Printer-friendly version

Malta autumn 2011 BPC online diary

CABS Birdguard ‘on duty‘CABS Birdguard ‘on duty‘Our large scale bird protection camp on Malta - this year under the nickname “Safe Voyage“ - will run from 09 to 26 September 2011. Some 26 permanent CABS staff and volunteers from Italy, Bulgaria, Germany, Great Britain and the Czech Republic are participating in the field operations. Our main aim is the security of the important migration flight corridors over the archipelago, staking-out of night roost sites and combating the still widespread trapping of passerines with clap nets.

On this page we will regularly report on daily events, successes and incidents. Updates will normally be posted daily but, on days when we are extremely busy we hope that a slight delay in posting will not be taken amiss.

The costs for the operation - some25.000 € - are covered by private donations only, as well as a welcome subsidy from the Foundation pro Biodiversity . If you too want to support our efforts to provide better protection for migratory birds in the Mediterranean we are always grateful for a donation however small.

23.09.2011, Friday

On 23.09.2011 three Short-toed Eagles arrived over Malta - one was shot down shortly afterwards! (© MarioM, WikimediaCommonsOn 23.09.2011 three Short-toed Eagles arrived over Malta - one was shot down shortly afterwards! (© MarioM, WikimediaCommonsOn their last but one day on the island the CABS teams were kept bust with a renewed wave of migration. In the morning it was still quite with only a few dozen Honey Buzzards and Marsh Harriers reaching the island and using its thermals as boosters to sweep them safely on their way to Africa. A day earlier an anonymous call was received in our Bonn office - the source was obviously Maltese - with information on an active trapping site. In the early hours a CABS team guided in a police patrol to the site. Investigations continue and no further details can be revealed at this stage.

Strong migration began from midday onwards. High-flying Honey buzzards could be seen all over the island - even in the skies over the capital Valletta. Most birds took the (correct) decision to continue on to Africa. The some 100 Honey Buzzards that arrived later had to land to roost, most of them in and around Buskett. With them were an Osprey and at least two Short-toed Eagles. Another Short-toed Eagle did nit make it - BirdLife Malta reported that it was shot down near Mtarfa. A CABS team was sent to guard the remaining two eagles overnight. Three shots were fired in their vicinity around 21.30. After a short while the alarm was called off - a film was being shot in the vicinity and the shots were blanks!

22.09.2011, Thursday

Maltese hunters use illegal electronic lures to lure the Quail to their gunsMaltese hunters use illegal electronic lures to lure the Quail to their gunsWith another pause in migration it was another quiet day today. The six CABS teams were nevertheless deployed and showed the flag in their operational areas. In the morning two low-flying Purple Heron were ‘escorted’ past the hunters to the sea - and onwards to Africa - by one our teams. On the south-west coat near Ghar Lapsi some 6 electronic Quail lures were calling around 6:30. At least one was switched off as a CABS team approached.

In the afternoon a few dozen Marsh Harriers and Honey Buzzards reached Malta. Only six shots were registered after the 15:00 curfew - a relatively small number-- Most of the shots were almost certainly fired at birds of prey. It is unlikely that a hunter would risk losing his licence for a Quail or Turtle Dove. No shootings down on injured birds were seen.

21.09.2011, Wednesday

Even on quiet days CABS teams show the flag!Even on quiet days CABS teams show the flag!Independence Day, a national holiday was celebrated today on Malta. All remained quiet .

The present windy weather hindered further migration so that few hunters - and even fewer birds - were seen. The only incident noted took place at 08:44 when a man on the Gebel Cantar near Buskett took pot shots at Barn Swallows and downed one of the birds.

There were no incidents during the rest of the day.

20.09.2011, Tuesday

Many trappers' hides are empty this year following the complete ban on trappingMany trappers' hides are empty this year following the complete ban on trappingToday was the quietest operational day so far of our autumn camp on Malta. Nonetheless all six CABS teams were deployed. As there was no noteworthy fly-in of birds of prey the night before, and the night was stormy, there was nothing for the hunters to shoot at in the morning. They had hoped that Quails would drift in on the wind and many were at their posts at dawn, but few shots fell.

In the evening it was a similar story. Less than a dozen Marsh Harriers and Hobbies were sighted around the Buskett gardens roost. A total of four shots were registered after the 15:00 curfew - two of them in the Mizieb hunting reserve allegedly ‘controlled’ by the Maltese hunting association FKNK.

