The Lilac Breasted Roller, LBR to those in the know, is one of the most beautiful birds on the planet, indigenous to the southern portions of Africa. There, they are quite common, like a blue jay in New England. Photographing one of these beauties is easy if you want one sitting on a branch as there is seemingly an LBR on every tree along the side of the any road in Namibia. But try and photograph one in flight? It’s an entirely a different story.

Sitting on a branch the LBR is quite beautiful and an easy photograph to capture.

You can even catch one eating a frog.

Although beautiful, they have some characteristics that can make you cringe – poor frog. [photo by Kathryn]

This is the story of a man with a camera and a bird doing everything in its power to not be photographed.  Normally I would not care if I photographed one in flight but I saw an image of one just prior to our trip.  Dang, it was beautiful, much more so than sitting on a branch. I knew right then I had to get an image of an LBR in flight.

We had completed many a safari game drive, six days worth, without even a chance of capturing the desired image. I was starting to believe that it wasn’t going to happen.

At the very end of our Namibian trip, the tide turned in our favor. While driving back from our morning visit with San Peoples, we noticed LBRs all over the place. Unfortunately the sun was high above, casting its harsh light everywhere. So, we made a plan for later. For our afternoon visit with the San, we would leave a few minutes early, leaving time for photographing the LBR (in flight). The light would be better, we would be less tired, and most importantly, it would be our last chance.

The road was sandy and bumpy at the same time, awful for the coccyx. It didn’t matter, we were honing in on the shot. We bounced around until we saw one perched on a leafless tree. Ryan stopped the vehicle. I rolled the window down and set up for my shot. Nothing happened, the LBR just sat there. OK, I can fix this. I got out of the vehicle and walked toward the tree. The LBR was gone before I could lift my camera.

Driving a little bit further, we spotted another one (or maybe the same one, doesn’t matter). We repeated the strategy. This time I could barely make it a few meters (they use the metric system in Namibia) before the LBR took off.  We needed a new plan.

Luckily our super guide Ryan had some familiarity with this bird. His new plan was to get out of the vehicle and flush the LBR after I had my camera positioned and ready. This has the makings of a great idea – I don’t have to move. We spotted another LBR just a few moments later. I got ready and Ryan got to work. I rolled down the window and positioned my camera pointing just in front of the LBR’s head. Ryan exited the vehicle and waited for my signal. I gave the “go” signal. It’s an ingenious signal, where I yell “go!”

Ryan crouches while slowly walking toward the LBR. Why he is crouching I do not know. When he is within 20 meters of our prey, it flies off. But, in the wrong direction! I was definitely not ready for this. These birds are omni-directional! This process repeats itself a few more times. Ryan’s plan was better than mine but still not effective. We needed yet another plan.

I am getting exasperated but Ryan stays cool and calm. Ryan finally realizes he must approach the LBR in a certain direction to encourage it to fly into my zone. After many failures we finally get it to work! Maybe it was the plan. Maybe it was Ryan’s persistence. Maybe it was the skill of the photographer. Regardless, the photo was captured.

Flushed in the right direction.

An amazing bird when in flight.

The Lilac Breasted Roller is beautiful in flight, and I now have one for my collection.