Nature Photography by Sash Dias

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A great morning with Marsh Wrens

I headed to Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord, Massachusetts this morning with a couple of friends to see if the Marsh Wrens were popping up and singing yet. I've been to the refuge a couple of times over the last week or so and didn't have much luck - there were plenty of Marsh Wrens but they were staying low in the reeds. This time though, I lucked out. After identifying the flying pattern of a single male (he had developed a system of cycling through three different spots to sing in), I parked myself at the location that had the cleanest backgrounds and waited. An hour later, I had two opportunities with the holy trifecta - soft, diffused light, a clean background and a relatively close subject. Here are some of the shots. Which one do you like best?

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Chasing Kestrels in Austria

My wife and I were able to take a day off to do some photography while we were in Europe this summer. We drove to Neusiedler See in Austria - a well known wetland mecca for birders. Of course it being September we didn't see much! But our guide gave us a good location for photographing Kestrels, which I really, REALLY wanted to photograph. It was in the middle of a private vineyard (nobody chased us off the property) and there were 3-4 Kestrels in the area. They seemed quite skittish (as Raptors usually are) so we weren't able to get too close, so these pictures will have to do for now!

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A VERY large Kestrel

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Yellow Breasted Chat in Boston

I heard about a Yellow-Breasted Chat that was hanging around in Boston, and spent a couple of hours this past Saturday trying to get some good pictures. Things to be thankful for - I actually saw the bird and got pictures of it up close, as it was gorging itself on a piece of bread someone had left in the park. Not so great - trying to leave the piece of bread out of the picture was next to impossible, the light was atrocious (I was shooting wide open at ISO 5000) and the backgrounds sucked!
I shot these with my new 500mm lens - I'm still getting used to it, but my back totally appreciates the almost 50% reduction in weight I got by downgrading from the 600 f/4!

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A Mother's Bond

Anyone who has spent any time with elephants know that they have very strong maternal instincts (the daddies don't live with the herds). The picture below was taken in Yala National Park, and we first spotted the mother and calf in the brush ready to cross the trail to have a drink of water. Upon seeing us, they paused and the mother positioned her body between us and her calf, and they walked across the trail in this formation and proceeded to quench their thirst.

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This next couple of pictures were taken at Minneriya National Park in Sri Lanka, where we were fortunate enough to witness the annual gathering of elephants known as (wait for it…!) The Gathering! The mother wasn't overtly shielding her baby from us, but gently followed him around and kept a watchful eye on him.

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Flight photography at high ISO

Every time I have to shoot in bad light, I'm constantly amazed by the high ISO capabilities of the Nikon D4. In the waning light, getting the 1/2500th of second shutter speed needed to freeze the wing beats meant cranking up the ISO on the camera to levels I don't use often. The D4 pulled it off with barely a sweat. While looking at the images at a pixel level shows a good amount of noise, it cleaned up easily in Lightroom and there was a decent amount of dynamic range. The first picture of the Green Jay was taken at ISO 2,500 and the Pyrrhuloxia was taken at ISO 7,200…

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Painted Bunting

One of my target species during this spring's trip to Texas was Painted Bunting. There weren't abundant photo opportunities - I probably got a minute or two of the bird on a good perch over the course of three days, so I was happy to get this…

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Trip Report - Photographing Birds in the Rio Grande Valley

This year has been quite interesting for me photographically, as I was able to do some travel exclusively for bird photography. The first of my trips this year was to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. I went in May, which research indicated was one of the better times of the year to visit - it was before the weather got really hot, but late enough in the year for the migrant birds to have arrived. I usually set myself some photography goals before every trip - this gives me something to work towards and helps me evaluate whether the trip was a success or not. For Texas, my goals were as follows:

  • Get some decent photographs of the Painted Bunting, which in my opinion is one of the most beautiful birds you will ever see in your life
  • Photograph the American Kestrel
  • Photograph the Crested Caracara
  • Do some songbird flight photography. By the way, it's harder than it sounds!

