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.
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.|