Friday, 18 March 2011

Killing Kestrels

A week ago I was driving toward the Northern Cape town of Victoria West on my way toward the ringing conference at Barberspan. It was about 5pm and I began to notice increasing numbers of Lesser Kestrel sitting on the telephone lines along the road. With the sun beginning to set, I photographed a few just before coming into the town. As I drove into the town though, I couldn't believe my eyes as the skies above the town were a tornado of birds. There were so many they reminded me of a big flock of swifts. It was clear that they were about to descend to roost in the large pine and gum trees of the town. I pulled off onto a dirt road and got out to start taking photos. After a while I noticed that a small group of boys further up the road also seemed to be interested in the birds descending into some large pines. As I was partly blocking the road I was in, I decided to move towards them, as perhaps they knew of a particular roost tree.

As I drove up to them I noticed to my consternation that they had catapults and were shooting into the trees. I pulled over, took some photos and asked if the birds roosted in the large pines and they said yes. They ranged from maybe six to 14. I told them the birds were special, that they flew here all the way from Europe. That Victoria West was lucky to have so many; and that the birds were endangered. I was struggling a bit with my Afrikaans – its only my 3rd language. Struggling for the world Endangered in Afrikaans I had to pause, during which they left and went back to shooting at the birds. It was hard to contain my frustration that I had failed to convey the value of these birds. A passing Afrikaans lady scolded the kids from a distance, they ignored her. By then my anger had mounted.

Killing Kestrels

I got my wallet and told them that they were not allowed to shoot the birds, and that if I called the police they would be in trouble. I gave them R20 and told them to go away.

I stayed to photograph the birds, and then drove around a few blocks to make sure they had not simply moved somewhere else. I tried to find the police station, considering mentioning to the police that the birds were not to be persecuted. But I had to travel on. As I left I passed the RDP housing on the outskirts of town. I could smell the boredom from a distance.

I felt sad and disappointed in myself that I had not done more; taken out my birdbook and shown them the birds there, found the Afrikaans name for the birds; or even bought their catapults. Them or other bored boys are probably at it again now, injuring or killing an endangered species through boredom and ignorance.  

Female Lesser Kestrel

Male Lesser Kestrel
Large numbers of Lesser Kestrels can be observed on the telephone lines - here a group of females enjoy the last of the day's sun

As darkness sets, the swarms of birds head towards various large trees (usually gum and pine) to roost. Here they are vulnerable to bored people with catapults. They leave on-mass with the first rays of dawn.

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