Sunday, May 22, 2011

Common Kingfishers in action at Thalangama Lake

Ever since my friend Madhawa got interested in shooting Kingfishers, he had closely followed this small and colorful kingfisher known as Common Kingfisher. I was inspired by his amazing captures. Most of them were taken at the Thalangama lake. Though I have been there few times before, I haven't seen the chap.  On those visits we were on the foot most of the time. It was very difficult  to shoot them as they were flying away when they see any threatening movement in the environment. So lately I decided to drive on those by roads, which has given me a better chance to get closer unnoticed.

I have spotted a  dead tree branch in the middle of water. (It seems someone has placed it there intentionally, we all should thank that someone.) It seems like an ideal location for a hunter to wait for a fish. I decided to park close to it and wait. There were few other bird species coming to the dead branch including Little Cormorants, Indian Pond Herons, White-throated Kingfishers.

Waiting for a pray..

On pursuit

I was playing the waiting game and it has produce me very good results. Been inside the vehicle birds don't seems notice much of a movement. I had the luxury of using the base of the shouter as a support to hold my lens. This has reduce camera shakes and produced better quality images.(Now I use to shoot with a bean bag on it)

It was my lucky day, there were two Common Kingfishers coming to this particular tree branch and I got a chance of observing them and capture some beautiful shots.



If you are a wildlife photographer, you know that there is nothing call "enough" when taking photographs of a bird. We always want to shoot different poses specially some unique ones and action shots. It is not a photograph of a bird that we are looking for, it is a unique pose of a bird . In order to capture such, we might have to spent days and hours observing them. Ever since my first encounter with Common Kingfishers at Thalangama lake, I had been there several times to observe and photograph them and I will continue to do so.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Gem mining continue at Bodinagala (Ingiriya Forest Reserve)

The gem I'm talking here is none other then Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher. It is not only the rarity of this wonderful birds that made me call it a gem. Rarity combined with it's vivid colors I can only compare it to a colorful gem.

It was about month ago we have last visited Bodinagala and there was no progress in photographing the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher. It was hiding in the bushes far above and according to Thilanka they were feeding a juvenile.

On the very same week we were at Wilpattu, Isuru had been there and managed to get few good shots. Since I was reworded a leave on Friday (6th May 2011) and couldn't get myself going anywhere with my photography buddies, I decided to go to Bodinagala and finish the unfinished business with Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher.

On the last minute I was joined by Sasanka, who had finished his exams on previous week. We bought enough food from Horana and went directly to the reserve. Sky was clouded and light inside the forest was too low for photography and the Kingfisher was not landing on a reasonable location to take a decent photograph. We managed to get some shots but they were not satisfiable. Until about one in the evening we were unable to get a better sighting of the bird and finally we decided to return home. But it didn't let us go that far, we heard its call and both of us were back in position for shooting.

Giving a nice pose

A different pose

Feeling glad about not returning home earlier we spent two more hours in the evening with the bird. Forgot to mention that it was most unlikely at Bodinagala, we were unable to see any other birds that we could see on a normal days. May be it was due to the bad weather conditions on that day. 

Once I uploaded photos to my PC I saw that those photos were way too under exposed. I had lower the exposer to get a better shouter speed under low light and end up with lot of under exposed photographs. It had introduced more noise than I expected when correcting. What a disappointing incident. For those who do photography, make sure you get the correct expose or you will loose lot of details when reducing noise.

I was in two minds, whether to go back there on the following day or not. Finally I decided to give it a try even if it was way too late to do so. But the light has pushed me ever since the day began. It was much better than previous day. I managed to be at the sight by 11.30 and setup my gears there. After waiting about hour or so I got my first chance to take a shot.

First sighting for the day.

And there were few more shots before it moved away again. I have replaced my best shot of the previous day with the new one here.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Pride of Kumana, the Black-necked Stork

Situated just above the Yala National Park, Kumana National Park is recognized as a bird sanctuary. Since it is at the other end of the country from it's commercial capital Colombo, it hits lowest number of visitors compared to any other national parks in the country. Most number of visitors visits the park on bird migration season starting from September to April. Park rangers says that January-March is the best period for bird watching at Kumana since there are lot of breading birds at the park on that period.

Kumana National Park is home to Sri Lanka's last few pairs of resident Black-necked Stork. Though they are mainly seen at the Kumana, occasionally they can be seen at Yala and Bundala National Parks as well. Black-necked Storks are the tallest birds found in Sri Lanka. When at the edge of the water with the look they have, they can be easily mistaken as a humans. The Black-necked Storks usually seen in pairs. My first sight of this bird was at Yala, when we were there on a camping trip on February 2010. It was way to far, we could only see them as dots on the horizon. On that day I got to know that they are very rare and only few pairs are exist in and around Kumana. Black-necked Storks are a species of birds used to migrate to Sri Lanka on migratory season but has stopped doing so for decades now. Few pairs of birds that were left over is still found in the southern part of the country. Some says these pairs are breading at Kumana National Park, but there are no evidence to prove that.

It was on my first camping trip to Kumana National Park we saw a pair of this wonderful bird at the other side of the Yakala Lagoon. They stood high above other bird species and quite far from the road. We took few shots  to make sure what we saw were what we thought we did. Yes..! They were Blacked-necked Storks.

