Like this Sirkeer Malkoha, which accosted us so close that I could only capture it with my point and shoot, Coolpix 5100 with just x 4 optical zoom. As the shadow reveals, we were birding at the midday heat on this occassion.
Like this endangered Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush that sat before us delivering its exuberant song, rewarding an early morning vigil beside a ravine in a cloud forest.
Like this Small Pratincole that froze close to the jeep track at the Bundala National Park; we got the message—that it may be nesting nearby—and left the scene, leaving it at peace.
All these were recorded when I guided David Thrussel and Chris Holtby from the UK on a 14-day Absolute Birding tour from 14–27 March, 2010. Dave and Chris wielded Canon 40D cameras fitted with Canon 100-400mm, and Canon EF 300mm f/4.0 L lenses respectivelty. Chris also used 1.4 x converter at the start, but soon gave it up, opting for higher clarity without it. My rig at that time was similar to Dave's. (Since the middle of this year, I use Canon EOS1D Mark IV; my 40D now collects dust.)
We found 230 species of birds including all 33 endemic birds currently recognised. A top highlight was seeing 12 out of the 15 resident night birds in Sri Lanka. My previous best tally of night birds on a tour lasting 14-days or more was when I showed 10 night birds in early 2009, guiding two Brits.
The dozen night birds seen on this tour were Indian Scops Owl (Katunayake, Kithulgala, and Tissa), Serendib Scops Owl (Kithulgala), Oriental Scops Owl (Sigiriya), Brown Hawk Owl (Kithulgala), Brown Fish Owl (Sigiriya), Brown Wood Owl (Kandy), Spot-bellied Eagle Owl (Kandy), Chestnut-backed Owlet (Kithulgala), Jungle Owlet (close to Tissa), Little Indian Nighthar (Udawalawe, Yala, and Sigiriya), Jerdon's Nightjar (Yala, and Sigiriya), and Sri Lanka Frogmouth (Kithulgala, and Sinharaja). We heard an Indian Jungle Nightjar at Sigiriya, but it didn't cooperate.
A pair of Indian Scops Owls was seen at a daytime roost at Tissa. Here's one of them.
We saw the Jungle Owlet at a patch close to Tissamaharama on three out of three days we birded there. During one of these occasions, it waited long enough to let me digiscope it using my Swarovski ATM-80HD scope and Nikon Coolpix 5100 coupled with a Swarovski Universal Digiscoping Adapter (UDA).
Before meeting Dave and Chris, I have always been reluctant to try high ISO, slow-shutterspeed, handheld captures of birds in dimly lit rain forest conditions because the results have been mostly unsatisfactory. Yes, I used to be picky bird photographer. This made my approach to bird photography largely one-dimensional—engaging on it only when the ambient light was favourable.
However, this approach underwent a radical transformation after meeting Dave and Chris.
Their bold and unrelenting approach to photographing birds, often in conditions that I usually preferred to just enjoy watching birds, was too hard not to copy. Of course there was an invisible competitive element to it too: three boys with similar toys.
I was able to get captures such as above roosting Sri Lanka Frogmouths—shot 1/40 at ISO1250—an altogether uncharted territory before March, 2010!