Ortolan buntings, new study

This is an ortolan bunting video from Belarus.

From Bird Study:

A territory scale analysis of habitat preferences of the declining Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana

02 Feb 2016


Capsule: Ortolan Bunting occurrence is associated with bare ground, lucerne, shrub cover and hedgerows/tree rows.

Aims: To assess the habitat features selected by Ortolan Buntings at the territory level in semi-open landscapes, in the northern Apennines of Italy.

Methods: We mapped territories in ten different plots and built a habitat selection model comparing 52 occupied cells with 52 unoccupied ones (cell size: 1 ha). We built multivariate adaptive regression splines models based on ground-measured variables.

Results: The model revealed an association with intermediate Lucerne cover (50% of the cell), high shrub cover, bare ground (≥5%) and hedgerows/tree rows (≥25 m/ha). The most important driver of occurrence was bare ground (optimum at 5–20%).

Conclusion: The maintenance of the mosaic and low-intensity farmed landscape, the promotion of lucerne and the conservation/restoration of hedgerows/tree rows, may be promoted through the Rural Development Programme. The conservation of bare soil, grassland and shrubs at optimum amount at fine-scale could be the object of an agri-environment scheme targeted specifically at the Ortolan Bunting.

Can the European Commission save the Ortolan Bunting? Here.

Film Fire at Sea about refugees

This video says about itself:

Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare) 2016 Film Trailer

8 February 2016

The documentary captures life on the Italian island of Lampedusa, a frontline in the European migrant crisis. Situated some 200km off Italy’s southern coast, Lampedusa has hit world headlines in recent years as the first port of call for hundreds of thousands of African and Middle Eastern migrants hoping to make a new life in Europe.

Rosi spent months living on the Mediterranean island, capturing its history, culture and the current everyday reality of its 6,000-strong local population as hundreds of migrants land on its shores on a weekly basis. The resulting documentary focuses on 12-year-old Samuele, a local boy who loves to hunt with his slingshot and spend time on land even though he hails from a culture steeped in the sea.

By Bernd Reinhardt in Germany:

66th Berlin International Film Festival—Part 2:

A critique of Europe’s refugee policy: On the Berlinale’s Golden Bear for Fire at Sea

By Bernd Reinhardt

27 February 2016

This is the second in a series of articles on the recent Berlin international film festival, the Berlinale, held February 11-20, 2016. Part 1 was posted February 22.

The Golden Bear award at this year’s Berlinale went to Fuocoammare (Fire At Sea). For the first time in 60 years, a documentary film secured the top award in the competition. The jury thereby not only selected an artistically outstanding film, but also took a highly political decision, since the documentary deals with the refugee crisis on Lampedusa, an issue which is currently engaging millions of people and threatening to tear apart the European Union.

Fire At Sea is the title of an Italian hit song from the 1950s, based on the Second World War and the dangerous conditions for fishermen who went to sea during artillery fire.

Italian director Gianfranco Rosi focuses on a current war front: Europe’s border with the war-torn countries of the Middle East and North Africa—a region thousands of people flee from, and risk the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea.

The Mediterranean island of Lampedusa has long been their point of arrival. Previously, the boats landed on the coast. But now the unsafe craft and smuggling boats are intercepted by the EU border protection agency Frontex at sea, and the refugees are isolated from the local population. Rosi’s film depicts two separate worlds living alongside each other.

He sensitively observes daily life on the island. Rosi spent a year on location to prepare his film. Can there be any normalcy at all on this island? The main protagonist is 12-year-old Samuele, a fisherman’s son. At first glance, his life appears undisturbed by the refugee crisis. He goes to school, does homework and wanders the island with his friends.

Samuele is bright and curious. He grows up with the sea, learning to row by rowing between two moored boats in the harbour. Most of all, he enjoys playing war games with his friend; they shoot with slingshots at birds or cacti in which they have carved faces, before carefully putting them back together with black tape. “Let’s stop,” his friend says. “You have already killed them all.”

From the coastal rocks, Samuele sees patrol boats going around the island to intercept refugee boats. Radio news broadcasts also report about them, and about the deaths. “Poor devils,” murmurs Maria, Samuele’s aunt, as she peels potatoes. She knows what it means to be at the mercy of the sea. Her husband, a fisherman, is like many others frequently at sea for long periods of time.

The camera shifts to a request show on a radio broadcaster. Maria has requested the song “Fuocoammare”. She dedicates it to her old father. She tells Samuele of his grandfather’s fear of fishing at night. It was the Second World War, and sometimes the sea was red.

