Amateur photographer and financial manager Jan van Wyk’s love for nature, and especially kingfishers, has come a long way. Ask him to pick a few of his favourite images of these beautiful birds and a search through thousands of pictures ensues. By Arnold Ras
Jan van Wyk’s passion for photography began with a keen interest in the environment. “I grew up on a farm, which is where I fell in love with nature. Our first holiday was in Kruger and I started taking pictures of animals. Before long I had a tick-list going of all the birds I’d seen. Suffice to say, I was bitten by the bird photography bug.
“Growing up, I spent my weekends at dams and reserves, looking for birds to photograph. It meant getting up very early so I could be at the right place at the right time to capture the action.
“Although I began by photographing the Big Five, I found there are so many more opportunities to snap birds. And this is what I find most satisfying. Digital cameras make it much easier to take pictures of kingfishers, but your reaction time is the determining factor.”
Tell us more about your love for kingfishers.
Kingfishers are some of the most beautiful and colourful birds. They are very active so there are ample opportunities to photograph them in flight and when they hunt.
How many kingfisher species have you captured on camera?
I currently have images of six species in my collection, but three are still dodging my lens. I hope to soon tick them off my list.
How do you go about taking that perfect kingfisher picture?
Patience, patience and more patience. You have to be at the right spot as early as possible, the lighting has to be ideal and you have to be willing to spend a lot of time examining their behavioural patterns. You have to act quickly when the moment presents itself.
Jan’s five favourite kingfisher pictures (see below)
- I discovered a woodland kingfisher’s nest at Loskop Dam Nature Reserve in February 2015. I visited the nest for nine days to explore how the chicks are fed and what type of food the parents take to the nest – from frogs and small fishes to insects and even little snakes. My photo collection shows behaviour that has never been captured before.
- I spotted a half-collared kingfisher at Loskop Dam. This species is particularly difficult to photograph while flying. When the birds land with kill such as crabs and fish in their bill, it makes for eye-catching photographs.
- This photograph of a giant kingfisher snatching a crab mid-flight is all action – but it took a long time to realise. My eyes were fixed on the bird for about an hour before it caught the crab.
- At Lake Panic in the Kruger National Park I spotted this pied kingfisher preying on tilapia. The bird smashed the fish on a branch and swallowed it.
- I was lucky enough to capture images of the malachite kingfisher at both Lake Panic and Loskop Dam. They are a particularly small species, but I had my camera ready when one took a bath.
What’s your favourite national park?
We live relatively close to Kruger and visit the park a few times a year, but my favourite park is the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Which camera do you currently use?
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV with a 400mm lens
Your knowledge of kingfishers is evident…
To photograph birds you have to study their behaviour. You have to know when they will be doing certain things. I read a lot of books and scour the internet for studies on kingfishers.
Additional source: Birds of Southern Africa (fourth edition), by Ian Sinclair, Phil Hockey, Warwick Tarboton, Peter Ryan
See more of Jan’s photos on the SANParks’ community forum. The gallery is currently shy of 100,000 views!