The dramatic backdrop of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park provides unsurpassed opportunities for bird photography, says author and photographer Ed Aylmer. He shares  images of the park’s birdlife, which has adapted to the harsh desert conditions. 

When we at Wild saw Ed Aylmer’s photographs of birds in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, we were immediately won over. The images bring us close to creatures often seen only at a distance, giving a glimpse of their daily life. We asked Ed about his love for the park’s birds.

Why the Kgalagadi?

“I have visited most of the major national parks in SA and the Kgalagadi remains one of my favourite destinations for bird photography. It doesn’t have the large number of species that occur in the Kruger National Park, but because of the open environment, it provides great opportunities to photograph birds in uncluttered situations that make the subject stand out from its background.”

What birding is on offer?

“The Kgalagadi has approximately 280 species of birds of which only about 92 are resident. The remainder comprises migratory, vagrant and nomadic species. During the summer months, large numbers of migratory birds of prey descend on the park. Migratory storks and water birds are also present. The numerous waterholes along the Auob and Nossob riverbeds are good for sightings of colourful finches and waxbill species. The waterholes also offer opportunities for observing lanner and red-necked falcons which prey on unsuspecting doves and sparrows that come down to drink.”

KgalagadiRedHeadedFinch-EdAylmer-Jul 2015

A red-headed finch takes a drink at a rain puddle on the Nossob riverbed road. Pictures by Ed Aylmer

Your favourite bird species?

“Birds of prey, in particular the bateleur. It’s always a thrill to see this bird gliding effortlessly in the sky at low altitude with its characteristic short tail and side-to-side rocking motion. It is so Africa! I also enjoy photographing the very often overlooked LBJs (little brown jobs). These species include larks and pipits. The opportunity of capturing these birds in their natural habitat and then being able to identify them is very rewarding.”

KgalagadiBateleurEagleby-EdAylmer-Jul 2015

A bateleur eagle at Cubitje Quap waterhole.

What are typical camera requirements for bird photography?

“Use fast, long telephoto lenses typically in the range of 400 to 500 mm focal length with apertures of F2.8 to F4. This allows you to bring the subject closer and also with shallow depths of field, to separate the subject from its background. A good understanding of camera settings and how they are applied for different situations is also important.”

Tell us more about your camera equipment.

“I have previously used Canon 1D Mk2 and 7D bodies coupled with Canon 70-200mm F2.8 and 500mm F4 lenses. I have recently purchased two Canon 7D Mk2 bodies which are fitted to the above lenses. Bird photography, particularly flying birds, requires fast shutter speeds (1/2 000 second and faster) in order to freeze action. Focus and tracking capability of the camera are also key to good bird photography. The Canon 7D Mk2 fulfils all these requirements.”

KgalagadiBlackChestedSnakeEaglebyEdAylmer-Jul 2015

A black-chested snake eagle is being harassed by a fork-tailed drongo at the Nossob Camp waterhole.

KgalagadiSwalloTailedBeeEater-EdAylmer-Jul 2015

A colourful swallow-tailed bee-eater on the road to Mata Mata Camp. 

KgalagadiSpottedThickKnee-EdAylmer-Jul 2015

A spotted thick-knee on its nest is camouflaged amongst fallen camelthorn tree flowers and seed pods.

KgalagadiSecretaryBirdby-EdAylmer-Jul 2015

A secretary bird approaches the Kwang waterhole. P

KgalagadiLilacBreastedRoller-EdAylmer-Jul 2015

The lilac-breasted roller searches for food along Auob riverbed.

KgalagadiLappetFacedVulture-EdAylmer-Jul 2015

A lappet-faced vulture at Cubitje Quap waterhole.

KgalagadiPygmyFalcon-EdAylmer-Jul 2015

A pygmy falcon near Mata Mata camp.

KgalagadiNamaquaDove-EdAylmer- jul 2015

A Namaqua dove takes a drink at Veertiende Boorgat.

KgalagadiThreeBandedPlover-EdAylmer-Jul 2015

A three-banded plover foraging at Samevloeiing.

More about Ed

“My interest in birds goes back to my childhood, when a friend introduced me to bird watching. In those days there was no television and the technological distractions we have today. Weekends were spent birding in our neighbourhood using rather rudimentary equipment – including eyes. Since then I have pursued the hobby and always enjoy going to new destinations to record and photograph species that occur in the area.

“I currently reside in Johannesburg and work for an Australian mining company. My wife and I travel to the game parks on a regular basis and have two Kgalagadi trips lined up for the next six months. In addition to my love for wildlife photography, I am also a wildlife artist and am fortunate enough to use my images as art references. I have published a coffee table book on the Kgalagadi called A Harsh Paradise and I am working on a book which will focus on birds.”

Visit Ed’s website for more information.