It was almost dark when I took this picture, at around 4,25 this afternoon. I had returned to the spot at Turf on the Exe where yesterday I had seen that the Plovers, Dunlin and Lapwing were using the old posts there to roost at high tide. The problem today though was that high tide was one hour later and this meant that I almost ran out of light before the birds came in to their roost. You may, or may not be aware that wading birds don't roost at night but rather roost at high tide. So with the sun set coinciding with high tide is not all that regular. I tucked myself in the hole and covered myself with cam netting and then sat and waited for the tide to come in and for the birds to come and roost. As you can see one Plover arrived just before the light finally faded and I took the opportunity to get at least some photos. I am quite sure that when high tide coincides with a sunny afternoon again in a month or so, I am going to be able to get some great photographs of the waders here. As I sat and waited I was pleased to see Red - crested Mergansers fishing in the rising tide and quite close to shore.
Having spent a while this morning looking for Water Rail without success, I came home at midday with the intention of going out again to Turf later in the afternoon for the opportunity to photograph the wading birds. Turf is smack in the middle of the Exe Estuary a Site of Special Scientific Interest and always a great place for birds. I like Grey Plover and have photographed them frequently at this site. There are some old wooden posts that used to support some kind of wooden structure and the wading birds like to perch on these at high tide. However its never easy to get close to them, but always worth a try. I got myself down in-between a cleft in the rocks, I was uncomfortable but I was mostly hidden and I thought I might have a chance at a photograph if and when the Plovers came back, I was pretty sure they would. I was experimenting with the camera, taking photos of the wooden pillars, rotten and decayed they were quite photogenic and full of character even without a bird perched on the top. Then suddenly there it was, a beautiful Kingfisher catching the golden rays of the setting sun. I was thrilled to say the least, who wouldn't love to see a Kingfisher and your spirits always soar when you are close enough to photograph one. I knew it was about to dive so I set the camera to record this and then down he went….yes it's a male…… . I have seen better shots of diving Kingfishers but it was great to see. Then after it had dived unsuccessfully, there it was again and this time right next to me. I took some shots but he was silhouetted against the white sky. ……Oh and Grey Plover, yes they did come back and here's a shot or two of them as well.
A Collared Dove in the garden yesterday afternoon just before dusk, taken with the Sigma 500 4.5…. The shot below was taken with the 4.5 with a 1.4 convertor attached. Good to have my lens back after all this time. Absolutely no qualms about recommending the lens, but their customer relations needs some kind of serious overhaul.
Back in late September I fell and damaged my Sigma 4.5, 500 lens. It was a disappointment and I was quite upset about it. It's an expensive and over-priced bit of kit that cost me 10 x's more than my car, at a penny under £5000. A ridiculous price really and it was a massive leap of faith when I bought it. So, as soon as I could, I sent it off to Sigma UK for repair and was told that it was going to cost me the best part of £650, but what could I do but accept this inflated and avaricious cost.?
So off it went for repair and I was hoping to have it back within the month because I would have liked to take it Sri Lanka with me. It didn't happen though, Sigma said they were waiting for a part from Japan and deliveries from there were only once a week. An almost acceptable reason but I was disappointed and went to Sri Lanka under equipped with just my 300 lens and a converter. So back from Sri Lanka 3 weeks later and I heard nothing from Sigma, in itself a quite unacceptable state of affairs and a gross neglect of customer relations on their part in my opinion. Weeks turned in to months and I kept my distance just to see how long it would be before they contacted me..... and they didn't. In the end my confidence began to wain and I started to worry that the lens could have been lost in the post on it's way back to me. So after 10 weeks I called, after a few minutes of explaining my situation, I was put through to the department and told quite calmly without apology that the lens was being worked on right now and I would have it back within the next day or so.
Absolute bunkum! I am expected to believe that coincidentally the lens was almost ready and they were working on it as I rang. In my opinion, what happened was this. So poor are their customer relations, systems and also their concerns about the customer that it had probably been finished for weeks and was sat in a pile with other finished jobs and they just couldn't be bothered. Or, are they are just so rushed off their feet, or who knows what else that they only react when a customer finally has enough and rings to complain. How do I come to this conclusion? Because I have a photographer friend who's lens took six weeks to repair and he only got it back after he rang and guess what they said? "Oh, we are working on it and you will have it in the next day or so" Make your own mind up, but do you think that in any other industry a customer would be kept waiting for a repair for more than 10 weeks? This is not meant as a slanderous post about Sigma UK but I make no apology for stating the facts as they happened. It's neither a criticism or insult to Sigma UK. Its the way it happened and it's up to you to formulate your own opinion.
I have now contacted Sigma UK and told them that I have blogged the story, given them a link to this post and asked them if they would like to make a comment and explain their side of the story? Their response is below.
"We try to turn our repairs around in 1 to 5 days. In the case of your lens which is a Pentax, spare parts are hard to come by from the manufacturers and if it had been a Canon or Nikon repair then it would have been quicker. Once the repair was underway we had to re-order parts from Japan which we had to wait for."
There was no apology from them. There was no comment about the lack of contact with me except to say that they always try to expediate repairs for professional photographers. In other words, had I been a pro photographer they would have pulled their finger out, can you believe that?
I sat waiting for an elusive Water Rail to make an appearance this afternoon. They are incredibly cautious at times. I saw two though and heard their calling several times but didn't have the luck to get a photo today in spite of sitting there in the rain and drizzle for almost 3 hours. I was quite surprised when suddenly this Cormorant surfaced right in front of me. It proved that my camouflage was working I suppose. I normally don't have a problem with Cormorants, especially if I see different species when I am abroad but when I am in he UK, I always feel a bit sad to see them when they are fishing in the many freshwater courses and lakes. They take a very large amount of fish and in a single day they can consume a few kilos of fish. If you multiply that by the growing numbers of Cormorants here then I would be right to think they are doing a fairly large amount of damage to freshwater fish stocks in the UK. No wonder that anglers hate them.
I am going to mention my favourite little saying again today....thats "The 6 P's .......Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance........ that's almost the Royal Marine Motto, (of course it isn't....its Per Mare Per Teram, but you get the point).
