Bird Photography in Tanzania

April 13, 2018.Jim Jones.0 Likes.45 Comments

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Tanzania consistently ranks as one of the top places in Africa to visit for wildlife safaris. What many do not know is that it also ranks as one of the world’s top bird watching spots. Bird photography in Tanzania can be an exciting and rewarding adventure, and we’ll give you some insight into how to make the most out of it.

Why bird photography in Tanzania?

The first thing that makes Tanzania such a great destination for bird photography is the wide variety of species that are native to the country. The avifauna of Tanzania includes over 1000 species. This doesn’t even take into account species from other parts of Africa or southern Europe that appear during the migratory season.

Second, Tanzania’s climate is favorable year round. Temperatures are generally warm even into their winter months. Even in the coolest months (June through September), the lowest temperatures are still in the range of 20C (68F). In the hottest months, the highest temperatures are generally in the range of 32C (90F). Except near the coast, humidity is relatively low outside the rainy seasons. Most locations in Tanzania average 8-9 hours of sunlight a day, although this increases or decreases based on the season.

Finally, Tanzania has a wide variety of climates and microclimates. These range from tropical climates near the coast, to the highlands in the north, to the dry, arid plateau area in the center of the country. Each of these climates attracts different species of birds and other wildlife, which leads to the wide variety of species a visitor might see. This variety is what really makes bird photography in Tanzania so exciting and interesting.

Best Locations

The National Parks are some of the best destinations for bird photography in Tanzania. The country’s National Parks organization (TANAPA) focuses on keeping their parks pristine and as close to natural conditions as is possible. They also work to keep the animals safe from the encroachment of outside dangers like poachers, modern traffic and chemicals or pesticides. Below are some spots to consider when planning a bird photography trip to Tanzania.

Lake Manyara National Park

Lake Manyara National Park is approximately 280 Km (180 miles) west of Arusha, the nation’s capital. During the rainy season the lake can extend up to 330 sq Km (127 sq miles), but becomes much smaller during the dry season when much of the water evaporates. The dry season is the ideal time to visit, because all the birds generally can be found near the few remaining pools of water in the lake bed.

The park contains upwards of 400 native species of birds. During the migratory season, many additional species from other parts of Africa and Europe can be found in the lake. The park is well-known for various species of waterfowl including many species of pelicans, flamingos, ducks and geese.

Serengeti National Park

This park is one of the larger National Park regions in Tanzania, extending over approximately 14,750 sq Km (5,700 sq miles). The landscape in the park ranges from grassland plains to savannas, forest and woodlands. The park is located in the northern part of Tanzania and extends to the border between Tanzania and Kenya.

The park contains well over 500 native species. There are a number of endangered species in the park, particularly several types of hawks, eagles and kites (family Accipitridae). The open grassland areas of the park also support species like ostriches, bustards, larches and raptors.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is 180 km (110 miles) west of Arusha in the crater highlands area of Tanzania. The Area is features mostly plains landscape. It also contains Ngorongoro Crater – the largest inactive volcanic caldera in the world. Because the Conservation Area contains evidence of the earliest hominid life forms, it is often referred to as the Garden of Eden.

The park contains nearly 300 native species of birds. Herons, egrets and bitterns (family Ardeidae) as well as hawks, eagles and kites (family Accipitridae) are among the most common bird species in the Conservation Area.

What Equipment Should you Take?

When planning for a photographic safari, the question of what equipment to take – and to not take – is extremely important. You can and probably should pack light for a trip to Tanzania, which makes having the right equipment even more essential.

