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 Gorgeous Bushshrike delivers his teltale call at Tala Game Reserve near Pietermaritzburg, South Africa “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) 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. A Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler perches on an Outhout tree near Balgowan, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa A Knysna Turaco stops for a brief second in a gap in its forest canopy at Nature’s Valley, Eastern Cape, South Africa. A Lesser Swamp Warbler sits amongst tall reeds on the edge of a wetland at Marievale Bird Sanctuary. 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. An exquisite Half-collared Kingfisher perches on a river-side boulder before entering her nest in the Natal Midlands, 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. “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 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. A Lizzard Buzzard, with a lizzard in his talons, sits in his typical broad-leaved woodland habitat “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 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 “Motionless” ~ A Squacco Heron sits motionless while fishing in a wetland channel at Marievale Bird Sanctuary, Gauteng, South Africa. A Common Waxbill perches for a brief moment amongst a field of flowers at Rietvlei Nature Reserve. 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 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 Crimson-breasted Shrike takes up his early morning calling post in the acacia thornveld of Dinokeng Nature Reserve, South Africa. A Long-tailed Widowbird displays over the beautiful farmlands that surround the town of Devon in south east Gauteng. A crepuscular Orange Ground Thrush perches on an endangered Dawn Redwood at Benvie Gardens, Karkloof, South Africa. “Sunbird Babbler” ~ A Pied Babbler tries to be a sunbird amongst flowering succulents in the Dinokeng Nature Reserve. 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 male, Narina Trogon stops for a brief moment in his valley forest habitat, before flying down to join his partner below. A Red-collared Widowbird calls from his carefully selected perch in the high altitude grasslands of Rietvlei Nature Reserve. A Lesser Swamp Warbler creeps to the top of a prominent reed at Marievale Bird Sanctuary. A Bar-throated Apalis perches momentarily in its broad-leafed woodland habitat in the Waterberg, South Africa. A Mountain Wagtail stops on a beautiful boulder in the middle of a Midland’s river near Balgowan, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa A female, Cuckoo Finch in her “cisticola rich”, grassland habitat. An African Rail skulks from one side of the wetland to another at Marievale Bird Sanctuary near Nigel, South Africa A Bearded Vulture glides over the Drakensberg mountains at Giant’s Castle, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa 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 Common Waxbill perches for a brief moment amongst a field of flowers at Rietvlei Nature Reserve. A petite White-bellied Sunbird feeds on the nectar of a tiny, blue flower in the Waterberg biosphere, South Africa. 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. 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. An Orange Ground Thrush scans her territory from a moss strewn branch in a forest adjacent Benvie Garden in the Karkloof An exquisite Malachite Sunbird blending in to the hilltop tangles at Giant’s Castle in the Drakensberg. 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 male, Drakensberg Rockjumper stands in his typical, upright stance on a moss covered boulder in early morning light. A Karoo Prinia stands tall amidst the open Karoo plains near Prince Albert, Western Cape, South Africa. 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 Fan-tailed Widowbird struts his stuff for any nearby females at Thurlow Game Reserve, South Africa A Pied Kingfisher fishing from his favourite, rocky perch on the east coast of South Africa. A male, Coqui Francolin cross a red-solied, farm road to take cover in thick roadside grassland. A Capped Wheatear watches the sun rise over his winter, farmland habitat near the town of Devon, south east Gauteng, South Africa 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 Marsh Owl looks out across his bushveld habitat at the start of the Zaagkuildrift to Kgomo Kgomo birding route. A male, Cape Rockjumper sings from his rocky perch at the top of Swartberg Pass near Prince Albert An alert Half-collared Kingfisher checks her surroundings on a small river in the Natal Midlands, South Africa. “Misty Mornings” ~ A Black-headed Heron stands motionless on a small jetty on a dam in the Natal Midlands, South Africa. 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 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. A Bar-throated Apalis perches momentarily in its broad-leafed woodland habitat in the Waterberg, South Africa A Fan-tailed Widowbird perches in a field of wild flowers at Thurlow Nature Reserve, Natal Midlands, 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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