When I went for a walk at dusk yesterday I had seen a Water Rail and heard others calling to each other nearby and then I saw one swim across from a little island to another. I stood motionless for an age waiting for it to happen again but all that did happen was the bird emerged from the island and then ducked back in again once it had caught sight of me. So I needed a plan. I went back this morning in really nice sunlight and sat myself near to the spot that I had seen it yesterday and used my favourite camo stuff to act as a screen. Well it was brilliant. Firstly, wearing waders I was sat with my legs dangling in the water. I was hidden behind the screen suspended on bamboo canes. I made a hole through the material to push the lens through and then another to peep out of. It was very pleasant even without birds and I enjoyed watching the Blue Tits who were feeding on the Reed Mace opposite. A kingfisher came in as well and perched on a sapling but was disturbed by some people not too far away. But I knew that my subterfuge was working well.
Then I heard a Water Rail "squealing" from the foliage just in front of me and then another to my right answered immediately. This gave me the confidence to remain still in my position. Then suddenly and after quite a wait, there was the Rail paddling through the water between the two mini islands. I snapped off shot after shot and then the bird paddled on the surface of the water for the last few feet before disappearing in to the foliage to my right where it had no doubt joined the other bird that I had answered. Success!!!! It's brilliant when I have a plan and it comes to fruition and what a lovely bird.
If the Water Rail wasn't enough, the garden suddenly came to life a few minutes ago. I had my very first Blackcap of the year, a Male amd then a Goldcrest, so a good garden bird day as well.
I have had a really enjoyable day today even though it could have been better given just a bit more luck. I had a phone call from my birding mates at just gone 11 to tell me to hurry to Darts Farm because the Penduline Tits (that have been around for the last week or so), were showing really well, close to the hide on the reed mace.....that's bullrush to you and me! I got there as quick as I could only to miss them by a minute or two! Davem Stone took great photos which you can see on his blog here. But in spite of that slight disappointment, I finally latched on to the Black Brant Goose (Branta bernicla nigricens) that's been here for several weeks as well. At one point the entire flock of overwintering Brent Geese (Branta bernicla) was stretched out in front of us in the meadow, quite a sight with around 500, or maybe even more. They reminded me of the grazing herds of the Serengeti.
Black bellied Brent Geese (thats the usual Brent Goose species, breed in Northern Russia and spend the winter in suitable estuaries in Southern England and East Anglia. They are a small goose with a contrasting white neck band that is incomplete on the throat. The Black Brant however, which is a sub-species, is a slightly larger bird with whiter flanks and a neck ring that is complete. It seemed today as though this bird was also much darker on the neck and head which is probable why it's called a Black Brant. The neck ring, as well as being complete, was also larger and more defined. Black Brant , or Pacific Black Brant breed in Alaska and overwinter in California with most of them wintering around Baja California in Northern Mexico. So having a Pacific Black Brant amongst the massive flocks of our "usual" Brent is quite an event really.
So, on this picture can you see the neck band that is like an expensive necklace and goes around on to the throat, unlike the normal Brent Geese that we are familiar with where the neck band does not extend on to the throat. Also look at the white, brown edged, flank feathers which are much darker in the normal Black bellied Brent.
Compare the two species below, quite obvious differences....Black - belied Brent on the left and Pacific Black Brant on the right. Incidentally this is the first photograph of this species for me and I have added it to my gallery of Devon Birds which now number 213 species.
I have spent the last couple of days staking out kingfishers on my local brook. Yesterday morning, I planted an enticing perch in the mud and then returned to set up the camera just down stream from it. I sat under some camouflage material that covered both me and the camera equipment After a couple of hours, cold and stiffness had set in so I came away with no success (yet). I returned later that day for the last hour and half for another try but again without any success. I am not to be deterred though and by 10 this morning, I was back for another try. I was massively encouraged when I got there because on and beneath the branch, three separate lots of white droppings stood out like a beacon, a sure sign that a Kingfisher had used my perch. So, it's just a matter of time and patience before I get a nice photograph of the resident Kingfisher to add to the hundreds and hundreds of close up Kingfisher photographs that I have taken there previously. It's always exciting to speculate about the "resident", male or females, adult or juvenile? Hopefully, I will have the answer in the next day or so. In the meantime, here are photographs of Kingfishers from previous years and taken from this very spot.
It isn't unusual of course, to get Coal Tits in the garden but I was pleased this lunchtime to actually have the first for several years. My neighbours have removed lots of foliage and trees from their gardens over the last couple of years and this has had a massive impact on the amount of birdlife in my garden this year. So, very pleased to have a nice Coal Tit today. Coal Tits are a species that seems to be doing well in the UK and now can be found in lots of different habitats, including regularly in gardens on feeders. This is a very small species smaller than a Blue Tit and now possibly just as common?
…and a nice Dunnock, a resident in my garden most of the time.
I have a collection of pictures on PBase. There are 6500 pictures of birds and other wildlife from all over the world. So far, these galleries have had more than 750,000 views..…three quarters of a million views….. incredible…..here's a link to the site.....
Well what can I say about today? It's been a good one for me and my bird photography. I mentioned the other day that there had been a "eureka"moment in my photography when I had discovered a way to get fast shutter speeds without causing extreme amounts of awful noise…… that's basically unsightly speckles on my pictures. I just knew that this would mean that my shots would move up to the next level and that is exactly what has happened. For example, one of my photos of a Greenfinch in flight was chosen as the Birdguides "photo of the week". This is one of the most sought after accolades for bird photographers, hotly contested and sought after by bird photographers in the UK. Then today I managed to get some great flight shots of greenfinch fighting. I have been trying for shots like this for years so I am pleased with the great results.
My Birdguides Photo of The Week
One of the best reasons to go to Sri Lanka is the opportunity to photograph the tern species that are stunning, common and beautiful and for an Englishman abroad, very exotic. The fish market in Negombo is one of the best places to photograph Whiskered Tern, they are attracted to the beach here because of the White Bait industry that goes on there on the beach.
On my last trip I photographed Whiskered, Gull-billed, Caspian, Roseate, Swift, Lesser Crested and Brown Noddy Tern, 7 different Tern species.....more Tern photos to follow in the coming days.