First, you should consider what type of camera to use. Very broadly, you have three choices of formats:

  • Full frame cameras: A “full frame” camera is one where the sensor is the same size as a 35mm film frame. Full frame cameras tend to be higher-end equipment and can be packed with lots of features. If you choose to bring a full-frame camera, make sure you spend significant time learning how to operate the functions and when to use them. Full frame cameras will generally provide you with the best image quality, allow for the most cropping of images, and will provide superior low-light images. One downside to be aware of is that full-frame cameras can be larger and bulkier than the other types of cameras we will discuss.
  • Crop-frame cameras: A “crop-frame” (or APS-C) camera has a smaller sensor than a full frame camera, and so generally tend to be smaller and lighter cameras. Due to the principles of optical physics, a crop-frame camera gives your lenses a longer effective focal length than they would have on a full frame camera. A 300mm lens on a full frame camera would have an effective length of approximately 420mm with a crop-frame camera. This means you will be able to more effectively capture birds and wildlife that are farther away from you.
  • Micro 4/3rds cameras: These cameras have a smaller sensor than the APS-C format. The cameras also use electronic viewfinder (EVF) technology. This allows manufacturers to create smaller and lighter cameras because they do not use prism technology like full- or crop-frame digital SLRs. Image quality for M4/3 cameras is equivalent to that of APS-C sensors, and in some cases are even better.

I wouldn’t recommend trying to do bird photography with a point-and-shoot camera or with your cell phone. You just won’t be able to get good image quality, and you’ll be disappointed with the results.

Once you choose your camera body, you’ll have to consider lenses. My go-to camera for bird photography is a full-frame body from Nikon, and I generally just take two lenses with me. I have a 70-300mm lens as well as a 24-85mm lens. The long lens lets me zoom into birds in trees or on the ground that are far away from me. The shorter lens lets me capture larger groups of birds in flight or gathering around a water pool. Shots with shorter lenses also can help you show birds in their natural habitat.

If you don’t have a long lens, never fear! Companies like LensRentals.com or RentALens.com allow you to rent equipment affordably and easily. Some local camera stores also provide gear rental services.

You’ll also want to take one or more guide books for identifying birds. Some highly-recommended selections are listed below:

If you prefer using your smartphone for bird identification, consider the app “eGuide to Birds of East Africa.” The guide is available for both Android and iOS devices.

Ready, Set…Go!

Now you have good advice on where to go for the best birdwatching in Tanzania and recommendations on equipment to use. It only remains for you to plan out your trip, and go! You’ll have the adventure of a lifetime doing bird photography in Tanzania.

If you’d like to see more of my bird photos from Tanzania, please visit my photo gallery!

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Comments (45)

  • Well Worn Suitcase . April 13, 2018 . Reply

    Wow, what an amazing trip! We would love to go on a trip like this, it is definitely on our list!

  • Lisa G . April 13, 2018 . Reply

    Thanks for all the tips about bird and nature photography. You explain it very well.

  • Maggie . April 13, 2018 . Reply

    I used to be really into Birding, so I loved this article!! I’ve never been to Africa, but I would love to go! So many fascinating animals there, particularly birds. Thanks for sharing!

    • (Author) Jim Jones . April 14, 2018 . Reply

      Africa is amazing. I love Tanzania and Kenya, and hope to visit more countries there someday.

  • Simone . April 14, 2018 . Reply

    Your picture are amazing!
    Great discovering your blog.

    • (Author) Jim Jones . April 14, 2018 . Reply

      Wow, thanks for the kind words – I’m very proud of my photos!

  • AMBER . April 14, 2018 . Reply

    I love Tanzania so much, it is one of my favourite countries. I can’t say I’ve managed to photograph birds here, but this is a great guide so thanks for sharing!

  • Nicola . April 14, 2018 . Reply

    Great tips. I’m not that into photography (not because I don’t like it but because I’m not very good) but I love watching all the birds! I had never heard of Lake Manyara National Park before but that looks like a little hidden gem. I would love to see some flamingoes!

    • (Author) Jim Jones . April 15, 2018 . Reply

      Glad you liked it, thank you! To get good, all you need is a lot of practice. 🙂 Lake Manyara is really cool…and the flamingos and pelicans are really neat!

