Ecuador Wildlife Biology

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 Starting location: Denver Airport 
Denver, Colorado (July 21st) 

  Ending location: Denver Airport 
Denver, Colorado (August 3rd) 

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Join us for two weeks of immersive biology field training and advanced content that takes students from the high-altitude paramo to the misty cloud-forest of the Ecuadorian Andes to investigate and document spectacular wildlife. Local guides and Sternberg Science Camps staff will lead students high in the mountains, using a super-telephoto DSLR camera setup, motion-sensing night-vision camera traps, and other professional research equipment to document area wildlife. (See our wildlife data + photos here.) This region is home to hundreds of species of birds, insects, amphibians and reptiles, mammals, and new plants around every turn. Students are challenged with college-level academic content, supported with hands-on experience using authentic field survey techniques and tools. Students build confidence and knowledge through an in-depth curriculum, supported by highly trained and experienced staff.

A Green violetear (Colibri thalassinus) spotted in the Andes in 2018.

Ecuador Wildlife Biology Camp is an intensive field biology program meant to immerse students in a field skills-centered learning environment where conceptual content and lessons are brought into living focus all around them. Our goal is to make sure any student interested in pursuing a career in life science will leave this camp with relevant, practical experience and knowledge they can apply in their future coursework.

Rufescent Screech-Owl (Megascops ingens) photographed near Mindo by our 2018 group



Tropical biologist, ornithologist, science educator

Instructor: Dr. Megan Jones Patterson (Certified Wilderness First Responder)
After completing her BSc in Wildlife Biology at Humboldt State University Megan moved on to Florida State University where she earned a MSc in College Science Teaching and a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Megan spent several months each year between 2006 and 2013 in the tropics with extensive time in Ecuador, Panama, and Costa Rica. This experience includes leading research crews for several months, working with government officials and local business owners, and guiding educational tours including bird banding explanations and night walks. She now works as a scientist and science educator with the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). While Megan’s specialty is birds, she is also an enthusiast for understanding complete communities. From slime molds to mammals and ants to frogs, Megan will help participants on this trip gain a full appreciation of tropical ecology.


Maggie during a nighttime amphibian survey in the Andes in 2017.

Teaching Assistant: Maggie Wolf (Certified Wilderness First Responder)
Maggie Wolf is a student at the University of Evansville in Evansville, Indiana. She is a Biology and Spanish double major and hopes to continue her education and eventually conduct research. Maggie has had extensive experience in the outdoors through Girl Scouts and Venturing Crew. She participated as a student in Sternberg Paleontology Camp (2015), Southwest Biology Camp (2016), and Expedition Ecuador (2017), and returned to Ecuador in 2018 as the TA. During the summer, Maggie works as a camps  program assistant in the field and in the office, working with students and managing logistics. During the school year, Maggie manages our wildlife data processing, including overseeing the work of our student interns. She also helps with the development of new camps, and making improvements to existing camps. 

Project Summary

Students and staff will work together to document plant and animal diversity of sites visited in the Andean paramo and cloud forest. Documentation will include use of photography, videography, acoustic recordings, and quality field notes. (Field note training is very important for any young field scientist, and something we work hard to help students improve on.) Wildlife data collected by the group will be added to the eBird and iNaturalist databases, used by professional research biologists to track sightings of organisms around the world!

Part 1: Paramo Highlands

Students will work with Camps staff and local guides on daily hikes through the paramo, documenting wildlife and covering topics in evolutionary biology and ecology! The paramo ecosystem of Ecuador contains a spectacular diversity of bird, insect, and plant life, with the occasional spectacled bears and foxes also around. 

Using motion-sensing night-vision camera traps, students and staff will attempt to document presence of shy large mammals found in this incredible highland environment. Students will learn how to set up the cameras, and how to place them in locations to maximize chances of successfully sighting the target animals. These camera traps are frequently used by professional wildlife researchers to better understand the presence of uncommon or endangered wildlife that prefer to avoid any human contact.

To document the remarkable bird diversity of the region, including Andean condors, mountain caracaras, and a variety of high-altitude hummingbirds and shore birds, students will learn to use a professional super-telephoto digital SLR camera kit. Also using binoculars and regional guidebooks, staff will train students to locate and identify birds on planned hikes through the mountains. Data collected by the group will be uploaded to iNaturalist and eBird to assist ongoing ecology and biodiversity research.


Part 2: Mindo Valley Cloud Forests

Part two of the camp will be in the Mindo Valley. This region is a top destination for birders around the world! (Our students documented over 100 species of birds in this area in 2017, with over 30 additional new-to-us species in 2018.) Students will participate in a standard walking survey, documenting birds using binoculars, our super-telephoto digital photography setup, and a parabolic microphone to record calls. (Acoustic biology is a field of increasing interest, with entire online research databases established to collect and distribute animal vocalizations!)

