Monday, 11 March 2019

Seabirds - Magic in the Air [Part 1]

"Magic is in the air ... there ain't no science here.."

And a good south wind sprung up behind; 
The Albatross did follow, 
And every day, for food or play, 
Came to the mariner's hollo! 

'God save thee, ancient Mariner! 
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!— 
Why look'st thou so?'—With my cross-bow 
I shot the ALBATROSS.

And I had done a hellish thing, 
And it would work 'em woe: 
For all averred, I had killed the bird 
That made the breeze to blow. 
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay, 
That made the breeze to blow!


New Zealand - South Island
The Kaikoura Peninsula, on the northeast coast of New Zealand's South Island, is in the Golden Circle - & at the foot of the world's most spectacular stage.  

The Kaikoura Canyon, 500m southeast & offshore of the peninsula, is a series of underwater canyons [some 5000 ft deep], & the foundation of the best & most accessible pelagic-birding on earth. Here, high-energy ocean convergence promotes the upwelling of nutrients - high food production & a magnet for the highest diversity of ‘tubenoses’ on the planet. There are few locales more evocative & for those passionate about the sea and the birds which call the ocean 'home', Kaikoura is the gateway to the Elysian Fields. 

South Africa is blessed with similar *bathymetry [*'topography' on the seabed] - further out-to-sea, admittedly, but well-travelled by fish, birds, fisheries & hardly, if at all, visited by the pelagic-birding community.    

Procellariiformes (from the Latin word for procella or 'storm') [formerly Tubinares] or 'tubenoses', in this context, include the albatrosses, shearwaters, petrels and storm petrels. Roughly 125 species in 23 genera, in 4 extant families, are almost exclusively *pelagic [*open ocean]. Seabirds are widely distributed & adapted to master the winds and storms. Birds, some as light as 20g, canvass the globe, in a ceaseless quest for food returning to land only to breed; & it is on land where they are least at home & at their most vulnerable.   

Mutton-bird colony
Ironically, by virtue of biomass & diversity, pelagic seabirds off New Zealand are more at risk of dying from the ingestion of plastic than they are anywhere else on earth. 

The paradox that is Homo sapiens, or "wise man", boggles!

Further south on islands scattered around Rakiura, "mutton-bird" chicks [Sooty Shearwater], known to Maori as titi, are harvested seasonally & eaten.

The sheep don't care or give a bleat, apparently.

Into this crucible, guided by profit and momma's pseudo lamb curry, Hominids, in more-or-less the same form & over millennia, have & continue to worship at the foot of Community-Heartburn - at the expense of breeding [i.e. grounded] seabirds. 'Tradition' [or 'culture'], in this context, the catch-all for exploitation; & like many other 'traditions' the athlete's foot of contemporary conservation & a topic for anointing, a single step at a time, another time. Fortunately, where-seabirds-go-when-they-fly-beyond-the-horizon, evades even the most dedicated foodies - (until very recently, that is).      [More later] 

The ocean is its own landscape; a myriad habitats divided by changes in temperature, salinity & wind. Where seabirds go, therefore, is determined by the elements that paint the canvass of life at sea.  

Scientists have, for reasons of expediency rather than logic, become single-minded, neither constrained by random joy nor by the whiff of common sense. 

Written in the dry parlance of scientific paper & prone to a flap in a crisis, these rolls of published mutiny, machete the ocean's bounty at the knees. The ever present menace of the truth is hidden from free access - & the joy of discovery set adrift in cyclonic eddies of analysed data & bootstrap extrapolation. Notwithstanding, there are, indeed, a handful of 'wise-coats' shedding light on the dynamics that make the ocean marvellous. Their eyes burn brightly &, with the advent of technology, the onion is peeling... 

The distribution of seabirds in the ocean is neither random nor linear. Just as birds are distributed preferentially on land, so too are seabirds fairly discerning in the open ocean. The Big Blue might appear homologous but there are multi-scale factors influencing habitats, seabird distribution & the foraging assemblages out at sea.

In the 18th century, Thomas Jefferson replaced his household waiters with a round revolving tray placed at the centre of his dining-table. He dubbed his invention the 'dumbwaiter' - as in quiet rather than two licks short of shiny. Why the dumbwaiter became 'Lazy Susan' is a matter for the Susans... Whatever the reason, the Lazy Susan was designed to aid the distribution of food around the table. Wait long enough and the food comes to you & if it doesn't get there before Grampy dips his finger in the mash - make sure you know where it turns before he gets to it.