  • Heraa . April 15, 2018 . Reply

    Wow this is so beautiful I would love to go to Tanzania. I just added it to my list of places I want to go next ?

  • Ella . April 15, 2018 . Reply

    Beautiful photos! I really struggle with bird photography because by the time I’ve got my camera set up with the right lens and settings, the bird has gone! Except with flightless birds like ostriches – I’m OK with those! So, got to admire all your photos as I know it can be so tough!

    I have a micro four thirds camera which has a crop factor of x2 and I find it great for wildlife photography as I get so much zoom – turns my 300mm into a 600mm 😉

    • (Author) Jim Jones . April 15, 2018 . Reply

      Thanks, I’m glad you liked the photos! I used to struggle with lenses, settings, and all that stuff…it just takes practice. After a while you get a “gut feel” for which lens to mount, when…and the settings just require a lot of practicing so you can make changes quickly. I use both a Nikon D610 as well as an MFT camera, and I really love the 2x crop on the MFT! 🙂

  • Mohana Das . April 15, 2018 . Reply

    Wow! I remember reading the names of these parks in Theroux’s Dark Star Safari. Africa is heaven for wildlife enthusiasts. It’s a different experience watching birds and animals in their natural habitats.

    • (Author) Jim Jones . April 15, 2018 . Reply

      I love reading travel-related books, so I’ll have to pick up Dark Star Safari! It is indeed a much different experience watching them in their wild habitat…really, really enjoyable and memorable!

  • Alexander Popkov . April 15, 2018 . Reply

    I listen to BnH photography podcasts and there were some episodes about Bird photography. The prices for equipment professionals use are insane. I have a full frame, but no way I gonna spend 10k euro for Canon 600mm F4 IS II, which is one of the bests in class. It also weighs a lot. I think I will buy a teleconverter to my 70-200 f2.8 and that’s it.

    • (Author) Jim Jones . April 15, 2018 . Reply

      Yeah, I’m with you…no way I’m spending that much money! That’s why I really like renting lenses/bodies for short-duration trips.

  • Gonca . April 16, 2018 . Reply

    It’s the hardest jobs ever. but the results are incredible. Especially in Tanzania!

  • Nathan . April 16, 2018 . Reply

    Thanks for suggesting this amazing alternative to safaris in South Africa! Tanzania looks like a fascinating place to explore the wide variety of flora and fauna available as well as to just enjoy nature as a whole. Nice shots of the birds there too!

  • Bernie . April 16, 2018 . Reply

    I can’t get over just how many species there are to see. That’s all great advice on the technical side too, and much needed by me, as I’m a beginner. I didn’t realise lens hire was a thing, but that sounds like a great way forward for those special trips where you need the right kit. As someone who once missed a kingfisher pic by dithering, I’ve taken copious mental notes.

    • (Author) Jim Jones . April 17, 2018 . Reply

      Yeah, I was kind of blown away by the vast variety of birds we saw, too! Glad the technical advice helped…that’s one of the things I want to focus (pun intended!) on in my blog, so it’s good to know it helped. If you ever have specific questions just hit me up via the “contact me” page!

  • Kelly . April 16, 2018 . Reply

    Wow that’s amazing there’s over 1000 species! I bet you had the most amazing trip! Your patiance shows with the fantastic shots

    • (Author) Jim Jones . April 17, 2018 . Reply

      Wow, thank you for the kind words!

  • daniele . April 17, 2018 . Reply

    I’m a photograph lover but never had the chance to do this kind of photography. Hope to start in an exotic place with the right camera 🙂 Your captures are amazing.

    • (Author) Jim Jones . April 17, 2018 . Reply

      Thanks for the kind words about my photos! Check out my galleries for more of my photography work.

  • Julz . April 17, 2018 . Reply

    Such an fab trip and something different to do when thinking about Safaris! I’d love to visit Africa some more!!!