Well, I ended up accomplishing three of my four goals, so it was a good trip! Unfortunately, the Kestrels had already left the area by May - I have since learned that the winter is probably the nest time to photograph Kestrels in the Rio Grande Valley. I was photographing at the Laguna Seca private ranch, which has blind setups that are quite productive for songbird and raptor photography. My routine for four days included getting up at 4:30am, hitting the road by 5 and being set up in one of the blinds and being ready to photograph by 6am. It's a lot of work, but someone's gotta do it!
I did get some good shots of the Painted Bunting, though the opportunities were a little limited. The Green Jays were really the stars of the show - the beautiful coloring along with the striking black-and-blue head makes for a striking subject. I took over 8,000 pictures over the four day trip, so I still have a lot more pictures to select and process - stay tuned for more to come.

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Painted Bunting

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Green Jay

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Northern Cardinal

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Eastern Screech Owl in Cambridge

This Eastern Screech Owl occupied a tree stump in Cambridge for a few weeks. Whats was surprising was that though the stump was located on a sidewalk of a pretty busy street, but it didn't seem to bother the little owl. I ended up making three trips but only saw the owl once. That's ok - I'll take it!
     Screech Owls can be one of two general colors - the gray morph or the red morph. The first picture is of the owl in question - it was a gray morph, though you can see it has some brownish coloring too. This got me looking through my files for a red morph so I could show the differences, and the second picture is of a red morph that I actually photographed a few hundred yards away from the gray morph (though a couple of years apart).


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Eastern Screech Owl (Gray Morph)


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Eastern Screech Owl (Red Morph)

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Second Fox Den

After a few days of observing and photographing the first fox den, I heard of a second den which wasn't too far away. I was able to locate it with the help of a few fellow wildlife enthusiasts, and I couldn't believe my luck that it was literally only a few hundred yards away from the first one. I set up close to a large bush and started observing the den. I watched two of the kits move in and out the brush near the den, but wasn't able to get any good shots. 
     I stuck around for a while, and my patience eventually paid off. One of the kits came out into the open and trotted around for a good 30 seconds or so before heading off for a lie-down! I literally had only seconds to get the money shots, and I was glad my gear didn't let me down. I was shooting with the D800 and the bare 600mm f/4 lens, and given the D800's slow continuous shooting speed and relatively shallow buffer I had to pick my shots with care. Some people say you simply can't shoot action with the D800, and that's simply not true. You just need to be careful and pick your shots - there is much less margin for error than when shooting with a faster camera like the D4. Enjoy the pics!


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Fox Family

I was pretty stoked early this spring when my friend Karl called me to inform me of the discovery of a Fox den. Actually, he didn't really call me - he sent me some great pictures he took to make me feel bad! Anyway, I realized this was a unique opportunity and this started a couple weeks of me waking up at 5am to drive to the den and be in position to shoot by 6:30. The den was on land that was off limits to humans and was maybe 30-40 yards away from the road, so big lenses were the order of the day. I used the 600mm VR with different teleconverters(1.4x, 1.7x and 2x) at various times.
I was able to observe the family playing, the mother grooming the kits and even some feeding behavior when one of the parents dug up some previously stashed goodies for breakfast. On the third day, one of the kits wandered close to us for a drink of water and I was able to get some decent shots.

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You're probably wondering about the inconsistent colors between some of these pictures right? The day was a pretty strange one - it started off with heavy fog (which you can see in the first picture), then patches of sunshine, back to fog and finally heavy cloud. Rather than process the pictures to make them look the same, I wanted to let everyone see the natural lighting conditions. 
Stay tuned for more updates on the foxes.

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Great Egret

I was on a shoot earlier this summer in Rhode Island, and we were targeting Great Egrets, Green Herons and Ospreys. We had very dense fog so the conditions weren't great, but we had a Great Egret land and start fishing 30-40 feet away from us. I was using the 600mm VR lens with the 1.4x teleconverter, and the AF was pretty decent in spite of the dim light. I've included a sequence of photographs that depict the scene from arrival to the main course!


