All The Pretty Birds

One thing people who go “On Safari” want is to see the “Big Five” – AKA:  Lions, Leopards, Rhinos, Elephants, Cape Buffaloes. Not knowing your interests and your experience with safaris usually begins with the guides stopping and asking you if you want to see the “Big Five”. Yes, of course they are important but so are the “Small Five” (Leopard Tortoise, Rhinoceros Beetle, Ant Lion, Buffalo Weaver and the Elephant Shrew), and the “Ugly Five” (Warthog, Wildebeest, Marabou Stork, Lappet Faced Vulture, and Spotted Hyena).  And the rest.

Once you have seen all these animals and got that out of the way its time to move on to the more beautiful and amazing creatures there are. And to their environment itself.

A big challenge is getting that “money shot” of a bird in full glorious flight, the light illuminating its beautiful wings, everything in focus, and the background not distracting.

Almost, but not quite….

1-6 on a bird setting for my Nikon P900, taken at over 50 metres. The camera tried its best, but I am now convinced to return in warmer seasons, ditch the warm clothes and take a reasonable SLR with a long lens and faster shutter speed. Maybe even a tripod with a gimbal head! (My wish list)

This is a major reason, apart from my enthusiasm for supporting conservation, I want to return to these countries.

We were provided with lists of animals and plants in every lodge in which we stayed. These gave us a great opportunity to mark off the ones we saw and to learn more about their natural history. Local knowledge is extremely important to guide the amateur through what’s likely to be there. But sometimes the lists didn’t name species we saw. We were thrilled to add the new species, having learned to identify them previously.

One huge constraint to getting beautiful pictures is that luggage allowances (Check-in 15kg limit, hand luggage 5Kg limit) for the more remote Safari Camps are restricted. Flights are very often in small aircraft, the biggest would be the Cessna Caravan (The Cessna Dash 8 equivalent in Australia), but the smallest will be a tiny unpressurised Cessna 210. 

Travelling in winter means you do have to pack warmer and thus heavier clothes. Therefore, cameras can’t be too heavy, and a decent compact camera is all you can take. Forget the tripod too! But its always a learning experience and each time you press the shutter you understand a bit more about bird behaviour and can learn to predict what they might do.

They say a good workman never blames his tools but sometimes I accidentally get a satisfactory photograph, mostly I don’t. Phones can always be used if the subject is close enough, the technology is getting more advanced by the day. Electronic “film” is cheaper.


                    A White Faced Bee Eater in its nest                                        A Pearl Spotted Owlet


A Cape Glossy Starling

We managed to identify over 148 species of birds and photographed a significant number of them. Some are quite shy and hide when we try to take their pictures, thus pictures are not always ideal. But learning to predict the behaviour of birds is challenging and a valuable learning experience.


                     A Yellow Billed Hornbill                                                        The rare Arnot’s Chat


                                       A Hammerkop                                                          A Bateleur Eagle


            A pair of White-Headed Vultures                                                                     A Koori Bustard

The diversity of birds is phenomenal, these pictures are the tip of the iceberg. The challenges of recording them are sometimes overwhelming, but having a picture “in the can” is utterly satisfying.

The impetus to return to see more and take better pictures is irresistible.

Author:   Michele Cotton. BVSc, BSc (Vet), MVPHMgt, Dip. Int. Animal Health
Director Veterinary Careers

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A generalist veterinarian with wide work experience, including mainstream general practice, management, university teaching, diagnostic services and volunteering in developing countries. I continually seek new ways to apply my training to help others set and achieve goals they didnt know existed, and all with a basic veterinary degree.