Kruger National Park
It’s during the warmer, South African summer months when many of the Palearctic, Eurasian and other Northern Hemisphere transequatorial migrants arrive in South Africa to breed. Of these, 450 species of birds can be found in the Kruger National Park.
Animals become scarce towards the northern part of the Kruger National Park, but this is where birds flourish. Juan favours the Shingwedzi, Olifants and Punda Maria rest camps, and in particular the Pafuri Rivercamp for getting those rare bird sightings.
These are Juan’s top 5 tips for shooting in the Kruger:
- Hides are ideal for getting up close to birds.
- Small birds and animals flock to water sources during the heat of the day.
- Raptors ride thermals (currents of air) during the hotter parts of the day.
- During night time you can photograph Nightjars at the camps.
- The best time of day to bird is when the birds wake up to feed and sing in the hours before sunrise, known as the dawn chorus.
The Western Cape
Boat trips from Simon’s Town can deliver fantastic close-up photo opportunities of Pelagic (oceanic) bird species like Albatrosses, Petrels, Storm petrels, Prions, Shearwaters, Gulls, Terns, Skuas and Jaegers.
The West Coast National Park has one of the highest Wader populations during summer and the Geelbek and Seeberg hides provide fantastic locations to photograph rare Waders and other waterbirds.
The Rooi Els and the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens in Betty’s Bay can produce species like the Cape rockjumper, Cape siskin, Ground woodpecker, Victorin’s warbler, Cape sugarbird, Orange-breasted sunbird and many other endemic species.
The Constantia and Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens are the only places in Southern Africa where you’ll find the Common chaffinch.
The Strandfontein Sewage Works has produced many rare waterbirds in 2017. Temminck’s stints, American golden plovers, Pectoral sandpipers and Elegant terns all showed up within the past year. Even more, South Africa’s first Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin showed up there last year and stayed around for a few months.
Robben Island houses the only “tickable” Chukar partridge in Southern Africa and also boasts a large common Peafowl population.
In the short period between the end of September and the start of October most of the Carmine bee-eaters that have just finished building their nests, start breeding. This is when males actively fight over the best territories and the fairest females. With more than 5 000 birds busy establishing their dominance, not to mention the resourceful raptors flying overhead, you won’t know where to point your camera!
Birding in the area is amazing with regular species like Hartlaub’s babblers, African golden weavers, Rock pratincoles, African skimmers, Brown firefinch, Schalow’s turaco, Collared palm thrush, Northern grey-headed sparrow, Copper sunbird, Swamp nightjars and the occasional Shelley’s sunbird.
A winter in Japan
February and March is when you’ll want to go to Japan to photograph Whooper swans in the mystical setting of volcanically heated pools on frozen lakes. You can also see Steller’s sea eagles, White-tailed eagles and the critically endangered Red-crowned cranes, feeding on ice packs that drifted off the North Coast.
The Blackinston’s fish owl catching fish at night is a rare and precious find, as it’s one of the largest living species of owl. While you’re there, don’t forget to take photos of the wise-looking Japanese Macaques bathing in the heated rock pools of Jigokudani Monkey Park, Hirao.
Must-have birding gear
- To capture birds in flight, a camera with a fast focus and frame rate like the Canon 7D MK II or Nikon D500 will ensure sharp, crisp images even when shooting moving subjects.
- Use a telephoto lens like the Canon EF 400mm f/4 or the Canon 500mm or 600mm f/4 to focus on distant subjects.
- Protect and camouflage your lens with a Lenscoat. Carry it all in a lens bag.
- You’ll need to get yourself a fast memory card as you don’t want the camera to hit its buffer limit while you’re on the cusp of some awesome shots. Also, make sure that you get a high-capacity card so you don’t run out of space. We recommend the Sandisk Extreme CF 128GB 120mb/800x.
- The Badger Ground Pod with Gimbal-Head offers good lens support when shooting from a hide. And when shooting from a vehicle, you can use the Badger Bean Bag II to steady your camera.
- A speedlight works well for freezing birds in flight, and to illuminate subjects in low-light conditions. Use the MagMod Wildlife Kit in conjunction with the Wimberley F-1 bracket, a TTL sync cord and a battery pack to help reduce the flash recycling time.
- Spot your subjects with binoculars like the Swarovski CL10x30 Companion, Zeiss Conquest HD 10×42, or Nikon Monarch 7 10×30.
- To identify birds, we suggest these bird guides: How and Where to Photograph Birds in SA, Sappi Birds of South Africa with Callfinder Pen, or the Pocket Guide to Birds of Southern Africa 5th Edition.
South African Birding Events 2019
- The Kruger Bird & Wildlife Challenge: 6-15 February 2019
- Frolicking in the Forests: 1-3 March 2019 @ Verlorenkloof, Dullstroom
- Flock on the West Coast: March 2019 @ TBC on the West Coast
- Birding Big Day: 22-25 November 2019 @ Verlorenkloof, Dullstroom
- Flufftail Festival: April @ TBC in Johannesburg
- The African Bird Fair: 14-15 September 2019
There are various club outings throughout the year like the Kruger Annual Birding Weekends.
Let us know about your event!
If you’d like to add an event, you’re welcome to send us all the relevant information for possible inclusion.
“Birds sing after a storm. Why shouldn’t we?” – Ross Kennedy