Rosi experiences the other side of daily life when he goes offshore with the rescue boats. “What is your position?” is the typical question on the boat’s radio with which the film opens. On the other end of the line, a panicked voice can be heard, “Please help.” A refugee boat, full of women and children, is in the process of sinking.

The camera takes in a rescue scene as sick refugees are loaded into a patrol boat, including a completely dehydrated young man who will perhaps not make it. The others get on board a navy ship. Men with masks and rubber gloves indicate one direction, and push people in another. They cry, “Mali here,” “Chad,” “Syria there.” They are registered, sorted, numbered and photographed, as if they are dealing with freight. A boy can no longer speak or hear, and his body shows signs of beatings. “Are you from Syria?” Frontex officials demand repeatedly from him. He is unable to answer.

Brought on land, men, women and children wait in the dark for first aid and further transportation. They are wrapped in shiny foil, the face of one fearful and apathetic, the other with a glimmer of hope. A group of Africans strike up a rap song telling of the trials and tribulations they have come through: hunger, waterless desert, sea, sickness and death. The loud singing is painful to the ear. At another point, they relax playing football: Eritrea against Syria.

In contrast, there are the humiliating searches by police officers, who complain about the smell of diesel emanating from the refugees. A lit match would set us on fire, complains one of the police officers.

Refugees have to refill the fuel during the journey, explains the island doctor Pietro Bartolo. This results in dangerous injuries, because the diesel and sea water becomes a corrosive substance when mixed. He shows Rosi the shocking picture of a 14-year-old, whose body shows signs of chemical burns in several places.

The doctor, who cares for the locals, including Samuele, as well as the refugees, is a link between the island’s inhabitants and the refugees. The camera is present as he examines a woman bearing twins with an ultrasound scan. Bartolo is alarmed when he cannot find the head of one twin. He remarks, “Everything is all over the place here, legs, arms, head—no wonder with all they had to go through.”

It is particularly difficult for the doctor to examine the many bodies: dead children or dead pregnant women, or women who die on the boat immediately after giving birth. Colleagues believe he is used to it now, Bartolo says. But that is impossible. At the awards ceremony in Berlin he sharply criticised the EU’s refugee policy.

The director also indicated his shock over his experiences with the rescue missions. He said in an interview, “We are currently experiencing a human tsunami, around 60 million people are fleeing around the world from war, hunger and misery. They cannot be contained with fences and walls. … Europe cannot barricade itself off.”

At the conclusion of the film, he directs the camera to dozens of intertwined dead bodies on the bottom of a refugee boat. “After that I could not continue to film,” said Rosi. With this picture, he wanted to document what happened. “What would it have been like if cameras were present during the Holocaust?”

The life of young Samuele is only seemingly separate from those of the refugees. The director noted in an interview that much became “a regular metaphor for mine, for our perception of the refugees.” An example is the glasses with which the doctor instructs the young boy to cover his right eye. He has to train his “lazy” left eye, Bartolo says. This refers to those who, confronted with the refugee tragedy, remain blind in one eye, according to the director.

When Samuele develops a stomach bug and is sick during a boat trip with his father, the father advises his son to train his stomach by standing on the swaying jetty. The doctor’s diagnosis is that it was fear. Samuele begins to become aware of his environment, the director explained. “For me, that was a good picture of our relationship to the current situation.”

The end of the film shows Samuele on a swaying jetty, with an imaginary machine gun firing wildly in the air. This conclusion, and the film as a whole, is fulfilling. It is not only a criticism of the EU’s inhumane policies on the borders, but it also raises the issue of the causes for this drama. Without referring to the wars in Syria and North Africa by name, they are present.

But here, the film remains vague and avoids taking a position. The European powers are exploiting the refugee crisis to intervene militarily themselves in the name of “combatting causes of flight”. They are not concerned with “human rights”, but in participating in the scramble for raw materials and strategic advantage. The refugee tragedy threatens to expand into a global war and a catastrophe for humanity as a whole.

The frenetic applause from German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the awards ceremony for Fuocoammare, and Italian Prime Minister Renzi’s announcement that he would distribute a DVD of the film at the next EU refugee conference, should be taken as warnings.