Seabirds do the same - only their Susan is a mass of moving water on / & in which food is transported. These are the ocean currents.

The 'ocean conveyor belt', in 'Finding Nemo', mandatory viewing for parents, depicts sea-creatures surfing the EAC [East Australian Current] en route south to faraway reefs & bluer water on the other side. Although one of the clowns was snatched, for the most part, it's a warm water ride... Here, as it is for all eastern boundary currents, the water nearer the ocean's surface is warm & flows towards the poles. Conversely, deep water lurks, is cold, faces up / down-sphere - in the direction of the equator - & spills away from the poles. This spigot of hot & cold water, circumnavigating the earth in a perpetual cycle, provides loopy transport to anybody brave enough to take the plunge. To understand the flow... some science [my apologies].

From 1946 - 1962, the US government fingered the world & tested nuclear weapons in the Pacific Ocean. Their so-called Pacific Proving Grounds, which included inhabited islands in their UN-sanctioned 'Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands', is still contaminated today. Islanders who didn't literally starve, then 'relocated' to inhospitable islands, have subsequently benefitted from approximately $750 000 000 in compensation for 'fall-out' exposure. That's (a lot)... The Space Shuttle program, a bootstrap bolt-on mission, cost the American public approximately $ 196 000 000 000 - that's [(a lot) x (2 much)] or $260 worth of 'aliens maybe' for a dollar's worth of nuclear-wasted men & women, back home, on Earth. Wisdom knows it's moniker but that's 'Top Secret', of course.        Mahalo!

From the mid-50s to the early-70s, the La Jolla Tritium Laboratory monitored the flow of tritium in the Pacific Ocean. Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen & a chemistry-quirk post-boom. Although the scope of their research was limited, traces of tritium were later found over vast areas of the globe. This 'discovery' provided early ground-truthing for the hitherto theory of a global 'conveyor-belt' of interconnected ocean currents; broad swathes of ocean water in constant flux, (as it turns out), but flowing along broadly predictable routes. 

As our understanding of the ocean's currents improved, the nomenclature was changed from 'conveyor belt' to the Meridional Overturning Circulation [MOC] and to AMOC in the Atlantic - today's source of de-nile; & by denial, I mean Climate Change.

In the 1990s, oceanographers discovered a 30% reduction in the AMOC over the preceding 5 decades. Most climate change models linked warmer water [meltwater] in the Labrador & Nordic Seas with a weakening in the MOC. It wasn't long before some numpty proclaimed that earth was about to suffer an ABRUPT climate change event - & ... faux climatologists featured soon thereafter as Hollywood heroes; funding-bowls in hand, dipping for seconds in the widows & orphans' fund.

Fast forward a decade & oceanographers have found ZERO link between warmer waters at the pole and the strength of flow in the AMOC - some might say a fatal flaw in the apocalypse-tomorrow theory. Those still feeding at the trough, however, will have you whistling-dixie in the queue for light-bulb stamps & an eco-bag for life.

Apocalypse-now Climate-theorists extrapolate the notion that meltwater [ex-ice] in the north Atlantic [ie: the Labrador Sea] will stabilise the 'overturn' in the high latitudes and disrupt the AMOC. The disruption would stall the northwards-flowing Gulf Stream, N. America's warm-water Eastern Boundary Current & change the world's heat distribution for millennia to come. More on this later.

Until very recently, oceanographers predicted that the largely wind-driven Gulf Stream flowed near / at the ocean's surface; in a predictable manner & into the north Atlantic. There the warm waters cooled and, nearer the pole, 'turned-over' or *sank to great depths. Water at these depths was presumed to flow over the polar sills & into the ocean basins as the deep-water component ['lower limb'] of the MOC. We now know that the Gulf Stream flows sub-surface & roughly northwards along the eastern seaboard of the USA before veering NE into the Atlantic to rotate in the sub-tropical gyre.

The sea surface temperature [SST] is more or less the same as the air temperature at the water's surface. Warm water carried up-coast and into the north Atlantic by the Gulf Stream raises air temperatures & it is this natural phenom that keeps Europe long on gin & short on ice. This is why London, located @ 51.5°N, hosted the Summer Games [2012]; and why Calgary, further south, was awarded the Winter Games [1988]. Although London is located closer to the pole, her more scantily-clad residents enjoy a clime  6° warmer, on ave., than do the people in Canada's Calgary, located further south.   