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Terns on Plymouth Beach

Plymouth Beach in Massachusetts is home to a large migrant Common Tern colony, and is a great place to try to photograph these beautiful shore birds. Unfortunately, the beach is not very accessible if you get there early in the morning - it involves either a 2 mile round trip hike, being able to procure a permit to drive close to the beach, or taking a boat. I was fortunate enough to know someone who had a permit, but the most enjoyable way by far to get there is to take a boat. Be warned though that this requires booking the boat in advance and also making sure you're at the boat around 5am! You'll be rewarded with views of a brilliant sunrise while you lounge on a boat that will land you right at the tern colony. And the photography is pretty good too!

Here are some pictures I took of the terns fishing and feeding their chicks:


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A Tale of four Kingfishers

Sri Lanka is home to at least seven types of Kingfisher, some of which are quite rare. The four most common species are the White Throated Kingfisher, Stork Billed Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher and Common (Eurasian) Kingfisher.I was hoping to get good shots of all four when I visited Sri Lanka in August 2012, but the Pied Kingfisher eluded me until the last day of our safari. I finally saw one and was able to photograph it, though it was more an image that documented the species rather than one I'd be proud of photographically.
The Stork Billed Kingfisher is by far the largest of these four, and is almost as big as a crow. The White Throated is arguably more common in Sri Lanka than the others, and I was able to observe one at close quarters as it took a dip in our swimming pool quite regularly!


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Stork-Billed Kingfisher

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Pied Kingfisher

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White-Throated Kingfisher

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Common Kingfisher

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Purple Swamp Hen

This species known by many names, among which are Purple Coot and Purple Moorhen. It belongs to the rail family, and its enormous feet allow it to spread its weight evenly when walking on water plants.


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Sloth Bear

Soon after our leopard encounter on our very first game drive in Yala National Park (Sri Lanka) in 2012, we heard that a bear had been sighted close to where we were. We lost no time in getting there, but it turned out about twenty other safari parties had the same idea! It was feeding in a tree, and we got some shots of it feeding, climbing down from the tree and walking around too. As this was one of the species I was hoping to get good pictures of, needless to say I was pretty happy!
Sloth bears are a medium sized species of bears, with adults weighing between 120-400 pounds and standing 2-3 feet at the shoulder. Their large claws as specially adapted for digging out termites, which along with honey bee colonies and fruits form most of their diet. Though they don't look like it, Sloth Bears are very aggressive animals and have even been known to face down Tigers in India!


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Green birds!

The Little Green Bee Eater is a pretty common sight in Yala National Park. The one in the first picture was a great opportunity - it was sitting on a branch on the edge of a road in the park, and as our safari jeep came to a halt right next to it, I was almost perfectly lined up. I say' perfectly' because I was actually TOO close, and had the 2X teleconverter on a 400mm lens. Result - I had to cut off either the head or the tail, and the tail seemed more expendable to me…
If anyone's wondering why I didn't take the teleconverter off, I did. I just make sure I take a couple of 'banker' shots before changing equipment, and sure enough the little guy flew off just as I was taking the teleconverter off!


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Little Green Bee Eater

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Little Green Bee Eater

The Rose Ringed Parakeet's (below) habitat in Sri Lanka ranges from the lowlands to moderately hills country. Flocks of these birds often descend on agricultural crops and have a tenuous relationship with farmers there. I spent close to half an hour with this flock on the edge of a small lake, when they seemed pretty unconcerned by a couple of White Bellied Seas Eagles, a Grey Headed Fishing Eagle and numerous Brahminy Kites that were all within fifty yards of this flock. Perhaps they thought the raptors would be more interested in the plentiful fishing opportunities - and they were right!