We are very fortunate here in South and East Devon to have a population of around 1000 breeding pairs of Cirl Buntings, apart from a small population in the adjoining county of Cornwall, this is the only place in the UK where you can see them. In the last 14 years the population has incressed from a hundred or so pairs to where we are now. This is due to work by the RSPB and local land owners and, credit where credit is due, the RSPB should be heartily congratulated. There are a few places in the county where food is put out for them to ensure their survival during the winter. I went to one of those feeding areas today to see how they were doing this year and obviously, to take some photographs and it was a very successful session. The males are certainly very distinctive, with a boldly patterned face; black and yellow, and hints of red on the back and red over yellow on the breast. A very pretty bird. Females could be confused with a Reed Bunting female but there is no white on the face. Even though birds were coming down to feed on the scattered seed almost constantly while I was there, it wasn't all that easy to get good pictures. Any movement would send them back in to the safety of the hedge so it was imperative that you stood very still. They are very well camouflaged in spite of the yellow face and they blend in with the earth and grasses very easily. It was also very interesting to see how they would react to an alarm call from other birds not on the ground. Just a single note would send them all, including the Dunnocks, Greenfinch and Robin, back in to the hedge only to reappear again one at a time until the area was covered in little birds feeding, to be repeated over and over. At one time the alarm was raised and they all hastily disappeared and didn't reappear but then I noticed a Buzzard soaring above and it was obvious that this time it wasn't a fa;se alarm. However it is most unlikely that a Buzzard would try to predate a tiny bird like this.
This is a tiny species, just 8cm long, around 3 1/2 inches. It is the Indian sub-continent's smallest bird species. They are quite a common bird in Sri Lanka but I hadn't seen them before my recent trip when I encountered them on three occasions this time. It seems that they are related to the Sunbirds but feed in a totally different way. Each time I saw them they were around, or attracted to the small wild flowering shrub called Lantana, (see above). This little plant is common in hot climates and in other parts of the world, where it is considered to be an invasive species and cleared. Judging by the amount of insect and bird life attracted to the shrub, it would seem wrong to eradicate it but understandable. For the same reason and In the same way that Ragwort is cleared in the UK, Lantana is also poisonous to livestock and here is the problem of course. Lantana is spread and propagated by the Flowerpeckers who feed on the pulp of the seed, discarding the pip to germinate nearby and there is an important relationship between the bird and the plant. You can see in the picture that the Flowerpecker is in the process of dealing with a seed.
I found this species to be a noisy little bird that was constantly calling and the call was very much like a sunbird. You can see that the bird is quite nondescript and aptly named. The beak is large for the size of the bird and downcurved, strong and powerful. This species is also called Tickell's Flowerpecker.
I have been trying off and on for the last few years, to take good photographs of small birds in flight. I have even at times thought that it is almost impossible to get the kind of results that I want with any consistency because cameras are just not capable of it, but of course, that's not true. Today I managed a lot more success by setting up the camera in a much different way. The problem is that having a fast shutter speed of at least 1/4000 of a second and a depth of field that is not too shallow (because small birds so easily move out of of the point of focus), you need to adjust the sensitivity of the camera, which in digital cameras is called ISO, in old film slr cameras it was asa. To achieve the high speeds needed and also to attain a depth of field that is going to give success…and today I had more success at f9, you need to have the ISO set to around 2000. But the problem with that is that there is such an annoying amount of noise on the image that it looks awful. Today I managed to set the camera up to avoid most of this noise which was a revelation, a eureka moment and I am very pleased with the results.
Looking at my galleries of birds of the world I was interested to compare my images of Buzzard species in the family Buteo. In the UK the resident common Buzzard is Buteo buteo but there are many more Buteo species throughout the world. I have been fortunate to photograph several of them and I have seen several otheres.
This is Buteo buteo, the Common Buzzard, a species that is doing very well in the UK, due no doubt to gamekeepers and the rest of the shooting fraternity being forced to act more responsibly. There have been some unfortunate acts of poisoning recently where Buzzards and other birds of prey have been targeted and the punishments in the courts have been ridiculously lenient. There are always calls from Gamekeepers running shoots, particularly in the North of England who try to get licenses to be allowed to control Buzzards that predate, probably only in tiny numbers, young pheasants. The Common Buzzard is a magnificent bird of prey and great to see and perhaps the Government should subsidise or reimburse Gamekeepers for the loss of their stock, everything comes down to money in the end after all.
I have enjoyed some magnificent views of another Buteo species, thi time in the USA, the Red-shouldered Hawk - Buteo lineatus. This is a slightly smaller bird, more brightly coloured and in my experience not quite so wary and therefore easier to get closer to. In the Everglades they are particularly approachable from a boat. I was literally just under the bare tree beneath this bird. It remained for 20 minutes or more with no fear whatsoever.
Then we have the Jackal buzzard - Buteo rufofuscus, which I have seen in South Africa. I have only managed to photograph this species in flight but even in this distant photo and of a young adolescent bird you can see what a colourfully and strongly marked bird this is. There is just the faintest start of black around the neck which will eventually cover the entire head.
The next image is a Forest Buzzard - Buteo trizonatus which is an endemic species to the Cape region of South Africa and the most frequently encountered there I believe.. This is a small Buzzard in comparison to the others. I saw and photographed this species as it soared close to Table Mountain.
…..and finally to compare, a Common Buzzard again, this time in flight as well, photographed at Budleigh Salterton, Devon UK. Incidentally, Common Buzzards are very variable in plumage and come in different shades and patterns of browns and whites, particularly on the breast and belly. For example, I saw a very pale bird the other day with an almost fully white front. This explains why they can easily be confused with other birds of prey, Osprey for example but the Osprey is a larger bird.
This is a female Chaffinch a small common finch in the UK. At feeders they don't often perch but instead, either feed on any spilt seed on the ground beneath the feeders or hover and try to grab a grain of seed in flight. This provides a really good photographic opportunity if you are interested in birds in flight…..as I am. As you probably know, to freeze flapping and fluttering wings without blur you need to have the fastest shutter speed possible, only available in really good light. With the advent of the latest digital cameras its possible to achieve 1/4000th of a second which is the speed you need to achieve anything worth keeping. You will also need to take hundreds of photos in a session and then, out of that, you may finish up with 1 or 2 percent that you are happy with. I have to say that I am extremely happy with this photo, just one out of 300!
