Christian Paoletti, 75, is one of six judges in the European bird song imitation competition taking place this Saturday in Marseille. Organized by the National Association for the Defense of Traditional Thrush Hunting, we discussed this unsuspected discipline with Christian Paoletti.
How do you become a judge in a bird song imitation contest?
Already, I am passionate about Turbidae (family of 17 kinds of birds including, in particular, thrushes) because it is a noble animal, which is not there all year round and which is only passing through our region, between September and December. It is an animal that cannot be tamed, so to hunt or observe it, we must learn to converse with it in order to bring it near us.
I was 6 years old, with my poor (provençal expression to designate someone who died) grandfather, in Allauch precisely, and we were going to the hunting post; that was when there were millions of them. And that’s where I started to learn. Then I participated in competitions, I won many regional championships and was European champion.
You explained that thrushes are migratory birds, where do they come from?
Chiqueuses, or song thrushes, come mainly from the Black Forest, Germany where they nest, then there are some that come from a little higher, on the edge of Russia. Still others come from Iceland.
You said: it’s good to learn to converse with thrushes, what do you tell them?
I converse with them, but I don’t understand what they are saying. On the other hand, depending on the song you make to it, the thrush does not react the same. If the song does not suit her, she leaves. But if you do a song that manages to hold her, because she’s a beast that’s very restless in nature – always on the alert, watching everywhere, and you see, she relaxes, and stays. That’s talking.
How do we learn?
It takes desire and passion. And then when you see that the beasts react to your song and well that gives you hope and you continue. Depending on the birds, the songs are more or less low or high and more or less large chilets (a kind of small pierced piece) are used.
Spain, Italy and France compete, it’s a fairly Mediterranean discipline. Why ?
Because that’s where the thrushes will land. When the thrushes come down from the north, they pass through us, Italy, Spain, Greece and go to North Africa. And when the cold returns, they go up.
The people of the North don’t hunt them?
Yes, but for them, they are trinkets. There are more big game in the North than at home.
How do you decide between the participants?
In my car, I have a disc of birdsong with ornithologists who explain. I listen to it often. And when I listen to a participant who falls almost to the song I’m used to hearing, I note it well. A good song, you can visualize the bird by closing your eyes. There are six judges and four song categories. Each judge gives a score out of 20 to each song, then we add up.
The event is organized at the Château de la Busine, the theater of Pagnol’s book. My mother’s castle: what is the link between the pagnolesque environment and thrush hunting?
Pagnol was a great hunter. And I know all the corners of Pagnol’s stories, the Garlaban, between Allauch and Aubagne, the bar of the Holy Spirit where they placed traps… So today it’s over, but at the time, it was not there was nothing forbidden. I think going back to what he did is good to keep him alive.
How to continue to interest the youngest?
We have about fifteen children on Saturday who are starting the chilet and who are going to practice. The chilet is a tradition in Provence and even since man is man, I would say. We have always tried to attract animals.
This practice requires a musical ear, do you know how to recognize the notes?
So the notes no. But I manage to play by ear on a piano a song that I have heard, without any problem.