Category: Landscape

"Union Strike" © Harvey Grohmann

“Union Strike” © Harvey Grohmann

Shot details: Nikon D7000 | Sigma 28-70mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM
ISO-400 | f/7.1 |2s | EV -0.0 | Program Mode: AP | AF – Manual Focus | Tripod & GimPro Gimbal
Post Processing in part with Topaz Labs
Location: @ Pretoria, GP, South Africa.

Chasing Highveld storms on a typical summer afternoon. This lightning struck perfectly behind Pretoria’s Union Buildings and inspired the name “Union Strike”; considering how many labour strikes South Africa has endured since ANC rise to power in ’94 it’s ironically appropriate. The “Freedom Park blue lights can be seen bottom left. Photographing storms is not for the faint-hearted. Toward the end of shooting (2 hours) the storm was moving our way. The sheet lightning was awesome to see but we “bolted” and escaped all the same!

Gear I use: Bodies: Nikon D-SLR’s / Lenses: Nikon, Sigma, Tokina, Vivitar
Filters: Hoya UV & Polarizing / Flash: Nikon Speed-lights / Bag: Lowe Pro
Tripods & Heads: Manfrotto / Grips, Triggers, Timers, Batteries etc: BandH
Editing Plug-in: Topaz Labs Noise Reduction, HDR, B&W Conversion & more!

ALL IMAGES ON THIS SITE ARE © Harvey Grohmann. Read more for Terms and Conditions:
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Red-Knobbed Coot © Harvey Grohmann

Red-Knobbed Coot © Harvey Grohmann

I recently had the pleasure of co-hosting a winter visit to Marievale Bird Sanctuary with friends, colleagues, birders and photographers. Up at 4am & a 5am departure from Midrand we arrived at the gate at 5h50. The trek up the reserve to the old bridge (built in the 1880’s) was mostly dark but on arrival in partial light saw us step out into -8.5° C temperature. Some of the wetland waterways were thinly or partially frozen over but it didn’t deter the Red-Knobbed Coots who were swimming away merrily and feeding before the sun had even shown itself, nor the Cape Shovellers or Red-Billed Teals from flying in. All in all we spotted over 50 species of birds, from African Rail, African Snipe, Purple Gallinule, Little Swamp Warblers, African Marsh Harrier and Greater Flamingoes. Water and Yellow Mongoose were seen as were a Mountain Reed-buck pair. With the arrival of AMD (Acid Mine Drainage) and the massive influx of invasive reeds clogging the waterways the numbers of birds is decreasing, due de-oxygenation and algae and increase of contaminants thus a lack of fish and insects.
Despite this Marievale is still a wonderful place to visit. Get there if you can! Especially in summer and as a group.

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View Midrand to Marievale Bird Sanctuary Provincial Nature Reserve, Nigel, South Africa in a larger map

Gear I use: Bodies: Nikon D-SLR’s / Lenses: Nikon, Sigma, Tokina, Vivitar
Filters: Hoya UV & Polarizing / Flash: Nikon Speed-lights / Bag: Lowe Pro
Tripods & Heads: Manfrotto / Grips, Triggers, Timers, Batteries etc: BandH
Editing Plug-in: Topaz Labs Noise Reduction, HDR, B&W Conversion & more!

ALL IMAGES ON THIS SITE ARE © Harvey Grohmann. Read more for Terms and Conditions:
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The Park’s expansive scenery from grasslands surrounded by the Maluti Mountains is a photographers dream. Hiking and birdwatching are also a great reason to getaway here at the first opportunity. Many unusual species of bird can only be found here. Why did it take me 30 years to visit Clarens and Golden Gate National Park!?

Mild highveld summers with the possibility of thunderstorms in the afternoon and cold winters with occasional snow transforms the park into a white wonderland. Birds are a lot more scarce in winter but it shouldn’t stop you from being vigilant, as they are there and patience is required to get sightings and photos. I went to try catch a glimpse of the bearded vultures but despite a wonderful new hide funded and built by the SAN Parks Honorary Rangers on the site of the old hide, there were no regular drops of carcasses despite Park staff insisting this happens on Thursdays.