In this photograph, two male Greenfinch are engaged in a spat and I mangaed to get a nice photograph of the action. I don't normally include photographs of birds on feeders as they are not particuarly photogenic but today, I have decided to make an exception.
Greenfinches are a species of bird that hasn't done too well over the last 5 years but it's good to see them seemingly doing a little better now. The males and females are quite easy to separate and in the next picture you can clearly see the difference......female on the left.
On my recent trip to Sri Lanka……hundreds more photos to sort through by the way, I was struck yet again at how easy it is to forget to photograph the common birds, thinking that , "oh well I will photograph them tomorrow" and in the end you never do. By the same token, birds that we take for granted here are largely ignored by photographers and for sure, by the twitchers. I am thinking of Starlings, our common finches of course and in particular our Moorhen and Coot. Well its worth remembering that to people from other countries, a Greenfinch would be a brilliant bird to see. In Sri Lanka the White breasted Hen is the Moorhen equivalent and I well remember how excited a professional guide in Sri Lanka became at the sight of a Eurasian Coot! So I have made a vow to photograph common birds whenever I see them. To that end here is one of our most familiar UK birds the humble Moorhen. A very attractive bird when you take a second glance.
Shame about the Electric Fence warning. …....oh, and here's a Great Spotted Woodpecker, this one is a female, she came down to the feeders regularly while I was waiting to photograph the small finches. This is the UK's commonest woodpecker species. Female's are distinguished by the absence of red on the head by the way. All in all, a pleasant but freezing cold morning and a nice way to ease my way back into birding and photography on an English winter's day. Not as exotic as Sri Lanka, but if you were are Sri Lankan birder you would say exactly the opposite!
I photographed this Loten's sunbird (Cinnyris lotenius) recently in Sri Lanka. I stood alongside the flowering shrub that you can see in the picture. I was in a sandy area that had scattered flowering shrubs and and I knew that Sunbirds were around because even though they are not easy to photograph, they are very vocal and defend their territories constantly and I could hear them vocalising. The shrub was attracting dozens of nectaring butterflies and I assumed that the sunbirds would also be attracted to the shrubs producing the most nectar. It seemed to me that the best idea was just to wait next to a likely food source. I always get most satisfaction from seeing an idea or plan work out and this is exactly what happened in this case. I waited patiently in the 32 degree heat, it can be unbearably hot and sticky at times but today it was a little cloudy which made it possible to stand out in the open. It wasn't long before a sunbird arrived in to the bush and I waited with bated breath as the bird came from the far side and towards the blooms on my side. I was thrilled to see that it was a Loten's Sunbird, the first that I have actually seen. Previously, I had photographed Purple Sunbird and mis-named Purple as Loten's, they are the same in coloration but the beak of the Loten's is comparatively massive, their other name is Long-billed Sunbird after all. This was either a young male or an adult in eclipse plumage with the vestiges of adult colours showing here and there. After a minute or two and after I had taken some of the best photographs imaginable, another sunbird arrived and this one was a Purple Sunbird (Cinnyris asiaticus). It was really educational for me to compare the two species. Then, very interestingly, the Purple, even though slightly smaller, was dominant over the Loten's and chased the larger bird off the blooms and out of the bush.
You can see in this picture that there is a large amount of adult colouring down the breast. But compare the two species in the photo of the Purple Sunbird in the same bush and you can see that the profile is noticeably different in both birds. Note how much longer the beak is in the Loten's. (By the way Loten was a Dutch naturalist). A great morning session and if anyone ever wonders why I vist Sri Lanka on my own and spend time away then here is your answer,
The Asian palm Swift (Cypsiurus balasiensis) is a bird that you can see almost constantly in the Sri Lankan skies. They are a small fast flying bird that breeds in coconut palm trees by glueing nesting material under the leaves of the palms with saliva. In common with most, if not all swift species, most of their needs are catered for on the wing. They don't drink, getting all their moisture from their insect prey, they mate on the wing and sleep on the wing. The only time that they perch is during the breeding season.
Something a bit different today, this is an Indian or Black-naped Hare - Lepus nigricollis seen and photographed recently in Sri Lanka in the North Western province at Wilpattu National Park. This is an interesting animal and seen on a few occasions during the jeep safari. A bit about the safari, this was a frustrating affair really with distant views of animals and birds that made photography quite difficult as the jeep needed to stick rigidly to the tracks and roads through the park. For example, we sighted Mugger Crocodile in the distance and one took a bird as we watched, probably a stork or heron but we could have done with being much, much closer to record what would have been some brilliant footage and photgraphs but from the distance this was impossible.
The tropical version of the UK's Sparrowhawk - Nisus Accipiter…......this is the Shikra - Accipiter badius. This bird obviously had a territory around Ravi's garden as I saw it twice during my recent stay. This is a female, males are greyish in colour and have a red eye. The one below was photographed at Wilpattu National Park.
On my recent trip to Sri Lanka I visited Chillaw Sand Spit yet again, my third visit to this area which is good for wading birds. When I had been there before my guide had shown me both Lesser and Greater Sand Plover so when I went back again this year and saw some small 'charadrius' plovers I had a good look at the photographs afterwards hoping that again, I had been lucky enough to see this interesting and not all that common little plover. It seems to me that you could easily confuse this species with the Kentish Plover but that species always has a white collar around the back of the head and Lesser Sand Plover never does. So Lesser Sand Plover it is then!
On each of my visits to Ravis house in Kamalla, Sri Lanka, I have enjoyed seeing and photographing the Indian Rollers that live in the Coconut Grove next to the house. They definitely nested in the grove earlier this year. The nest was in an old coconut tree, in the same tree was the nest hole of a Barbet and also a Ring Necked Parakeet. All three species seemed tolerant of each other. I have read that the closely related European Roller is an aggressive species and will kill other small birds, removing them from the nest hole before taking it over but I didn't observe any aggression from these birds. I was pleased when I went earlier this month to see a pair again in the same area but obviously can't be certain if it was the same birds seen there before but probably. I have watched them feeding on numerous occasions, they always feed by sitting on a high perch and sight hunting. When they see a prey item they fly down to the ground and then take it back up to the original perch. They feed on grasshoppers, beetles and small lizards. As you can see, they are stunning in flight.