*Although the Gulf Stream is largely driven by the wind, the MOC is influenced by water densities i.e. the ocean's thermohaline properties. Waters of different temperature ['thermo'] have different densities as do waters of differing salinity (salt) ['haline']. 

More sciencey bits & bobs I'm afraid -

  1. Molecules in cold water slow down & 'huddle closer' [for warmth, presumably] i.e. - denser
  2. Warmer water throws off the coverings & spreads out i.e. = less dense.
  3. Salty water - adds salt to the mix [volume-crowdfunding] i.e.  = denser.
  4. Fresher water, sans the salt, means a smaller crowd  i.e.  = less dense.  
Seawater is, therefore, more or less dense. 

Sea-water expels salt when it freezes - a natural clean & rinse, and a boon for thirsty penguins in the driest desert of them all. The salts leached out in the freezing process increases the density of the water under the ice which then sinks. [i.e. denser. Pay attention!]

In the coldest climes eg. at the North Pole, +17 000 000 m3s1 [cubic meters per second] (*17 Sv) or the volume of the Kariba Dam every 3 hours, sinks down 'chimneys' to depths of 4000 m [approx.]. It's a force of nature & terribly important, or maybe it isn't [science, again]. 

Victoria Falls 
In oceanography, a *sverdrup (Sv) is a unit of flow, with 1 Sv equal to 1 000 000 cubic metres of water-flow per second.  The Gulf Stream, off the coast of Newfoundland, transports water at a mean rate of +100 Sv. 

It isn't the largest current in the ocean... 

The Antarctic Circumpolar Current has a mean transport of approximately 150 Sv. Our own Agulhas Current is credited with 75 Sv... but more on the Agulhas later.

Incidentally, the earth's freshwater rivers have a combined mean rate of 1 Sv (one...), a *pee in the ocean, really. [*Mea culpa. This is, after all, a family volume] 

Why the flap & what's the big deal? 

  1. Roughly 90% of the earth's excess heat is transferred to the ocean. [The Gulf Stream, by way of example, transports thermal energy equivalent to the heat generated by 1 000 000 nuclear power plants...]; and 
  2. The deep ocean is the reservoir [or 'sink'] for approx. 45% of anthropogenic carbon dioxide - CO2. 

...and there it is. The Climate Change debate, in a nut-shell, is a war of words on Hot Air. 

The 'more / less dense' flow of the ocean's waters; forces of temperature & salinity, are general variables DIRECTLY responsible for the globe's health & safety agenda or, at the very least, a fairly important component in maintaining the current levels of discomfort. Those reliant on air-conditioning, TV-meals & bottled water shouldn't worry.  

What price fossil fuels? 

The MOC [a variable current] moves COaway from the surface in the higher latitudes and into the deep ocean in the mid-Atlantic. The extent at which the MOC transports COdirectly influences the amount of COin the atmosphere. 

Need I remind you that COis a Greenhouse Gas i.e. the globe's thermo-blanket? 

The ocean's COsink = less greenhouse gas but more acidification in the ocean [carbon dioxide dissolved in water = carbonic acid]; a disaster for Nemo & his friends, on coral reefs, everywhere. Why you say? Corals live in their PH-balanced world of pillars, brains, tables & fans. Acidification alters this equilibrium & they don't like it; even if their protests are conducted in stoney-silence.

Of course, the fate of the Great Barrier Reef is 'who cares' for most peeps living in the North Atlantic. The emphasis, in the North Atlantic, is on understanding the fate of the ocean as a carbon dumpsite. At the root of that equation is understanding the overturning [MOC] 'variability'. The MOC is, therefore, the globe's waste-management-professional; earth's unappreciated sanitation engineer & if it doesn't come to work.. there be a lotta hot air over there, here .. everywhere.

Back to the sciencey stuff - melt-ice in the Arctic is freshening & adding advective heat to the Labrador & Irminger Seas. Physics tells us that this warmer / fresher water will linger-longer at the surface & potentially, diminish the extent of the overturning variable.

As a consequence, climate models extrapolate increasing levels of melt-ice with the eventual interruption in the overturning, cold water 'lower-limb' of the AMOC / MOC. If that were immediately true, the MOC would fail - less COand heat would be transferred to the ocean & we'd live out the apocalypse until we drowned, froze or burned our way into the afterlife. Either way, the birding would be disappointing. 