Tomorrow is Maltese Independence Day and the curfew will be in effect from 13:00. Migration is expected to pick up again at the end of the week.

19.09.2011, Monday

After the dramatic events of Sunday today was quitere, not least due to the weather - a welcome break for both birds and conservationists.

ALE officers confiscate trapping nets near RabatALE officers confiscate trapping nets near RabatThe six teams deployed in the morning had a lot on their plate. A hunter near Ghar Lapsi, who had previously been using Bee-eaters for target practice, shot at a Marsh Harrier. Just to the north of this location two more Marsh Harriers were met with a hail of lead. Here also Bee-eaters had received the attention of the hunters. Near Rabat, where hunters had shot into a Marsh Harrier roost at night with the aid of searchlights, the remaining birds again came under fire. At least one bird was killed before the eyes of the CABS team and another injured by shotgun pellets.

In the afternoon an ALE patrol responded to a CABS call-out and seized two large clap nets that had been found by CABS members during the search for injured Marsh Harriers during the night. The rest of the day was quite as migration was halted by strong winds and light rain. There were no further sighting of birds of prey during the rest of the afternoon.

The new German Ambassador to Malta, Dr. Hubert Ziegler, received the CABS president Heinz Schwarze in the Valletta Embassy and was briefed on the progress of the bird protection camp. He promised his support for the combating of poaching and protection of migrant birds on Malta.

18.09.2011, Sunday

A Honey Buzzard was shot and killed, and two Marsh Harriers shot at near Quormi bewteen 07:15 and 08:50. The harriers appear to have escaped unscathed. Most of the 400 birds of prey that had landed on Malta the previous evening were able to leave the islands unharmed.

The plumage of migrant birds (here a Marsh Harrier) are often damaged by shooting and most are then unable to continue migration.The plumage of migrant birds (here a Marsh Harrier) are often damaged by shooting and most are then unable to continue migration. With a strong southerly wind migration from Italy began today around 14:00 with over 500 Marsh Harriers and Honey Buzzards, as well as one or two Short-toed Eagles, Black Kites and at least one Lesser Spotted Eagle. The hunters were in an excitable mood and CABS members, posted in exposed and highly visible positions, were mobbed and verbally abused from numerous jeeps and pick-ups.

Around 18:00 a Marsh Harrier was shot down near Dingli. This was also witnessed by the police but the offender was not found. Near Zurrieq an armed man was filmed after curfew by a CABS team and the police caught another hunter in possession of a shotgun outdoors near Bahrija. A CABS team also found a target range near Bahrija with a device playing Dotterel calls. The hunters spotted the CABS team and switched off the device before the arrival of the police who later searched the area in vain.

Despite the presence of large numbers of birds (and hunters) it remained relatively quite. Only 10 illegal shots were registered between 13:00 and 20:00.

The peace and quite was rudely broken by events near Rabat where a CABS team recorded the arrival of over 80 Marsh Harriers in a night roost in open fields. The fly-in was watched by a CABS and a BirdLife Malta team - as well as a couple of dozen hunters. BirdLife Malta took over the night watch to prevent the birds being massacred on the ground at night. At about 20:30 CABS received an emergency call from the night watch patrol. Despite the presence of the latter hunters had begun to light up the roost with searchlights and had begun to shoot at the birds. CABS immediately despatched a back-uptime that arrived at the scene very soon afterwards. The search for injured birds in the darkness proved nigh impossible as the roost had taken to the wing. The CABS team managed to film a vehicle containing five suspicious individuals. This evidence was passed to the Rabat police the same night and the driver was taken in for questioning. The investigation I continuing.

17.09.2011, Saturday

Auf Malta haben es viele Jäger vor allem auf Greifvögel abgesehenAuf Malta haben es viele Jäger vor allem auf Greifvögel abgesehenToday was the first day with steady migration and the hunters as expected showed their true colours. In the morning numerous birds of prey came under fire in several locations. At Safi near the international airport a hail of fire greeted a migrating Honey Buzzard - after 11 shots the bird finally fell dead to the ground. At 08:05 in the same area 6 shots were fired at another Honey Buzzard that was flying high and was probably not hit. A Marsh Harrier was not so lucky. At 08:33 four shots were fired at the bird of which at least one was a hit. It flew on injured. Between 09:13 and 09:15 at least 3 hunters fired at a group of three Honey Buzzards near Ghar Lapsi on the west coast. One bird fell dead like a stone to the ground. The other two, probably badly injured, also fell to the ground.