Here is a potential prey item, it's an Oriental Garden Lizard or Changeable Lizard (Calotes versicolor). This lizard was photographed in the territory of the Rollers and would deffinitely be on the menu.
The Brown-headed Gull - Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus is the Asian version of the well known Black-headed Gull of Europe. This is a species that I have seen on both of my November trips to Sri Lanka. It is a slightly less delicate bird than the Black-headed Gull, slightly larger and more robust. This is a first winter bird that I photographed at Chillaw Sand Spit (Sri Lanka). On the day it was incredibly hot, unbearably so in fact and I could only manage an hour before I had to get out of the sun and somehow in to the shade. If you haven't experienced 40 degrees with no shade before then you won't realise how unbearable that is.
Also on the beach that day were Caspian and Lesser-crested Tern, a few Whiskered Tern and one or two Gull-billed Tern - Gelochelidon nilotica (see below). All great birds for a birder from the UK. More images of these other terns and Kentish Plover will be on the blog in the next few days
I have been back home from Sri lanka since early Friday morning after a brilliant 16 days away. I really enjoy my stays in the country which for me is just about perfect. It is a safe place but somewhere really different in culture and environment than the UK. There is a a good combination of adventure and it's a place where I feel secure and safe as well. I have real friends there now who look after me and make me feel very welcome. The birdlife is always very interesting with a good variety of exotic species always easy to find and easy to photograph. Around Ravi's house there are 4 species of Kingfisher for example. There are herons, bitterns and even the occasional stork. Small birds are very common and interesting and its not hard to get good photographs. I love the Bee-eaters, the Coucal and the Koel that live in the gardens near to Ravis house. I hardly travel far from my base but I know that I have not even scratched the surface and would and could, find and photograph many more species with not a lot of effort. On this trip I have added a few new species to my life list including Brown Noddy Tern, Great Thicknee, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Plain Prinia, Blythes Reed Warbler and Jungle Fowl.
Male Purple Sunbird
I was up just after dawn this morning, hoping to get some close up photographs of Kingfishers. I have spent several sessions staking out a likely perching area but only once have I been lucky this trip. So after a couple of hours without any visits this morning I gave up and then went to an area very nearby which I have learned is good for Sunbirds. I stood alongside some lantana bushes that were absolutely covered with large exotic butterflies of several species, but mostly swallowtails. An amazing exotic sight. These flowers were a great source of nectar judging by the butterflies' interest. I was absolutely thrilled that I had made a good decision to wait near these bushes because after a short while a sunbird flew in to the bush. I took great photos of firstly a young male Loten's Sunbird and then after a minute or two, a male Purple Sunbird flew in. It chased off the Lotens and then I took my best ever pictures of this species as well. It has been a good trip for sunbirds. As well as these I also photographed a Plain Flowerpecker again, this birds interest was the tiny berries of the lantana flowers. As I hadn't even seen this species on my previous trips it was great to get some good photos of this bird as well.
As if this wasn't enough, as I sat having breakfast/brunch, Tharika noticed a large brown bird on the garden fence just a few feet away, using a palm tree as cover, I crept closer and then took frame filling photos of probably the same bird that had been in the garden the other day, a female Shikra, a type of Sparrowhawk.
This last few days have been just as hectic and fruitful as ever. Yesterday I undertook another great boat trip just off shore and it was a truly wonderful experience. We made our way back to the half sunken wreck and once there, tied ourselves to the wreckage and I photographed the terns that were using the rusty steelwork to rest upon. The light was perfect and my hundreds and hundreds of pictures need to be sorted through carefully. A job for a cold dank day back in the UK I think. We approached some traditional prawn fisging boats because Black Noddy Terns were using them as a resting place and I am glad to say that at last I took some very good shots of this nice and unusual tern species. On the way back in to the mouth of the river a small group of Caspian Tern were feeding and I was successful in getting pictures of this large tern species with a bright red bill. All in all its hard to choose which have been my best encounters but heres a se;action of pictures from the last few days. The bird above is a Pond Heron.
Lesser Whistling Duck….a new species for my galleries.
This is a female Purple-rumped Sunbird feeding by piercing the Morning Glory flower to get at the nectar.
I have had quite a problem with the internet this last few days which has been frustrating as you can imagine, I have done so much and yet not been able to put pictures on the blog. On Friday I went to Wilpattu National Park, 180 kms north of here, I went with some friends from the Dolphin Hotel and I really enjoyed their company. We took a jeep safari ad saw many interesting species both bird and mamal as well as Mugger Crocodlie and Land Iguanna, Mongoose, but looking back, perhaps Jackall was the most exciting species seen. It's not often in your life that you are going to seea truly wild jackall.
Unfortunately no Elephants nor Leopard but it was a possibility.
Wilpattu National Park
I have also seen some nice birds this weekend and taken loads of pictures and added a few new species to my galleries such as Brown-headed Bee-eater, Painted Stork, Indian Thick-knees and Blyth's Reed Warbler.
Fresh water Turtle
Today was a crazy day, in the morning I staked out Kingfishers and had some succes with Alcedo athis bengalanensis, (the Indian sub-continent Common Kingfisher). I had put a stick in the edge of the river the other day and basically I went back and sat next to it hoping that a Kingfisher would come and perch......and it did. I always love it when one of my plans works so well.
Common Kingfisher (Indian continent sub-species begalanensis)
Then this afternoon I went on the back of the motorbike to a wetland area about 50 kms north. We saw all the usuals and I managed to get a good photo, at last, of Whistling Duck. Their were several pairs of Brahminy Kite and one bird attacked a small group of Ibis. I took photos but the light was nowhere near as good as it needed to be. Then I saw and photographed Eurasian Spoonbill, a first for me in Sri Lanka but I have seen this species many times before in Europe of course.
