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. 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 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. A Red-faced Mousebird keeps a watch at Kwamasinga Waterhole, Mkhuze 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. “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 Marsh Owl looks out across his bushveld habitat at the start of the Zaagkuildrift to Kgomo Kgomo birding route. A male, Drakensberg Rockjumper looks out on his boulder strewn, mountain side habitat at the top of Naude’s Nek. 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) “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. “Motionless” ~ A Squacco Heron sits motionless while fishing in a wetland channel at Marievale Bird Sanctuary, Gauteng, South Africa. A Lizzard Buzzard, with a lizzard in his talons, sits in his typical broad-leaved woodland habitat 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 A Common Waxbill perches for a brief moment amongst a field of flowers at Rietvlei Nature Reserve. Purple Heron An African Rail skulks from one side of the wetland to another at Marievale Bird Sanctuary near Nigel, South Africa A sub-adult Black-shouldered Kite practices hunting over the grasslands of south east Gauteng, South Africa A White-crested Helmetshrike forages for food near the reception area of Mantuma Camp, Mkhuze Game Reserve, South Africa A male, Narina Trogon stops for a brief moment in his valley forest habitat, before flying down to join his partner below. A striking, male Drakensberg Rockumper standing characteristically on a rock amongst a field of beautiful, yellow flowers. 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 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. “Winter in the Bushveld” ~ A Violet-eared Waxbill catches the first rays of the winter sun at 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. “Sunbird Babbler” ~ A Pied Babbler tries to be a sunbird amongst flowering succulents in the Dinokeng Nature Reserve. A male, Malachite Sunbird helps himself to nectar in a Wakkerstroom garden. A Pennant-winged Nightjar after a brief thunder shower in the miombo woodlands of Dzanlanyama Forest. 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. An endangered, Rudd’s Lark steps out onto a grass track in the middle of his dense, dew-filled, grassland habitat. A Western Cattle Egret sits on his favourite perch as the sun rises over the grasslands of Rietvlei Nature Reserve. A Lesser Swamp Warbler creeps to the top of a prominent reed at Marievale Bird Sanctuary. 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 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. 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) 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 Long-tailed Widowbird stands proud in the high altitude grasslands of Rietvlei Nature Reserve, Gauteng, South Africa 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. “Cisticola in the Cosmos” ~ A Leveillant’s Cisticola sings his heart out in the Cosmos of Devon’s Farmlands. A Barrow’s Korhaan raises his voice on the open plains of Direkiesdorp near Wakkerstroom. A European Bee-eater in its “spring time” grassland habitat. A male, Drakensberg Siskin sits on a boulder amongst boulders at the top of Naude’s Nek. A Violet-eared Waxbill perches out in the open of its dry, acacia habitat. An Orange-breasted Bush-shrike stops for a brief moment in the canopy before continuing on her way at Mabula Game Reserve, South Africa. An African Rail stands upright and alert between two wetlands hoping that he will have time to feed on a newly found crab shell. An Egyptian Plover stands alert on the banks of the Benoue River in Cameroon. A Sickle-winged Chat looks out over his rocky terrain at the top of Naude’s Nek. 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 raids a weaver’s colony at Nambithi Game Reserve near Ladysmith, South Africa tf-prnt-20180060-web A male, Drakensberg Rockjumper stands in his typical, upright stance on a moss covered boulder in early morning light. “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 Bar-throated Apalis perches momentarily in its broad-leafed woodland habitat in the Waterberg, 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 Karoo Prinia stands tall amidst the open Karoo plains near Prince Albert, Western Cape, South Africa. A Marsh Owl hunts over his grassland habitat on the farm roads near the town of Devon, south east Gauteng, South Africa An African Harrier Hawk stands alert before setting off on an early morning hunt in the woodlands of De Tweedespruit Conservancy, Gauteng, South Africa “A Robin’s Magical Garden” ~ A Bearded Scrub Robin in his magical garden on the banks of the Blyde river. A Capped Wheatear stands tall next to its nest on the baron plains of Kgomo Kgomo. An Ovambo Sparrowhak enjoys the early morning sun on her urban perch near Rosebank, South Africa A Striped Kingfisher displays in its broad-leaved woodland habitat in De Tweedespruit Conservancy near Cullinan, South Africa “Busy Builder” ~ A male, Thick-billed Weaver building its nest in typical reedbed habitat, close to water. A Black Crake emerges from its dense reed habitat to investigate a dead crab. A Black-winged Lapwing calls from his prominent perch on the rocky slopes of Mbona Game Reserve, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa
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