Kgalagadi Feathered Fashion

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Wherever you are in the world the first splash of color you are most likely to see is that of the local birds. In Kgalagadi the standard fashion color seems to be brown with a rare splash of red, yellow or grey thrown in.  So, it’s not an environment you expect to find very colorful birds. Probably this is all to do with the harshness of the environment and the need to blend in as opposed to standing out.

Of all the brown birds the most beautiful are Burchell’s Sandgrouse. These birds, like all sandgrouse are famous for carrying water to their young in nests deep in the desert dunes by soaking their chest feathers with water, are a prized target for every photographer. When they arrive to drink they arrive in flocks of hundreds, briefly settling in the water before quickly taking off again, circling and repeating the process. As each wave leaves another arrives in a display of air traffic choreography modern aeronautical science cannot replicate. Unfortunately even though I spent hours waiting at waterholes famous for the grouse they never arrived. The only view we had of them was arriving at the Bitterpan waterhole one morning. It was a spectacular sight, but unfortunately too far back from where we were watching to be able to photograph the scene. Fortunately we came across them a number of times in the dunes and managed to photograph them as they scratched for food.

As you can see they are really beautiful birds that deserve the first prize for brown feathers.

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Sharing the same habitat as the grouse, Northern Black Korhaans are small bustards with yellow legs and a glossy black head. They are strange birds, waiting until you are almost on top of them before scaring the crap out of you with a loud Krraa-krraa-krraa call as they either take flight or scurry away into the dune grasses. As a photographer I think getting a good clean shot of these birds in flight would be the ultimate achievement as they look really spectacular in the air. But they are so quick its almost impossible to react and I reckon that flight shots of them is beyond my skills level.


Mixing red with brown, Red Headed Finches like that at the top of the page bring a dash of color to the myriad of small birds that you find in Kgalagadi. The Finch get the top spot of this blog, not so much for its feathers but for flying into my viewfinder at precisely the right time. It was a fluke shot. But it’s a nice fluke shot!

Another nicely dressed member of the smaller species is the Common Waxbill below. As usual I took a load of shots of these birds in different locations but only this one came out. It’s not 100%, but it’s one of the best I have.


It is almost impossible to miss Crimson Breasted Shrikes in the drab olive green and brown environment of the desert. These striking birds with bright red chest feathers are very beautiful and always a pleasure to photograph. These photos below were taken in Nossob camp, home to a fair number of these guys. Under normal circumstances you would be lucky to get such clear shots as they are fairly shy and restless feeders. But in Nossob they are more relaxed and its not too difficult to approach close enough for nice shots.



Apart from the crimson shrikes the brightest bird in the otherwise dull Kgalagadi bird fashion stakes are Yellow Canaries. They are very photogenic little birds. Get them reasonably close in any pose and more or less you have something worth keeping.


Another yellowish brown bird with understated beauty is this Black Chested Prinia. The first was photographed in Nossob camp where its a common resident. The second at the bird bath at Bitterpan.



Visiting the Kalahari and not posting a few shots of a Kalahari Scrub Robin would be a crime. The harsh environment these birds live in makes them look like hobo’s compared to robins elsewhere. But all in all, I would say they are pretty photogenic feathered hobos, don’t you think?



Talking of ratty birds, probably the most scruffy one I photographed this last trip was a Fork Tailed Drongo who happened to fly in and perch on a stick under the shade of a tree we were parked under. The defused shady light was perfect for capturing this bird in detail and the results are among my favorite captures of the whole trip.



Until this trip we had never seen Shaft Tailed Whydas. These attractive little gold and black birds were all over the place, but think I could get a decent shot of them…no way. After scouring hundreds of files, all of which need to be deleted I finally found this one, of one on the ground. It would have been nice to have gotten a perched or even a flying shot of these beautiful specimens, but it was not to be. Maybe next time!


For ultimate Kgalagadi feathered splendor you have to go a long way to beat a Bateleur Eagle, especially when they put on an open winged sun show like the one below. Bateleurs are my favorite among all of Africas great birds of prey partially for their stunning good looks and partially because they don’t seem to be as skittish as some of the other raptors giving you a great chance to photograph them.

These Batelurs put on such a great show for us I can’t think of a better way to close such a blog. Enjoy!




Judging by the number of photographers we saw with heavy equipment its obvious Kgalagadi is a prime bird photography location. Bird life is prolific, far more than the few species presented here. But these are my favorites and I hope you enjoyed looking at them as much as we enjoyed photographing them.





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