Numerous birds of prey began arriving on the island from midday onwards. By early evening at least 150 Honey Buzzards, 140 Marsh Harriers, 15 Hobbies, two Eleonora’s Falcons and a single Kestrel, Lesser Kestrel, Black Kite and Montagu’s Harrier had flown into the Buskett Gardens roost. A few dozen Marsh Harriers landed on the west coast near Dingli.

Although it remained quiet almost everywhere else in the island the night roost sites received the attention of the hunters. Between 18:15 and 18:35 a CABS team witnesses the shooting down of a descending Marsh Harrier and a Honey Buzzard being hit but not killed. Another Honey Buzzard reached the Buskett roost with difficulty due to visible injuries.

The Marsh Harriers that flew into the Dingli reed bed roost were given a harder time. After dark, between about 20:00 and 20:30 hunters with spotlights searched for the birds and slaughtered a number of the helpless birds. Eyewitnesses reported dozens of shots. It is likely that many of the more than 60 harriers did not survive.

The six CABS teams recorded a total of 58 shots after the 15:00 curfew. Ten if these were fired in the immediate vicinity of the Buskett roost, which is a nature reserve. More than 40 shots were additionally fired during the Dingli Marsh Harrier massacre.

16.09.2011, Friday

End of a journey - a shot Honey Buzzard on MaltaEnd of a journey - a shot Honey Buzzard on MaltaToday began peacefully but ended with the shooting down of a Honey Buzzard. In the morning all CABS teams were deployed to the Buskett area to ensure the safe departure of the six Lesser Spotted Eagles. The hunters had a good turn-out, many more than on previous days, but there was unfortunately no sign of the eagles. Our local partners BirdLife Malta had organised a night watch in the area to ensure that the birds night roosts were not disturbed by searchlights and shooting. Nevertheless the birds were not seen in the morning. It is hoped that they left for Africa before daybreak which is sometimes the case with this species. The hunters had clearly hoped for more action and their mood was expressed in their attitude towards the conservationists. Close to Laferla Cross a CABS team was shouted at and threatened by an armed hunter and had to be calmed down by the police.

The evening was quiet at first. Many more than 50 Marsh Harriers and Honey Buzzards arrived over the islands and, thanks mainly to the good strategic placement of CABS and BirdLife Malta teams, reached their night roosts without major incident. Only three shots were registered after the start of curfew. One of these was sadly a hit. The only Honey Buzzard seen in the Has Sabtan valley north of the international airport fell after being hit by a single shot. The police, who were quickly on the scene, were unable to find the offender.

In the late evening a Raptor Camp with a CABS guide attempted to insert a team into the Mthaleb Valley to secure the night roost of two Black Storks that had settled just before sundown on the cliff edge near Dingli. As the area was exposed with only one entrance and exit, it was decided to post the team above the valley. On the route out they found 25 m of the narrow and steep track blocked by boulders. After ensuring that no one was lying in ambush, the joint team cleared the road and left the valley safely. Although the Black Storks were not in the location at dawn, they were later seen flying some distance from the roost site.

15.09.2011, Thursday

Honey Buzzard over Malta – mostly spared by the hunters todayHoney Buzzard over Malta – mostly spared by the hunters todayThe morning shift passed without no incidents worth mentioning. Turtle Dove migration was relatively strong so that the hunters were occupied elsewhere and ignored the Marsh Harriers and Honey Buzzards starting for Africa. Near Fawara hover, a Barn Swallow with extremely ragged plumage from shotgun pellets was sighted; an illegal electronic decoy playing Quail calls was heard in the early in the same area.

The afternoon was quite turbulent in comparison. A light westerly wind brought over 50 Marsh Harriers and Honey Buzzards to Malta, as well as 6 Lesser Spotted Eagles (a daily record for Malta!), one Black Stork and a Eleonora’s Falcon. The birds headed for two roosts on the island. Their arrival did pass unnoticed by the hunters who followed their flight in with interest in order to vie for the best shooting positions the following morning. At 19:01 one of the Lesser Spotted Eagles was shot at near Buskett but fortunately landed unscathed. No other shots at birds of prey or other protected birds were registered.

