Still image human action recognition (HAR) is a challenging problem owing to limited sources of information and large intra-class and small inter-class variations which requires highly discriminative features. Transfer learning offers the necessary capabilities in producing such features by preserving prior knowledge while learning new representations. However, optimally identifying dynamic numbers of re-trainable layers in the transfer learning process poses a challenge. In this study, we aim to automate the process of optimal configuration identification. Specifically, we propose a novel particle swarm optimisation (PSO) variant, denoted as EnvPSO, for optimal hyper-parameter selection in the transfer learning process with respect to HAR tasks with still images. It incorporates Gaussian fitness surface prediction and exponential search coefficients to overcome stagnation. It optimises the learning rate, batch size, and number of re-trained layers of a pre-trained convolutional neural network (CNN). To overcome bias of single optimised networks, an ensemble model with three optimised CNN streams is introduced. The first and second streams employ raw images and segmentation masks yielded by mask R-CNN as inputs, while the third stream fuses a pair of networks with raw image and saliency maps as inputs, respectively. The final prediction results are obtained by computing the average of class predictions from all three streams. By leveraging differences between learned representations within optimised streams, our ensemble model outperforms counterparts devised by PSO and other state-of-the-art methods for HAR. In addition, evaluated using diverse artificial landscape functions, EnvPSO performs better than other search methods with statistically significant difference in performance.