In 2014, global-talkers found some common language in #be4it's2L8 & launched OSNAP [Overturning in the sub-polar North Atlantic Program]. It's a welcomed collaboration, of course &, at the time of writing, yet to be Trumped. 

Here's the best bit. Until the release of OSNAP's preliminary data, oceanographers assumed that deep water:

  • was formed primarily in the sub-arctic; 
  • continually spilled over the sub-polar sills; & 
  • flowed to the ocean's basins via the deep Western Boundary Current. 
Eventually this deep water upwelled near Antarctica and, through a process of wind & mixing, traversed the globe in a single, uninterrupted 1000 year-long circumnavigation. Variation in the MOC was, therefore, on a long-time scale [i.e. millennia] and ANY disruption, however small, would paralyse the water-works.

It isn't true! 

Gliders / acoustic floats & other new technologies have revealed that the annual Sv variance is as high as 6. A factor of 6 is a very high rate of variability, particularly over 12 months. If the climate-change models held true, we'd have been outta sunscreen & blankets before Y2K. 

Early OSNAP results indicate no link between higher SSTs [Sea Surface Temperatures] in the Arctic and the flow of water over the deep-water sill in the Labrador and Irminger Seas.

There is NO evidence of diminished transport in deep waters but proof, at last, that water in the Arctic is not a flawless flip-turn back to the other end of the pool. The ocean [surprise] is more complex than we thought...  

Firstly, most of the water in the sub-polar region stays in the sub-polar gyre. Secondly, the Gulf Stream flows sub-surface and, although it eventually gets to the Arctic, most of the water spills into and circulates in the Atlantic's sub-tropical gyre. There is no single MOC but a complex system of vortices, eddies, fluxes, plumes & filaments; proof again of the majesty of the sea. 

More in Part 2

Thursday, 7 February 2019

The Pink Pimpernel

Who is the Pink Pimpernel

Is the Pink Pimpernel an anti-hero?

We may never have satisfactory answers to these pertinent questions but let's set some of the fundamental issues straight.

Unpacking the Kamfers Dam debacle requires a gambol back in time [flamingo chicks don't gamble, sir - people do, for fame & fortune, & with other people's money, usually] and although the devil resides, stoically, in the detail, most, if not all of what follows here, is freely available everywhere. What we don't know was who / when / why it was decided that a Superman-shaped island would be fabulous for flamingos

Why Superman? Why not Deadpool? 

Those circumstances are not clear. 

Was the decision made after a round of golf, over cheap cigars & scribbled on the back of a small, paper napkin? Did the Pink Pimpernel play fair (ly)? Who else played-ball? Was the island an experiment; a means to an end? The flamingos had never bred there before, of course. Evolution & local experience provided the birds with the necessary expertise to understand the risks associated with the sedentary act of breeding. Nest-turrets, natural or artificial, have a fairly fixed address. Threats, even then, were numerous and none more obvious [to most] than the ease of access for biped & quadruped predators; predators favourably disposed to pickled bird-2-go.  

Perhaps what the birds needed was to be watched but otherwise left well alone? 

Wiki tells us that flamingos gather in flocks of thousands to 'avoid predators, maximise food intake and use scarcely suitable nesting sites more efficiently'. Who can argue with that? 

Here is what we know - Kimberley Municipality became the Sol Plaatje Municipality & the De Beers Group sold their mining interests to a JV consortium - eventually Ekapa Mining. 

We also know that the island was built on the better / wetter side of Kamfers Dam. By extrapolation, from events as they unfolded on the ground, the scrawl on the aforementioned napkin did NOT include a contingency plan for increased water-flow into the dam. 

The napkin did NOT include a contingency plan for increased water-flow.. 

Superman-island was 'washed away' following good rains and the influx of an unexpected flush of grey-water from the derelict effluent plant. So great was the 'washing away' that the railway line [nearby] was damaged and subsequently moved at great expense - millions, actually & for taxpayers' account. Who else? To prevent another catastrophe, a pipeline was installed from there to a farm nearer the Vaal River. The pipeline, it is alleged, was constructed to manage / maintain constant water-levels at the dam.

