I heard about a new vulture restaurant being building in the Golden Gate area in the Eastern Free State (South Africa) from a fellow photographer and Bloemfontein club member. similar to the hide at Giants Castle a few hundred kilometers away. So, my wife and I decided to pay Golden Gate a visit (just a relaxing weekend away from home) as it is only about 3,5 hours drive from Bloemfontein. I contacted Schalk (the friend who made me aware of the bird hide) earlier that week to arrange and get permission to visit the hide during the weekend. Another colleague of mine showed me the magnificent Highlands Mountain Retreat during a previous visit to Golden Gate (see more details of that trip in a previous trip report) and we decided to give it a go. And believe me, we were not disappointed. Highly recommended.
Late Friday afternoon we arrived at Glen Reenen reception and we were very disappointed to hear that the project manager of the bord hide did not leave the keys of the hide with the reception. So, we could not evaluate the hide from the inside. Luckily, as a last thought, I packed my own bird hide just before we left Bloemfontein. So, on Saturday morning we decided to have breakfast at Clarence and we came back, we sat for a about 1.5hours next to the established bird hide in our own chairs (bird hide ordered from sadectrade.com – thanks Werner for the tip) just next to the building. Unfortunately there wasn’t a vulture in sight – just one crow and a jackal. So we tried our hand at the crow but it was in the middle of the day – no good!! The jackal was scared away by other people visiting the hide.
Crow taking off with meat
(Nikon D3S, 600mmf4 fixed lens, ISO400, f4, 1/2500, exposure = -0.33, WB = auto, Aperture mode, on tripod with Wimberley head. As you can see, I did not bother to use my converter.)
We just wanted to get a feel for the situation and just the following:
- We looked through the windows of the hide and it looks very spacious inside (not like the hide in Giants Castle which was built in the late 1960s and can barely accommodate more than 3 photographers at one time).
- It was not easy to get a flying crow in focus and keep the focus because the long grass and nearly mountains in the background.
- Ever now and then people walked up to the hide from the nearby road (Oribi loop) and I think it might chase the birds or other animals away.
- Schalk told me they are looking at the openings (shooting holes) as the openings in canvas are too small for a 600mm lens and I do agree with him.
- There is not enough rocks/boulders around the hide for the vultures to land on. More landing areas are needed in strategic places – especially for photography purposes. But I am sure the bird/vulture experts will know better.
Overall I think it is great idea to have another vulture bird hide in the Drakensberg and closer to home. The hide is due to be opened next month (November 2012) and I really want to “test drive” it from the inside before making any more comments. At this stage I am optimistic about the hide itself but a few issues need urgent attention.
Later that afternoon, we decided to take a ride along some of the loops and we came across a few Southern bald ibis (Kalkoen ibis) foraging in a recent burned area of the field. Great opportunity for a few photos and out came our tripods, Wimberley heads. We got a few shoots of one Ibis as the other five did not stay for the photo shoot. Not a very common bird in South Africa – if I am not mistaken, you’ll only find them in this area of South Africa. So, here are a few of my shots – it was shot around 16H00:
Southern bald ibis foraging
(Nikon D3S, 600mmf4 fixed lens with 1.4 convertor = 850mm, ISO800, f4, 1/5000, exposure = -0.67, WB = auto, Aperture mode, on tripod with Wimberley head. A bit of an overkill with the ISO and shutter speed but I wanted to make sure I do not get “soft” wings if it decides to take off)
Southern bald ibis ready for take off
(Nikon D3S, 600mmf4 fixed lens with 1.4 convertor = 850mm, ISO800, f4, 1/4000, exposure = -0.67, WB = auto, Aperture mode, on tripod with Wimberley head.)
Southern bald ibis in flight after take off
(Nikon D3S, 600mmf4 fixed lens with 1.4 convertor = 850mm, ISO800, f4, 1/6400, exposure = -0.67, WB = auto, Aperture mode, on tripod with Wimberley head. For the first time I was able to photograph a bird from its stationary position untill it was well in flight without losing my (camera’s) focus. What a great feeling to achieve it!!)
Message to take home:
Never ignore a possible photo opportunity, always expect the unexpected and be prepared for it. As we drove pass the Ibis, I just gave it one look and decided to there is nothing really out there worth photographing. I just wanted to continue driving. My wife urged me to stop for a few photos. Ironically, at the end of the day, I got the shots (BIF) and she walked away with a few portrait shots.
Untill my next trip report (visit to Giant Castle) – keep on shooting!!!