For the majority of 2020, I wasn’t based here at Londolozi but rather back in my home town in Kwa Zulu-Natal. I had bought myself my first camera in December of the previous year and, amongst many other things, longed to get back to Londolozi in order to take advantage of all the fantastic photographic opportunities we have here. Locked down at home, with my new camera, and not much else to do I started to go for walks in the wildlife conservancy that backs onto my parents’ property. I’d pack my binoculars and camera and set off in search of whatever wildlife I could find.
Naturally, given I was in suburbia, my expectations weren’t exactly leopards and lions but instead the smaller creatures and critters of the area. I found my interest in butterflies grew tremendously and my already rather strong passion for birds was allowed to flourish during these walks. I started to photograph many of the things I came across, of which most were birds and, in the end, I developed a keen interest in photographing them.
Today, now back at Londolozi, birds still remain one of my favourite subjects to capture; the sheer variety in species, colours, habitats and behaviour of them has kept me enthralled and I have begun a mission to photograph as many species as possible.
One of the first joys I found in photographing birds (and birding in general) is that it can take place anywhere. You do not necessarily need to find yourself in a protected game reserve. However, if you do, the viewing and photographing of birds can keep you entertained for ages between the sightings of the more traditionally sought after ‘big five’.
On this note, birding can take you to some interesting places that one wouldn’t necessarily go to if it wasn’t for the desire to tick off a rare species or photograph a particular species in their habitat. Since last year, I have found myself exploring some of the lesser-known parks, nature reserves and conservancies across the country; all with the desire to get some birding done.
Searching for and ticking off bird species is one thing and can be rather challenging in and of itself. Photographing them is on a whole new level. They move quickly, can be extremely shy and elusive, are more often than not small and far away and can also sometimes be found in some challenging photographic environments – be it a dense forest, marshy swamp or many kilometres offshore.
Some of the more avid bird photographers – albeit with some bias – often use the phrase:
“If you can photograph birds, you can photograph anything”.
While this statement doesn’t necessarily always apply, I certainly have had times when I can relate to it.
Having the correct equipment does help a great deal. A large lens of between 400mm to 800mm will do wonders for many of the birds’ environments; especially when in flight or in an open shoreline or marshy area. However, with that being said, carting around a large lens like this is not always the best. Forest birding for example doesn’t require as large a lens – the birds are generally closer and moving quickly so moving about in dense vegetation with a smaller lens is much easier.
It’s fascinating what you are able to capture in birds. Just like larger mammals, birds have distinctive behavioural habits which, as a bird photographer, is the goal to capture. If you look closely enough you can read their facial expressions and body language, albeit a lot simpler than their mammal relatives. In addition to this, the varying colour and texture of their plumages are spectacular be it the electric blue of a woodland kingfisher or the decretive head feathers of a secretary bird; these elements make capturing a bird all the more rewarding.