Thursday, 30 September 2010

Absolute Birding–March, 2010

For its number of ridiculously easy photo moments of not-so-easy birds, a 14-day Absolute Birding tour that I guided in March, 2010, will always rank high on my mind's list. I mean birds like this Dull-blue Flycatcher that sat on a fern stem and forgot to fly.

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.

And like this Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, which tested our fast action photography skills under low light at the Hakgala Botanical Gardens. It was busy foraging for a juvenile.

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.

The result?
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!


Kirigalpoththa said...

A super bird photo collection. I doubt I have seen any of those with my naked eyes.

Me-shak said...

Insane pictures Amila! I love them all. Dull-blue Flycatcher wanted come on blogspot so remained there I guess :P Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, excellent picture. I love colors. Gorgeous.The picture of the Indian Scops Owl is awesome. It's such a informative post. I love it. I'll come back and read it tonight :) Looking forward for more.


Stuart Price said...

The Pratincole gets my vote as the pick of the photos......

Janith said...

And that Pratincole is insanely cute too! :D

Glad to know that this tour expanded your photographic horizons. More excellent and rare photos for us! :D

silent moments said...

Fascinating as always!

I like the owl pics esp the first one with the skeptical half wink. :)

btw thanks for the description on joining the tour. I guess the starters should not be going on tough tours :)

Anonymous said...

What can I say, a super treat ending with one of my favorite birds, Sri Lanka Frogmouth, that I only got to know through you and yet to witness in real life.

Phil Slade said...

There are the usual stunning pictures here G. Can I pick out the ptatincole, the Indian Scops and the Jungle Owlet for three? I'm taking on board your advice about high ISO and will give it a try when next we have a dull day, which wont be long.

dev wijewardane said...

Nice Shots Amila.

The full frame sensor also helps keep noise to a minimum. High ISO performance on newer cameras is amazing.

Offthebeatentrack said...

Jaw dropping stuff!!!! Wow!

Amila Salgado said...

Thank you. That is probably because most of them are rare or restricted-range species.

Thanks! We got too many pictures of the Dull-blue. Chris commented that he's never had a more oblinging passerine (perching bird) before. I shot it at 300mm as it was quite close.

Yeah, I am quite happy about the pratincole. It's not easy to approach it that close.

I think we should rename it as Milky Pratincole. Its scientific name Glareola lactea, and lactea means "milky."

It was a great tour, photographically speaking.

Thank you. That wink was to reduce the effect of the glare coming from that side, I think. You're excused if you want to stay away from that trip. But remember, several ladies have done that trip in the past, and have lived happily thereafter. :)

Thanks as always. Sri Lanka Frogmouth is a super bird to see it real life, especially at night when it is active.

Thank you.
Nice to know that you like those three! Out of your picks, I consider the Jungle Owlet as the real priced catch. We found it rather shy, quite unlike its wet zone cousin, Chestnut-backed Owlet, which is amazingly bold at sites such as Kithulala.

I am sure you'll have perfect conditions to play around with high ISO photography in your English outdoors. :)

Thank you. Yes, that definitly helps. I too amm totally blown away by high ISO capabilities of modern cameras.

Thank you, sir!

Dear All,
A quick migrant bird update:

1. A Bright Green Warbler was heard in my garden on 24.09.2010. It was probably an individual on passage as it was not heard or seen thereafter. More of them are expected in the middle of this month.

2. Forest Wagtail was spotted by mother and shown to me 29.09.2010. This was my earliest of this migrant bird, which I usually expect around mid Oct. It was silent, so it didn't draw attention. And it was not seen thereafter, which again suggests that it probably may have been an individual on passage (moving to more woodier interiors). I think my regular Forest Wags may come around the usually expected time of mid Oct.

Jason Bugay Reyes a.k.a horukuru said...

Wow nice !

Amila Kanchana said...

Wow,a collection of absolute breath-takers! Could you elaborate on digiscoping on some other post?

Amila Salgado said...

Thank you!

Thanks! There's a lot of stuff in the Internet about digiscoping if you search for it.

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