Kruger Bird Potpourri 2012

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One of the attractions of Kruger National Park has to be its wide diversity of birdlife. It’s almost a guarantee that every trip you will come away with a few lifers added to the list and at least a few nice shots of something worth posting up on the blog.

This last trip was no exception. More or less every day we managed to capture a few very nice birds. Obviously many of those were the more common species, but who cares. If the bird is going to pose we’ll photograph it. Some birds just don’t want to get their photos taken and take flight, but this just adds to the challenge of getting them in the air. Some birds accommodate and sit on the right side of the light, others are more difficult and sit in the light, which inAfricais usually very strong. So we are usually always stopping the car and it’s usually a lot of fun.

The great satisfaction, of course, is when you download the photos and during that first culling of rubbish you come across something that really does not need much editing. A good shot is always a good shot from the outset.

Let’s face it no Kruger trip would be complete without at least one photo of a Lilac Breasted Roller. These birds are the parks prime posers. So for this they get a place at the top of the page. But, as we also managed to come away with a few good shots of them in flight they deserve to also get a place down here even though some have been posted already. The challenge in photographing birds in flight is getting the right mix of aperture and shutter speed sorted. I also find compensating by +2/3 of an f stop also helps bring out the colors against what is usually a bright sky. But I have to say, buying the new Canon 300mm f2.8 L lens helps a lot. It’s not too heavy and easy to handle and it’s super fast and pin sharp.

Another common bird, but one that I always have a problem with in flight are Magpie Shrikes. For the first time in a long while I managed to get a clear shot of one of these birds as it took off from its perch.

Often it’s easy to ignore the smaller more common birds. Sometimes they are just too difficult to get, other times you are focused on something else. But a nice posed commoner can be as attractive as those rarer types. First up on the commoner plank is this Golden Breasted Bunting. I like its colors and I like this pose.

Identifying this bird took a while and created some domestic disturbance. The Boss thinks it is a Cloud Cisticola.  The experts on the web think it is an African Pipit and I think they are right because it’s one of those birds that flits along the road for kilometers in front of the car which is typical Pipit behavior. Anyway, its a nice shot.

Next up along the commoner plank is a Chin Spot Battis, Rattling Cisticola and a Spectacled Weaver which I caught eating white ants.

One of my favorite birds are White Crested Helmet Shrikes but for some reason they don’t like my lens, always making it a bit of a mission to get some shots.

For some reason this last trip I never managed any real good shots of raptors. The best I got of raptors in flight was this Bateleur Eagle and Harrier Hawk. They are not the best in terms of technical quality, but what the hell, life is sometimes about eating junk food and this is the best of my flying raptor junk!

To me Doves are Doves and Doves on the ground are just not interesting. Doves in the air are different, but extremely difficult to shoot as they fly very fast. I only have one shot of a Dove in flight and it’s this one of a Cape Turtle Dove. It was shot at a waterhole late in the afternoon just as the sun was setting. By that time I was pushing the ISO so its a bit grainy, but this aside its quite a nice first try.

Probably the most rewarding few hours any bird photographer can spend in Kruger is to spend it with Frank Mbasa, the Bird man of Kruger. Frank takes care of the Pafuri rest stop up in the very north of the park. The rest stop is a birders paradise anyway, but Frank makes it come alive. He knows his birds and he knows where to find you something special. On this last trip he asked me whether I had a Paradise Flycatcher in my list. Now I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to get a shot of this beautiful but twitchy pain in the ass bird and failed. So when he guaranteed me something I was skeptical. But two minutes walk to a bush, one minute to set up the tripod and I had my first few frames. Unfortunately the light and bushy leaves conspired against me getting a perfect shot, but I’m still pleased with what I came away with. Now that I have it, I know that next time can only get better.

When you look through your files and you find that shot you hoped you got and it turns out to be rubbish you feel very disappointed. You know you have blown the chance and you will probably never get another chance like it again. However when the shot comes out more or less like what you hoped it would turn out like, it’s magic. You know it’s an achievement you probably will not get again. But you feel satisfied and you go back to look at the photo over and over again.

I have to admit the chances I’ve missed outweigh the successes by a ratio of hundreds to one. But by not quitting,  my successes against misses have started to rise. This last trip, I was really chuffed when we pulled over to photograph a pair of Giant Kingfishers sitting on the edge of a low level bridge near Skukuza. Sod’s Law, just as I got organized a car drove past and sent the birds skywards. But as luck would have it, instead of flying off, one just hovered above the pool of water below the bridge at eye level about five meters from where we were parked. Let me tell you, when you can clearly see the bird in the viewfinder and the camera is firing at full speed, you just know you have got the shot!


No blog like this would be complete without a few of my favorite birds; Sunbirds. If you want sunbirds then the Aloe plants in the camps of Kruger is the place to get them. You just have to set up your gear and wait and the birds come. It’s brain dead bird photography at its best.

The first below is a Marico Sunbird that was feeding on some Aloe flowers at the entrance to Mopani camp. We had stopped for a toilet break but got sidetracked for a few minutes by this guy. The great thing is that as long as you are still when the birds first arrive at these plants you can often move within a few meters of them when they start feeding.

Shingwedzi camp is another of my favorite sunbird haunts. The bright yellow-orange Skirt Aloe flowers in the front of the camp office are a guaranteed attraction for White Bellied Sunbirds. I have photographed these birds in this same spot three years in a row and each time I don’t think I’ve waited more than a few minutes between visits.

Since the last few pictures have been birds on flowers I decided to finish off with this shot of a Grey Lourie or Go Away Bird perched on an Impala Lilly bush. Go Away Birds seem to be one of those birds that you just don’t waste time on as the pictures are never really anything special. However I think this one is sufficiently different to warrant a posting.

So, until next year it’s cheers to the Birds of Kruger!

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Kruger Bird Potpourri 2012, 2.7 out of 5 based on 3 ratings

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