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 Narina Trogon sits motionless low down in the canopy of lowalnd forest in Coutada 11, Mozambique. 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. “Eagle’s Eye View” ~ A Verreaux Eagle glides over the cliffs of the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens. “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 Burnt-necked Eremomela feeds low down in the canopy of an acacia tree on the Zaagkuildrift to Kgomo Kgomo birding route. A Lesser Swamp Warbler sits amongst tall reeds on the edge of a wetland at Marievale Bird Sanctuary. An African Harrier Hawk (or Gymnogene) raids a weaver’s nest in search of eggs or chicks at Nambiti Game Reserve, South Africa. “The Holy Grail” ~ An African Pitta stands alert on top of a low hanging branch in the lowland forests of Coutada 11, Mozambique. “Busy Builder” ~ A male, Thick-billed Weaver building its nest in typical reedbed habitat, close to water. A Marsh Owl looks out across his bushveld habitat at the start of the Zaagkuildrift to Kgomo Kgomo birding route. 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) A male, Drakensberg Rockjumper looks out on his boulder strewn, mountain side habitat at the top of Naude’s Nek. “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. A Lizzard Buzzard, with a lizzard in his talons, sits in his typical broad-leaved woodland habitat “Motionless” ~ A Squacco Heron sits motionless while fishing in a wetland channel at Marievale Bird Sanctuary, Gauteng, South Africa. A Rosy-throated Longclaw stands alert in his grassland paradise at the Nebila Peninsula near Hluhluwe, KwaZulu Natal. A White-winged Widowbird calls and fans his tail to attract attention at Rietvlei Nature Reserve, Gauteng, South Africa An African Rail skulks from one side of the wetland to another at Marievale Bird Sanctuary near Nigel, South Africa “A Robin’s Magical Garden” ~ A Bearded Scrub Robin in his magical garden on the banks of the Blyde river. Purple Heron A male, Narina Trogon stops for a brief moment in his valley forest habitat, before flying down to join his partner below. Courting White-throated Swallows select an open perch in one of the reed enclosed, waterways of Marievale Bird Sanctuary. A Black Crake emerges from its dense reed habitat to investigate a dead crab. A Common Waxbill perches for a brief moment amongst a field of flowers at Rietvlei Nature Reserve. A sub-adult Black-shouldered Kite practices hunting over the grasslands of south east Gauteng, South Africa A skulking, Eastern Nicator stops for a brief second in the thick, green landscape of Hluhluwe Game Reserve before moving off with its chosen bird party. 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 Capped Wheatear stands tall next to its nest on the baron plains of Kgomo Kgomo. A Long-tailed Widowbird displays over the beautiful farmlands that surround the town of Devon in south east Gauteng. A male, Malachite Sunbird helps himself to nectar in a Wakkerstroom garden. “Sunbird Babbler” ~ A Pied Babbler tries to be a sunbird amongst flowering succulents in the Dinokeng Nature Reserve. A Little Stint patrols the beach front at Umngazi River Bungalows in the Eastern Cape. A Marsh Owl looks out across his bushveld habitat at the start of the Zaagkuildrift to Kgomo Kgomo birding route. A Pennant-winged Nightjar after a brief thunder shower in the miombo woodlands of Dzanlanyama Forest. An endangered, Rudd’s Lark steps out onto a grass track in the middle of his dense, dew-filled, grassland habitat. A Cuckoo Finch perches amongst the invasive Pom Poms at Rietvlei Nature Reserve. A Crimson-breasted Shrike takes up his early morning calling post in the acacia thornveld of Dinokeng Nature Reserve, South Africa. A Lesser Swamp Warbler creeps to the top of a prominent reed at Marievale Bird Sanctuary. A Western Cattle Egret sits on his favourite perch as the sun rises over the grasslands of Rietvlei Nature Reserve. A Ground Woodpecker sits charecteristically on a boulder on the slopes of the Sani