Photographing from Bird Hides

View from inside Mankwe hide, Pilanesberg

What is a 'Hide'?

According to Wikipedia a bird-hide is a shelter, most often made of wood, that is used to observe wildlife, especially birds, at close quarters.

Although hides were once built chiefly as a hunting aids, they are now commonly found in parks for the use of bird watchers and other observers such as wildlife photographers who do not want to disturb wildlife as it is being observed.

A typical bird-hide resembles a garden shed, with small openings, shutters, or windows built into at least one side to enable observation.

Photographing from these wooden structures

Photographing from bird hides can be challenging but very rewarding so we will discuss which ones are our favorites and why.

We’ll also look at the best times of day to visit them.

The only accessory you will need for your camera and lens in the various structures will be a bean-bag

Apex beanbag with long lens

We like the Apex Beanbag as it comes in three sizes and allows you to use it just as a beanbag or to add a gimbal head or ballhead to it but any beanbag will do for bird-hides.

Pilanesberg:

• Rathlogo faces west so mornings are best but afternoons can produce nice back-lit pictures.

• Mankwe – faces east but both mornings and afternoons are good as the structure is a ‘C’ shape and you can shoot both east and west. Mornings can also provide great silhouettes and sun reflections.

Mankwe hide, Pilanesberg

• Malatse – faces east so afternoons are best. Our sightings here have not been great.

• Ruighoek – faces south-east so afternoons are best. We have been here often but have not had good sightings.

The remaining two structures (Makorwane and Batlhako) in the Pilanesberg both face north so the lighting on sunny days is not good unless you are there at sunrise and sunset. Later in the day you'll be shooting into the sun.

To us Pilanesberg is all about these small wooden structures and we have taken our best photographs from Rathlogo and Mankwe.

Most of these structures have burnt down due either to lightning and veld fires or some officials / FOPS (Friends of Pilanesberg) starting fire breaks near the structure and then not monitoring them...

The remains of the burnt Batlhako hide in Pilanesbeg

Makorwane, Batlhako and the vulture structure have all burnt down in the last three years. The vulture structure was not rebuilt.

The newly rebuilt Makorwane hide, Pilanesberg

Kgalagadi:

• Nossob – faces east so afternoons are best. The waterhole is floodlit so night-time action is a possibility.

• Mata Mata – also faces east so again afternoons are best and it is also floodlit.

The waterhole has been moved about fifty meters to the south so it now lies in front of the eight new river-facing chalets but can still be seen from the structure. The old waterhole may still be operational but it had no water in it when we visited in March 2010.

Kruger Park:

There are eleven bird-hides located throughout the park, excluding the ones within camps - all five bushveld camps have these wooden structure as do Punda Maria, Tamboti, Letaba, Skukuza, and Shingwedzi camps. Some of these hides are private such as the one at the Fish eagle guest house in Letaba camp. Only the residents staying in the guest cottage are entitled to use it.

• Lake Panic – faces east so afternoons are the best time to visit. Lake Panic has given us some very nice pictures so we rate it the number-1 bird-hide in the Kruger Park. It has never disappointed us as it always has some sort of activity be it hippos, crocodiles, birds or elephants. Lake Panic can get busy as it is very near Skukuza camp and sometimes we have not been able to get a seat so try and get there after an early lunch!

Lake Panic Hide Kruger Park

• Sweni – faces east so afternoon is the time to sit here. There are normally crocs sitting on the rocks and sand-banks, hippos and water birds. Sweni is not as busy as Lake Panic so if you want peace and quiet this is the place...

Sweni Hide Kruger Park

• Ratel Pan – faces west so morning is the best time to sit here. There are normally crocs and water birds sitting on the islands of sand...

Ratel Pan Hide Kruger Park

Please don't write the other eight structures off - try them if you are driving past. We have not had consistently good sightings at them but you may. For example, Gardenia (near Berg en Dal) has so much potential as the water is so close to the structure but animals tend to visit other water sources in the area...

Gardenia Hide Kruger Park

Nthandanyathi - between Lower Sabieand Crocodile Bridge camps has a few hippos and the odd elephant so it's not our favorite but one day we decided to visit and we were rewarded with a bright green spotted bush snake in the tree in front of the structure...

Spotted bush snake Kruger Park

Etosha:

Until 2014 Etosha did not have public 'hides' - they had only small covered viewing platforms at each of the three main camp waterholes.

Etosha does, however, have hides that are/were used for research purposes such as the ones at Otjovansandufontein in the west and Mushara in the east.

In 2007, when Etosha celebrated its centenary, there were plans for the construction of public hides at three select waterholes and eventually in 2014 a new public hide was constructed at Olifantsrus in the west of the park.

To see more images of the new Olifantsrus hide please see our March 2015 Trip Report.

Olifantsrus hide in western Etosha

Madikwe:

In Madikwe there is just one public hide at Nkwe Pan in the south-western part of the park but Jaci’s Tree Lodge has one overlooking a large waterhole, The Bush House has an underground hide and Makanyane Safari Lodge has a sleep-out hide...


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