[ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN SUIDERNUUS, 18 MARCH 2022]
The purple heron, oh the purple heron! The goshawk that I didn't see. Bustard, larks and little grebes. Flamingos from a dream of me: My mother when she clipped her nails, out flew a thousand pink flamingos that through the gray house did me chase.
The purple heron & flamingos. Photos: Heather D’Alton & Fraser Crighton
Can one get drunk on pure white sky? Come under the spell of grace, like the mellow mood induced by ine. ’Tis indeed an adorning grace, the heady sweetness of this place!
The Nuwejaars Wetland area unfolded like a John Clare poem before me when recently I visited there. We went a-birding but as we passed from camp to camp, the fynbos belt rolled out, like emeralds strewn in the veld, and interspersed an intricate web of wetness stretched into a shimmer. ’Tis true, more than wings and feather alighted there. Liquid gossamer lay a-quiver!
Hippopotami, as many as eight, waded nose-deep in the cool dark wet, as if await. And farther passed three quagga stags that after the manner of Rau were bred as if out of the silent veld crept from a crack again the long since dead.*
But it was for birds we came and birds to us a-greeting came that chill, sweet morn of Saturday last week:
The purple heron, oh the purple heron! The goshawk that I didn't see. Bustard, larks and little grebes. Fish eagle and flamingo. Blessed were we to see her queenly strut: the African swamphen. And pleased to meet the bashful Southern Black Korhaan, if only for the merest second.
I tipped my hat to the Cape Longclaw, and to each one of the Cisticolas we saw – Cloud, Zitting and Levaillant. The lark of Agulhas sang from its long, long bill and said to me: me too, I belong down here.
Only there remained at bay, the little fynbos buttonquail. Bashfully tucked away in frail fyn bush. Even as we trawled with arms spread wide, tread'd so as to not break plant or fragile egg, hearts pounding wild, the buttonquail her little freckled face did not unveil.
* Ruthlessly hunted on the plains of southern Africa, the quagga went extinct when the last mare died at the Amsterdam Zoo on 12 August 1883. Found to be genetically linked to the zebra, a selective quagga breeding project started in 1987 to ‘breed’ the quagga back from extinction. The Rau quagga (named for the instigator of the project, Reinholdt Rau), is considered a near subspecies of the Plain quagga. The Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area is one of the hosts of this project. (Information obtained from Eugene Hahndiek and University of Stellenbosch's www.quaggaproject.org)
** My sincere thanks to Heather D'Alton for inviting me on a bird-watching trip in the exquisitely beautiful Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area, and for giving the birding greenie a list of the birds we saw. Thank you also to Fraser Crighton who picked me up in Bredasdorp and to Eugene Hahndiek who was our guide on the day. The ode is, of course, dedicated to the Wetlands area, her inhabitants and custodians. The SME is located at Haasvlakte Hall, along the R43, outside Bredasdorp (close to Elim). Tel: 079 517 9032.