I spent a great couple of hours out at sea this late afternoon. I was looking to photograph terns and unfortunately the weather turned a little inclement and it actually poured down with warm rain. We had made our way over teh choppy sea to a ship wreck about a mile or so out at sea off Negombo. Most people would probably have turned back but my fisherman friend was happy and so was I. When we got there the expected thousands of birds turned out to be just a few Swift Tern, at first very disappointing. Then I caught sight of yet another Brown Noddy….a bird that I had seen close to shore the other day of Negombo. This time we could manoeuvre the boat to get a good shot and that's exactly what we did but without any bright sunshine it was hard to get anything worthwhile. Out of around 100 taken only a handful were good enough to keep and heres a couple of them. The fisherman and his friends back onshore told me that they have never in their entire lives at sea here in Sri Lanka, seen this species before so you could say I have been very fortunate.
The Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus is a well known bird to UK birders and the public in general and is a bird that is doing very well incidentally. In this part of Asia, and also in West Africa as well, the Sparrowhawk is replaced by a very closely related species in the same family, Accipiter badius or Shikra and it is a common bird of prey here in Sri Lanka. This morning I sat overlooking the coconut grove with my camera trained on to the Indian Roller's favourite perching post as I wanted to improve the in-flight shots that I took on Sunday. I had been there for quite a while and my confidence in the arrival of the Roller had started to wain. A White Throated Kingfisher had just landed in one of the young coconut palms and Myna Birds and Babblers were feeding in various parts of the garden. I had my camera focused on the Kingfisher when suddenly there was much screaming and panic with all of the birds scattering in all directions. A Shikra was on the attack and made an attempt to grab one of the Myna Birds, this time the bird of prey was not successful but it was thrilling to see the attempt and to also note how vigilant and alert all the smaller potential prey species were. They saw the hawk several seconds before I did and I suppose those valuable seconds are the difference between life and death. The bird of prey lunged in for the kill, swiftly veering left and right before landing on a post not too far away. I quickly swung the camera in to action and was very pleased with the result. I think that this is a juvenile female bird.
The butterflies are incredible here at the moment, the air is literally full of them at any time of the day but during the heat of midday, particularly. I had some great fun trying to photograph them in flight today and ther results are spectacular.
Yesterday (11 Nov) I took a trip in to Negombo, just for the fun of it really but I always like the hustle and bustle of the fish market area and on the beach there is always fantastic photography opportunities and yesterday was no different. It was pandemonium with hundreds of fishermen dealing with their nets and shaking whitebait free to land on mats placed beneath. The small fish are then scooped up in large baskets to be washed clean of sand in the surf by the fishermen and women who really work hard in the very hot sun. The birds love it because the inevitable spillage of fish provides a meal for not only the terns and cormorants but obviously, larger fish that are are attracted inshore as well. The cormorants dive for these larger fish just feet from the incoming light waves. Whiskered Tern are the common birds here and I have taken loads of pictures of them on every visit. I stood, snapping away trying to get something a bit different and my 300 lens was doing very well, Suddenly, there it was a Black Noddy Tern close in to the shore, surely not a regular occurrence and I was pleased to not only see it but get a photograph. This is a large tern with slender, angled wings. It is a smokey dark brown colour with a head that looks as though it has been dipped in flour or frosting. Years ago when again in the Pacific Ocean on the Royal Yacht Britannia, a Noddy Tern landed on the focsle and I took a photo then and I have always hoped for another sighting sometime in my life. So it really was a good day for me yesterday.
This is my 3rd photographic trip to Sri Lanka and this is the first "proper" photo of a Purple-rumped Sunbird that I have been able to take. In actual fact, even though its only mid afternoon here I have already taken lots of photos and had a full day. Ravi, my host told me where there was a Bateacha nest, Bateacha seems to be Sri Lankan word for any small bird. We went quickly this morning to have a look and immediately saw the nest about 6 foot up an a sparse tree with exotic berries. Within seconds a bird arrived with a beak full of grasses, surprisingly it was a Black-headed Munia, a little finch and not a bird I have seen near to the house here so it was a big surprise. I thought it would be busy building the nest for a few more days yet and planned to go back this afternoon to have a session there. I stood next to the nest for more than an hour but it didn't turn up! Quite why that was I have no idea, perhaps, as Ravi said, they only build in the morning so I will try again then. As I walked back I noticed a small Lizard species on a post and I set up the camera to photograph it with some great success, then suddenly in flew this Sunbird and with the camera on a tripod and the bird only a few feet from me I could not fail. It just proves that luck is sometimes just as important as planning and preparation because I have tried really hard previously to photograph this species but with no real success.
I really like this last shot because of the rusty nail contrasting with the gorgeous bird.
I stood photographing butterflies at around 7.15 this morning, they were nectaring on a Lantana bush which is not only flowering at the moment but also bearing small green berries which the Myna birds are very attracted to by the way. Suddenly a tiny little bird flew in to the low bush and disappeared from view for a few seconds but I knew it wa still there by it's call. My immediate thought was that it was a Sunbird, I had seen a down curved beak and also noted that it was tiny but not in the least bit colourful. Eventually it popped up on the branches of the bush and I took a few photographs, one or two turned out OK and from those I have been able to identify it, in the end, very easily. It is a Pale-billed Flowerpecker, India's smallest bird and the Sri Lankan sub-species is even smaller so I imagine Sri Lankas smallest species also.
The shape and colour of the beak was diagnostic. It was not only thick but quite heavy and downturned and as the name suggests, pale and almost flesh coloured. It had black legs and an absence of any distinguishing marks at all.
Heres the Mynas enjoying the berries of the Lantana bush and looking very picturesque.
I spent most of the morning from 6.30 onwards staking out the Rollers on their favourite perches. Still a bit of work to do and a bit more patience will see some great shots.....but so far they are not too bad. I really like the Myna Bird feeding his fledgling as well. The light here is incredible for photography.
For those of you that know me well, you will know that I planned to throw a cross with the names of my friends killed by the IRA in 1989 in to the surf as a mark of remembrance on this Remembrance Day. Incidentally this is the first time since 1965 that I have not been on parade of some kind on Remembrance Sunday, so I went down to the beach and had my own! My hymns were The Day though Gavest Lord is Ended and Abide with Me which I hummed quietly to myself. I stuck my memorial cross in to the sand and then waited for the surf to come and claim it, it was all very nice, beautiful and serene. They are always remembered.
