Habitat Shots

The “Habitat Shots” section presents a selection of our most prized “birds in their environment” photographs.

“Habitat shots”, birdscapes or “birds in their environment” images must rank as some of the most difficult photographs to master. They are small in the frame photographs of birds taken in a setting that exemplifies (or eludes to) their natural environment, and hopefully tell a story to the audience. This genre of bird photography combines the art of landscape photography; texture, lighting, perspective and composition, with the challenges of bird photography; fieldcraft, movement, focus and eye contact. They also allow for more creative expression than the more standard bird portrait and flight images.

Many photographic competitions define these images as landscape images taken with a wide-angle lens, where the landscape takes the main stage and the bird (or birds) often appears as a very small, less important part of the image. This is different to my interpretation, which sees the bird remaining as the focal point and comprising around 1/6th to 1/12th of the frame. These pictures are often taken with a fixed 400 to 600mm lens, but, if you can get close enough, a wide-angle lens (or wide-angle lens linked to a trigger system) can also be used.

I personally find habitat shots the most satisfying to take given this combination of challenge and creativity. They provide context and tell a narrative, and for these reasons are my favourite photographs to attempt.

To enlarge each photograph, click on the thumbnail.


A Lesser Swamp Warbler sits amongst tall reeds on the edge of a wetland at Marievale Bird Sanctuary. “The Holy Grail” ~ An African Pitta stands alert on top of a low hanging branch in the lowland forests of Coutada 11, Mozambique. “Eagle’s Eye View” ~ A Verreaux Eagle glides over the cliffs of the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens. (Commended in Bird Photographer of the Year 2018) “Motionless” ~ A Squacco Heron sits motionless while fishing in a wetland channel at Marievale Bird Sanctuary, Gauteng, South Africa. “Racket Tail” ~ A magnificent Racket-tailed Roller steadies herself on her nest hole on the road to the Pafuri gate in the Pafuri Region of the Kruger National Park, South Africa. An Orange Ground Thrush scans her territory from a moss strewn branch in a forest adjacent Benvie Garden in the Karkloof A Rosy-throated Longclaw stands alert in his grassland paradise at the Nebila Peninsula near Hluhluwe, KwaZulu Natal. A Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler perches on an Outhout tree near Balgowan, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa A Narina Trogon sits motionless low down in the canopy of lowalnd forest in Coutada 11, Mozambique. A Knysna Turaco stops for a brief second in a gap in its forest canopy at Nature’s Valley, Eastern Cape, South Africa. A Red-faced Mousebird keeps a watch at Kwamasinga Waterhole, Mkhuze Game Reserve, South Africa An African Harrier Hawk (or Gymnogene) raids a weaver’s nest in search of eggs or chicks at Nambiti Game Reserve, South Africa. A female, Green Twinspot perches in her typical forest habitat in Magoebaskloof. (The forests here are dark and damp with occasional light streaming through the dense canopy. Lichen and moss cover the trees and their branches. An exquisite Half-collared Kingfisher perches on a river-side boulder before entering her nest in the Natal Midlands, South Africa “The Flight of the Bumblebee” ~ A male, Yellow-crowned Bishop bursts from the cover of his tall, grassland habitat in search of a nearby female. “Tree Spurfowls” ~ A pair of Natal Spurfowls perch uncharacteristically high up in  Riverine Forest of Pafuri in the northern Kruger National Park, South Africa. “Mopane Magic” ~ A Magpie Shrike perches in glorious Mopane Woodlands on the Klopperfontein Road in the northern Kruger National Park, South Africa. A male, Drakensberg Rockjumper looks out on his boulder strewn, mountain side habitat at the top of Naude’s Nek. A Gorgeous Bushshrike delivers his teltale call at Tala Game Reserve near Pietermaritzburg, South Africa “Early Morning Owlet” ~ As the early morning sun lights up the background, a petite, Pearl-spotted Owlet perches on a magnificent tree in the heart of the Waterberg. A White-winged Widowbird calls and fans his tail to attract attention at Rietvlei Nature Reserve, Gauteng, South Africa A Lizzard Buzzard, with a lizzard in his talons, sits in his typical broad-leaved woodland habitat A Spotted Crake skulks from one wetland to the next at Marievale Bird Sanctuary near Nigel, South Africa (Edited ~ removed small, bright spot by crake’s foot) Purple Heron “The Mangrove Hunter” ~ South Africa’s smallest raptor; a Little Sparrowhawk, hunts from his perch amongst the beautiful mangroves of Umlalazi Nature Reserve, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. A sub-adult Black-shouldered Kite practices hunting over the grasslands of south east Gauteng, South Africa Bosch-Backlit-Bishops-2-630-BEST-sm A Common Waxbill perches for a brief moment amongst a field of flowers at Rietvlei Nature Reserve. A striking, male Drakensberg Rockumper standing characteristically on a rock amongst a field of beautiful, yellow flowers. A Tawny-flanked Prinia collects nesting material in his thick grass and reed environment at Umndoni Golf Course, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. A Long-tailed Widowbird displays over the beautiful farmlands that surround the town of Devon in south east Gauteng. A Crimson-breasted Shrike takes up his early morning calling post in the acacia