Just South African Stories: Birds of Kruger

Anywhere you go in the world, there are birds: small, large, drab, gaudy. Noisy or silent, they are hunters of both seed and flesh. They owe their feathers and guile to the dinosaurs.

Birds of Kruger National Park in South Africa are as diverse a group as any. From cuckoos to vultures, they inhabit the park as if they own it. Furtive owners, maybe, depending on their rank in the food chain, but owners none-the-less.

With my Animals of the Greater Kruger guidebook in hand, I hurried to identify all the birds I had seen, much less the birds I actually got photos of, or rather, usable photos. I can accurately say that I easily saw 50% more birds than I could photograph. The Daring Dixon told us that birding trips are available in Kruger, a tantalizing idea.

Travel the world joining birding groups? If only I was in a certain very high income strata.

So here are the birds I captured on digital—one can’t say ‘film’ any more—with my beloved Samsung 21X telescoping camera, with info about habits and habitat gleaned from my guidebook.

Wildlife companion birds.

Cattle egret and friend

The cattle egret forages in the company of large animals, like the elephant, giraffe and rhino, because as these beasts stroll through the bush, they kick up delicious insects and grubs.

Seen perched on giraffe and Cape buffalo, the red-billed

Red-billed oxpecker

oxpecker dines on parasites—fleas, fly eggs, whatever may prefer to live in the pelts of these beasts.

Insect feeders.

The African hoopoe uses his beak to penetrate deep into the soil looking for beetles.

African hoopoe

Mixing reptiles into her diet along with insects, the yellow-billed hornbill is an beautiful omnivore.

Yellow-billed hornbill

My book tells me Burchell’s coucal is a reclusive bird, but I managed to get several shots of this guy.

Burchell’s coucal

Magpie shrikes were everywhere, not at all concerned to show off their long tales–I meant ‘tails’.

Magpie shrikes

The European roller is a colorful bird, and my book tells me it follows locust swarms. See his photo at the top.

Hunters of bigger game.

The amusing hammerkop—hammer head—wades in shallow water looking for small animals. Frogs? Fish?


My eagle photos are not that great, but I tried, how I tried. Here we have the brown snake eagle and the martial eagle. The martial eagle is bigger, and the brown snake eagle eats snakes, crushed, head-first. My vulture photos are just too blurry, sadly.

martial eagle

Does anyone know of a birding photography class?

Brown snake eagle

Birds I saw but was unable to photograph: the pied crow, jacobin cuckoo, carmine bee-eater, African fish-eagle, and marabou stork. Sigh.

Anyway, enjoy the photos. There was so little time to pay attention to birds, when lionesses and black rhinos were in around.




About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


Just South African Stories: Birds of Kruger — 6 Comments

  1. Two things helped my bird photography skills.

    The first was the realisation that many of the most stunning bird photos are taken with camera traps, which explains how the photographer managed to train a heavy long lens on a very small object at the right time: the bird came to the camera. This is not something I can replicate, ever, so I’m starting with more realistic expectations.

    The other is that I got a lot of practice in at falconry displays: you not only get a chance to see birds of prey close up, they’re often commented, so you know approximately where the bird will be and what it will be doing, so it’s easier to point the camera and catch the right moment.

    Other things I’ve learnt are
    – crank up the ISO: not only are birds fast, but I have a habit of trying to follow their movement.
    – don’t try to fill the frame: better to crop a shot later than to clip a bird’s wings.
    – walk in aviaries (zoos) and duck ponds are great practice grounds: identifying rare birds is a whole other ball game, and it’s much more fun if you’re confident about bird photography.

  2. I know of no photography class for birds, but I have heard the tip that if a bird on a branch poops, it’s about to take off.

  3. I feel for you on the photography. My family has had yards for hummingbirds for decades but our pictures never came to much. Dad had too much fun looking at them to remember to raise his camera to take a photo!

    I can say that if you have ground feeding birds like doves around, there is a chance a large bird of prey will keep an eye on your location. I had a golden eagle try his luck several times in my courtyard, and a huge raven had a successful hunt. Most of the doves moved out at that point!