Season of Shame Survivor!

Half an hour after sunset last Monday marked the end of this year’s duck shooting season in Victoria; I am numb with relief.

 

Shot coot - Kim WormaldEurasian Coot –  with a shotgun pellet injury
1/800, F5.6, ISO 200

 

The Eurasian Coot (above and below) was one of many birds injured by shotgun pellets but thankfully this one survived the experience. The pictured coot was found among reeds, trembling and unable to fly. One of the wildlife rescuers, who I think of as the Swamp Shepherd, quietly waded through the still waters, watching carefully for ripples when the coot dived, and eventually scooped it gently into a large net. I photographed the coot quickly, not even pausing to check the background so the traumatised bird could be placed in a recovery box and taken to a wildlife shelter. Its injuries were assessed, its wound treated and once it had fully recovered it was released along with another rescued coot.

 

Eurasian Coot close up - Kim WormaldEurasian Coot
1/800, f/5.6, ISO 200

 

When looking at the image above I was struck by the coot’s blood-red eye. Coots aren’t ‘game’ birds, it is not legal to shoot them and it is not moral to leave injured creatures to die slowly. After spending time at lakes and wetlands during this year’s shooting season it was clear that duck numbers were low and I imagine that some shooters just wanted to shoot something, a list which sadly included coot, grebe, Black Swans, Whistling Kite, Australian Pelican, Musk Duck, Freckled Duck, Blue-billed Duck and Pied Cormorant. Some shooters had clearly spent a small fortune on their gear, including guns, ammunition, camouflage clothing, waders, decoy ducks and camping paraphernalia. Simon Toop, Director of the Game Management Authority stated that, “It was a quiet season in terms of birds and bird availability; it’s been very dry… so bird numbers are down generally.” (ABC 9th June 2015). It’s staggering that the GMA pushed for and were granted a season in these conditions. If the forecast El Nino occurs this winter there is no way that waterbird numbers could cope with a shooting season next year.

 

 Wildlife Rescuer - Kim Wormald
Swamp Shepherd at first light
1/400, f/8.0, ISO 800

 

Dozens of wildlife rescuers spend their weekends at lakes and wetlands quietly looking for dead and injured birds. They watch for birds left behind when the rest of the flock flies and for single birds that would usually be part of a flock, they watch for birds that are limping or dragging a wing, they search on islands and among reeds. They also collect rubbish, mountains of rubbish, including spent shell casings, occasional live shells and beer cans. They don’t collect the disgusting disposable ‘toilet bags’ that are abandoned along with their contents – I feel sorry for whichever workers have to deal with that.

 

Swamp Shepherd - Kim WormaldSwamp Shepherd
1/800, f/8.0, ISO 400

 

My heartfelt thanks to everyone who has helped rescue birds, lobby politicians and clean up the wetlands – you are awesome.

 

rainbow - Kim WormaldRainbow
1/400, f/6.3, ISO 800

 

We saw this stunning rainbow when driving between wetlands. It rained briefly, I wasn’t wearing a coat, my camera wasn’t protected and there was no time to change to a lens with a wider angle but I couldn’t resist hopping out of the car and pressing the shutter button. I think the others captured better images from the car windows with their phones!

 

Half an hour after sunset - Kim WormaldHalf an hour after sunset – can you see the people?
1/400, f/5.0, ISO 25,600 (this number is not an error), handheld

 

Shooting is permitted half an hour before sunrise and half an hour after sunset. How on earth can any shooter be expected to correctly identify ducks in this kind of light? Can you see how many people are in the image and discern discern any details about them? I usually set my ISO at a maximum of 800, only using 1600 if I’m desperate for the image and not worried about the amount of digital noise that will impact the photograph. Using ISO 25,600 with the aperture wide open was a desperate measure as there was virtually no light.

 

Chestnut Teal feather - Kim WormaldChestnut Teal feather
1/400, f/6.3, ISO 800

 

The image above shows a Chestnut Teal feather at one of numerous feather pits that were dotted around the lakes and wetlands wherever birds had been plucked. I would much rather be one of the many people who see intrinsic beauty in our wildlife than one of the tiny minority who enjoy killing it.

I urge all readers who care about birdlife to contact Premier Dan Andrews, Jaala Pulford (Minister for Agriculture), Lisa Neville (Minister for Environment)  and your local MP (if in Victoria) and implore them to ban the duck shooting season in Victoria, or if they permit another season, to commit to attending a major shooting venue on opening day – maybe seeing the senseless carnage alongside the inspirational wildlife rescuers would help them understand the realities of the season.

Laurie Levy from the Coalition Against Duck Hunting expressed his disappointment that both major parties have remained silent on the issue of duck shooting. Laurie stated that he believes the end of duck shooting is in sight, “All our gains have been made through public opinion, public opinion has really brought duck shooting to its knees… and we’ll keep fighting until it is banned.”

In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Happy birding, Kim

 

NB  If you are free on the weekend of 20-21st June you may be interested in helping a revegetation project at the Winton Wetlands near Benalla in Victoria. These wetlands have been returned to their natural state and hunting has been banned. For more information visit Winton Wetlands

Other posts about this year’s duck shooting season may be of interest: Season of Shame and Season of Shame Part 2 (GRAPHIC)

 

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