Guide to photographing South Africa’s most sought-after birds

15 January 2018

Must-have birding gear

(Keep in mind that you can rent photographic equipment for your trips or look for a more affordable alternative in our Used Gear section.)

South African Birding Events 2018

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.

White-cheeked Touraco
Scarlet-chested Sunbird

With the help of our local birding aficionado, Juan van den Heever, we give you some insight into when and where you’ll want to be to get the absolute best out of the 2018 birding season.

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.

White-fronted Bee Eater captured by Vincent van Zalinge

These are Juan’s top 5 tips for shooting in the Kruger:

  1. Hides are ideal for getting up close to birds.
  2. Small birds and animals flock to water sources during the heat of the day.
  3. Raptors ride thermals (currents of air) during the hotter parts of the day.
  4. During night time you can photograph Nightjars at the camps.
  5. 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.

Jackass penguins at Boulders Beach Western Cape

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.

Namibia

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.

“Birds sing after a storm. Why shouldn’t we?” – Ross Kennedy

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.

About the Author:

The Outdoorphoto Team

Leave a Comment