Bird watching, all about patience | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

Bird watching, all about patience

23 April, 2023

This is the time of the year when nature is at her best and one cannot miss the vibrant hues all around as well as the fragrance of fruits and flowers in the neighbourhood. More than the riot of colours, there is one other element that would catch your attention, especially, during the early hours of the day – the chirping and tweeting of birds that are out in search of the proverbial early worm. You don’t have to go far to spot them – you can find a good many of them in your own backyard.

I have seen more than 50 species of birds in my garden at Amutagoda, Ratnapura, but to make one pose for a picture is no easy task. Photographing these winged creatures calls for patience and perseverance. The thick foliage makes it difficult to even spot them.

The smaller the bird, the more elusive it is to the lens. Birds are naturally shy and fly away in a moment. During my spare time at home, I always keep my camera ready to click avian callers who visit my backyard and here I present a few shots which I captured in my garden during the last couple of weeks.

Patience is vital for bird photography, but you also have to be quick, for the subject can disappear before you can even focus on it. Smaller birds are generally restless and fly off in seconds. But then that’s half the fun of bird watching and photographing.

One of the nostalgic memories that most of us carry from our childhood days is listening to the song of the Asian koel (Koha). It is usually delivered as a duet in the Sinhala and Hindu New Year season. With the advent of the mating season (March-August), you cannot miss them – the male which almost resembles a crow, except for the pale green/grey beak and dark red eyes. Koels have a large repository of sounds, ranging from shrill angry tones to alarmed tones from dawn to dusk.

Musical tones

A Changeable Halk-Eagle casts its eyes on a pray of a lizard

When you speak of musical tones, the name that first comes to mind is the bulbul. While you may find the red-vented bulbuls occasionally, they are sighted more often in the urban areas. The tall pointed black crest, red face patch and thin black mustachio line give it an elegant look and you can find them in lightly wooded areas, bushes and shrubs, feeding on fruits and small insects.

If you have flowers around your home, especially shoe flower, you would hear the unmistakable twitter of sunbirds. The Purple-rumped Sunbird (Nithaba-Dam Sutikka) is a small, colourful bird, less than 10 cm in size and typically, the male of the species is more beautiful with its green metallic crown and shoulder patch. They hang on branches and pecking at the base of large shoe flowers.

Recently, a pair of Purple-rumped Sunbirds who build their nests by ‘sewing’ leaves together made a nest on a tree in my garden. They spent a few weeks in the nest, had two chicks and flew away with newborn family. I did get an opportunity to click them in their nest at feeding time.

The noisy, yet colourful species of birds – the Rose-ringed parakeet (Maala-Girawa) which gets its name from the black and rose ring that the male bird has would be nibbling away at ripe guavas and other fruits as well as grains such as paddy.

The Red-backed Woodpecker (Pita-rathu Kottoruwa) is the most commonly found woodpecker in the Wet and the Dry Zones and announces its presence with loud, shrieking calls. While the male bird has a red crown and crest, the female has a black fore crown with red only on the rear part of the crest.

If you happen to see a flash of blue followed by a loud, whirring call, you have located the common White-throated kingfisher (Laya-sudu Pilihuduwa). One of the least shy species, they are often found in the open.

The Greater Coucal (Ati-Kukula) is a large bird which is shy and darts for cover at sight of humans and is a commonly breeding resident of home gardens. It is a ground feeder and eats any animal which is small enough to tackle - snails, lizards, insects, frogs and small snakes.

Common presence

Another resident is the Brown-headed barbet (Pala Kottoruwa) – a common presence in our neighbourhood.

It may not be easy to spot them and photograph as they blend seamlessly with the greenery around – but the loud, monotonous call would help you zero in on the target.

Another rare visitor to my garden is the Sri Lanka grey hornbill (Kedetta) usually seen on fruit tree tops with a continuous loud sound.

Another colourful bird is the Black-hooded Oriole (Hisa-Kalu Kaha Kurulla) seen during daytime in gardens and wooded places in the lowlands. They are generally restless and fly off in seconds. They feed on fruits and insects, quickly flying from tree to tree usually in pairs. We used to call it ‘Waraka Madula’ (ripe jack fruit bulbs) in our childhood days.

A pair of Changeable Halk-Eagles (Konda Rajaliya) is circling over my house on sunny mornings at around 10 am to 12 noon.

One day I spotted one of them looking for a pray on a dead tree near my house and I could photographed it. Its pray was a lizard.

Depending on the place you stay, you are likely to see magpie robins, owls, doves and pigeons – the list goes on and on. Next time when you hear that chirp or twitter, take a good look. While bird watching is a satisfying passion, it is also something that you can get started on easily – all you need is a bit of spare time, a good pair of eyes and ears and good weather. Start early as you are likely to find the maximum number of birds early in the morning.


If you are bold and have enough money, you must buy a midrange Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera and at least a 300mm telephoto lens which can be fixed to the camera body. A telephoto lens is a must for capturing birds from a distance. To click a bird quickly, the camera setting is important. A higher ISO speed such as 250, 500 and 800 is a must according to the situation. With a higher shutter speed, you can freeze the moving scene rather than blurring it.

Sharp focusing of the lens on the subject is another factor for better photographs.

Most cameras have a multi-point Auto Focus system, yet it is difficult to focus distant subjects in auto mode and sometimes you need to turn to manual focusing to get a sharp shot. It helps to have in-body or in-lens Image stabilisation, but a tripod will also come in handy. If you want professional quality photos, do invest in a laptop and a photo software program.

Do remember to keep quiet when photographing avian visitors. If you happen to find a nest, avoid touching the eggs or the young chicks – there is a high chance of them being abandoned by the parents if you do so. Finally, bird watching is all about patience. The more patient you are, the greater the chances of having an amazing experience.