The cloud forest of Ecuador is like walking into a scene from a J.R.R. Tolkien book – mysterious, intriguing and plush with life.
These tropical or subtropical forests are positioned to grab moisture from the sky. They are located in places where moist air that bumps into these elevated landmasses creates persistent low-level clouds.
Even though they are found in the tropics, because of their elevation, they tend to be a cool place with an average temperature between 46 and 68 degrees.
According to scientists, only 1 percent of the global woodland consists of cloud forests. In other words, they are very special places in the scheme of things.
They are also home to a diversified bird life and specifically one of my favorite species, the hummingbird.
Hummingbirds in the cloud forest of Ecuador.
In Ecuador, according to local bird expert Murray Cooper, there are over 140 different species of hummingbirds. This country, with about 0.2 percent of the earth's landmass, has about 40 percent of all hummingbird species.
Cooper had invited me to stay on his farm outside the capital city of Quito. I happily accepted the invitation.
A rustic setting nestled in the cloud forest, the location was a perfect jumping off point to Mindo, Ecuador, which is hummingbird mecca.
“I’m going to put you up at the other farm house on the property,” Cooper explained. “It’s located just a couple of blocks from our house.”
On the way to the farmhouse where I would be sleeping, Cooper showed me a hummingbird nest he had discovered a couple of weeks ago.
Hummingbird and nest in the cloud forest of Ecuador.
“I was hoping to show you some chicks, but the nest was attacked by predators, probably toucans. I saw them the other day fighting with some hummingbirds, and apparently the toucans took the chicks,” Cooper said.
The tiny nest was a work of art and so small that it fit in the palm of my hand.
Typically, nests are made with plant down, cotton fibers, small bits of bark and leaves, feathers and fuzz.
These materials are woven into a dense cup that is frequently decorated with moss, lichen or other materials for camouflage. The edge of the cup is curved inward to protect the eggs from tipping out in high winds. Spider silk used to bind the nest together gives it elasticity to enlarge as the hatchlings grow. A home ready to expand!
The next day I set off for Mindo, Ecuador. The area around the small town is home to many lodges that specialize in bird watching. Most can be visited for a day.
I drove to the Sachatamia Lodge, a place that Cooper recommended.
After securing permission from the hotel staff, I set up my camera gear in the garden behind the lodge.
Hummingbirds dashed inches past my head as they chased each other away from the various feeders hanging from the tree branches.
The hum of the wing beats of hummingbirds filled the air. These guys can be quite testy when it comes to claiming food. They don’t like to share.
I counted six different species of hummingbirds. Some had long tails; others had white puffy socks. All dazzled as they displayed their talents and colors.
After a morning of hanging out with hummingbirds, I returned to Cooper’s farm to soak up more of the quiet countryside. Later that night while in bed, instead of hearing the wing beats of hummingbirds, I heard the wings of bats dashing over my head. It’s just a part of living in the countryside of Ecuador.
I pulled the covers over my head and returned to a happy sleep with a vision of hummingbirds with long tails and white puffy socks.