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Rose-Ringed Parakeet

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Wild Pigeons & Doves from Asia

The Spotted Dove is a native of Southeast Asia, and its kukroo, kukoo, koo... call is familiar to many inhabitants of rural areas. It's a very adaptable species, and is now found as far afield as Hawaii, California and Australia. I saw several during my stay in Yala National Park in Sri Lanka earlier this year. While they weren't too shy, photographing them while they bob and scurry around looking for seeds was quite a challenge!
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Spotted Dove

One of my target bird species this year was the Orange-Breasted Green Pigeon. While I saw several flocks at a distance, I was never able to get a half-decent shot until I saw a small flock on my last day. A cloudy sky and intermittent rainstorms meant the light was far from perfect, but I tried to salvage what shots I could...


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Orange-Breasted Green Pigeon


The last picture here is of a Green Imperial Pigeon. These are a little more common so I was able to pick my shots until I found this one with nice side lighting and a little breeze creating a mane at the back of its head. Wish I could have gotten rid of the branch in the foreground though!

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Green Imperial Pigeon

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Crossbills in New England

My photographer friends Shawn Carey and Karl Zuzarte alerted me to a unique happening in New England this winter - a Crossbill irruption. These birds are apparently only seen around here every four or five years, so we took this opportunity to photograph them at Salisbury Beach State Reservation in Salisbury, Massachusetts. It was a pretty productive morning, as we literally saw hundreds of these brightly colored birds. They're named Crossbills because their beaks cross over at the tip - no brownie points for guessing that though! The flocks consisted of primarily White-Winged Crossbills, but we did see a few Red Crossbills mixed in.


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Immature Male White-Winged Crossbill

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Male White-Winged Crossbill

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Male White-Winged Crossbill

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Female Red-Breasted Crossbill

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Male Red-Breasted Crossbill

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Male White-Winged Crossbill

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The Purple Martins of Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary

The Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield, MA is home to a sizable colony of Purple Martins. The males and females are pictured here...


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Female Purple Martin

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Male Purple Martin

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The Green Heron

I've seen quite a few photographers have great luck with Green Herons at the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary, but until this weekend I wasn't one of them. I've heard "OPh, but he landed on a perch just 15 feet away minutes after you left!" way too many times. This Sunday was different - I got to the morning blind by 6:15am and guess what was sitting on a perch staring at me? Yup, you guessed it - a real live Green Heron! The light was nice and soft, and I got some action fishing shots to boot.


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Green Heron

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Green Heron

A little later in the morning, I decided to head closer to the river and try my luck with the Warblers and Goldfinches. I didn't get very close, but after an hour or so of shooting I managed to get a reasonable shot of a female Goldfinch. I like this picture because of the complementary background and the contrasty green in the foreground.


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Female American Goldfinch

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Raptors of Sri Lanka

Here are a few raptor pictures from our recent trip to Sri Lanka. Enjoy!


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Brahminy Kite

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Grey-Headed Fishing Eagle

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Created Hawk-Eagle

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White-Bellied Sea Eagle (also known as White-Breasted Sea Eagle)

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Portrait of a Leopard

For me, one of the highlights of our recent trip to Sri Lanka was always going to be the chance to photograph the elusive and beautiful leopard. One of the best places to see this animal is in Ruhunu (more commonly known as Yala) National Park. The drive from the capital Colombo to the park took us a good 7-8 hours, and we got to our hotel around 2pm. I grabbed a quick bite to eat and then readied the camera gear for our first game drive that afternoon.
The weather had been very dry for a few months, and Yala has a unique characteristic - most of the watrering holes are close to the game drive trails and therefore dry periods are the best time to see animals as they all congregrate near the water holes. However, it rained pretty hard for a while before we started the game drive, and rain usually drives most of the animals to find shelter. The majority of our group decided to skip the afternoon game drive and relax at the hotel due to the weather. but my father and I decided that it was too precious an opportunity to waste and decided to do the drive on our own.
We entered the park around 3pm, and spent the better part of 2 hours driving around the park without seeing much more than spotted deer. However we took the opportunity to photograph some birds, including the vividly colored Little Green Bee Eater.
Our luck turned soon. We were driving through an area named Val Mal Kema when our tracker (Tharindu) yelled "Kotiya, kotiya!!!" (leopard, leopard!). Sure enough, a leopard had paused close to the edge of the trail and was staring at us. It took a few seconds for the safari jeep to stop in the right spot, and by then the leopard had disappeared behind a rocky outcrop. We got our gear ready, knowing that the location probably meant that it was drinking water at a little pool. Sure enough, a couple of minutes later its head popped into view and it lazily looked around. I managed to squeeze off a few frames, and that was about the only good opportunity we got to photograph it as it started walking away from us and into the jungle. Enjoy the photographs!