I’ve underlined the species I saw on my trip bar one or two LBJ’s I’m still identifying.

Look for Cape Rock-Thrush, Pied Starling and Red-winged Starling, Malachite Sunbird, African Stone Chat, Yellow Bishop, Ground Woodpecker, Swainson’s Spurfowl, Cape Rock-Thrush, a number of sparrow species and Cape Weaver. Cape Grassbird and Bush Blackcap in summer have been seen at the Campsite as well as Barratt’s Warbler between the wooded bush and the sandstone cliffs. Alpine Swift and African Black Swift nest in summer and Rock Martin and Greater Striped Swallow. A pair of Verreauxs’ Eagle usually breed each year on the ‘Brandwag’ or sentinel buttress, directly opposite the hotel; other smaller raptors such as Lanner Falcon and Rock Kestrel. Behind the hotel the valley has been noted to be good for African Harrier-Hawk, Cape Grassbird and Wailing Cisticola. Grey-winged Francolin, Bearded Vulture, Cape Vulture and White-necked Raven. At protea Corner look out for Gurney’s Sugarbird and Malachite Sunbird, especially when they are flowering. There’s a small dam on the Western side of the park and African Black Duck, assorted warblers and Southern Bald Ibis breed in the park and surrounds.

Winter temperatures can drop to a mere -9 to -15 degrees C with snow a regular occurrence.

Golden Gate primarily falls in a summer rainfall area (September to April). Annual rainfall is approximately 760 mm per year. In very wet years this figure can rise to 1250 mm. The area is prone to sudden weather changes.

Gear I use: Bodies: Nikon D-SLR’s / Lenses: Nikon, Sigma, Tokina, Vivitar
Filters: Hoya UV & Polarizing / Flash: Nikon Speed-lights / Bag: Lowe Pro
Tripods & Heads: Manfrotto / Grips, Triggers, Timers, Batteries etc: BandH
Editing Plug-in: Topaz Labs Noise Reduction, HDR, B&W Conversion & more!

ALL IMAGES ON THIS SITE ARE © Harvey Grohmann. Read more for Terms and Conditions:
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I decided to make a long overdue visit to Wakkerstroom on my way to a wedding in Sodwana Bay to visit friends and birders Sandy and Kevin. They escaped the bustle of the city in 2009 and bought a home a stones throw from the wetland.  I can now understand why it’s is such a popular destination, especially for birders.

I only had half a day and a night at early Autumn (April) to explore, yet I had some good bird sightings (photographically though too far for any award winning bird shots). One needs a week or long weekend with the usual amounts of patience with a side order of…time. However scenery and travel style images also await your camera as you will see in the slide show.

Lying in a unique grassland Biome; the source of the Vaal, Usuthu, Phongolo and Thukela rivers and surrounded by the Versamel Mountains the valley village of Wakkerstroom is a must see destination when exploring South Africa. In isiZulu, the river that passes close to town is known as Uthaka (Utaga), which roughly translates into a wide-awake (Wakker) river (Stroom) or  lively stream.

There are also numerous historical sites and as always in towns throughout South Africa a number of beautiful churches, the oldest, St Marks – Anglican dating back to 1880. There are also Catholic, Lutheran and an NG Kerk to explore or worship in on a Sunday. There is much to see and do; Arts and Crafts, biking, hiking, bushmen art, a 1938 SAR Class 19D No 2690 Borsig steam locomotive, Opikopi Museum. Ossewakop & Scotch Hill which may have inspired Sir Ryder Haggard who sometimes stayed in Wakkerstroom in the 1870’s to write about two enormous lava-covered volcanic mountains, called Sheba’s Breasts, in his novel, King Solomon’s Mines. A Roller mill, which dates back to 1904 is the only one of its kind still in operation.

