spot things about 3:1 compared to us. Sometimes having difficulties to show us what they see. The lady sitting on the left is experienced Eduupjen. Victor, a man from another community, is busy somewhere in the camp. We joined him soon. He was of the greatest help to us, our driver and source of knowledge on 200 k of the rivers and streams at dusk, in the heat of the day or on the long drives in the dark lightened with the headlamps.

Bats skimming the surface, the forest erupts with more sounds.

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