Chasing birds is in my blood.

Chasing birds is in my blood.

I remember admiring birds and trying to photograph them even as a teenager. When I was 16 I was gifted a Kodak Instamatic 110 – a basic point and shoot. I remember taking photos of birds in our garden in Ampitiya close to Kandy during the late 1980s. I wasn’t very successful as you couldn’t zoom at all with the Instamatic and of course, the birds were some distance away. But you couldn’t fault me for not trying.

Fast forward to 2017. I  used a small Sony camera with digital zoom for a couple of years in the late 2000s ( 2008-2010) but my journey in photography proper started in Feb 2015 when I invested in a Nikon d3300 with an 18-55 kit lens. While I loved the kit I always wanted to photograph birds and bought my first zoom a 55-200. I liked it but soon sold that an bought a 55-300. Both the 55-200 and the 55-300 gave me several good snaps in 2015 and 2016 but the zoom bug has bitten me. I would spend a lot of time browsing websites including Amazon window shopping, reading reviews on all the zooms out there while trying to find one that would fit my budget and also be something I could justify buying.

In November 2016 I remember walking into this Imaging exhibition at the BMICH and seeing several stalls promoting camera gear.  One of them had the Sigma zooms including the 150-600 f5-6.3 lens in both contemporary and sports versions. The contemporary was on offer about 30% less than list price and after some hesitation, I bought it.

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Now I had a proper zoom lens and I also made a decision to actively use it instead of letting it gather dust.

During my earlier forays into bird photography, I realized how unfit I was. My hands would be trembling, and after a brisk walk, I would be gasping for breath. This was another incentive to spend time and effort in this field, as it literally took me into the field and had obvious health benefits. I also felt that birds, due to their small size and speed, were a good object to work with to improve my technique. Another benefit was it made my experience and appreciate nature. In fact, I was able to initiate a wetland restoration project and tree planting initiative at a training centre I help run near Muthurajawela. That has become my default base for bird photography on a weekly basis with its profusion of both resident and migrant birds.

I do have many decent bird shots from 2016 and early 2017 but my journey started in earnest in 2017 December. In November that year, I went through a personal crisis which shook me to the core. I needed to find my bearings. It took quite a long time but I can say that bird photography saved me. In December of that year, I went on three bird photography trips. Capturing some rare endemic birds on my first try was almost a fluke but it hooked me!

This is a compilation of some of my bird photography adventures Since December 2017. I am writing on locations I went to in Sri Lanka as my primary focus. But I will also share short blogs on birding experiences overseas. I must point out that I am still very much an amateur but I hope that I can convince others to take up this fantastic hobby as well.

Special thanks to all those who encouraged me. My dad Rupert Navamani for letting me play with his Agfa 2×2 camera as a kid. My stepsister Sweety Lamb for buying me that Kodak point and shot way back in 1984. David Benjamin My friend in Kurunegala who took two days off to drive me around in December 2017. The owners of Polwatte Eco Lodge Kandy for hosting me and letting me tag along on a bird tour the same month. Robin Paul and Timothy Connors my friends in Bangalore who organized a wonderful birding tour for me in January 2018. My cousin’s wife Shamila Janakaraj in Toronto who borrowed a professional lens for me to use in a nature park nearby. My friends Prasad and Devinks for hosting me in Maryland and taking me to a wonderful park nearby. Devinks for letting me tag along with her and her mom on a three-day birding trip to Mannar in 2019 January. There are many others who have appreciated my efforts and encouraged me to keep clicking. God bless you all.

Written by Paul Navamani

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