After the island was destroyed & in a pique, the flamingos stopped breeding. Flat-out refused! That wouldn't do. The threads of the project had started to unravel. The island would have to be rebuilt but how? The island's financier wasn't prepared to play 'there's a hole in this bucket' & demanded of the authorities two things:
  1. A constant water level at the dam; and 
  2. state-of-the-art effluent [poop] plant.
The authorities obliged even if the state-of-the-art effluent [poop] plant was never operated / maintained correctly but they get points for trying. The newly-constructed pipeline addressed the 'constant water level' proviso. The menace of any additional 'washing away' dissipated. The aforementioned napkin did not, at a guess, include a contingency plan for LOW water levels.

Kamfers Dam is on privately-owned land. Here's where it gets a little testy. The farmer [& his missus] were apparently 'asked' to agree to a Biodiversity Management Programme [BMP]. He [& she] didn't like the 'had to' bit nor the Ts & Cs in the memo. They refused the programme. 

The napkin did not include a contingency plan for LOW water levels..

In the interim, whilst the Pink Pimpernel & his / her friends prevaricated, the flamingos took matters into their own hands [feet?]. Turrets were constructed from nearby natural materials and the birds got on with the business of breeding; an event nobody foresaw from their side of the "management plan". Flamingos, it is alleged, return to their natal sites to breed but ... who knows for sure? These are slippery customers. 

Could the early, successful '*breeding events' [*ugh] have programmed the birds to return to what is, perhaps, unholy ground - an ecological trap? 

Unfortunately, the dam wasn't immune to the vagaries of the weather; and nesting-turrets, exposed by receding water levels [i.e. drought], were evidently abandoned. By agreement, Ekapa Mining was entitled to & pay for 10 Megalitres [ML or million litres] of grey water from the state-of-the-art effluent [poop] plant. The Golf Club has access to 3ML. The flamingos, however, weren't party to this codicil and, holding station at the end-of-the-line, were caught, exposed on dry land. Adult birds, fearing reprisals, huddled in deeper water, an exercise of pre-programmed caution against the 4-footed beasts & / or the cooking-pot. In 2018 the chicks too young to gambol, died in droves. In 2019 a repeat performance - only this time help was afoot. 

We know that superman-island [before the 'washing away'] was built on the better / wetter side of the dam. The better / wetter side of the dam gave / gives breeding flamingos safe-passage & time-enough to see their chicks off to crèche - healthy, sturdy youngsters capable of gambolling in deeper water, away from the biped & quadruped threat. Rebuilding the island is, one would imagine, fairly important to the chicks caught on the periphery... 

Why then has the island not been rebuilt? Who is the Pink Pimpernel

The answer to the first question lies somewhere between common sense & free-enterprise. The island-financier's stipulations have not been met - i.e. the farmer [& missus] has [have] not agreed to the Biodiversity Management Programme. Therefore, the island has not been rebuilt. Fairly straightforward. 

... but nobody likes a spoilsport. 

Pushed for more we're told that the island was originally built on a "Promise"; and perhaps, less importantly, on a wing [whim?] & a prayer. The farmer [& missus] (legal owners of the land on which Kamfers Dam resides) had allegedly "Promised" to agree to the Biodiversity Management Programme. On the strength of this alleged "Promise" the island-financier built the s-shaped island. 

The farmer [& missus] are, however, of the view that there had NEVER been any such "Promise" & had he [& she] known that the island would only have been built subject to their signing the Biodiversity Management Programme, he [& she] would NEVER have agreed to the project [on their land] in the first place. Fair enough, we think. 

Who carried the news of this alleged "Promise" to the island's financier? Was it the Pink Pimpernel? Who is the Pink Pimpernel? Was this alleged false message an act of subterfuge; the detestable act of a non-hero? 

Is this the final instalment in #thePinkPimpernelmustfall ?

... and so, will the real Pink Pimpernel please stand up! You have, sir [madam?] an awful lot to answer for and answering, sir [madam?], to the public - is an obligatory stipulation on your short list of responsibilities. Be a man [woman?] & let's hear you say MEA CULPA. Then fix it! 

As an aside & having given this issue some thought, we find it reprehensible that the many birds abandoned to their fates, in a hostile, contrived environment & caught in a cycle of half-truths, are dismissed as collateral damage for those that aren't. That mocks, at its core, the tenets inherent, by definition, in any self-respecting Biodiversity Management Programme. Then again, Kamfers Dam has seemingly never enjoyed the protection of a Biodiversity Management Programme, or even the alleged "Promise" of one.  