I didnt really have too much time yesterday evening to post some pictures from the day before my Sim card was depleted of cash, now its topped up again, here are some of yesterday's highlights.
A Giant Squirell
Indian palm Squirell
.....now some Butterflies.
Before I left the Uk I had been constantly researching the weather for this part of the world which is subject to heavy rains during the monsoon. It seemed to be saying that I could expect very wet conditions on most days while I was here, with the odd day dry. This turned out to be absolute bunkum as it's been dry, dry and dry with no hint of the forecast rain showers and thunderstorms. What is more, Ravi my friend and host here told me that the rain was finished now and it would be fine and dry. I wonder why the met office and the Sri Lankan equivalent don't just ask a local rather than consult their multi million pound computers?
I have had a quiet day today….still feeling exhausted with my heavy cold. I stayed around the house at first trying to photograph the Indian roller in flight which is going to be some kind of great shot when it comes off......(latest see below) The two Rollers in the garden have their favourite perches and I have already seen that one, the female usually, lands on a concrete post which she flies to from a higher perch some distance away. I set the camera up and focused on the post waiting for her to fly down. She didn't do it this morning for me but I am certain.....100%…. that she will, and I know I wont need to wait too long. Later I went on the motor bike to an area of waste land very close by that is destined to be a new housing development but they haven't done anything with it yet. I have always found this a great place for birds and butterflies. I photographed several species of butterfly having made a decision before I arrived to take more photos of them and other insects while I am here. I had a small macro lens on the camera which was doing a good job when close by quite a commotion suddenly kicked off. I investigated and saw that it was a Tailor Bird and a Loten's Sunbird having quite a dispute over something, probably a nest. It went on and on and all I had to capture the event was the small lens. I did manage some photographs but without the big lens any photos weren't as good as they would have been, that's Murphy's law right there. From there I returned home to get the 300 lens and went over to the Ranwelli Hotel which markets itself as an eco hotel. I knew that they have some interpretive boards and I wanted to name my Butterflies which I did, (see below), I had a stroll through their mangrove board walk…..their sole attempt to create an eco theme. Its tourism after all, the land has been taken for the building of a massive hotel very close to a river and mangrove, ruined basically and then a board walk has been put through in an attempt to justify it and appease the eco-warriors. But better than nothing at all I suppose. I had a nice encounter with a pair of Giant Squirrel that are as big as a small monkey and quite colourful as well. I have seen them on all my trips to Sri Lanka. As I sat here in my room writing the blog Ravi knocked to tell me that there was a pair of Coucal in the adjoining garden. They were purposefully walking through the grass and weeds very slowly and looking for insects and small lizards. I have seen three different species of coucal on my travels in Asia, Africa and Australia and they all look very similar and seem to behave in the same way. It looked as they were a true male and female pair, one had a bright red eye and the other was black.
Indian Roller of the subspecies bengalanensis. I am confident that this is a female as there is a pair in the garden and the other bird is bigger, bolder and more brightly coloured.
Today has been exceptional and the trip has really got underway now. I had planned to be up at first light but having had the utmost difficulty getting a good nights sleep I didn't surface until 0830, something of a rarity for me when I am on my adventures. I took breakfast immediately and hoped that the intake of some fluid and food would kick start me. I have the worst head cold that I can remember and its getting on my nerves. I can't work out whether the head ache is the cold, beer from the previous day or jet lag and its probably, to be honest, a combination of all three. I surfaced in to the most gorgeous of days, lovely bright sunshine with a clear sky and a balmy feel to the air. The birds were singing their exotic songs and my Sri Lankan friends were there to thrust coffee in to my mitt and sit me in front of a nice plate of eggs, bread and sausage. I started to formulate my plan which involved a trip up to Chilaw sand spit which is 33kms from here. I am not going to be able to hide the fact that I have the use of a Motor Bike while I am here, so I won't try. I have used a Motor Bike off and on, regularly through my life but the last time I was on a motor scooter I was hit by a bus and I finished up with a broken collar bone. So I have been a bit reluctant to do it again. So, I packed up all my stuff, camera, binoculars and lunch etc. took the bull by the horns, started the bike up and away I went. Fantastic……..!!!! The freedom was brilliant and in the hot sunshine probably the only way that you can cool down. The ride was good, I was cautious and didn't take any chances, it seems that just about everybody else is doing that so I stayed as sensible and careful as I could possibly be. I love these adventures, I can't understand why others don't try and do something adventurous now and again. I guess its fear of the unknown which you just have to try and rise above….. almost everything I have tried to do has come off with no real dramas so why should this be any different. People are usually nice wherever you go as long as you smile broadly at them, they will always smile back and that's my mantra. After a lovely ride which involved me stopping regularly to look at the flooded paddy fields and hundreds of herons I got in to the manic town of Chillaw. I knew where I was headed because I have been twice before, it involved me negotiating the small village that runs almost out to the sand spit. I wanted to photograph the gulls, terns and wading birds that would be there. I parked the bike with a family who had a little house right at the end of the village. They make their living by fishing in the estuary and they also had pigs and goats, a house devoid of anything in it, and some livestock, that was it. It never ceases to amaze me when I see how calm and relaxed these people are. They appear to spend most of their time just trying to stay out of the heat which involves just sitting in one shady spot after another. With much gesticulating and laughter they said that I should leave the bike here under the shade of a crude palm thatched open sided structure which smelt of chickens, pigs and dead fish in a strange combination. Although they didn't ask, I gave them 100 rupees…about 48p and they were well chuffed! My walk on the sand spit was in the most extreme heat that I can remember and I quickly started to feel ill. I need to add heat to my other three potential headache causes!! I have a travel umbrella with me that is the most unexpectedly useful item. It was quickly put in to use as a sunshade and then when I wanted to change lenses on my camera it served as a sand free place to put things on….and no Jenny, I haven't broken it yet, my £10er is looking safe I think. Birds were there in their thousands and included 4 species of tern including Caspian and Swift. There were some interesting little waders which looked like greater and lesser sand plover but I will need some expert help with them. After no more than an hour I was beginning to really suffer from the heat so I decided enough was enough and reluctantly departed for my return journey. I had planned to stop off at the reservoir at Madampe where Terry and I had been last year and thats exactly what I did. It was really good, much cooler than the sand spit and in the shade of the tall trees surrounding the massive expanse of fresh water, I sat and photographed some great birds including Purple Heron, Cattle Egret a Prinia species which I will have to have a real look at and then a glorious close up of a Brahminy Kite, the best shot ever of this species that I have taken.