Pass. A Bronze-winged Courser stands alert on a dirt track through the broad-leaved woodlands of north east Cameroon. A female, Cuckoo Finch in her “cisticola rich”, grassland habitat. A Green-capped Eremomela perched in his typical broad-leafed woodland habitat at Lindani Game Reserve, Waterberg, South Africa (Edited ~ removed distracting foliage top right) A Red-collared Widowbird calls from his carefully selected perch in the high altitude grasslands of Rietvlei Nature Reserve. A pair of Wattled Crane stand in unison, as they watch over their pristine grassland habitat in Ntsikeni Nature Reserve. An exquisite Malachite Sunbird blending in to the hilltop tangles at Giant’s Castle in the Drakensberg. A Pied Kingfisher fishing from his favourite, rocky perch on the east coast of South Africa. A sub adult, Bearded Vulture (sub-adult) soars over his Drakensberg kingdom. A male, Green Twinspot perches on a mossy branch in his dark and gloomy forest habitat. A Long-tailed Widowbird stands proud in the high altitude grasslands of Rietvlei Nature Reserve, Gauteng, South Africa “Cisticola in the Cosmos” ~ A Leveillant’s Cisticola sings his heart out in the Cosmos of Devon’s Farmlands. A Common Waxbill perches for a brief moment amongst a field of flowers at Rietvlei Nature Reserve. A Bar-throated Apalis perches momentarily in its broad-leafed woodland habitat in the Waterberg, South Africa. A female, Violet-eared Waxbill comes down to drink at a puddle in the red sands of the Kalahari. A Barrow’s Korhaan raises his voice on the open plains of Direkiesdorp near Wakkerstroom. A male, Drakensberg Siskin sits on a boulder amongst boulders at the top of Naude’s Nek. A European Bee-eater in its “spring time” grassland habitat. A Violet-eared Waxbill perches out in the open of its dry, acacia habitat. An African Rail stands upright and alert between two wetlands hoping that he will have time to feed on a newly found crab shell. A curious, Yellow-streaked Greenbul peers at me from his vantage point in the canopy (near Woodbush Forest, Magoebaskloof) 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 Sickle-winged Chat looks out over his rocky terrain at the top of Naude’s Nek. An African Harrier Hawk raids a weaver’s colony at Nambithi Game Reserve near Ladysmith, South Africa An Egyptian Plover stands alert on the banks of the Benoue River in Cameroon. A male, Coqui Francolin cross a red-solied, farm road to take cover in thick roadside grassland. An Orange Ground Thrush scans her territory from a moss strewn branch in a forest adjacent Benvie Garden in the Karkloof A male, Cape Rockjumper sings from his rocky perch at the top of Swartberg Pass near Prince Albert An African Harrier Hawk stands alert before setting off on an early morning hunt in the woodlands of De Tweedespruit Conservancy, Gauteng, South Africa An Ovambo Sparrowhak enjoys the early morning sun on her urban perch near Rosebank, South Africa “Drakensberg Display”~ A male, Pin-tailed Whydah displays from his favourite perch with the Central Drakensberg in the background A Bar-throated Apalis perches momentarily in its broad-leafed woodland habitat in the Waterberg, 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 Capped Wheatear watches the sun rise over his winter, farmland habitat near the town of Devon, south east Gauteng, South Africa “Acacia Chat” – A Familiar Chat sits precariously on a classic, acacia thorn branch in the Waterberg A Marsh Owl hunts over his grassland habitat on the farm roads near the town of Devon, south east Gauteng, South Africa 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 Tinkling Cisticola sits motionless on the overhanging branches of a Transvaal Beech tree at the edge of broad-leaved woodland in north east Gauteng, South Africa A Striped Kingfisher displays in its broad-leaved woodland habitat in De Tweedespruit Conservancy near Cullinan, South Africa An iconic African Fish Eagle perches above a river in Dinokeng Nature Reserve, South Africa.
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