Along with surveying bird diversity, we will be on the look out for insects, flowers, reptiles, and amphibians, with the goal of contrasting the species and diversity of this region with the highlands where we began our fieldwork at the start of the trip. We will also set out our camera traps again, to document shy and nocturnal wildlife that inhabit the cloud forest.

As we continue our wildlife survey fieldwork, we will reinforce student understanding of conceptual topics in evolutionary biology, ecology, and conservation work through observation and discussion.

Additional Information and Logistics

Additional information regarding the Ecuador Wildlife Biology camp.

For this international programs, the Sternberg Museum requires registration and payment to be complete by May 14th, 2019. This includes completed payment, and delivery of the student cover letter and recommendation letter.  Click here for information about our refunds and cancellations policy.

Students are expected to have arrived at Denver International Airport (Denver, Colorado) by 10pm on July 21st. Travel should be coordinated well in advance with the Camps Director David Levering ( once your student is fully registered and accepted into the camp. Students and staff will be staying in a single hotel the night of July 21st, and departing as a group on July 22nd. 

We will be arriving back in Denver in the evening on August 2nd, or in the morning on August 3rd. Students must be either picked up by a parent/guardian, or on a departing flight out of Denver International Airport by 6pm on August 3rd. Please make sure to communicate all travel arrangements and logistics for your student to the Camps Director well in advance. 

The Centers for Disease Control advises travelers to “make sure you are up-to-date on routine vaccines before every trip. These vaccines include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot.”

Click here for information about travel insurance.

Food on international trips is prepared by guides, service staff, or Museum education staff. During travel involving airports, students will need to pay for their own meals. We will do our best during international trips to coordinate with our guides and lodges we are staying in to accommodate dietary restrictions.

The following are requirements for all student participants for participation in this program:

Valid passport from your home country with at least 6 months remaining validity from the start date of the trip. If you do not have a valid passport that meets this requirement, you must have one in hand before the start date, or you will not be able to participate. 

Up to date on immunizations, including:

    • Mumps-measeles-rubella (MMR) vaccine
    • Diptheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine
    • Polio vaccine
    • Chicken pox vaccine (varicella)

Proof of travel insurance that includes emergency evacuation & repatriation. Trip cancellation and lost property are also good to make sure you policy includes. If you have any questions, please contact the Education Director at

Contacting Your Child
During international programs, education staff will do their best to provide status updates for the trip via Museum Twitter and Instagram (@SternbergCamps) accounts. Access to wireless internet or cellular data will be unpredictable. Please assume no news is good news if there are gaps in our online updates. Along with this, please do not count on being able to reach your student by phone reliably. If you need to contact your child during the program, please email them or the Camps Director ( If you email the Education Director, he will transmit your message to your student as soon as possible, and follow up however necessary.

Transportation for international programs is program-specific. Please see the individual program description, and contact the Camps Director (


Application Requirements

  • All application materials must turned in no later than May 14th, 2019. (But, the see the Admission Decision Schedule tab below for our four application and admission periods from February to May.) 
  • Student applicants must be ages 14 to 18 as of June 2019.
  • Complete online application.
    • To do this, you will need to set up an account with CampDocs. You can do this by clicking the “Register” link at the top of the page. Once this is done, you’ll be able to log back in to your account as you complete the application process. 
    • The waiver can be found in the online application. 
    • The financial aid application can be found in the online application.
  • 2 page (5-7 paragraph) letter of interest from the student applicant. 
    • You can find suggestions for writing your letter of interest here
    • This must be submitted through the CampDoc application system. 
  • Letter of recommendation from the non-family member for the student applicant.
    • This must be submitted through the CampDoc application system. 
    • You can find instructions for recommendation letter-writers here.
    • Returning students in good standing do not need to submit a recommendation letter. 
      • Standing is determined by staff. A student not in good standing will be expressly notified by the Camps Director.

Admission Decision Schedule

We run on a rolling admission schedule from February to May. Each month, we will evaluate students with complete application files to determine admission and scholarship award decisions. If your student is denied admission to a camp, you will be specifically notified. Below we have listed evaluation period cutoff dates, and notification periods. 

Please contact us at if you have any questions about this process. 

  • Application period 1
    • Cutoff: February 23
    • Admission notifications: February 24th-28th
  • Application period 2
    • Cutoff: March 23rd
    • Admission notifications: March 24th-28th
  • Application period 3
    • Cutoff: April 20th
    • Admission notifications: April 21st-25th
  • Application period 4
    • Cutoff: May 14th
    • Admission notifications: May 19th-24th

Program Cost

Tuition is $3,900 per member, and $4,100 per non-member. Tuition includes airfare, lodging, and meals in Ecuador. 

A 10% deposit is paid at the time of registration. Students who are accepted into the camp must then have the remainder of the registration fee paid by the May 14th, 2019 registration deadline.

Q: What if my student is not accepted into the camp they applied for? Do you refund tuition?
A: 100% of the deposit and any paid tuition is refunded to any students not accepted to a camp they applied for. This includes the initial deposit paid at the time of initial application.