Brahminy Kite Halastar indus
My drive home was uneventful as long as you don't include the lorries and busses on my side of the road travelling at 50 mile an hour, but lets not dwell on that too much. Back at Ravis house I tooted my horn triumphantly as I turned in to the forecourt of the shop. The girls came rushing out excitedly to see me which was really nice. All in all a great day finished off by photos of a Tailor Bird in the garden that allowed me to get within 6 feet of it and stayed there for an age as I took pictures and film.
After a rest to try and shake off my cold, I emerged from my air-con room into sweltering mid-day heat to see a beautiful Oriental Magpie Robin on the fence and feet from me. Makes the trip worthwhile!
When I am away I often overlook he common birds thinking that I will be bound to get a good shot before I leave and then forget all about it. I am determined not to do that this trip so I have been photographing the Common Mynahs every time I have seen one. Just by the house there is a family group with fledged but not yet independent youngsters. This is the male I believe. He is an ugly bird, but charmingly intelligent as well.
I was up at dawn today, due as much to jet lag as anything but it was good to be up so early. I was joined on my verandah by Ravi who was keen to give me coffee and a cake......what a nice man he is. It wasn't long, seconds in fact before we had White Throated Kingfisher and Indian Roller on the wires by the house and then a commotion occurred. Suddenly a Shikra, thats a small bird of prey showed itself as it flew from a nearby tree towards the small birds that were screaming in alarm.
I walked down to the beach and towards the area where I had very successfully photographed Bee-eaters last January but when I got there I was amazed to see that one of the fresh water lakes had been breeched and now a fast flowing river disected the beach, baring any path to get across to the bee-eater area. This had been done very recently to try and relieve flooding much further up river where houses were under 6 feet of water apparently. Its thought that once all the floodwater has had the chance to clear then access will be possible again. Terns were fishing in the fresh water and in the surf which presented some good photo opportunities. As well as that, Indian House Crows were feeding on a few dead fish that apparently died from being in polluted water according to a local man who I chatted with. It's still mornng here and I will be out later I am sure but for the time being I need to try and shake off this heavy cold which is making me feel like a tired old man!
Back at Ravis house I watched this Red-wattled Lapwing feeding on worms in the adjoining garden.
An adult Common MynahSri Lanka is one of my favourite Countries. A colourful and vibrant, bustling country with beautiful birds, beautiful people and beautiful scenery so I was full of excitement and anticipation as I made my way to Heathrow yesterday for my 11 hour flight back again, for the second time this year. Through my jet lagged eyes I can see on the inflight map that we are flying........through turbulence I might add.....at 35000 feet and about to pass over the city of Bangalore on the Indian mainland with around two hours to go to Colombo, our final destination. This trip I hope to travel a little further afield than previously with the hope of photographing wild leopard in either Yalla or Walputta National Parks. Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the world to photograph leopard and I feel I ought to make an effort this trip. Yalla is in the south with Walputta north of Colombo but both are several hours journey and even longer by train, an amazing experience in itself. Then of course, there are massive schools of Dolphin off shore and I had a tremendous adventure photographing them when here with Terry in January. However, the monsoon is lingering longer this year and it may not be the safest thing to do. Being out at sea in a small boat with the possibility of lightening strike is probably not a sensible option. I will be based in my usual accommodation, Ravis Dream House just north of Negombo and I am looking forward to seeing him and his family again. Please visit my blog regularly to have a look at some of the birds and other wildlife that I hope to photograph. Kingfishers......5 species in Sri Lanka, are always easy to find, well 4 of them at least and it is possible to see these 4 in just a matter of minutes right by Ravis house along with Blue Tailed Bee-eater and the exotic Indian Roller. A canal runs just behind the house which previously, as well as the Kingfishers was teeming with dozens of Pond Heron, Bittern and 3 cormorant species.
Its just brilliant to be able to say, "You know what I think I will go back to Sri Lanka for a couple of weeks".....I am in that time of my life when you can do things like that. As soon as my dental surgery healed I took advice from my friendly Spanish dentist who said "Leave it a week and you should be fine"......and here am am back at Ravis place. He has built a new bungalow with kitchen since I was last here and I have to say, its just as good as his dream house except that this house is literally feet from the canal and the kingfishers.
I only arrived here in the middle of the afternoon but already I have reacquainted myself with some of my favourites. There was a family group of Mynahs feeding young on the land next to my house which was fun to watch. I haven't seen anything particularly rare but some good sightings so far. The light had almost gone when I took this shot, its one of the youngsters.
I have been experimenting with some new equipment ready for my trip next week back to Sri Lanka. My 500 4.5 Sigma Lens is back with the manufacturer for repair so I needed to think of a way of getting good shots while I am there. I have a very good Pentax 300 prime lens which I use sometimes with a 1.4 extender, this gives me the equivalent of 420mm. This is fine for birds and wildlife when it is reasonably close but I may be struggling with distant subjects. I have been experimenting by stacking with two 1.4 extenders to get more reach for distant subjects. It has worked quite well and as long as the camera is on a tripod then it will auto focus and give me almost 600mm but I have to say that I haven't got the technical expertise to say exactly what the magnification is. You would expect there to be quite a degrading of quality in the images but I am pleased to say that this does not appear to be particularly noticeable and I am very happy with the results.
I took the lens in to the garden late this morning to do some tests and I was joined by a Robin. In the garden this can be a very confiding species that is attracted to humans to feed on any small invertebrates that are disturbed by gardeners. This is a behaviour that is thought to have evolved when they followed herds of deer and wild boar in a forest environment. Blackbirds (turdus merula) is also a species with this behaviour. Anyway, I am pleased to say that the little bird gave me the chance to put my equipment to the test with very satisfactory results.