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Little Blue Heron goes fishing

I spent a good 30 minutes last weekend watching a Little Blue Heron fishing in a local pond. The morning seemed pretty productive for him (her?) - I saw a combination of 4-5 fish and large tadpoles consumed during this period. It was fun to watch, and shooting with a group of photographers I felt like part of the paparazzi - every time the Heron made a catch it resulted in a few hundred frames being fired off like mini machine guns!


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Blue Tailed Bee Eater

This is an image of Blue Tailed Bee Eater that I took a couple of years ago. I still keep confusing them with the Little Green Bee Eater - I'll try to get some better shots of the greenie during my next trip to Sri Lanka so I can compare the differences here…


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Do ruffled birds make for good pictures?

The age old question. Appreciate any comments!


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Ruffled Blue Tailed Bee Eater

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Ruffled Eastern Phoebe

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Black Capped Chickadee

I spent 3 hours in a stuffy blind being attacked by ferocious mosquitoes last weekend. This Chickadee had a few laughs watching me...


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Goldfinches and more at Mass Audubon (Marshfield)

I went shooting at Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield this past weekend. Sightings included an Eastern Phoebe, a couple of American Goldfinches, a Northern Cardinal, Bobolinks, Tree Swallows, and of course the ever present Purple Martins. Got some nice shots of the Phoebe slugging down its breakfast too!


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Female American Goldfinch

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Female American Goldfinch

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Eastern Phoebe has Breakfast!

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Ospreys and Plovers in Quincy

We were over in Quincy visiting our friends yesterday, and had the opportunity to photography an Osprey and a family of Killdeer. The Osprey nest was on a pole in the middle of a marsh, so we couldn't get too close. In addition, the Osprey didn't seem to be too happy to be entertaining visitors so we didn't get closer than 70-80 yards or so. 

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After a little while, we decided to walk across the street to a small pond in a marshy area to see what we could find. We saw an Egret, a House Finch and a family of Killdeer. The finch was sitting on a power line and as a matter of principle I don't post 'bird-on-a-wire' pictures on this blog, though the male's plumage was amazingly beautiful!  The Killdeer were a little more accommodating, and I got a few pictures of the adults and chicks.

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Thanks Jeff and Luci for the unique photo opportunities!

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Water Monitor

The Water Monitor is a large species of Monitor Lizard and is found throughout Asia. Larger specimens can grow to over 10 feet in length and can weight over 50 lbs, but most are around half that size. They're carnivorous, and their diet comprises of snakes, frogs, rodents, birds, fish and even carrion. I photographed this one in Ruhunu National Park, Sri Lanka.

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Origami or Oriental Darter?

This picture reminds me of a Japanese Origami bird! This bird was sunning itself on the shore of a lake in Habarana, Sri Lanka. The second picture has better light, but not as dramatic a pose.

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Yellow-Wattled Lapwing

Endemic to the Indian Subcontinent, this wader is usually found in open habitat areas. They don't migrate with the seasons, but do migrate during the Asian Monsoons.The young are nidifugous, leaving the nest soon after birth to forage with their parents.

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Brahminy Kite at Sunrise

I took this picture while on Safari in Yala National Park in Sri Lanka a couple of years ago. It was pretty early in the morning and the light levels were pretty low, so the picture had quite a bit of noise in it. I didn't think much of this until a couple of weeks ago, when I found it while trolling through LightRoom. It cleaned up ok so I thought I'd put it up here. My favorite thing about this picture is the amazing pink clouds in the background...

