Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Birds Birds Birds

Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, Sinharaja 
I had, as always, a "hit list" of species I want to find and photograph in Sri Lanka. I designed our itinerary to put us in the right place at the right time with several of these target species, including a number of birds. At the top of that list was the Blue Magpie, found only in the dwindling rain forests of Sri Lanka and nowhere else. It is increasingly rare these days, so I was pleased to find a handful of them in the same leech-ridden forest where I shot the Jungle Fowl (see last post).

The magpie is truly a spectacular bird, but a hard one to photograph in the thick tangle of the understory where we found them. There always seem to be vines in the way, unwanted leaves and hotspots, or a bird that insists on facing the wrong way on a branch. Maddening!  In the end, I got just a half dozen  hard-won portraits.  Forget about getting behavior, or social interaction; shooting a real story on these birds would take weeks, if not months. Still, I'm happy to have gotten anything at all.

Crested Hawk-Eagle, Yala NP

But having a hit list only gets you so far; sometimes pictures just fall into your lap. I was actually taking a rest stop by the side of the road one day when this hawk-eagle landed on a nearby snag, nearly at eye-level. It is a magnificent bird, but I thought it unlikely that it would stay where it was long enough for me to change lenses and get a picture. To my amazement, it just sat there, a slight breeze lifting it's crest feathers up above its regal profile. 

I shot a few distant pictures, took a step or two closer, then took more, repeating the process half a dozen times, moving slowly to avoid spooking him. Soon I was right in front of him, and he remained as relaxed as ever.  I tried hard to find an angle that didn't have the distracting hotspots in the trees behind him, but overall, I was delighted that he wasn't (as these birds so often are) straight overhead with a featureless gray sky.  Not a picture I set out to get that day - but an unexpected gift.

Green Bee-eater, Yala NP

Finally, an admission. I love bee-eaters. They are dazzling little jewels and spectacular aerialists.  I rarely get a chance to get pictures of them in conditions like this, with a light overcast and a largely clean background, and since the leopards I was tracking were staying relentlessly hidden, I spent quite a while with this little fellow.  A simple portrait of a lovely bird.

Nikon D3, 300mm f2.8 lens


  1. whether they are
    "hard-won portraits or
    "fall into your lap" or
    birds that are off the "Hit list"
    They all add to the experience.
    stunning birds.

  2. You're right, everything in nature is a gift.