The thrill of bird photography

There's something really special about getting your first good bird photo. The type of photo you look at and just know is not as rubbish as the hundreds you've taken before.

For some reason, I've not gone to too much trouble to take photos of birds in England, where I live, even though there is an abundance of color here.

Twitchers in Britain can often be heard proclaiming 'Look at that magnificent crossbill' or 'What a great tit!', without any hint of irony. But despite the beauty of jewel-like blue tits, red-breasted robins, blackbirds, magpies, in my case familiarity has bred, if not contempt, then just plain indifference.

But when I'm lucky enough to go travelling, and I'm surrounded by world-famous landmarks, buildings, mountains, rivers, I'll always give a passing bird preference, no matter how drab.

Excellent bird photography is to be had in South Africa, including Cape Town, where I travelled about a year ago. The bird that really caught my eye there was the African black oystercatcher. It is quite skittish and quick to flee humans but because of its vivid colors (jet-black body; long, scarlet bill) it's easily noticeable. On one occasion, I was wading into crashing waves in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve to get a shot of two oystercatchers on a rock.

They both watched me closely but correctly deduced I wouldn't be able to get to them. That didn't bother me. I had a 300mm telephoto lens and just wanted to get close enough to get a decent shot. The result turned out to be my favorite: they both turned in opposite directions to each other to keep an eye on me, in effect mirroring each other.

Unfortunately, that image hasn't made it onto Dreamstime yet - although I hope to have it on in the near future.

Another, more perky, character I met on my Cape Town travels was a Familiar Chat. Familiar indeed. This fellow (or gal) literally eyeballed my lens and posed for about a minute before swooping off. It was after food and since we'd stopped at a picnic site when I saw it, I reckoned that's what it usually got from passing tourists and locals.

Finally there were the African penguins, which have a colony on Boulders Beach in Simonstown on the outskirts of Cape Town. These comical characters can provide hours of entertainment and if you're ever in the area, I'd suggest putting aside at least a day to photograph them. Formerly known as jackass penguins, because of their braying call, they are a familiar sight in zoos such as London Zoo. But as most know, nothing beats the sight of a wild animal in its real environment.

Photo credits: Davidgarry.

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