thornveld of Dinokeng Nature Reserve, South Africa. “Sunbird Babbler” ~ A Pied Babbler tries to be a sunbird amongst flowering succulents in the Dinokeng Nature Reserve. A crepuscular Orange Ground Thrush perches on an endangered Dawn Redwood at Benvie Gardens, Karkloof, South Africa. A Capped Wheatear stands tall next to its nest on the baron plains of Kgomo Kgomo. A Little Stint patrols the beach front at Umngazi River Bungalows in the Eastern Cape. A Burnt-necked Eremomela feeds low down in the canopy of an acacia tree on the Zaagkuildrift to Kgomo Kgomo birding route. A Pennant-winged Nightjar after a brief thunder shower in the miombo woodlands of Dzanlanyama Forest. A Red-collared Widowbird calls from his carefully selected perch in the high altitude grasslands of Rietvlei Nature Reserve. A male, Narina Trogon stops for a brief moment in his valley forest habitat, before flying down to join his partner below. A Lesser Swamp Warbler creeps to the top of a prominent reed at Marievale Bird Sanctuary. A Mountain Wagtail stops on a beautiful boulder in the middle of a Midland’s river near Balgowan, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa A Bar-throated Apalis perches momentarily in its broad-leafed woodland habitat in the Waterberg, South Africa. A Bearded Vulture glides over the Drakensberg mountains at Giant’s Castle, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa An African Rail skulks from one side of the wetland to another at Marievale Bird Sanctuary near Nigel, South Africa A female, Cuckoo Finch in her “cisticola rich”, grassland habitat. A Long-tailed Widowbird stands proud in the high altitude grasslands of Rietvlei Nature Reserve, Gauteng, South Africa A male, Malachite Sunbird helps himself to nectar in a Wakkerstroom garden. A petite White-bellied Sunbird feeds on the nectar of a tiny, blue flower in the Waterberg biosphere, South Africa. A Common Waxbill perches for a brief moment amongst a field of flowers at Rietvlei Nature Reserve. A Barrow’s Korhaan raises his voice on the open plains of Direkiesdorp near Wakkerstroom. An endangered, Rudd’s Lark steps out onto a grass track in the middle of his dense, dew-filled, grassland habitat. An exquisite Malachite Sunbird blending in to the hilltop tangles at Giant’s Castle in the Drakensberg. A Violet-eared Waxbill perches out in the open of its dry, acacia habitat. An Egyptian Plover stands alert on the banks of the Benoue River in Cameroon. A sub adult, Bearded Vulture (sub-adult) soars over his Drakensberg kingdom. tf-prnt-20180060-web A Blue Crane forages in an open Karoo plain at Mountain Zebra National Park, Eastern Cape, South Africa. “Busy Builder” ~ A male, Thick-billed Weaver building its nest in typical reedbed habitat, close to water. “Early Morning Owlet” ~ As the early morning sun lights up the background, a petite, Pearl-spotted Owlet perches on a magnificent tree in the heart of the Waterberg A Karoo Prinia stands tall amidst the open Karoo plains near Prince Albert, Western Cape, South Africa. A male, Drakensberg Rockjumper stands in his typical, upright stance on a moss covered boulder in early morning light. A male, Drakensberg Siskin sits on a boulder amongst boulders at the top of Naude’s Nek. “Cisticola in the Cosmos” ~ A Leveillant’s Cisticola sings his heart out in the Cosmos of Devon’s Farmlands. A Pied Kingfisher fishing from his favourite, rocky perch on the east coast of South Africa. A Fan-tailed Widowbird struts his stuff for any nearby females at Thurlow Game Reserve, South Africa A male, Coqui Francolin cross a red-solied, farm road to take cover in thick roadside grassland. An Orange-breasted Bush-shrike stops for a brief moment in the canopy before continuing on her way at Mabula Game Reserve, South Africa. A Capped Wheatear watches the sun rise over his winter, farmland habitat near the town of Devon, south east Gauteng, South Africa A Marsh Owl looks out across his bushveld habitat at the start of the Zaagkuildrift to Kgomo Kgomo birding route. An alert Half-collared Kingfisher checks her surroundings on a small river in the Natal Midlands, South Africa. A male, Cape Rockjumper sings from his rocky perch at the top of Swartberg Pass near Prince Albert A Striped Kingfisher displays in its broad-leaved woodland habitat in De Tweedespruit Conservancy near Cullinan, South Africa A Marsh Owl hunts over his grassland habitat on the farm roads near the town of Devon, south east Gauteng, South Africa “Misty Mornings” ~ A Black-headed Heron stands motionless on a small jetty on a dam in the Natal Midlands, South Africa. A Black-winged Lapwing calls from his prominent perch on the rocky slopes of Mbona Game Reserve, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa A Black Crake emerges from its dense reed habitat to investigate a dead crab. “Mopane Magic” ~ A Magpie Shrike perches in glorious Mopane Woodlands on the Klopperfontein Road in the northern Kruger National Park, South Africa. A Fan-tailed Widowbird perches in a field of wild flowers at Thurlow Nature Reserve, Natal Midlands, South Africa. “The Mighty Mphongolo” ~ A Grey Hornbill sits on the side of the Mphongolo River (near Sirheni) in the northern Kruger National Park, South Africa. A Bar-throated Apalis perches momentarily in its broad-leafed woodland habitat in the Waterberg, South Africa A White-crested Helmetshrike forages for food near the reception area of Mantuma Camp, Mkhuze Game Reserve, South Africa “Winter in the Bushveld” ~ A Violet-eared Waxbill catches the first rays of the winter sun at Dinokeng Nature Reserve.
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