A pair of Black-necked Storks, Yakala Lagoon.

This was the first time I have seen them as clear as much as this but we had to go to the camp site and prepare it before night falls, so we left the sight hoping to return  for them on the following day. I knew they were residents in Kumana, so they must be hanging around the area and must not be that difficult to spot.

On the following day morning we were going around Yakala lagoon and Kumana villuwa and other areas searching for birds, specially the pair of Black-necked Storks we saw on previous day. Kumana villuwa is a tremendous location for photographic backgrounds. I haven't ever seen those colors I saw in Kumana villuwa and surrounding area. Even a commonly seen Indian Darter made a drama out of it.

Sun bathing Indian Darters at Kumana villuwa.
Morning session was disappointing in terms of Black-necked Storks, but there were enough bird sightings for a session on a off season.

Kumana always make it exiting to be there as when we were cooking and collecting firewoods for the night there was a single elephant just about 50 meters away from our camp sight on the river. I was the one who stood next to it and our guide shout not to hesitate of move, I stood still for about a minute till it look away and moved toward water and ran and grab the camera to the a photograph.

An elephant at Bakini gaha camp site.
It remind me that we saw few elephants crossing the river to Yala on the previous night. Tracks on the river bed gave us a better idea about the camping location as there were lot of tracks of elephants and leopards and few other animals. Our camp site was on the Kumbukkan river bed. The river is the border line between Yala and Kumana parks.

Evening session was not better than the morning one, but just before we turn around, we got lucky. Suneth (our tracker) spot a pair of Black-necked Stork on a side of Yakala lagoon. We were careful to not to alert them and got closer as much as possible for better photograph. It wasn't too bad.

A pair of Black-necked Stork, Yakala Laggon.

A Jackal is passing by.

It's time to take off

We returned with a successful day at Kumana. It was better then seen many leopards as Black-neck Storks are so much rare in Sri Lanka. But that doesn't mean we have stopped our leopard hunt..!

Check Birds gallery for my best shot of a Black-necked Stork.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Little Gem of the Ingiriya Forest Reserve.

Kingfishers are one of our favorite photographic subjects. Rarer the better. The Oriental Dwaft Kingfisher is on the top of the list. It is the smallest Kingfisher found in Sri Lanka. Though it had been recorded from all around the country, it is considered as a rare bird species. Fast flight, size and the habitat of the bird had made it difficult to spot. It has a flight call much similar to the Common Kingfisher and it is a good way to track down the fellow.

The closest sight record  of the bird was from the Ingiriya Forest Reserve. NamalK (Namal Kamalgoda) had seen and photographed it at the reserve. I have been there for several times but had no luck of spotting it. Ingiriya Forest Reserve can be categorize as a rain forest located on both sides of the river Kalu. Because of the dense forest canopy  does not allow lost of light to get on to the the forest floor, it has made a low light situation inside the forest. Low light is not good for photography, specially for fast moving subjects such as a bird.

A team of photographers from Photo Lanka flickr group were planning to go on a photographic journey to Ingiriya Forest Reserve on a Thursday (17th Feb. 2011). Since it was a holiday I could join them. I wanted  at least to see the Oriental Dwaft Kingfisher. So I listen to it's call from the bird call CD by Uditha Hettige to get familiar with it.

It was about 6.30 AM when we reached there. It was a foggy morning. We climbed up the steps, it was really hard to see birds or any kind of wildlife. Later when the light is good, we were managed to see Brown Flycatchers, Tickell's Blue Flycatchers, few Yellow-fronted Barbets, Paradise Flycatchers and few other bird species. We decided  to comedown and hang around the "Dhana Shalawa" area. Lighting in this area was quite good and there were birds came to eat left over from the "Dhana Shalawa". I thought of stay closer to the stream there, having thoughts of Oriental Dwaft Kingfisher in my mind. It was around 9.00 and with a sharp call I saw a small bird flying along the stream uphills. I recognized the fellow at once. It was an Oriental Dwaft Kingfisher. I informed others and waited there for fifteen minutes and only I saw it flying over our heads again. There was no time for a click. I m not sure whether any of the others believed me on that day. But I saw it.

It was only after two weeks time I got a chance to think about it again. I gave a call to Lasantha and asked him to join me. Next day morning we were on our way to the reserve. Since the sight on the previous week was at about 9.00, we decided to go up hills and come back later around that time. Closer to the image house we were managed to capture a Grey Hornbill. It was my first good sighting and capturing of the endemic bird.

Grey Hornbill
It was closing 9.00, we came down to position ourselves closer to the place I have seen it on previous week. Suddenly I heard the call of the fellow. I searched all around, but I couldn't locate it. It was Lasantha who spot the bird this time, yet it was not is a position to be photographed. We took a record shot. In case if we couldn't shoot it later we still have a record shot now.

We positioned ourselves closer to the stream, there were many sightings but none of them were good enough for a photograph. Then we got lucky, it came and landed on a bamboo trunk about 8-10 ft from us. That was the best shot I could get on that day.

Oriental Dwaft Kingfisher

There were few more shots better shot. It landed on shades almost all the time and out lenses were not fast enough to capture it in those low light conditions. With happy thoughts in our mind we returned home. We'll be back again for the little gem later.

In a place with much better light but was bit too far.
Inside thick bamboo bushes