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Muskrats

Muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) are pretty common in the Northeastern United States. They're not really 'rats', as they're not a part of the genus rattus. Weighing from 1.5-4 pounds, they spend a majority of their time in the water and are omnivorous. 
Thanks to my wife Natasa for supplying this great picture for the blog!

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Of Dragonflies and Phoebes

Up at 5:15am. On the road by 5:30. Lugging a giant tripod/head/lens/camera combination for 3 hours. NO good shots. Right up until this Eastern Phoebe caught a dragonfly and settled itself on a branch in front of me for all of five seconds. YEEEAAAAHHH!!!

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Eastern Kingbird

The Eastern Kingbird is a flycatcher that inhabits mostly fields and open areas. I saw this particular one perched on a cattail on the edge of a marshy pond. Kingbirds are known to be highly aggressive towards nest predators. The summer and winter diets are apparently very different - summer fare consists primarily of insects while winter in South America allows them to be fruit eaters.

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Opposites Attract: The Curious Case of the Blackbird

In the avian world, opposites truly do attract. A case in point is the Red-Winged BlackBird - the male and female couldn't be more different in terms of plumage!

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Male Red-Winged Blackbird

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Female Red-Winged Blackbird

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Marsh Wrens & Friends at Great Meadows

Recently, I visited Great Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in Concord, MA. Great Meadows is well known for its population of Marsh Wrens, and I was hoping to get a few keepers. The Marsh Wrens weren't too cooperative that day, as most of them seemed to be intent on building nests and not attracting mates - first things first I guess!
I did eventually manage to get some good images of one, plus we had a Red-Winged Blackbird model for us!  A Bullfrog in the shallow and a Song Sparrow completed the set of keepers for the day...


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Marsh Wren

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Red-Winged Blackbird

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Bullfrog

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Song Sparrow

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First visit to Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary

I've seen a lot of fantastic shots taken by other photographers at Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary, but never got around to actually visiting it until this weekend. The weather was great, and the wide open spaces at this park are really something else. 
However, what makes DWWS stand out for me are the two birdwatching blinds located beside a pond near the entrance. Designed by a professional photographer, these blinds are perfect for bird photography and even have 1/4-20 thread tripod head mounts on the windows - just screw in your tripod head, mount your lens and you're ready to go!
 Below are some pictures I took this weekend. I also saw a couple of Green Herons and a Great Egret, but wasn't able to take any decent shots. I'll try again next weekend!


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Tree Swallow

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Painted Turtles

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Green Heron

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Red-Tailed Hawk with kill

While great for Raptors (birds of prey), Mount Auburn Cemetery hasn't been the most productive site for me with songbirds. With our new son in his stroller, my wife and I set out to find some songbirds on our next trip. Half an hour into our walk, I saw a hawk perched on the ground at the edge of the road, and I knew he must be on a kill. Since we were enjoying the stroll, I had left my camera gear in the car. After a couple of minutes spent convincing my wife that Red Tailed Hawks don't attack newborns in strollers, I ran back to the car and got the camera.
       When I came back I saw that my wife had flagged down a passing enthusiast and they were both watching the Hawk consume what was left of a squirrel. I got some decent shots, but the combination of the waning day and the shade of the trees meant it was difficult light, with shutter speeds hovering around 1/80th of a second. This, combined with the 800mm of glass strapped onto the front of my 1.5x crop factor D300S meant I wasn't able to get perfect sharpness.


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Great Horned Owl

The next visit to Mt Auburn was in early May 2011. After wandering around for a couple of hours without seeing much of interest, I happened to see a small crowd of people clustered around a tree with caution tape around it. My curiosity piqued, I wandered over to see what everyone was looking at. A few minutes of staring blankly at the tree turned up nothing, so I decided to ask my fellow observers what the big deal was.

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Turns out that it was the nest of a Great Horned Owl with two young chicks. After much pointing and squinting, I finally managed to locate the mother and got a few decent shots, including a humorous wink! Unfortunately the chicks were huddled up and getting any shots worth seeing was next to impossible. With the location firmly fixed in my mind, I resolved to keep coming back until I the chicks were more obliging.

