Up at 6.00am I was eager to see what I might find out and about on the first morning we arrived. I set up my camera and tripod on the communal balcony outside the bedroom door and waited to see what might turn up. By the time Claire joined me an hour or two later it amounted to not a lot!
Our hotel/guest house was not the best by any means . In fact it was by far the worst place we stayed in and wasn't particularly cheap at around £32 a night. It was however, well placed and convenient for town and we were only there for 3 nights. As we had booked via booking.com we were committed to paying so we stayed put.
After breakfast we walked in to town. I didn't notice the bird in the front garden until Claire pointed it out . A lifer for me, Tickell's Blue Flycatcher. I was determined I would come back for another attempt , surely the bird would return at some stage?
In the meantime I was heading in to town for what I perceive as a huge treat. Buffalo Curd and honey!
The Curd Shop in Ella has the very best there is and at a mere 200R, less than a £1, it's fantastic value. I don't know about anything else that they sell because I haven't eaten there but it gets varied reports on Trip Advisor ranging from excellent(me!) to horrendous. I didn't visit the loos this time but on previous occasions they have been dire and to be avoided. As a result I suppose you might question kitchen standards as many do but curd and honey is full of pro biotic so you are eating the cure before it happens !!!! I have to say that in my 3 visits to Sri Lanka not once have I suffered ill effects from food whereas my visits to India have been quite the opposite with "Delhi belly" quite frequent.
Anyway, my birding was put on hold until the following morning and a repeat early start. I couldn't contain my excitement to find the Tickles sitting in the same spot! The one major drawback at 6.00am though is the light. By the time I had set up my tripod and camera I only managed to squeeze off two shots before the bird flew. My fault for messing around so much, the previous day it had sat for ages as we just stood and watched.
To my disappointment and despite and because of a ridiculously low shutter speed of 0.3 sec and the lens wide open at f4, my shot was blurred.
Would I get another chance ?
Today though I ventured further afield, up along the railway track a few hundred metres away. This proved to be a much better hunting ground and over the course of the next evening and day visits I added some new birds to my photographic portfolio. Not all were anywhere near perfect but at least they were new and some were lifers.
Oriental White-eye which I have seen elsewhere
They proved to be quite numerous and common here too. Sadly not so the Sri Lankan one, another missed opportunity as I wouldn't see them on the coast.
I certainly had never seen the Yellow-eyed Babbler before.
A pair were moving through the grass alongside the track.
Found with them an Ashy Prinia, another common species previously seen but offering good views here and now in decent light.
Also seen up on the wire and looking similar from the front, Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike.
I had seen them distantly from the hotel balcony so I was pleased to see one close up too.
Up in the trees, what I think is Small Minivet but it could be Scarlet.
Another Sri Lanka endemic and lifer for me was the Yellow-fronted Barbet.
I was grateful I'd chosen to bring my big lens because everything was now quite distant.
I thought I had captured the endemic Mynah bird too, but on checking they are Southern Hill Mynah.
I'd seen them previously in Kerala but these are better shots so that made up for the disappointment..
One Mynah that does look odd though is this one. Common Mynah don't usually have all that Yellow on show.
One bird that was very close suddenly caught my attention with both noise and movement very near by. A Greater Flameback drilling a tree but obscured by bushes.
Once again poor light , the photographers nightmare. to say nothing of the bushes.
The bird flew but to my relief to a nearer branch and with perfect views. I had to risk higher shutter speed to compensate as it hopped towards me. Thankfully it looks OK despite the high ISO.
As the day wore on the feeding flocks vanished and all that were left were spotted Dove.
They provided much easier subjects to photograph though.
By the final evening I had got together a few images from both up by the railway and back in the garden too.
Brown-headed Barbet seemed to arrive in the garden a bit later.
I was a bit stumped when I first saw it but clearer views and it became obvious.
One bird that was incredibly approachable was the resident garden Asian Brown Flycatcher.
If only it was the Tickell's sat on the same spot I wished.
I have seen Asian before but not this well I suppose.
Another garden visitor was a Grey Wagtail although always briefly.
Red-vented Bulbul were amongst the most common species we saw everywhere. It's only when you get home you realise you haven't given them enough attention.
Not a red vent in sight in that shot.
One species I had hoped I might do better with was the Black Eagle. Last time in Ella one had flew over my head at no more than 30 feet just as I was boarding the train, curses! This time around we saw them from the train and again from our hotel balcony.
A male and female. Having got a shot of the male I saw the female heading towards us and I decided to go up to the roof top level for an open view. Sadly it was too late and she flew past very close by but before I had time to set up the camera. I settled for another of the still distant male instead.
During our two days in Ella we went walking around and about in the countryside. There was little point in taking the big camera, most things were hiding deep in the shade once the sun came up. On our second day though we did find this.
Sitting on the path I think it looks like a kind of Slow Worm. It's lost it's tail as Slow Worms in our garden do if they are attacked or threatened. It's a diversion to attempt a predator to go for the wrong part. Anyway, I assumed rightly or wrongly it was harmless and put my Olympus pocket camera in micro mode for a close up shot.
Claire being snake averse was horrified in case it was deadly!! It was enough for her to declare she wasn't prepared to walk any further as the long grass was encroaching ever closer to the sides of the path.
We were down to the last morning then and still no Tickell's. One last attempt. I got up at 6.00am as per usual but sadly there wasn't a sign of the bird. I hung around for 30 minutes and would have gone out but as the garden gates were locked I was trapped. Annoyed I was missing all other opportunities too on my last morning I had to accept that it was my luck instead. The Tickell's turned up after all.
It landed on a motorcycle helmet, not the perfect photo perch then moved on to the bike's wing mirror. It was in deep shade but at least it was there. Suddenly Bingo ! It was on the same perch we had originally found it.
We are still talking high ISO at 8000, a shutter speed of 1/80th and the lens wide open but the image was the best yet. It was nowhere near as accommodating as the Asian Brown and soon left but I was happy. To add to my delight the Warbler that I had seen glimpses of several times also made a longer final appearance.
With a distinct chestnut crown the book would suggest something different which geographically is unlikely so my guess is Blythe's Reed Warbler and as a photo first that will do nicely.
A great way to end our stay. Taxi on to our next stop was negotiated down at the rank. A bargain 7000 rupees, reduced from the advertised 7500 for a journey of 100 kms and over an hour and a half.
As we dropped down to the plain below I was full of anticipation of the week ahead. This was my week. Birding paradise. Bundle, Yala, and Tissamaharama tanks. Bring it on!!!