The 15:00 hunting curfew, which will last until 30 September, came into force today. This Government ruling is intended to ensure that birds of prey arriving from Italy in the evening vcan reach their night roost without hindrance. Regrettably, on the first day of the curfew, many hunters ignored this ruling. The 5 CABS teams on duty registered a total of 19 ‘after hours’ shots. As we cannot possibly cover the whole island, this is probably just the tip of the iceberg. We believe that many of the illegal shots were aimed at the coveted birds of prey – no hunter in his right mind would shoot at a Turtle Dove during curfew and risk losing his licence!

14.09.2011, Wednesday

Police seize bird carcasses found by CABS as evidencePolice seize bird carcasses found by CABS as evidenceThe morning was very quiet and the six deployed teams did not witness any illegalities. In the afternoon it was a different - sad - story. On the western Victoria Lines, between 15:30 and 18:00 hours, at least five hunters in three different locations shot at Bee-eaters on migration. The shooting down of two of these colourful birds was clearly witnessed but the hunters were too far away to be filmed. Nonetheless the registration number of one of the offenders was recorded. Near Bahrija a flock of late-arriving Honey Buzzards were shot at around 19:10 hours. At least one bird was hit and flew on with its injuries. South of Mgarr a CABS team found a mist net set out between olive and almond trees - a rare trapping method on Malta. Three birds had already been caught in the net: a Common Redstart and a Bee-Eater were freed but a Red-backed Shrike was already dead. The police seized the net and criminal proceedings will be initiated.

In the late morning the camp participants combed a section of the ditch of the historic fortifications on Dwejra Lines in a search for dead birds. Hunters regularly use numerous shooting positions above the 5 m deep ditch so that many shot birds fall into the almost inaccessible area, or are indeed heedlessly discarded by the hunters. In the event 7 dead Bee-eaters, 2 Swifts, a Sardinian Warbler and the skeletons of two Marsh Harriers were found. The police hseized the carcasses as evidence. You can read more on this and view a series of photographs here >>

13.09.2011, Tuesday

Malta’s hunters enjoy most shooting at large or colourful birds - the Bee-eater is sadly a regular victimMalta’s hunters enjoy most shooting at large or colourful birds - the Bee-eater is sadly a regular victimThe worsened weather conditions heralded the resumption of bird migration today - and the reappearance of hunters in the countryside. The morning passed relatively quietly. Four teams were deployed to cover the fly-off from the area of the Buskett Gardens roost, where two dozen Marsh Harriers and Honey Buzzards had spent the night. Although many hunters were out and about all birds of prey and several hundred Bee-eaters left the islands unharmed. The CABS teams, with their prominent Bird guard T-shirts, were positioned so as to be visible to a maximum number of hunters who therefore were unwilling to risk being caught illegally shooting. Two teams were on the neighbouring island of Gozo; they had spent the previous night searching for illegal wader trapping sites. In contrast to previous years they did not locate any active trapping sites. In the late afternoon a report of an injured Honey Buzzard near Santa Lucia (Gozo) was received from a concerned citizen. The CABS team arrived to find that the bird had disappeared. A number of hunters were active in the immediate vicinity. The afternoon was not so quite. Several dozen birds of prey, including Marsh Harriers, Honey Buzzards and Grey Herons, arrived on Malta and the hunt began. Near Bahrija a CABS team observed and filmed a hunter who shot several times at Bee-eaters and picked up the dead birds. At Fort Bingemma - a notorious poaching hot-spot in Northern Malta - concealed poachers fired at all passing birds of prey. A total of 19 shots were fired at three Honey Buzzards and a Marsh Harrier. At least one Honey buzzard was hit and badly injured. The situation only quietened down after the arrival of a police patrol alerted by the CABS team whereupon the hunters took to their heels.

12.09.2011, Monday

A CABS Bird Guard at work on MaltaA CABS Bird Guard at work on MaltaWe have another thankfully quiet day behind us. Scarcely a hunter crosses his doorstep because of the weak migration so that the few birds on passage can cross Malta relatively undisturbed.

