26 June 2012

Angels come in all shapes and sizes

My father and I both love old motorbikes. He mostly loves old British motorbikes. While I admit that they have a certain rustic charm, I prefer bikes that are reliable and don't leak oil everywhere. Unfortunately I'm also lazy, and my incomparable 1971 Moto Guzzi V7 Special is still distributed as disconnected bits all over my garage. So a couple of months ago I was forced to use his 650 BSA to join a vintage motorcycle rally he was helping organise. Half way to the venue, in classic British fashion, the BSA managed to vibrate loose every bolt holding the headlamp nacelle and speedometer. I pulled over on a highway overpass near the lower edge of the Voortrekker Road industria and investigated my pockets and backpack: one screwdriver, a couple of spanners, and a pair of pliers. No use at all with the bolts lying somewhere on the road behind. I was just staring at the sky and cursing having gotten out of bed early on Sunday morning when this apparition on a black Kawasaki appeared. Black leather, dirty faded jeans and work boots. Old-fashioned blue ink tattoos on his hands that may or may not have been done professionally. And kind eyes. We got talking and I found out that he was the mechanic for the crankhandle club. I also discovered that he'd owned the exact same model BSA. We did not immediately come up with a solution for my problem. I was about to turn around and head home when I stepped on a strap hanging from my backback. I'm not sure what it was originally intended to hold, but since it had not been used in ten years, I turned to my guardian angel and asked if he had a knife. He pulled out a retractable craft knife. The kind with disposable carbon steel blades that snap off in sections. Except this one had been resharpened to a narrow point and razor edge. He said "Be careful" as he handed it to me. Ten minutes later I was on my way, motorbike held together with nylon strap, glad that I'd gotten out of bed early on a Sunday morning.

08 June 2012

fishing for a living

Giant Kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima) doing its thing.

Being botanically inclined, I tend to forget how damn hard it is to photograph birds, especially without long telephotos that cost as much as a luxury car. This guy helped a lot by deciding that the edge of the bridge an arm's length away from my car window was a great spot to base his morning's fishing.

Ten plunges over a half hour yielded a 60% success rate. Possibly assisted by low winter river levels, but still impressive. Only three misses and one extremely unimpressed look when a submerged root was hunted in error. I didn't realise quite how amazing it is that they just fly out of the water.

03 June 2012

Kruger National Park

Imagine a scattering of conservation officials from all over South Africa. Yes, with two-tone khaki. Now also imagine lots of conservation planning professionals. You know, the kind of people that simultaneously worry about where to conserve representative plant and fish and everything else habitat, complex spatial modelling using GIS, and how to influence policy, law and politicians, preferably using maps. Stir in a cupful of provincial and national environment department staff, a pinch of NGO, and season with a few eccentric consultants. This is the nicest, most passionate collection of misfits and nerds you could hope to meet. Every year we get together, talk about technical innovation, triumphs, failures and strategies. And every year we go away ready for another year, feeling a bit less like we're beating our heads against a wall. Last month we gathered for four days in Kruger National Park for the ninth annual Biodiversity Planning Forum. We started at 8 every day and with workshops and meetings often running past 7 pm, ironically there was little chance to get into the reserve. Only by gettting up well before dawn and staying an extra day did I get any bush time  at all. Nothing particularly special, but since I never get tired of sleek impala, Acacia and Terminalia trees, and the scent of earth and potato bush, that's OK.