Pigeon fanciers fear falcons could decimate racing flocks

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BizScene set a cat among the pigeons two issues ago when it looked at the possibility of using an endangered bird to control pests. This feathered, flying cat is the New Zealand falcon.

Local vineyards have shown interest in a Marlborough pilot scheme using the falcons to keep starlings and other flying pests away from grapes.

This makes pigeon racers uncomfortable as they fear the falcons will eat their birds. The 300-year-old pastime of pigeon racing still has about 800 (human) competitors in New Zealand.

A recent event carried a $12,500 first prize. Many pigeons now carry microchips that trigger electronic clocks when they arrive in their home lofts.

This is an intriguing hobby. When Charles Darwin worked on his Theory of Evolution, he quizzed pigeon fanciers for their knowledge of inherited characteristics. He became an enthusiast himself.

Hobbyists believe falcons patrolling vineyards prey on pigeons as they race inter-island over Marlborough.

Warren Ritchie, the top Southland pigeon fancier, says a wild pair may have caused most carnage, however.

Hundreds of pigeon-racing rings were found near their nest.

Ritchie suggests if Otago vineyards introduce falcons they should control them as in traditional falconry.

“If these people are handling falcons they shouldn’t let them be flying round to do their own thing. Pigeon racers have their birds under total control. We can whistle at them, and they peel out of the sky and land beside us.”

Ritchie, a former hunter and safari guide, questions whether NZ falcons are endangered. He says they have been showing up in towns.

He tells of backcountry falcons hovering near his head waiting for him to scare up grasshoppers, and of hen falcons shrieking to drive small birds out of bush.

“They are very clever.”

Falconers need to make pigeon lovers their allies. Some would likely become professional falconers themselves.

Another flight idea

A California firm has begun tourist flights in a new Zeppelin airship. Inert helium rather than highly combustible hydrogen lifts the German-built craft.

Airship Ventures charges start around $NZ900 per passenger for a one-hour flight around San Francisco Bay in Zeppelin NT (for “new technology”). Other trips cover local wine country and Silicon Valley.

How would airship tours go to Milford Sound? Airship Ventures has one key advantage. It uses an airship hangar built in the 1930s.

Rural broadband

Power companies might yet end up the most economic suppliers of internet broadband in rural areas – including much of the Wakatipu region. Broadband over power lines – BPL – has so far generated intermittent support.

The latest boost comes from IBM partnering technology company IBEC and 13 American rural cooperative lines companies to manage BPL. The Wall Street Journal reports the venture hopes to sign up 900 other rural lines companies and is working with overseas firms. IBEC also runs wireless and ADSL broadband services.

BPL customers use a modem that plugs into a wall power outlet. Customers pay from $NZ55 a month for a 256kb/sec home service.

The technology uses radio-frequency signals carried in the magnetic field that surrounds power lines. Cheap repeater boxes clamped to the lines amplify the signals.