  • Lance . April 17, 2018 . Reply

    I had no idea that there were so many species of birds in Tanzania, nor that it was a go-to destination for bird-watching and photography. This definitely gave me a new perspective on safari in Africa. It’s not all about the big cats. Stunning photography. I wish I were half as good with a camera.

    • (Author) Jim Jones . April 19, 2018 . Reply

      Yeah, most people think of “the big 5” when they think of safari in Tanzania – but as you can see from the post birds are a big thing as well! Thanks for the very kind words on my photos, glad you liked them!

  • Paul and Carole . April 25, 2018 . Reply

    Looks the perfect destination for some excellent bird photography. Includes some great tips too!

  • Aisha . April 28, 2018 . Reply

    These photos are stunning! I’ve always loved watching beautiful birds, and birding is a popular pass time in my home, Tobago. Looks like you found a great spot for this activity!

    • (Author) Jim Jones . April 28, 2018 . Reply

      Thanks for the kind words – glad you liked the photos!

  • Sherrie Fabrizi Allbritten . July 20, 2018 . Reply

    Jim, I love this post! Maybe it has to do with I love birds 🙂 So exciting and filled with adventure. I want to go on a safari..and soon!!!

    • (Author) Jim Jones . July 21, 2018 . Reply

      Thanks Sherrie! I hope you do get to go on one soon…make sure to write posts about it if you do!

  • Moimehr . July 20, 2018 . Reply

    Wow! I always expected to find some of the largest of animals in Tanzania. Wasn’t really expecting so many species of birds there. Also, that’s awesome photography. I got some good advice regarding camera and photography too here.

    • (Author) Jim Jones . July 21, 2018 . Reply

      Great, glad you enjoyed the post…and thank you for the kind words about my photos!

  • Marquita . July 26, 2018 . Reply

    Omg Tanzania isn’t on my upcoming list of places to visit but now I wish it was. What beautiful photos and birds!

  • Sam . July 27, 2018 . Reply

    I love photographing birds, unfortunately i do not have great gear for it at the moment. The lens rental is a good idea – I’ll have to remember that for when we go to wildlife rich places!
    Your photos are lovely, i particularly like the mid flight disagreement!

  • Tif . July 27, 2018 . Reply

    I love reading your Tanzania posts since I leave tomorrow for there!!! I am most excited to see an Ostrich!!

    • (Author) Jim Jones . July 28, 2018 . Reply

      Have a great trip, Tif! Bring back photos and stories!!! 🙂

  • Followingtherivera . July 27, 2018 . Reply

    I went to Tanzania many years ago, but agree that the climate is perfect. I’d love to return to one of their national parks and try my hand at photographing some of their wonderful birds. Maybe another trip is called for soon!

  • Katie . July 28, 2018 . Reply

    Thanks for sharing these tips. I have to show it to my other half, he loves birds and this will hopefully get him inspired to visit some countries in Africa. Thanks 🙂

  • Abhinav Singh . July 28, 2018 . Reply

    I am a birdwatching enthusiast and make at 3 to 4 birdwatching trips in a year. Tanzania indeed is an exciting destination for bird watching. 1000 species is a lot! I enjoy clicking smaller birds more. They are hard to click. I agree with you, bird photography with mobile phone and point and shoot camera is a big fail. I always shoot with DSLR and telephotolens.

  • Snita . July 28, 2018 . Reply

    This is such a great post! Some really handy tips in here for wildlife photography! I’ll certainly keep them in mind!
    Thanks so much for sharing!

    • (Author) Jim Jones . July 28, 2018 . Reply

      You are quite welcome! Hope the tips come in handy. 🙂

  • Claire . July 29, 2018 . Reply

    Beautiful photos of the birds! Also, thanks for the tips of the type of photography gear to pack, I always make the same mistake of packing too much! haha.. Looking forward to more of your gorgeous posts 🙂

  • SandyNVyjay . August 2, 2018 . Reply

    These are some great shots. Love your photography and the tips you have shared for bird photography. These tips are really useful. We would love to visit Tanzania soon.

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