Many people ask what the best time of year to come to the bush is, and depending who you speak to you will get a different answer every time. The past week, combined with my interest in both birds and photography, has served to remind me as to why I love summer here.
As many of you may be aware, the Greater Kruger National Park, of which Londolozi is a part, received an enormous amount of rain and suffered some flooding in January. Fortunately the floods in our area were not as bad as last year’s, which occurred over exactly the same period. What the rain does inevitably bring in the aftermath of the destruction though, is new life. From grasses, to flowers, frogs, insects and more, it is as if a giant alarm clock has gone off and all the small creatures have woken up.
Some of the first of the predatory creatures to benefit from this bounty are the birds, who gather en mass to feast on the emerging insects. It was with this in mind that some of the more office bound staff set out to try and capture some pictures of the various bee eater species, as well as a few other birds, that frequent Londolozi. They are some of the most beautiful and colorful of all the birds found here, and sometimes gather in large quantities when there are insects in abundance. Photographing birds, particularly birds in flight, is an exercise in patience. These shots were taken over three consecutive afternoons. I have included the settings for each picture for those who are interested.
Two beautifully colored White-Fronted Bee-Eaters sit on an open perch, keeping a lookout for any flying morsels (f8, ISO 800, 1/1000 sec)
A sub-adult Carmine Bee-Eater steadies itself in the wind. Their full adult plumage is surprisingly even more vibrant than this (f5, ISO 640, 1/3200 sec)
It’s not just the smaller birds that partake in insect eating. Many of the bigger raptors, like this juvenile Yellow-Billed Kite, include insects, particularly termite alates, as an important part of their diet-up to 50% for some eagles at certain times of the year (f4.5, ISO 800, 1/4000 sec)
Clamping down on the wings of a Guinea Fowl Butterfly, this White Fronted Bee-Eater produces a small cloud of powder from the butterflies wings. This powder is in fact a collection of tiny scales that coat and protect the wing. Interestingly, butterflies and moths belong to the taxonomic oder Lepidoptera, meaning “scaly wings”. (f6.3, ISO 800, 1/2000 sec)
Here two Carmine Bee-Eaters illustrate the changing phases of plumage-from juvenile at the back, to sub-adult in the foreground (f5.6, ISO 500, 1/1250 sec)
Bee-Eaters naturally get their name from eating bees, although this is not an exclusive diet. In order to remove a potential sting and stun their prey, they beat it against a branch first. (f4.5, ISO 500, 1/1000 sec)
After removing any potential sting, the insect is tossed in the air in order to re-position it for an easier passage to the stomach (f4.5, ISO 500, 1/800 sec)
Here a White Fronted Bee-Eater exhibits the same behaviour, tossing a Guinea Fowl Butterfly down the hatch.(f8, ISO 800, 1/1250 sec)
Another bird to join the party was a European Roller. These birds migrate to Europe and Northern Africa during the Southern Hemisphere winter, with Spain, Morocco and even Poland being popular destinations (f6.3, ISO 800, 1/1250 sec)
Capturing birds in flight requires an enormous amount of patience and the willingness to take 100 photos and perhaps get one you are happy with. Here, good quality equipment is a great asset and you need to ensure you have fast shutter speeds to freeze the movement.(F8, ISO 800, 1/1250 sec)
A Carmine Bee-Eater sets of in search of prey. Insectivorous birds will often “hawk”-whereby they set off from, and return to, the same perch time and again in search of food. This photo illustrates the fine margins with photographing birds in flight-just slightly out, the point of focus is on the tail, meaning it is unfortunately more in focus than the head. (f5, ISO 640, 1/3000 sec)
Operations Manager Duncan Maclarty, who many of our past guests may have met, captured this image with an even faster shutter speed of 1/3200 of a second, freezing the action perfectly (F5.6, ISO500)
General Manager Chris Kane-Berman took this shot of a Carmine Bee-Eater that had just caught a meal. It illustrates the importance of the birds’ tail in being able to make tight turns or remain stable in strong wind-here it’s tail is turned almost vertical. (f8, ISO250, 1/800 sec)
The European Bee-Eater, which has similar summer destinations to the European Roller, is the most abundant of the bee-eater species found here in summer, yet seems to be the most difficult to photograph. (Chris Kane-Bermann, f4, ISO400, 1/5000 sec)
The smallest, and for some most beautiful, bee-eater is the aptly named Little Bee-Eater. Unlike its European cousin, it is resident all year round at Londolozi. (Chris Kane-Berman, f8, ISO 640, 1/1250 sec)
As mentioned previously, it’s not just the bees they eat-here a protein-rich grasshopper is eaten by a White Fronted Bee-Eater (Chris Kane-Berman, f8, ISO320, 1/500 sec)
You are 100% right-I always find that concentrating on birds doesn’t mean you see any less of the bigger animals. Invariably it forces you to slow down and look and listen more carefully-I can’t remember how many times I have stopped for a bird and heard something (alarm call, territorial call etc) that has led us to finding a leopard or lion.