Q: What is your cancellation and refund policy? 
A: Our refund policy for cancellations is dependent on which kind of camp you are signed up for (domestic or international), and when the cancellation is received.

Refund policies Domestic Programs:
For programs taking place within the United States, cancellations must be  submitted in writing, via email or typed letter. Each camp registration is held  to a 20-percent cancellation fee. If you cancel 30 to 10 days prior to the  start of a program, half of the total fee is refundable. If you cancel 9 or fewer  days prior to the start of the program, no amount of the fee is refundable.  Registration fees are non-transferable between applicants.

International Programs:
Cancellations and withdrawals must be submitted in writing, via email or  typed letter. Up to the registration deadline of May 14th, 2019, cancellations are subject to a 20% processing fee. After May 14th, the registration fee is only 50% refundable, as we will have already provided payments for airfares, accommodations, and guide services to groups and individuals in the country we are traveling to.

For answers to more possible questions, see our Frequently Asked Questions page!


Contact Us

For questions about the Sternberg Science Camps programs, contact us at or 785-639-5249.

To understand the differences we observe in organisms, a robust understanding of evolution is absolutely necessary. Students are presented with an initial lesson on the population basis for evolution, and how selection over time leads to new species. We continue lessons on evolutionary biology throughout the program, always relating back to the essential concepts of heredity, selection, and variation of genes and physical features. From beak shape and feather colors in birds to the shapes of orchid flowers, we will be discussing evolutionary biology frequently, in great depth. Some sub-topics include:
– In-depth discussion of natural selection and selective pressures
– Bird feathers and reproductive selection
– Coevolution, as seen in flower shapes and some bird beaks
– Camouflage, primarily in insects
– Speciation and niche specialization
– Sex-based dimorphism
– Heredity and the importance of trait variation

Studying the interconnected nature of organisms to each other and their environment is crucial for understanding the structure of that ecosystem, and why organisms have evolved as they have. Within the extremely broad field of ecology, we make sure to touch on the following during the program:
– Population ecology
– Community ecology
– Niche ecology
– Trophic ecology
– Behavioral ecology
– Biogeography

Even high up in the cloudforest, human environmental impacts are a huge concern. The majority of our field work will take place in small pockets of forest protected to conserve the biodiversity of the region. Even still, human environmental impacts can still be easily found on the mountain ecosystems. (Amphibian diversity is a major point in this discussion.) Students will participate in lessons and discussions about the importance of habitat and biodiversity conservation, including how to approach these topics in the 21st century.

A majority of our wildlife surveys will require half-day hikes through the forest, at relatively high altitude. In order to stay safe and healthy, students will receive instruction on loading and fitting a backpack, optimal attire, hydration, footwear, self-awareness and group safety. Weather in the cloudforest is quite variable, from warm and sunny at midday to afternoon thunder-showers, to evening and nighttime temperatures down into the 40s F. Preparation is key, and we will make sure your student has the information to be prepared.

Students will be lead through a lesson on keeping quality, detailed field notes before starting wildlife surveys. (Guidance will continue during the field portion.) During our hikes through the cloud forest, we will be documenting wildlife we come across. We will be doing this using hand-written field notes, photographs, video, and audio recordings of vocalizations. All locations visited will be recorded on GPS units, with coordinates, time spent surveying, and distance traveled all included in notes. Students will be instructed in the use of the following equipment:
– Super-telephoto digital camera setup
– Macro photography
– Use of motion detecting camera traps
– Binoculars
– Spotting scope
– Parabolic microphone with digital recorder
– Use of regionally specific wildlife field guides

The best way to get comfortable with international travel is experience. For students interested in pursuing advanced degrees and careers in the earth and life sciences, international travel may become a necessary reality to attend meeting and conduct their own fieldwork. Our goal is to guide students through the process of arranging pre-travel logistics, setting up flights, packing strategies, potential vaccinations, and going through customs. We will provide pre-program materials introducing these topics, and will discuss them at greater length during the program itself.

While some of these components will have to be done by the student’s parent(s) or guardian(s), we strongly recommend involving the student as much as possible in the process. Having even a small amount of familiarity is immensely more useful than having none!

Taking initiative, staying organized, and effectively communicating are all important skills for working with a team in the field. Over the course of the program, students are coached on developing these areas. With guided opportunities to lead portions of field work, students are encouraged to develop their voices, organize team efforts, and build confidence in their abilities.

From staying hydrated to dealing with bad weather, students are introduced to the hazards of field work and how to effectively, safely deal with them. Staff provide lessons on safety through discussion, making sure students have a clear understanding of problems that can arise and how to effectively avoid them, or mitigate their effects afterwards.

Smartphones and GPS units can lose their signals, and have batteries that die. It is important for students learning to do field work to understand how to read and orient a map. Students are trained in use of aerial photos and compasses to navigate field areas and locate established field sites using cardinal directions and landmarks.

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Other 2019 high school camps!

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