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Great Horned Owl Chicks!!!

Personal commitments kept me away for a few weeks, but the next time I saw the owls turned out to be a photographic feast!


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Broadmoor Cardinal

A quick trip to Broadmoor netted me a Cardinal in all its glory...

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Cooper's Hawk in Mount Auburn Cemetery

The first couple of times I visited Mt Auburn Cemetery weren't too productive, apart from a momentary glimpse of what seemed to be a juvenile Cooper's Hawk. I was able to get within 25 yards or so to take a couple of quick shots before it decided that I was getting too close! The lighting was perfect, and the early winter  background of dead leaves complemented the naturally ruddy colors of the hawk…

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Goodbye Yala Sad

This morning was the most productive by far. Even though we ended up without any good shots of the leopards or the bear, we managed to get some avian and primate pictures that went some way towards reducing the disappointment. However, the chance to see these magnificent animals up close in their natural habitat was worth a thousand pictures. Yala National Park is a fickle mistress, and perhaps she'll see fit to reward us next time for our patience. Until then, au revoir to one of the most beautiful places in Southeast Asia!


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Sri Lankan Jungle Fowl

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Male Indian Peafowl

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Mugger Crocodile

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Leopaards!!!

The afternoon turned out to be much better in terms of sightings, if not photo opportunities. We saw a leopard in a tree, maybe 70 yards away from the trail. The second sighting was much more exciting, being a female leopard and her two cubs. Once again, unruly safari jeeps turned a front row seat to the leopard family crossing the trail into a pristine view of the rears of a dozen safari jeeps. Using the reach of the 400mm+2x TC, I managed to get some very average images between some vehicles. Having taken the moral high road of not trying to race towards the leopards to get the best shots, we returned empty handed yet again.


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Sloth Bear

Our last drive in the early morning turned out to be the best. It was a little before 6am and we encountered a leopard in our headlights, perhaps 20 feet away from the front of the car. A few seconds later, it was gone. A half hour later, we encountered a sloth bear. The only shot I got of the full bear was while the jeep was still moving, and left a little to be desired in terms of sharpness. The bear then proceeded to snuffle into an ant-hole for a few minutes, offering us great shots of everything but its head, before ambling off into the forest!


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Golden Jackals

Deciding to leave the scene of the Leopard sighting to come back later when there was less 'traffic', we drove a few hundred yards up the road and encountered two jackals. They trotted around, rolled in dung, scent marked the area, and finished off the performance with a bout of howling. I managed to use the 400mm lens with the 2x teleconverter to get off some good shots, with ISO 800 good for around 1/500th sec.


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Yala (Ruhunu) National Park

Located on the tropical island of Sri Lanka, the Yala National Park was formally declared a national park in 1938. Home to diverse variety of flora and fauna, the high point of any visit to the national park is a sighting of the rare Sri Lankan Leopard (Panthera Pardus Kotiya). 
Our trip lasted two nights, which gave us time for four safaris or game drives. As the best time for viewing wildlife occurs right after dawn and just before dusk, this meant waking up at 5:15am each morning to ensure we were dressed, geared up and at the park entrance by 5:45am, and again cutting short our afternoon siestas to be at the park by 4pm.
Our safari driver was the unassuming but single minded Janaka. Single minded in his pursuit of ensuring we saw the elusive leopard to the detriment of seeing any other kind of fauna in the park!
Yala is a mix of dense scrub, trees and the occasional grassy plain. During four game drives, we saw a total of six leopards (four adults, two cubs), elephants, sloth bears, crocodiles, junglefowl, kites, bee-eaters and other assorted birds. Though the wet conditions usually result in a lower number of wildlife sightings, this was not the case on our safaris.
Our first sighting was of a leopard around 40 feet from a road in the national park. The leopard seemed to be a large male, and was enjoying an afternoon nap. The undergrowth was making a decent image impossible, so we waited for the leopard to move. Unfortunately, around twenty or more safari jeeps soon materialized, turning the scene into a viewing frenzy.

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