Saturday, 19 December 2015

Sri Lanka November/December 2015 Part 2 Villa Suriyagaha,Waikkal

Waikkal is about 20 kms north of Colombo International airport so it's a great spot to arrive and depart from which in fact is what we have done on the two previous occasions we have visited Sri Lanka. The first visit was a half board package holiday with Virgin and I seem to recall it cost us £3300 plus the cost of drinks and trips for a 21 day holiday. Total cost of nearly £4k it was the most expensive holiday we'd taken at that point. On our second visit we went D.I.Y for 28 days and I'm sure it cost around £3000 all in and for a much better experience. This time we could make it better and cheaper still!
The one thing we were not prepared to do was to sacrifice quality though and we knew from previous experience that our chosen guest house was the perfect starting place to relax and recover from our journey.
Villa Suriyagaha charges $65 per night B&B and that's our room, the one on the corner with two balconies. We stayed before and after an island trip on our last visit, now it was under new ownership and an even better experience. The food was superb!
Sri Lanka
With a 12.5 metre pool all to ourselves for the full duration of our 8 day stay it was living in luxury.
Sri Lanka
The gardens have, in previous visits, kept me occupied with the camera when I haven't wandered off to the beach.
This time I got off to a flying start ... almost literally. On our last visit we had witnessed the house girls dash out of the house when one had discovered a harmless Rat Snake coiled under the Christmas Tree in the hall. We recognised the symptoms when one of the ladies opened the pool loo door and immediately shut it hurrying away! Had to be something interesting and sure enough when the man who takes care of these things was called to sort it I was waiting close by. When he opened the door the snake shot out at great speed,  the girls screamed and I jumped about trying to avoid it. It was straight up a small bush where I got the first shot with my handy Olympus Tough.

Common Bronzeback    Sri Lanka

Having been told it was a harmless snake I had the courage to stick the camera in the bush to try and get a better shot.

Common Bronzeback    Sri Lanka
A quick Google revealed it was a Common Bronzeback Snake, a first for me. Snakes are not seen that often and it was the only one we saw on this holiday. They certainly don't occur at the Villa Suriyagaha on a regular basis. I have been lucky but some, including Claire, might not agree!
Most of my photographs taken at the Villa were from the bedroom balcony where I tended to leave my camera and tripod set up all day starting from around 6.00am when I'd get up. The bushes in front of the room provided some excellent views of quite a few species although capturing them on camera isn't as easy as it might appear.
Too many branches obscuring the reclusive Koel. Although a common sound throughout my travels to India and Sri Lanka, you don't see them that often.
Koel    Sri Lanka

Smaller birds are equally difficult. Damn that twig across the Pale-billed Flowerpecker's tail feathers!

Pale-billed Flowerpecker   Sri Lanka
My heart skipped a beat when a female Asian Flycatcher suddenly appeared.
Asian Paradise Flycatcher  Sri Lanka
For some unknown reason I am obsessed with getting a decent image of one but they are so,so difficult as they flit from branch to branch all too quickly and prefer to be in the middle of the bush.
A quick look to see what was about and I got her!
Asian Paradise Flycatcher  Sri Lanka
Not the shot I was after though, the depth of field on the big telephoto lenses is very shallow so if you set aperture at it's widest, f4 in this case, you end up with much of the bird out of focus.Why would you do that ? Well at 6.00am the light isn't that good, particularly in shade, so you need as much as possible hitting the camera sensor. More light = a higher shutter speed is permissible to avoid motion blur. Then there's the ISO to consider. The higher the ISO the more noise, which gives you a grainy picture. There's a lot to think about in a fraction of a second when a subject appears, if you are lucky the subject hangs around, often it doesn't. 
A regular visitor was the delightful Common Tailorbird. The tiny bird with a huge voice!
Common Tailorbird    Sri Lanka
You hear the bird but it's so well camouflaged it's not always that easy to find. Just occasionally it comes out in to an open space.
Common Tailorbird    Sri Lanka
but doesn't tend to hang around for long
Common Tailorbird   Sri Lanka
Always on the look out for food, very similar to our British Wren.
Common Tailorbird    Sri Lanka

I was pleased I'd taken the 600mm lens, which together with a 1.4 teleconverter gave me the extra reach, particularly as I only have full frame cameras, so I can capture some more distant birds seen around the garden from my balcony perch.

