My daughter is part of the Coalition Against Duck Shooting’s team of volunteers. Each weekend I am filled with admiration and concern; the impact of the season goes beyond the slaughter of birds. I joined the team for several weekends in previous years but this year I am not sure whether I can muster the courage, I feel helpless and hopeless.
Pink-eared Duck (Malacorhynchus membranaceus)
1/2000, f/9, ISO 800
Instead of facing the horrors of one of the thousands of Victorian wetlands open to shooters, I sat on the muddy banks of a rapidly drying remnant of a lake where the birds were safe from everything apart from the onslaught of a Peregrine Falcon. As the sun rose more than twenty species were warmed by the first rays of golden light. My daughter especially likes Pink-eared Ducks so along with photographing dotterels and raptors I spent a lot of time enjoying the pinkies.
Pink-eared Ducks are beautiful native waterbirds that are considered ‘game birds’ during Victoria’s duck shooting season. They are tiny birds, weighing just 375g, compared to about 2kg for a chicken from the supermarket. Many pinkies are breasted by shooters; I can’t imagine the tiny morsel of food that shooters believe justifies their deaths.
Pinkies are named for the bright pink patch of feathers behind the eye. They have remarkable bills with a square end and edged with fine grooves that help filter the microscopic animals and plants that they eat. The groves can just be seen in the image above as a fine fringing along the lower edge of the bill. With the recent rains many of the birds shot this season have been, and will be, immature birds. Pinkies have a lovely call, a kind of musical chattering that is especially loud when they are flying. Pinkies are distinctively marked with exquisite dark brown barring. Like many waterbirds they breed depending on rainfall and mate for life.
According to the results of the annual waterbird survey at the end of October, “the ‘game species’ abundance was well below long term average, in many cases by an order of magnitude”. Professor Kingsford’s aerial survey results for 2016 can be seen here
CADS Rescuer with an illegally shot Australasian Shoveler
Image by Greenfizz Design (Corinna Conforti)
My daughter was distressed by the scale of the illegal shooting at the weekend. She has given me permission to share her account:
Duck season opening weekend – March 18-19 2017
So… The last two years I have been heavily involved with the anti-duck shooting campaign but it was so dry and native waterbird numbers (already in long term decline) hit an all-time low at the end of 2016. The breeding spell that followed the wet weather a few months ago enabled the first decent breeding event waterbirds have had since the drought broke in 2010-11. As a result there were more birds around than I have seen in my previous years on the wetlands during duck shooting season.
Basically, this duck season opening weekend was the most horrific and traumatic experience of my life. I had seen most of it before, but never on such an enormous scale. For those of us that love animals and value wildlife and wilderness areas, it is just unfathomable that others enjoy destroying the things that you care about so much.
They started shooting early on both days. It was still dark but the marsh was already erupting in gunfire. As legal time came around the roar became deafening and we could see the silhouettes of birds dropping from the sky. The stress and suffering of the birds was astronomical. As the wetland thundered with gunfire the birds were calling in distress and flying the gauntlet with nowhere to escape. Behind the shooters dead birds were bobbing around unretrieved as the wounded scrambled for shelter with shattered wings, bleeding wounds and blood bubbling out of their bills. A couple bled out in my arms. We were handing out the dead ‘game’ birds to shooters if they were in calling distance (they were not looking for their kills) but mostly there were no shooters in sight as we were filling sacks with dead birds including many rare, endangered and protected species. The number of dead and wounded, both game and protected, was overwhelming. All around the spent cartridges were washing into the bank, surrounding the dead and dying. The beautiful wetland was utterly trashed. The extent of the gratuitous destruction, waste and pointless suffering left us all, birds and rescuers, feeling broken, helpless and exhausted.
What we found out there was the tip of the iceberg, yet we were persecuted as the shooters ‘have a legal right to be there’ according to the authorities. What will it take for the shooters to lose their mandate?
When I got back to camp on the first night after 14 hours of work I had heat stroke and felt like I was in shock, just staring at the wall. Witnessing that level of animal abuse is just so heartbreaking, and so disturbing. Everyone I work with in the Coalition Against Duck Shooting is amazing though and it is such an immense privilege to know them and call them my friends.
Today we displayed 820 dead birds outside the Premier’s office from just a couple of the thousands of legal shooting sites across Victoria. God knows what is left behind everywhere else. Twelve more weeks to go.
I didn’t want to post a graphic picture so here is one of two little Grey Teal that we found abandoned and suffering. A few of us had an epic trek back to the vet tent to deliver the wounded we were carrying. Unfortunately, due to the horrific nature of their wounds both these little ones were immediately euthanised on arrival.
Image supplied – CADS rescuer with two Grey Teal that were found abandoned and suffering
Both were horrifically injured and euthanised at the vet tent
My heartfelt thanks to the Coalition Against Duck Shooting (CADS) rescuers, Animals Australia and the vets who are striving to ensure that injured birds are not left to suffer; it is heartbreaking work. And my warmest thanks to everyone who has donated to these organisations or written an email (or will write) to the MPs listed in last week’s post – it is a powerful way to support the brave rescuers in the field and has resulted in a glimmer of hope.
The Game Management Authority (GMA) issued a press release on 22 March condemning the actions of shooters at First Marsh (where my daughter was volunteering). The GMA CEO Grey Hyams confirmed that shooters ‘fired early, failed to correctly identify their target, and failed to pick up spent cartridges’ and that, ‘Birds were left in the water, including significant numbers of protected species such as threatened Freckled and Blue-billed Ducks’. The press release states that, ‘Several hunters also commenced shooting up to half an hour before the season opened. In addition to illegal behaviour, Mr Hyams said many hunters were behaving unethically or irresponsibly. Hunters have been taking excessively long shots well outside of their shooting skills distance, resulting in wounding and lost birds. Some made no attempt to recover downed birds and kept shooting. This sort of behaviour is illegal or unethical’. I consider it illegal and unethical. The full press release can be read here
Animals Australia (AA) lodged an extensive legal complaint detailing the ‘shocking cruelty and illegal shooter behaviour’ relating to the ‘native waterbirds [that] were massacred or left for dead’. AA’s action and the display of the bodies of 1,200 birds (found by CADS) in Melbourne and Ballarat has resulted in the closure of First Marshes and Lake Bael Bael, hopefully for the remainder of the season. As AA commented, “Tragically, this closure comes too late to save the dozens of ‘protected’ Freckled and Blue-billed ducks who were slaughtered in just two days of shooting, but thousands more waterbirds will now find safe haven in the wetlands. This is a great win for animals, but we still have work to do. Get all the details and join us as we continue the fight against this ‘recreational’ slaughter of wildlife: www.AnimalsAus.org/tV2”
Many thanks if you have already emailed the politicians detailed in last week’s post, please keep up your activism, it will take sustained pressure from people who care for this abomination to be banned as it has been in other states. If you are feeling daunted about writing, your email can be as brief as one sentence stating that you are horrified/disgusted/saddened/angered by Victoria’s shameful duck shooting season and want it permanently banned. Phone calls can also be effective – together we can put an end to this wanton massacre of our native waterbirds.
It’s half past four in the morning as I finish writing this post. CADS volunteers are at selected wetlands and their alarms will be going off shortly so they can prepare themselves for this weekend’s slaughter. Please support them and our wildlife.
Happy birding, and more importantly, happy email writing, thank you
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