An out-of-focus Mustached Antpitta. One of many bird shots that I'd be embarrassed to display if these birds weren’t so different from anything I've seen before.
There's a wonderful story to explain how I was able to get even a blah shot: The photo was taken on the property of Angel Paz in the Mindo area, now known as Refugio Paz de las Aves. The family had planned to log the forest for crops and grazing until he heard that visitors might pay to see the birds on his property. His family of poor farmers was incredulous.
Angel discovered, though, that he could train a couple of species of antpitta to emerge from the forest cover to retrieve worms. The antpittas are famously difficult to see, so birders from around the world did start to flock to his place – the origins of sustainable ecotourism in the area. Angel’s knowledge of and skills with birds became enough of a source of income that he was able to send his son to college.
Angel guides visitors to the antpitta hot spots and gently calls them in. The sound of his melodious voice attempting to call in Tomas (a shy Ocellated Tapaculo) was iconic for the trip. This is a great opportunity to see antpittas, but they aren’t exactly runway models. The Mustached Antpitta was a tough bird on which to get used to the new (used) Nikon 80-400 mm lens I purchased at the last minute before leaving for Ecuador. These birds walk around on the dark cloud forest floor, and my lens and I had a hard time focusing at with so little light. On top of that, I couldn't hand-hold the telephoto steady (400 mm at 1/15 sec, ISO 900). Eventually I'd learn that it was better to crank up the ISO to 1600 or higher, even though my D90 doesn't handle ISO higher than 1000 well in low light. Dealing with graininess seemed better than out-of-focus photos.