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Birds Archives

Amethyst Sunbird Feeding Juvenile

Amethyst sunbird feeding juvenile Caption: Adult male Amethyst Sunbird feeds a juvenile female while both cling to the stem of a red-hot poker, Curry’s Post, KZN, South Africa.

Camera: Canon EF 50D; Lens: Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM; Focal length: 400mm; Aperture: f/8; Shutter speed: 1/1250; ISO: 640

I don’t have a garden in front of my cottage – just a tiny patch of lawn that falls away to natural grass that, at this time of year, is thick and very unkept.

Last year I did, however, plant three red-hot pokers on the edge of the lawn. This summer one colorful head bloomed, soon discovered by the sunbirds.

White taking some photos of a female amethyst sunbird (Chalcomitra amethstina) feeding on the nectar of the red-hot poker, an adult male appeared. Immediately the female opened her bill and the male responded by feeding her.

I don’t know why a male would feed an adult female in this way, so can only assume this was a juvenile, although it seemed quite capable of finding its own nectar from the red-hot poker (below, left). On the right is the adult male.

Female amethyst sunbird feeding on nectar of red-hot pokerAdult male Amethyst Sunbird feeding on nectar of red-hot poker

Amethyst Sunbird

Male Amethyst Sunbird on Freylinia tropica shrubCaption: Male Amethyst Sunbird on Freylinia tropica shrub, showing the bird’s all black body with distinctive metallic green forecrown and iridescent purple throat and shoulder patches, Curry’s Post, KZN, South Africa.

Sunbirds, because of their small size and the way they flit from flower to flower at high speed, are not easy to photograph.

I’ve found the best time to snap them is when they settle for a moment to feed on nectar from a flower, or perch briefly on a twig before flying off. Then you have to hope they aren’t partly hidden by flowers or leaves, or in mottled shade from the foliage. And, of course, you need a catchlight in the eyes, so the head needs to be facing the right direction.

Colorful Double-Collared Sunbird

Southern Double-collared sunbird on freylinia tropica plant Caption: Male Southern Double-collared Sunbird shows off its brilliant red collar and narrower, metallic blue collar while perched on a freylinia tropica plant, Curry’s Post, KZN, South Africa.

Camera: Canon EOS 50D; Lens Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM; Focal length 400mm; Shutter speed: 1/2000; Aperture: f/5.6; ISO 800; Exposure compensation: +1.

Scops Owl Peeking from One Eye

African Scops Owl peeking with one eye Caption: African Scops Owl peeks with one eye from its perch against the trunk of a tree, Satara Camp, Kruger National Park, South Africa.

Camera: Canon EOS 450D; Lens: Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM telephoto zoom; Focal length: 300mm; Shutter speed: 1/250; Aperture: f/5.6; ISO 400

The tiny African Scops Owl (Otus senegalensis) is the only very small owl with ear tufts. Its plumage closely resembles tree bark and it uses this effectively to camouflage itself.

During the day the Scops will often roost in a tree, positioning itself on a branch against the tree trunk where its cryptic coloring makes detection difficult. This camouflage is further enhanced when the owl compresses its feathers, appearing to elongate itself, while raising its ear tufts, closing its eyes, and creating the illusion of a tree stump.

White-Fronted Bee-Eaters

White-fronted bee-eater showing its full spectrum of colors Caption: White-fronted bee-eater (Merops bullockoides) looking over its shoulder to display the full color spectrum of its plumage, Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana.

Camera: Canon EOS 50D; Lens: Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 USM; Focal Length: 400mm; Shutter speed: 1/500; Aperture: f/5.6; ISO: 400.

Later this week I will be in Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana’s Tuli Block, where the above photo, and the ones below, were taken. That was in January. This time the game reserve will look very different — the start of winter in the Southern Hemisphere — with the vegetation turning shades of red, brown, and yellow.

While most the rivers in Mashatu will probably be dry except for the odd pool here and there, we should still see white-fronted bee-eaters as they are local residents, often found along the steep banks of dry rivers.

Although these bee-eaters are small birds, they’re not too difficult to photograph with a long lens (400mm to 600mm) as they tend to return to the same perch while hawking for insects. To me, the hardest part is getting an uncluttered background in a compatible color, free of distracting branches or blotchy patches.

In the top photo, the background is too mottled, while the light-colored twig not only bisects the whole image, but also the bird’s beak. I guess it could be eliminated with some cloning in Photoshop, but doubt it’s worth the effort.

The picture immediately below was taken early in the morning, so the sky appears washed out. However, even a deep blue sky is not ideal and can appear bland.

Pair of white-fronted bee-eaters perched on twig

Pair of white-fronted bee-eaters perched on twig in early morning light, Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana

The shot of the white-fronted bee-eater with an insect (below) has a relatively uncluttered background but the subject itself was in mottled sunlight, making correct exposure tricky.

When photographing wildlife, you can’t control the light or the subject’s position. Luck plays a large part in what you capture with your camera, but the more you try, the better your odds. And that’s a great incentive to keep shooting!

White-fronted bee-eater with insect

White-fronted bee-eater perched on a twig with insect in its beak, Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana

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