/ 4 August 2023

Meet the winners of SA’s premier bird photography competition

Birdlife South Africa Photography Competition Grand Prize Winner Halima Beale

Bird lovers and photographers flocked to the African Bird Fair in Johannesburg (and online) recently for the announcement of the winners of the inaugural BirdLife South Africa Photography Competition, in partnership with Canon South Africa. 

A professional panel of judges had the tough task of whittling down the more than 3 000 images received to a shortlist of 200, and then finally to eight exceptional images in different categories. 

In a serendipitous turn of events, the overall winning image by Halima Beale showed a sunset scene featuring the familiar silhouette of a blue crane, South Africa’s national bird.

This was especially fitting for BirdLife South Africa, the competition organisers, which are tasked with conserving South Africa’s birds and their habitats.

The competition, which raises funds for the conservation work of BirdLife South Africa, has captured the imagination of South Africa’s birdwatching and photography community. More than 400 photographers entered the competition, in support of the organisation’s work, but also in the hope of winning one of the prizes totalling almost half a million rand in 10 categories. 

The main categories were: action; portrait; birds in the environment; and garden, with secondary categories awarding the best photos of threatened and endemic species, an award for the best youth entry (for a photographer under 18), and a people’s choice prize. 

There was significant interest in the shortlisted images for the people’s choice category, with more than 4 000 members of the public participating in voting. 

Adam Buckham’s Cape Sugarbird

The quality and variety of images entered were outstanding. Roger Machin, product marketing manager for Canon South Africa and senior judge for the competition said: “We were really impressed by the efforts people went to, to get such amazing pictures of our country’s birds. Canon South Africa was very happy to be part of this competition, most notably with the big prize in the youth category. We really want to see the next generation of birders and bird photographers showing their stuff. Our judging team had a really hard time choosing the winners, with a few late night debates, but I’m sure you’ll agree that we have some great shots for BirdLife South Africa’s first photography competition.”

The overall winner, which also won the birds in the environment category, was a photograph of a Cape wetland just after sunset, with a single silhouetted blue crane reflected in the fiery orange water. The talented photographer, Halima Beale from Somerset West, walked away with the grand prize of a three-night, all-inclusive stay for two people at the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve worth R240 000, as well as access to more than R1 million worth of Canon camera gear to use on loan while at Tswalu.

 The prize includes dinner at the Klein Jan restaurant with Michelin star chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, a personal guide and tracker for the duration of the stay, as well as botanical and pangolin walks with the resident experts.

Beale was ecstatic upon hearing that she was the overall winner. 

“We were heading out to Wits and for our family getaway with the kids and grandkids. The sun was already setting when we drove past this piece of water with blue cranes and the most magnificent sunset. But, it was already dark and we were late so we drove past. Then my husband said to me, ‘No, let’s go back. This is too beautiful. You have to take this picture.’ So we did, and I jumped out in the dark with my camera and took a series of pictures, and here we are.”

Adam Buckham, the winner of the youth category, was just as excited. 

“Living in Cape Town, I have taken hundreds of pictures of Cape sugarbirds. However, on a particular day with a pumping southeaster, my dad and I decided to visit Tafelberg Road. After finding a group of sugarbirds feeding on a protea, we decided to try to get a winning shot. In this particular picture, I love how the wind has caused the tail to flap to the side of the bird’s body, creating a unique pose of an amazing bird. I have also grown to love soft lighting, and so the overcast day provided an excellent opportunity.” 

Adam took home a Canon EOS R7 camera with RF-S 18-45mm, RF 100-400mm and RF 600mm f11 lenses, valued at R50 000.

Johannes van der Merwe’s male pennant-winged nightjar

The other main category winners included a spectacular photo of a male pennant-winged nightjar displaying (Johannes van der Merwe, in the action category), a diminutive female swee waxbill perched delicately on a hanging branch (Dionne Miles, in the portrait category), and a female white-bellied sunbird hovering in place while drinking nectar from a Chinese hatplant (Holmskioldia sanguinea) (Philip van den Berg, in the garden category). 

The secondary categories featured a Cape cormorant framed from above against a crashing wave (Andrew Jenkins, in the threatened species category), a male swee waxbill feeding on a grass stem (Mike Buckham, in the endemic species category), and a male Cape sugarbird gripping a protea in a howling southeaster with its resplendent tail trailing horizontally behind it (Adam Buckham, in the youth category). The people’s choice winner was a shot of a rare black coucal in flight carrying a praying mantis (Roger Hogg). 

The announcement of the winners was the culmination of months of effort from BirdLife South Africa and Canon South Africa, who partnered to launch this first-of-its-kind competition. 

Roger Hogg’s rare black coucal in flight carrying a praying mantis

Mark D Anderson, chief executive of BirdLife South Africa, explained the significance and objectives of the competition: “Our annual photography competition provides us with an opportunity to showcase South Africa’s 870-plus magnificent bird species, through images captured across the length and breadth of our beautiful country, whether that’s in a famous national park or in a local garden. It is also a platform for our organisation to raise much-needed awareness of and funds for our conservation efforts, and we are extremely grateful to the many photographers who entered their images, and, in so doing, contributed towards our work.”

BirdLife South Africa would like to thank the many sponsors of the photography competition, including Canon South Africa; Tswalu Kalahari Reserve; Tintswalo at Boulders; The Royal Portfolio; The Oyster Box; RETURNAfrica; Struik Nature; Gardena; Elaine’s Birding and Wildlife Products; Birding Africa; and Cape Town Pelagics. BirdLife South Africa would also like to thank and acknowledge the five professional judges for their contributions, Roger Machin, Richard Flack, Lizet Grobbelaar, Prelena Owen, and Sandiswa Kula.

You can see all the winning images at: https://www.birdlife.org.za/photography-competition-2023.

BirdLife South Africa is the country partner of BirdLife International, a global partnership of conservation organisations that strives to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, by working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources. BirdLife International partners operate in more than 120 countries worldwide. BirdLife South Africa relies on donor funding and financial support from the public to carry out its critical conservation work