Thursday, 31 January 2019

The Pink Parade & Human Frailties

Is 'Conservation' trailing an elongating shadow as the sun sinks on common sense?

If we consider this year's 'partially-failed' Lesser Flamingo breeding attempt & the subsequent rescue of abandoned chicks, en mass, it isn't enough to leave well-alone.

In 2006 a large, S-shaped island was built by Ekapa Mining on Kimberley's Kamfers Dam. The island provided scalable habitat on which Lesser Flamingo could breed; and breed they have. Given their limited access to suitable sites elsewhere, the success of this artfully-contrived, anthropogenic shove-in-the-back, has been lauded, both here & abroad. Since then the island's integrity isn't what it was intended to be but the flamingos found a way. Those involved at the project's incubation have been well-pleased.

Subsequently, however, low water-levels have tested this year's pink parade & large areas of Kamfers Dam have become a chapped, brittle shadow of its champagne-filled past. Like the human protagonists in this unfortunate saga - the flamingos rocked-on with abandon. Reliant on favourable water conditions to feed their young, unfavourable conditions have precipitated the abandonment of many newly-hatched chicks in, what is becoming, a more than sobering hang-over. Some chicks have perished - others have not & are doing well - many have been rescued. To their credit, Ekapa stepped into the vacuum when the who-dunnits buried their heads in the ever-widening crack. At the 11th-hour the mine part-financed a national rescue of the abandoned chicks. Their initiative and the co-ordinated efforts of hundreds more, from around the country & from all walks of life, are a commendable legacy. 

Those involved at the project's incubation have been well-pleased.

In addition to the area's limited rainfall, Kamfers gets its water from Kimberley's storm-water run-off and from par-treated effluent. Like most everywhere else, however, ageing infrastructure and official ineptitude has equated to leaking pipes - broken pumps & poop in the fields etc. As a result, the contracted flow of grey water hasn't met forecast, far from it & the magic conjured in 2006 proved to be fickle trickery in 2019.

Written into the original farce is a municipal clause guaranteeing Ekapa Mining first bite of the effluent apple - most of the apple really, but mining is, what it is - a profit-driven enterprise. That said, & to Ekapa's credit once more, the mining operation has reduced water consumption & remains viable - their intentions not important here. Unfortunately, the effluent apple has been significantly smaller than originally anticipated for a plethora of smelly reasons - a laissez faire attitude at the municipality, cited widely [wildly] in the press, the target of many fingers but no more lazy to be fair than the other bird-brains blinded by 'thank goodness for me'.

As darkness descended on the dying birds - their reality is reduced to the intimate circle of light cast by social media. Fortunately, Africa has many gifts. 

Interventions are now, more than ever before, core to conserving viable wildlife populations - & particularly in this case - one of only four recognised breeding sites in Africa. It isn't enough to live the early success & publicly trivialise the unintended, negative consequences of an initiative that was, arguably, less than well-balanced, in the first place, given the variables at play. Where water-scarcity and services in this country are exigent issues; what exactly was the plan when the music slowed or stopped? We could let 'nature take its course, of course'... but that would be cruel. When the stakes are this high, partial investment in long-term security highlights the risk inherent in the project. Some introspection and a renewed respect for the mitigation of risk, à la the Precautionary Principle, is warranted. 

Until then, we need to see the humanity in each of us and appreciate that we are all cogs in a well-developed intelligence network; like-minded people largely working for the common good; at least we should be.

Monday, 7 January 2019

The Rainbow's pot-o'-gold

"It's just after nine", said the clock on the wall.

"It's off we go, tally-ho - hi-ho", sang Mrs Nutter, to herself, mostly.
"Where to?", said I, with humility and patience; fearful of the second verse.
"To see the Golden Pipit, of course - don't be daft!", finished the ebullient Mrs Nutter.
"The bird in KZN over the hills & hills & hills and very far far away?", I asked with knitted brow; clad in January's saddest sack when wallets recall (fondly) the 'gud ol' days 'fore Christmas'.
"Yes, indeed", warned Mrs Nutter sweetly; intimidation's wolf in sheep's bright-eyes & bushy-tail.