This rain bedraggled Greater Coucal was at the far and of the garden, around 16 metres away.
Greater Coucal    Sri Lanka
The Brown Shrike even further.
Brown Shrike     Sri Lanka
I managed to get closer to the Black-hooded Oriole on my last visit and it was particularly frustrating to see it land in the open branches a few feet from the balcony.....while I was in the pool! I at least captured a long distance record shot.
Black-hooded Oriole  Sri Lanka
This Open-billed Stork , a new one for me in Waikkal, was at least a quarter of a mile away! Looks odd sitting up a Palm Tree.
Open-billed Stork   Sri LankaMuch closer to our balcony though I spotted this enterprising pair of Purple-rumped Sunbirds which had seen the opportunity for a supply of clean running water to drink and bathe in.
Purple-Rumped Sunbird    Sri Lanka
I noticed that many buildings don't have downpipes from the gutters, presumably because when it rains heavily they can't cope with the volume of water. Instead there are two or three chains to guide the water in roughly the place you want it to fall! 
Purple-Rumped Sunbird   Sri Lanka
Bigger birds like this pair of Red-vented Bulbul can't manage the chains so they have to be content with the gutter instead.
Red-vented Bulbul    Sri Lanka
Equally enterprising though how about this for a nesting place!
Red-vented Bulbul nest   Sri Lanka
When it was in use they didn't mind who was sat around the table below either apparently. Shame I wasn't there at the time.
Away from the balcony I captured some other garden images.
The male Oriental Magpie-Robin
Oriental Magpie-Robin     Sri Lanka
and his female partner
Oriental Magpie-Robin   Sri Lanka
The White-bellied Drongo were numerous but awkward to capture on camera as they always seemed to be looking the wrong way.
White-bellied Drongo    Sri Lanka
and not revealing the white belly I was after!
Blue-tailed Bee-eater   Sri Lanka
Others were perched too high up a tree on their flying insect catching launchpad. Plenty of belly but where's the shot of the Blue tail on these aptly named Blue-tailed Bee-eaters?
To be perfectly honest I had a pretty laid back approach to my photography during the first week but I did capture some of the best images of the whole holiday right there from my balcony.
One evening as the light was fading I wandered out from the room and spotted the female Loten's Sunbird preening herself.
Loten's Sunbird   Sri Lanka
Sat in deep shade I had the lens wide open at f4 and the shutter speed at only 1/160th of a second. Any motion would appear as a blur.Suddenly the male appeared and started to display in order to attract the females attention and boy, did it attract!
The bird usually appears looking like this, a shot taken on my last visit.
Loten's Sunbird   Sri Lanka 2013
I was taken aback to see the bright underwing yellow tufts that shouted "look at me" in the gloom of the shady branches.
Loten's Sunbird Sri Lanka  2015-11-20
Pressing the shutter button one shot at a time I took a few images before increasing the shutter speed to try and freeze the motion.
Loten's Sunbird     Sri Lanka
Motion frozen but the depth of field or lack of it didnt quite give me what I wanted as the bird was too close! Ah well, you do get the full underwing view and the whole event only lasted a few seconds. You have to make instant decisions, on my part pure guess work more often than not. The female flew off, the male chased after her and I was left holding my breath as I checked the images in the camera. I hadn't got many, half were blurred but I was really pleased with the ones that were OK.
The male Loten's was a firm favourite, particularly when it shared another image with me. This time having caught a rather large spider.
Loten's Sunbird     Sri Lanka
I  had always known that subjects at Villa Suriyagaha would be limited, as would places to explore locally, but I wasn't too concerned. The first week was about R&R, acquiring the railway tickets for the next part of our journey and accepting that the best birding and wildlife would come later in the trip.

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