Cooing, wooing and cackling

April 29, 2015

times of malta

Saturday, 2nd May, 2015

Cooing, wooing and cackling

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The spring hunting referendum has come and gone. Not so for the migrating turtle doves and quails on their way to their breeding grounds to ensure the survival of the species. No cooing, no going for them.

During the first three days of the spring open season for the killing of mature birds going to breed, I was tending my various wild plants that I propagate, appreciating and learning more about the miracles of nature, and to help with Malta’s biodiversity. Some were sprouting while others were strongly developing and striving to achieve their aims, in buds patiently waiting to flower and subsequently seed. Spring is in the air.

Sardinian Warblr by Aron Tanti

Male Sardinian Warbler – Photo by Aaron Tanti

Close by on an open perch, a male Sardinian Warbler in full breeding plumage, and in courtship display, sang its heart out. A male Spanish Sparrow was singing nearby too, proud that its mate was safely sitting on the nest brooding the eggs: shortly a proud father to be.

All of a sudden the sound of gun fire rang from across the nearby valley and adjacent fields shattering the scene: “die, die, die. This is the way I derive my pleasure… die, die, die.”

The Sardinian Warbler and the Spanish Sparrow stopped dead. I could almost feel them eyeing me out of the corner of their eyes. An exclamatory fearful look, as if asking: “is this the best that you humans can do to give a helping hand to the ecosystem? Is this the way to quench your pleasure by taking lives? Do you realise the difficulties birds face on their way to breed? Surely not the result of the reputed intelligence?”

Spanish Sparrow - Michael Sammut

Malta Spanish Sparrow – Photo Michael Sammut

I felt ashamed and ridiculed by two living species which many look upon as being inferior. But after a while both the male Sardinian Warbler and the Spanish Sparrow once again burst out in song. A song of thanksgiving to the Creator for helping them to live another day. Not like the turtle doves and the quails which fell victims to an uncontrolled urge. The harsh cries “die, die, die” rang again a number of times. The Spanish Sparrow and the Sardinian Warbler did not take any chances and disappeared in the bushes. True they were not turtle doves and quails but it did happen to cuckoos, a lapwing, kestrels and a Dutch teenager.

I could not but plunge in a pensive mood. Half of the electorate had understood the miracles of nature. They wanted to do their utmost to support nature and all its wonders. Not just for themselves but also for our children who lent the ecosystem to us. They wanted to protect, guard, enjoy and share nature with others, not through plundering it for personal reasons.

Turtle dove - Aron Tanti

The Maltese Government has taken a derogation from the EU Birds Directive to allow the spring shooting of 11,000 turtle doves on their way to their breeding grounds. Photo Aaron Tanti.

The other half were dead keen to continue taking lives for their personal pleasure. And the most worrying part of it all was that this half of the electorate were supported by the leaders of the two main political parties!

What for? Definitely not for the sake of birds, nor for the sake of bird-shooters themselves, neither for the sake of the environment or for the sake of the people. As soon as the battle cry was over (it was just a battle, and certainly not war), the Prime Minster immediately called upon the leaders of those who wanted to continue taking lives for pleasure during the breeding season. In no uncertain terms, these ‘yes’ crowd, were told that the electorate had given them the ‘last chance’ to behave, and if not it would be the end of their spring birds-shooting spree!

The naive voters admired such a noble stand. The non-gullible felt that this Pontius Pilate move, was more like the rubbing of backs and the sharing of spoils: one bagging the dead turtles doves and quails in spring; the other the votes in the referendum and the Local Council election. The number of shot turtle doves and quails will be given in the obligatory report to be forwarded to the EU according to the derogation taken by Government. The wooing had been consummated, like the lives of turtle doves and quails! That is what I call politics. The people and the environment will as usual be footing the cost of their losses.

Claude Pepper (1900-1989), US senator and Member of the U.S. House of Representatives said: “If more politicians in this country were thinking about the next generation instead of the next election, it might be better for the United States and the world.” The latest spring hunting referendum confirms this without a shadow of a doubt.

The cackling started as I was finalising this article. Following the shooting of a kestrel which fell in the middle of a school yard during the students’ break, the Prime Minister, as he previously warned, closed the spring shooting season three days before its official closure. Whether this is through conviction or through convenience, one has to wait the advent of next spring to see whether this was really the ‘last chance’.

aebaldacchion@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com

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Let’s help the birds breed

April 2, 2015

times of malta

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Let’s help the birds breed

Alfred E. Baldacchino

I was introduced to birds before I could even speak. As a toddler, I used to frequent our house garden, observing the hens, rabbits and pigeons we kept for the occasional special lunch. But there was a rule for harvesting: the selected food for the table was not chosen haphazardly.

The brooding hens, nesting pigeons and rabbits with litters were spared and when they were harvested, they were not let loose and chased for the thrill of the kill.

juvenile-turtle-doves-in-malta---2012.07.01---Natalino-Fenech

If the parents did not escape the greed for the kill in spring, these juveniles would not have seen the light of day. Photo: Natalino Fenech 2012.07.01

Coming from Rabat, it was, at the time, almost impossible not to join relatives on trapping and shooting sprees, even at a tender age. I can still remember cycling, two hours before sunrise, to Dingli or Raba’ Nemel, to lay the nets for trapping finches or turtle doves. That was the way we were taught then. I also learnt to appreciate nature without the need to destroy it.

At the age of 12, we went to live in Cospicua. At first I thought I had lost the birds and the wildlife forever, though they were only a couple of kilometres away. My love for nature made me look for alternative ways. I used to go out for country walks on weekends and holidays, and I remember, in my early teens, buying magazines about nature. This opened the way for positive appreciation. I also bought a sophisticated ‘gun’, aiming at and shooting to my heart’s content, without the birds or other wildlife being harmed or even knowing about it. It was my first SLR camera.

quail-in-Malta-by-Natalino-Fenech

Quail – another breeding bird of the Maltese Islands, despite the urge to kill it. Photo: Natalino Fenech

Living in Cospicua, I experienced that sense of loss and anguish when birds were decimated and killed just for the fun of it, more so when this was claimed to be out of a love for birds.

The more I grew in years, knowledge and experience, the more satisfaction and pleasure did wildlife bring to me. The road was not an easy one: it was full of ups and downs. I often remind myself one is not paid to uphold one’s principles but one has to pay for them.

But I was determined to continue sharing my experience and knowledge with those who, though they really loved birds, unfortunately were never taught to express their appreciation in a positive way. Indeed, they were prevented from doing so because their love for birds was used or abused for political gain in exchange for their vote, irrespective of the negative psychological impact it had on them.

They formed part of a ‘minority’ that, instead of being encouraged to give their share, considering their knowledge, eagerness and enthusiasm, were abused for political gain.

What a wonderful place it would be if all those who love birds would work together to safeguard them so they could be positively appreciated and enjoyed by one and all, even by the shooters, for the benefit of the birds, the ecosystem and the country as a whole.

turtle-dove

How can one say that one loves birds and to show one’s appreciation one shoots to kill the bird one says one loves.

 

That is why I shall be voting No, to stop the hunting of birds during their breeding season. During their delicate time of reproduction, birds deserve the utmost care and protection. This is the basic concept of any true conservationist.

Voting No to spring shooting when the birds are on their way to breed will make us proud to be Maltese, at par with the best in the European Union. And only this will make birds and nature lovers unite.

I trust common sense will prevail.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com