On Photographing a Black-shouldered kite

Photographing birds is a rewarding pastime. Rewarding but also incredibly frustrating. Birds seem to be able to sense when you are about to take a photograph and duck behind a convenient branch or take to flight a millisecond before you press the shutter release. How many photos have I taken of any empty branch, perhaps with a blur disappearing out of the frame? Typically the bird of interest will then settle just out of range; usually out in the open. And moving cautiously closer, camera poised, just sends it fluttering further away. Putting a longer lens on your camera has the same effect, as if the birds can read the focal length on the front of the lens and know just what its range is.

But occasionally, just often enough to maintain your interest in this taxing pastime, the little object of your attention will hang around for long enough for you to capture the image you were aiming for. And very, very occasionally the gods of digital imaging smile on you and you find yourself in just the right spot at the right time, with your camera in hand.

We had just such a moment in the Etosha Game Reserve a few weeks ago.

Black-shouldered kite

Jane was driving, I was in the passenger seat with my camera at the ready when we saw a Black-shouldered kite on a low bush at the side of the road, with a large lizard in its claws. We stopped quickly. Reversed, fully expecting the kite to depart. I took a few pictures from afar, then Jane eased the car closer and into a better position. Still the kite stayed on. A car whizzed past, through the gap between the kite and our vehicle and the kite extended its wings momentarily, but stayed on its perch. And when the dust stirred up by the passing car had settled I was able to get a great sequence of photos!

If we had happened along this road a minute earlier, or a minute later we would have missed it. If the kite had settled a few metres back from the road, or if it had been a little more nervous of our presence, we would have missed it. That kind of luck is just all too rare!

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