GOB 49 – Give me my Raptor today… II
(This article first appeared in the March 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’)
Mrs Grumpy and I are fans of Van Morrison and whenever we sing along to ‘Give me my rapture today…” we change rapture to raptor as we are even bigger fans of birds of prey.
My regular readers will know that ‘Hawkeye’ is second to none in her ability to spot distant raptors, twice getting raptor ‘lifers’ for our tour guides!
On a Scottish moor she managed to spot no less than seven raptor species in 10 minutes, when the only other birds we saw were two skulking meadow pipits!
Her skills ensured success yesterday searching grazing marshes for overwintering and resident raptors – 30 birds of eight species… not counting raptor-shaped distant dots.
Raptors top many birders’ wish lists, but why when they are red in beak and claw and rapacious, so just what we hate in humans! Being top of a food chain makes for superlatives… to catch prey they have to be faster, more agile and energetic than their quarry. To fail is to starve.
A harrier harrying shows more stoicism and persistence than even the hapless moorhen that is fighting for its life. A peregrine stoops faster than superman saving Lois Lane from Lex Luthor. A bewildered starburst of startled pigeons avoid the feather flurry that was a brood-mate which succumbed faster than thought itself.
Raptors are majestic, magnificent and awe-inspiring; feather-clad poems of power and beauty.
So how prosaic must one be to poison eagles or stamp on harrier eggs?
The answer is ‘as prosaic as a banker loving money above all else’. What other motivation can there be to foster an industry geared to those with more money than sensitivity.
When I was a boy wandering the woods that were, no doubt, on private land, I once came across a ‘keeper’s larder’. If you have never seen one this is usually a barbed-wire fence on which a keeper hangs his kills. There is a wall of rooks and crows, weasels and foxes, desiccated or fresh to mark the passing weeks. They are there for one reason alone – to show the employer that the keeper is doing his job by eliminating any creature that he believes is a rival to rich sportsmens’ guns. Any living thing must go that might reduce the number of pheasant or grouse that they can enjoy blasting out of the sky.
Make no mistake, no keeper would pick off species against the express instruction of his master. He would not lock illegal poisons in his hut if he had been told not to by the boss man, nor use them to lace a carcass to kill a fox without knowing full well that it could claim the life of a Hen harrier or White-tailed Eagle just as easily. A shocked look on a landowner’s face when a pole-trap is revealed may be real enough, but not because they were ignorant. It will be shock that their practice has been uncovered.
Gamekeepers know a great deal more about wildlife than their masters… although some also hang on to misinformation just as tenaciously. They are paid to do a job and the paymaster will make it clear that he brooks no competition to the guns.
BUT IT NEED NOT BE SO!
Bird a winter grazing marsh that is farmed more for the pheasants and partridge than the cattle; a properly managed one, and raptors abound! Of course they take some birds as prey, but it will be the most sickly or least likely to survive the winter. Plenty of ‘game’ birds will be left for those who enjoy their ‘sport’.
Wildlife crime is pernicious, ignorant and selfish of course. But it is also theft… raptors cannot be owned like land, they are held in common, belonging to us all. Birders should help stop those who steal from us all!
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For Birders who want to help make a difference see: Birders Against Wildlife Crime