Wakkerstroom is indeed a hidden gem and whilst this was a quick recce for future workshops, I immediately fell in love with it. The Wakkerstroom Country Inn serves a killer lunch / dinner and the numerous bistro’s, cheese factory and craft shops are also a must visit for their healthy fare, bric-a-brac, antiques and owners with heart warming stories and genuine love of the area. Townsfolk are friendly and real characters. There is also an annual classic music festival in March. A beautiful town steeped in history, period buildings, wetlands and the vistas of surrounding hills are to die for. If you have a few bob buy a hideout here and visit as often as you can.

I can arrange a photo workshop with self catering cottage, B&B or fully catered for between 4-6 budding photographers (spouses welcome).

Get a quote / Book a workshop here.

The area conjures up sightings of many of Southern Africa’s endemic birds as well as migrants, pristine wetlands, perfect hides, beautiful hikes, fishing and fine dining.

According to SA Birding:

The Wakkerstroom/Amersfoort area is famous among birders as the easiest area to find three highly endemic species restricted to South Africa’s high altitude grasslands – Rudd’s Lark, Botha’s Lark and Yellow-breasted Pipit. A total of 13 bird species are endemic or nearly so to South Africa’s Grassland Biome and nine of these, including Rudd’s Lark, Botha’s Lark and Yellow-breasted Pipit, plus Southern Bald Ibis, Blue Korhaan, Eastern Long-billed Lark, Sentinel Rock-Thrush, Buff-streaked Chat and Drakensberg Prinia can easily be found here during a full day’s birding in summer. A second day could yield forest endemics such as Bush Blackcap and Chorister Robin-Chat. Add to these another 33 southern African endemics or near-endemics and it is easy to see why the area is a magnet for foreign as well as South African birders. Habitats range from open grassland to mist belt forest, gorges and cliffs, with extensive wetland habitat in the form of vleis, pans and dams.

Thank you Sandy and Kevin for putting up with us Joburgers and making us feel at home. We’ll be back in the summer! Sandy is a keen birder and photographer. Her bird book collection could fill a library and her images not only of the birds but of the area are unhurried, natural and breathtakingly beautiful:

Autumn Sunrise Southern Hemisphere © Sandy McKenna 2012

Wakkerstroom – Official Web Site

Wakkerstroom Bird Club – Facebook Page

Wakkerstroom Ama Click Click Photo Club – Facebook Page

BirdLife South Africa Wakkerstroom Tourism and Education Centre – Facebook Page

Birdlife South Africa Wakkerstroom Tourism Centre – Web Site

Directions from Midrand, Gauteng about 3 hours.


View Midrand to Wakkerstroom Wetland NR, Wakkerstroom 2480, South Africa in a larger map

Gear I use: Bodies: Nikon D-SLR’s / Lenses: Nikon, Sigma, Tokina, Vivitar
Filters: Hoya UV & Polarizing / Flash: Nikon Speed-lights / Bag: Lowe Pro
Tripods & Heads: Manfrotto / Grips, Triggers, Timers, Batteries etc: BandH
Editing Plug-in: Topaz Labs Noise Reduction, HDR, B&W Conversion & more!

ALL IMAGES ON THIS SITE ARE © Harvey Grohmann. Read more for Terms and Conditions:
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Thank you Mother Earth for presenting me a palette to take images like this:

Gear I use: Bodies: Nikon D-SLR’s / Lenses: Nikon, Sigma, Tokina, Vivitar
Filters: Hoya UV & Polarizing / Flash: Nikon Speed-lights / Bag: Lowe Pro
Tripods & Heads: Manfrotto / Grips, Triggers, Timers, Batteries etc: BandH
Editing Plug-in: Topaz Labs Noise Reduction, HDR, B&W Conversion & more!

ALL IMAGES ON THIS SITE ARE © Harvey Grohmann. Read more for Terms and Conditions:
(more…)