Refugees on Italian fashion catwalk

Refugee on Italian fashion catwalk

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands today:

Less than a year ago they made the perilous crossing to Europe and their future was uncertain. Yesterday they walked down the catwalk of one of the biggest fashion shows in the world. Asylum seekers from Mali and Gambia were invited to show off the new men’s collection at the fashion fair Pitti Uomo in Florence. …

Nigerian/American designer Wale Oyejide said that working with refugees fits well with his philosophy about fashion: “If an asylum seeker puts on a suit, then people will approach him differently. Hopefully it helps them to see refugees as equals, not as someone who is supposedly inferior“.

Paedophile priest arrested in Italy

This video from the USA saays about itself:


March 2002 Reuters International news report says Boston Catholic cathedral is [in] “a firestorm amid the largest sex scandal in church history.” Report features SNAP Board Member Mark Serrano in New Jersey and Phil Saviano, Founder of New England SNAP Chapter, in Boston. Former Massachusetts priest David Holley is profiled. Holley died in a New Mexico prison in November 2008. One of the first U.S. priests to be sent to prison for sex crimes against children, he was serving out a sentence of 275 years.

From daily The Independent in Britain today:

Anto[n]ello Tropea: Paedophile priest ‘who used Grindr to meet teenage boys’ arrested in Italy

The 44-year-old claimed he was a physical education teacher when approached by police

Shehab Khan

An Italian priest has been arrested after allegedly meeting teenage boys through gay dating app Grindr, according to Italian media reports.

Priest Anto[n]ello Tropea was arrested after suspicions were raised when police reportedly discovered him in a car with a teenager in a secluded area.

The 44-year-old, who is the priest of a parish in Messignadi in southern Italy, is said to have claimed he was a physical education teacher when approached by police. He was apparently found with “suspicious items” in his bag.

Italian media also claims an Italian bishop allegedly told Tropea to avoid talking to the police.

According to La Repubblica newspaper, a two-month police investigation discovered the priest using the dating app under the name Nicola.

It also alleged the bishop had told Tropea to avoid the police and had shrugged off pervious rumours about him.

He was allegedly angry about an anonymous letter about Tropea and warned his charge to “avoid speaking to police.”

See also here.

Roman mosaic discovery in Italy

This video says about itself:

14 January 2008

A short film about Roman mosaics. The film shows a series of Roman mosaics and information about their construction.

From Discovery News:

Ancient Roman Mosaic Found in Tuscany

Oct 6, 2015 02:30 PM ET // by Rossella Lorenzi

Italian archaeologists digging in a small Tuscan village have unearthed part of what they believe is a large and impressive ancient Roman mosaic.

Laying in a private property next to a local road in the village Capraia e Limite, the mosaic features two different designs. One, dating to the second half of the 4th century AD, features geometric patterns framed by floral motifs, the other, dating to the 5th century AD, boasts octagons decorated with animals, flowers and a human bust.

The large mosaic graced the floor of a luxurious Roman villa that stood in the Tuscan countryside for four centuries, from the 1st to the beginning of the 6th century AD.

Photos: See Images of the Mosaic

“Evidence of this villa was first found in 1983, when workers digging to build an orchard unearthed some black and white mosaic fragments and, most interestingly, an inscription mentioning one of the owners of the complex,” Lorella Alderighi of the Archaeological Superintendency of Tuscany, told Discovery News.

The inscribed slab of stone referred to Vettius Agorius Praetextatus, one of the most famous pagan senators of the later fourth century AD. He came from an ancient and noble family and died in 384 while serving as the praetorian prefect at the court of Emperor Valentinian II.

It is well known that Vettius Agorius Praetextatus owned villas in Tuscany — and liked them very much.

“The Roman statesman and orator Quintus Aurelius Symmachus even complained in his letters that Vettius enjoyed too much opium in his estates in Etruria, instead of dealing with politics in Rome,” Federico Cantini, the archaeologist of the University of Pisa who led the dig, told Discovery News.

Built in the first century, the villa in Capraia e Limite had its most glorious time in the 4th century AD, when Vettius Agorius Praetextatus rebuilt it according to luxurious standards. By the beginning of the 6th century AD it was completely abandoned and plundered.

1500-Year-Old Mosaic Map Found

“Luckily, they could not remove the mosaics,” Alderighi said.

Excavations in 2013 brought to light a stunning oval mosaic with a wild boar hunting scene which dates to the second half of the 4th century AD.

Because of legal issues and lack of funding, the mosaic was covered soon after its discovery in order to preserve it. The finding prompted new archaeological investigations.

“We speculated the mosaic floor extends further, thus we tested the hypothesis with a survey dig,” Cantini said.