"Would you like to come too, Little-boy-of-4?", asked Mrs Nutter.
"No..", says he - on the verge of panic, there's only so much a boy-of-4 can risk.
"Why not?", she enquired; merciless eyes boring into the hapless whelp. 
"You're a lunatic", squeaked the Little-boy-of-4; looking for help from me - pitiful, to say the least. Why me? I ignored him.

Just then a big, hairy, monster spider scuttled down the wall - as pretty as a summer peach. ["... you're on your own, my boy", I thought, feigning distraction.]

"I - am - not - a - lunatic!" counselled Mrs Nutter, enunciating each syllable clearly to make her point more menacing, if that was at all possible, in the current disarray. "Life is for the living - waste not : want not,  I always say" she harangued. I remained impassive, stood at a safe distance; out of harm's way.

Mrs Nutter's lower lip trembled and her hands began to writhe & wring, like serpents - scary ones. Our hearts sank into our boots or at least as low as where our boots would be if we hadn't lost our boots the last time Somebody said "Golden Pipit".

The Little-boy-of-4 and I exchanged an anticipatory glance [...premised on Sod's Law] - "The storm of the year will strike KZN at exactly 4:30pm (our ETA) & lightning will break trees, rain will drown things and a gale will sweep the land of Golden Pipits    [Stay at home!]"  - but Mrs Nutter must have her way or our pain & hurt would last for weeks & weeks.

... and so we left soon after, in the drizzle, at 10am - for 'sunny' KZN - some 600 kilometres away; against the returning holiday traffic - at, potentially, great cost to life & limb.

At 10:10am Mrs Nutter said "zzzz" & nodded-off; asleep - the Little-boy-of-4 and I did not, nod-off. The journey was long and hot and far and we were hungry. Little-boy-of-4 and I were deeply troubled but silent, lest we mix the "zzzz" with "BE QUIET!" - a baleful cocktail of fire & remorse.

At 3:30pm, on the Pongola hills, after endless travel through the valley of the Happy-cows-on-the-Road, the "... storm of the year about to strike KZN [you should have stayed at home!]" was brewing a pot of spitted thunder & lightning.

"We'll stay here, in Pongola, at the Dive Inn [We don't do dives, usually - a nice change then]", pointed out the ever pragmatic Mrs Nutter, who had, in fact, been sleeping with one-eye-open to "keep an eye on things" in case we legged it home, to safety.

Just then "The storm of the year struck KZN at exactly 4:30pm & lightning broke trees, rain drowned things and a gale swept the land of Golden Pipits" [why, oh why, did you not stay home?].

We took refuge in suite 15's corner - hail hailed - lightning lightninged & thunder frightened us under the bed. Meanwhile, Mrs Nutter had fetched the playing cards &, stretched out on the double, dealt herself a hand of solitaire to while away the inconvenience.

At 6pm the storm abated but for a drip in spits & spats and we emerged, from under the bed, to a sunset's rainbow; emotions swinging wildly from "We're A L I V E!" to "... she'll take us birding".

... and so we went birding.

Soon after, whilst out & about in Pongola-town, disturbed by our forward-stop-reverse, some local farmers in cruisers & bruisers bid us 'STOP' & give account, NOW! Mausers, kieries & hairy fat-fists loitered, looking cross & waiting for an answer nobody liked.

"We're birding!" jabbed the effervescent Mrs Nutter; clearing the flying mud with some blue air of her own.

Silence descended on the land.

"In this?" asked the bravest of the bravest men. "Why not?" countered Mrs Nutter, fire-red engines spooling [in neutral] for a fight. Sensing a death & cannon-fodder in our world, the would-be-crippled, left - in a bitofa hurry.

Next morning's 4:30am came & went but not before a rousing "GET UP!", (she said). We transferred body & kit to a sleepy car & turning into the rising sun - under tangerine skies - commenced the short trek to Mkuzi's - the Zululand Conservation Trust's gem.

At 6:14.4683am, somewhere behind tents 4 & 5 - @ Mavela Lodge - under the hospitable eye of Karen, Theo & the Zebra Hills staff - the sun's prodigal son beamed a chest of gold, in grasses green. There, at the end of the rainbow, a pot o' gold - our Golden Pipit!

"Lovely jubbly", decreed Mrs Nutter to nobody in particular; and bid us drive her home; which we did - gold coin in our pockets. 

"Woohoo! We're rich!" said the Little-boy-of-4...  

The End  [... for now]

Golden Pipit - Mavela Lodge []