I have always wanted a camera. From a very young age I have conjured up the photographs I would have liked to take by framing them with my fingers. My eldest brother had a Brownie Box Camera and developed the black and white photographs (we didn’t think of them being monochrome then) himself. What magic it was to see the pictures emerging and then being hung up to dry!

My first camera was a Kodak Instamatic. It was compact enough to fit into my rucksack when we hiked in the Natal Drakensberg and it was robust enough to survive a number of falls. During the 1970s we mostly used slide film – what an expensive business. One could reduce the cost by mounting one’s own slides if one could cut straight and had sufficient patience.

I recall wonderful evenings at university when members of the Mountain Club would gather in a lecture theatre to share their slides of the various outings we had been on. It was great fun seeing these on a large screen. Some years later, we would hold family slideshows, which were also fun for everyone.

I was sans a camera for years until I received a Konica SLR as a gift. By then slides were no longer an option and so, with a growing young family, taking colour prints made sense. I have filled albums with the antics of our children. This was also an expensive undertaking, however, as one paid for the duds too (oh, so many of them!).

Along came the wonder of digital photography. The magic of this made my fingers itch to record so many aspects of nature. My children had grown up and were leading their own lives away from home when I became the proud owner of a Sony DSLR. Still stuck in the mode of having to pay for developing and so on, my first forays into digital photography were very conservative: I would take perhaps twenty photographs on an outing – now I take hundreds!

One afternoon I was sitting on a bench at the Berg-en-Dal rest camp in the Kruger National Park when a bearded man stalked past me without making eye contact. I was still cradling my camera in my lap on his return along the path. This time he paused to ask me to identify a particular bird call. “It’s a Black-headed Oriole” I replied with a smile for I had been watching it flit from tree to tree. He took this as a cue to tell me about his camera, a Pentax with the same range as my Sony. He told me he had taken some lovely photographs of birds.

“They must be good,” he informed me because his brother-in-law “who is a ‘real birder’ often admires them.” He gave me a rundown of the specs of his camera and told me proudly that it ‘only cost’ what he regarded as a reasonable sum. “It is probably more versatile than the long lenses I see poking out of windows everywhere”, he assured me.

On that note, I must relate my experience with long lenses. If you want to see a collection of enormous lenses in the wild, visit the bird hide at Lake Panic near Skukuza – also in the Kruger National Park. On one of the earliest times I entered there I almost felt like hiding away the camera I was so proud of: it was minute in comparison with the canon balanced on the ledge by the camouflage-kitted photographer sitting next to me.

I sat quietly for some time, observing the birds and the terrapins, while listening to the whirrs and clicks all around me. My camera was way outclassed! Nonetheless, it was inevitable that I would also want to photograph the Grey Herons feeding their chicks. Then the terrapins sunning themselves on a rock drew my attention. A Giant Kingfisher perched on a branch well above my head … I extended my telephoto lens and clicked self-consciously. At some stage I murmured something self-deprecating to my canon-wielding neighbour. He turned to me with a twinkle in his eye.

“I am focused on the herons and that is all I can photograph at the moment. I cannot move this lens in a flash to catch the kingfisher as you have just done.” He explained that he had moved ‘up the ranks’ of cameras and lenses until he had reached a point of specialisation. “I have thousands of photographs,” he smiled. “Now that I can afford a lens like this I want ‘special’ photographs – something out of the ordinary; something ‘different’.”

In due course I became dissatisfied with the quality of the bird photographs I was taking. My Sony retired when I did and I now have a Canon 200D with a Tamron lens. It is still a ‘smallish’ camera that has a little better ‘reach’ and provides me with enormous pleasure – as does the camera on my cell phone!



While this Grey Heron was preening itself close enough to the edge of the water to see its fine reflection …

Its cousins, the Black-headed Herons, were stomping about in the veld looking for food. See how this one is striding across some open ground in the hope of finding some terrestrial invertebrates.

Meanwhile, a relative thought a more grassy area might prove to be more useful in terms of finding something to eat.

It certainly has a gleam in its eye!


I have been meaning to come back to this Grey Heron ever since I featured a photograph of it standing on the edge of a waterhole earlier this month. I mentioned then how patiently it waited for “it was there for a long time before it moved a muscle”.

It did tilt its head slightly, its eyes sharply focused on the water. After what seemed like an age, it stepped off the bank towards the water.

With its eyes still sharply focused, the heron stepped into the water with barely a splash.

Its head barely seemed to move, certainly the stare remained fixed, as it waded in more deeply.

In a flash the spear-like beak was stuck below the surface of the water …

… and came up with nothing!

The ever-patient hunter returned to ‘freeze’ mode.


I have featured the antics of this Cape Wagtail before. Here it is perched on a vehicle roof before fighting with its reflection. These birds are commonly seen both at the picnic site and in the rest camp area:

One of the birds that make me feel satisfied after driving through the Addo Elephant National Park is the Pale Chanting Goshawk – usually seen perched atop a bush as this one is:

Evidence that spring is on its way is this (possibly – I am not good about identifying fleeting glimpses of canaries) Brimstone Canary collecting soft items with which to line its nest:

It is always pleasing to see an Ant-eating Chat too:

Helmeted Guineafowl can be surprisingly difficult to photograph for, despite their size, they move quickly through the grass near the edge of the road:

A bird that gives one plenty of time to focus on is the Grey Heron. This one is patiently waiting at the edge of a waterhole – and I mean patiently: it was there for a long time before it moved a muscle:


This Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) had been staring across the dam for some time before it decided the time was right to get its feathers into order. Feather maintenance is important and each feather needed to be aligned: one feather at a time, which means this process cannot be done in a hurry.

After poking and pulling as it preened its feathers, the heron kept its sinuous neck bent and looked ahead as though wishing for a mirror – or still feeling a little dissatisfied with its appearance – and so more picking, poking, pulling and sorting of feathers followed.

The feathers had to be worked over to preen away the dust and the dirt including those on the breast, the back, under the wings and over before paying attention to the feathers at the nape of its neck. At last the heron stretched its body and shook its feathers vigorously. Only then it felt right and ready to get on with the business of keeping watch for its next meal.