The excavation proved Cantini and his team were right.

Parts of two floor mosaics came to light. The older one consisted of geometric patterns framed by red decorations with acanthus and vine leaves in various shades of grey, blue and black. The other displayed scenes with animals, flowers, geometric patterns framed by octagons. Catching the attention at the center of one of such octagons, is the bust of a man with a tunic and large eyes.

“We believe it is not a portrait, but just a decoration,” Alderighi said.

According to the archaeologists, the investigated portion of the villa had an hexagonal structure with rooms opening onto a central hall.

“We estimate the size of the floor mosaic to be about 300 square meters (984 square feet). We only have unearthed one-eighth of it,” Cantini said.

Photos: Greek God Hermes Featured in Ancient Mosaic

Unfortunately, most of the mosaic lies beneath an industrial shed. Although the archaeologists believe the artwork is still intact, it is unlikely it will be brought to light in the near future.

The newly unearthed mosaics have been already covered for preservation — just like the mosaic with the hunting scene.

“Our goal is to open these beautiful artworks to the public. We are working to make this happen,” Alessandro Giunti, mayor of Capraia e Limite, said.

He added that the first mosaic to be restored and displayed will be the one showing the wild boar hunting scene.

Bird migration in Italy

This 2006 video is about a starling murmuration in Rome, italy.

From BirdLife:

Bird migration through Italy: The good, the bad and the ugly

By Claudio Celada, Wed, 02/09/2015 – 09:06

The beauty of Italy, and how easy it is to recognise from space was recently lauded by an Italian cosmonaut. The cosmonaut may be biased of course, but there’s no doubt the elongated shape of the country and its position in the middle of the Mediterranean is of crucial geographic importance for millions of birds migrating between Africa and Eurasia.

From a conservation viewpoint, it seems like a good time to ask ourselves how dangerous a migratory trip along the Italian flyway is. Has the situation improved in the 50 years since BirdLife’s Italian partner LIPU was created?

To answer these questions, we start with BirdLife’s recent report on the illegal killing of birds in the Mediterranean. The report clearly highlights that Italy is by far the worst country on the northern rim of the region, with an estimated 5.6 million birds killed yearly in the country. This figure reflects the fact that illegal killing of birds (especially of passerines) in Italy is still widespread. This is certainly the case for most of the islands, for a vast region in the central Alps and for many areas along the peninsula.

But there are also reasons for hope, in particular from a LIPU case study in southern Sardinia. LIPU has a long history of fighting illegal killing and taking in this area, mainly by removing thousands of traps each year from the beautiful but deadly evergreen forests and maquis (shrubland). It has only recently been possible – through the LIFE project A safe haven for wild birds: Changing attitudes towards illegal killing in North Mediterranean for European Biodiversity – to implement a comprehensive strategy, including raising awareness in schools, launching a public information campaign (called Leaving is Living) and stronger co-operation with enforcement agencies. This strategy is starting to pay off and the number of traps found in the area has decreased in the last few years.

Traditionally, hunters are a strong lobby in Italy and unfortunately have been mostly using their political power to support the continuation of these practices. But this group is ageing and recruitment of young hunters is proving difficult. Killing birds isn’t so cool in Italy anymore and mentalities are changing. LIPU is active in showing that while traditions are important, not all traditions are good–particularly not illegal ones.

In July 2015, the Italian Parliament approved a law to ban bird capturing by mist-nets and the use of living decoys. This is an extremely important step, although moving from theory to full implementation on the ground will require all our attention.

The campaign against the shooting of soaring birds of prey and storks on the Messina Strait has been a success both in Sicily and on the mainland. However, it would be a terrible mistake to reduce efforts in Italy’s main bottleneck. This is why LIPU and other organisations still help to patrol the area during migration.

For waterbirds, most of the largest Italian wetlands have been given legal protection and designation as Natura 2000 sites. The huge impact of hunting has been partially reduced as a result, but illegal killing and taking, pollution and a poor level of habitat management are still serious issues.

Overall, there are still many open wounds, but important battles have been fought and won. There are concrete signs that eliminating deadly traditions and illegal practices is possible. Many Italian youth are realising that birds have a right to migrate. In absolute terms, the situation is improving for birds travelling through Italy. However, many populations of migratory species have drastically fallen over the last few decades and the effects of climate change are expected to hit them harder in the coming years. So we need to intensify our efforts and speed up the healing process.

Monitoring birds in Europe: here.