During the operations in both the morning and evening - in which some 15 volunteers participated - there was only one incident worthy of note. In the early morning a group of hunters near Ghar Lapsi on the west coast shot at a flock of Bee-eaters (which are numerous at present) but probably did not hit any of the birds. In addition, at Laferla Cross during the morning, a falcon (either a Common or Lesser Kestrel) was observed with sever plumage damage, undoubtedly due to gunshot. In the afternoon there was a similar sighting in the north-west of the island near Bahrija. Here a Marsh Harrier and a Honey Buzzard were observed, both with badly damaged plumage from shotgun pellets. It is questionable whether birds with such extensive injuries will complete the journey across the Mediterranean to North Africa (about 2oo km to Tunisia; over 300 km to Libya).

11.09.2011, Sunday

Dead Night Heron in the FKNK hunting reserve - illegally shot and heedlessly hidden under rubbishDead Night Heron in the FKNK hunting reserve - illegally shot and heedlessly hidden under rubbishSix teams were deployed in the morning and evening periods - a further team was on night duty from Saturday to Sunday. Our total camp strength is at present 14 volunteers. The morning was quiet due to weak migration. The only incidents of note were the discharge of a semi-automatic weapon near Fawara with more than 3 shots in the magazine (illegal on Malta) and, close to Rabat, the use of an electronic decoy device with recorded sandpiper calls. The team on night patrol searching for illegally active trapping sites were pleased to report that they had found no active netting sites. Around midday seven CABS volunteers carried out a random search for concealed bird remains in the Mizieb hunting reserve. Over the past two years several hundred dead birds of prey, herons and other protected species have been discovered - giving the area a sad reputation as a ‘bird cemetery’. The finds today, bad enough, were however not as dramatic as those of 2009 and 2010. Nonetheless seven bird remains were found hidden under rocks including a Night Heron, Little Egret, a Montagu’s or Pallid Harrier, a Golden Oriole and three unidentifiable corpses or skeletons. The hunters had clearly killed the birds ‘just for fun’ and heedlessly stuffed them under rocks - or the ever-prevalent rubbish in this area ‘managed’ by the Maltese hunting association FKNK.

A CABS team investigating the site where the police had turned out in force yesterday to deal with hunters who had shot down Bee-eaters and Swallows found today midday another dead Bee-eater and a freshly-shot Swift.

In the afternoon migration picked up a little and some 40 Marsh Harriers, Honey Buzzards, Hobbys and Montagu’s harriers were sighted. There was also lively passage of Barn Swallows, Bee-eaters and Wheatears. The hunters clearly complied as far as could be established with the Sunday afternoon hunting ban - our six deployed teams did not record a single shot.

10.09.2011, Saturday

Five teams of a total of 13 volunteers were deployed around the island in the morning. Because of the weak migration of huntable species few hunters were out in the field and no illegal shooting was recorded. In the south of the island however, near Delimara, a CABS team observed a Montagu’s Harrier with evident shotgun injuries. They unfortunately failed to recover the bird for rehabilitation.

Another Montagu’s Harrier with shotgun injuries was observed in the afternoon near Mgarr in the north of the main island. On the nearby Dwejra Lines, for lack of other targets, hunters had started to shoot at the numerous migrating Bee-eaters and Barn Swallows. At least two groups of three to five poachers shot incessantly at the birds. A CABS team managed to film three of the culprits and a freshly-shot Bee-eater. The environmental police unit were immediately called to the scene and arrived a short time later - sadly by this time the offenders had taken to their heels. The CABS team handed over a video film of the incident and the registration number of the poacher’s vehicle. Police investigations have been initiated. The arrival on the Dwejra Lines of the two police patrols with five officers put an end to the illegal shooting t protected migrant species.

The other four CABS teams reported a quiet general situation due to the exceptionally weak migration.

09.09.2011, Friday

Almost all camp participants for the first week of operations arrived on Malta by late afternoon. In the evening four teams were deployed to monitor the important passage routes in the west of Malta. There was a strong passage of Bee-eaters as well as a few birds of prey including 1 Black Kite, 1 Montagu’s Harrier, 2 Eleonora’s Falcons and 8 Honey Buzzards. A CABS team on the Dwejra Lines in the north-west of the island observed hunters shooting at Bee-eaters and two small birds (probably finches). As far as could be seen the birds flew on unharmed. It was otherwise a quiet evening as far as migration was concerned.