Skittering across the water – the (un)Common Moorhen

Marievale Bird Sanctuary is a small area of wetland, bounded by farms, distant dwellings, power pylons, a highway, about an hour’s drive east of Johannesburg, and – despite its size – home to an astonishing variety and number of birds, waterfowl in particular.

The last (and only) time I had been there was about ten years ago, when my daughter Eve and I had ventured forth in the Landy, and spent a happy day in bird hides and in open country, watching and photographing the coots, cranes and other birdlife. On Easter Friday, Rob and I made a return visit.

Bird photography is notoriously difficult, and I have seldom been happy with my images, so in preparation for our day out of town I did some research, including into the almost magical powers of the Nikon D500. The upshot was that, the night before, I set the camera to burst mode and continuous focus, set a high ISO of 2000, and the shutter speed to 1/4000 of a second.

Thus prepared, I ventured forth with Rob – and I have to say, am more than happy with the results. This common, moorhen, for instance, skittering across the water.

Nikon D500, 70-300mm. Processed in Lightroom and Colour Efex Pro.

Photographing rhino

Photographing rhino, in my amateur experience, can be a challenge. Mostly the problem is finding them in the first place, and when you do see them they tend to be just standing around, galumphing great hulks, or snoozing in the shade of a tree, where the light is awful.

If you’re a pro, you wait for the right moment – and waiting can mean a long, long time, before something interesting happens. When you’re not a pro, just someone like me, you’re either driving, with limited time at your disposal, or you’re on a game drive, which means someone else is driving, and there are a whole lot of others with you, who want to look, snap a picture, and get a move on.

So I was really glad to get these two, contrasting images, one somnolent, the other full of energy and movement, and work them up in black and white. They were taken during our visit to the St Lucia Wetlands, but across the road as it were, in the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, a mere 45 minutes from the town itself.

It’s worth a visit.

The crocs of St Lucia

As I have mentioned, there are crocs enough in the St Lucia Wetlands to form a walkway across the water, Crocodile Dundee-style, should anyone want to make so bold. Or be so foolish.

But these images are not from the wild, they are from the Crocodile Centre located in the reserve, instead. We were lucky enough to come across one female, in a state of suspension, trance-like, humped over a shallow hole she had dredged in the sand, and watch as her body periodically arched, while she dropped into the hole one soft, glistening crocodile egg after another.

St Lucia ‘seconds’

One of the things about St Lucia that makes things a little tricky for the photographer is the vegetation – dense, lush, green, all too often in the way of a clear shot, especially for the traveling amateur or tourist who does not have the luxury of lying in wait, sometimes for days or weeks, to make that definitive image.

These images are definitely ‘seconds’, not the first quality – but I share them because of the moments they capture: a giraffe, with an ox-pecker or tick bird over one eye, a clutch of zebra resting on one another’s rumps, a zebra seeming to laugh, or bark, or whinny, an impala (perhaps the best shot of the lot, in photographic terms) turning to look back at us.

Whales, Walker Bay

We were in Cape Town last weekend, the Heritage Day long weekend, and on Sunday we took my mother out to Hermanus and Gansbaai to see the whales. On previous occasions we had seen them close in, near the Old Harbour, but not this time. We were lucky, however, to spot one or two far out, way across Walker Bay, so we drove round to Gansbaai, another 40 kilometres along the coast, in hope of a better view, and were just in time to see a pod of humpbacks quite close in, before they tired of us and slipped beneath the waves.

I’ve tried in these images to give a sense of their presence, in the wildness of the ocean. Which is a way of introducing the fact that I have plans for a new blog, focusing only on my photography, which I will run in parallel with this one – Keep Calm and Carry On – which will focus more on the friends, family and happenings side of things.

In the meanwhile, however, here are four black and white photographs of the whales in Walker Bay. They will, if you pardon the pun, in all likelihood resurface in my new photography blog, once I’ve got round to setting it up.