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CABS bird protection camp autumn 2009

Diary of events

vantage points are manned to cover as much area as possiblevantage points are manned to cover as much area as possibleThe Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) is once again conducting its large scale bird protection camp on the Mediterranean island of Malta from 10 to 26 September 2010. Together with our Maltese partner organisations, the 24 camp participants will monitor all important passage corridors and night roosts.

A blow-by-blow account of our activities will be published daily here. Content will usually be online between 20:00 - 22:00 hrs.

You can find out more about the illegal killing and trapping of protected bird species on Malta here.

Videos of previous operations on Malta are on Youtube and these will be added to as more become available.

Friday 10.09.2010

This year’s autumn camp began with the arrival of the first participants this afternoon and evening. Two teams were deployed immediately in the north of the island. Migration was weak and the skies were empty except for a flock of Bee-eaters, some Sand Martins and a single Marsh Harrier. Some 3 dozen shots were registered; in view of the lack of targets probably many of them at sparrows. Afternoon hunting is still permitted until 15 September. From this day hunting after 15:00 hrs is banned in order to protect the arrival of birds of prey for night roosting.

Saturday 11.09.2010

Another very quiet day for migration on Malta. The bad weather, storms and heavy rain, have practically brought migration to a standstill. Only a few Turtle Doves, Bee-eaters and Barn Swallows were to be seen and not a single bird of prey. Four teams were deployed on operations today that covered and monitored the whole of the west and south coasts of Malta. There were a lot of hunters out in the countryside but relatively few shots fell.

Sunday 12.09.2010

Before the break of day a CABS team took up a hide position in the south of the island near Delimara in order to observe a large trapping installation. The site, with two enormous 40 m long clap nets, was discovered yesterday. This morning Dotterel calls were heard from an electronic decoy device. This played the calls of the migrant arctic wader in order to lure others into nets. As morning broke the team filmed the trapper illegally operating his nets. The police, who arrived shortly after being alerted, seized the nets and took the particulars of the presumed offender. today.

Following the storms of the past few days migration has picked up rapidly and hunters were again to be seen in numbers in the countryside. Their prey was above all Turtle Doves, which were numerous on passage today. There were no further incidents during the morning, Several Marsh Harriers, Honey Buzzards and an Osprey left the islands unscathed on their way to Africa. Hunting is banned from 13:00 hours on Sundays and most hunters respected this.

Shots heard after the official curfew:

  • 17:04, Bahrija, 1 shot
  • 17:15, Girgenti, 1 shot
  • 19:27, Mizieb, 1 shot

Monday 13.09.2010

In spite of very weak bird migration a very eventful day for our teams. In the morning four CABS teams were deployed to the west and south of the main island. The few birds of prey who had sought out night roosts on Malta left unscathed for Africa. The poachers, not least because of the large and well-sited conservationist presence, preferred not to risk being caught shooting at the departing Marsh Harriers and Honey Buzzards. Near Ghar Lapsi of Malta's south-west coastline, a flock of Bee.eaters were targeted by a hunter but as far as could be seen no bird was hit.

In the morning a further illegal trapper was caught red-handed at work. Near Bahrija a CABS team visited an 'old acquaintance' at his trapping site and found not only nets set out, but also plastic Dotterels as decoys. The man was caught on video and the police seized items of trapping equipment and initiated proceedings against the offender.

The afternoon was exceptionally quiet. Many hunters were in the countryside in anticipation of the arrival of migrant birds but, due to the lack of prey, few shots fell. At dusk a not satisfactorily identified eagle (but probably a Booted Eagle) arrived over the island. For part of its flight it was escorted by a CABS team until it disappeared, hopefully into a safe roost for the night.

Our security officers, employed by us as a result of the incidents in spring, proved their worth today. In the early hours, near Laferla Cross, an armed and excited hunter ran shouting towards a CABS team. Our security officer was able to intercept the man and calm him down. In the afternoon two CABS members had problems with a hunter, who last autumn had assaulted one of our men. Swift and decisive action by the security officer also rapidly also defused this situation.

Tuesday 14.09.2010

In the morning four CABS teams were deployed to cover the west coast of Malta. Acting on a tip off from our colleagues in BirdLife Malta another illegal trapper was caught red-handed near Zurrieq. Before dawn a team moved into a hide on the outskirts of the town and kept the trapping site, known from the previous year, under observation. Daylight showed that the nets had been prepared and decoy birds placed in position. The trapper was filmed for a considerable period of time.

A detailed video of the operation will be available in YouTube (linked from this site) in the next few days- As the police arrived the man sprang over the wall on the seaward side with his most valuable decoy, an Ortolan Bunting, and escaped arrest for the time being (the video identifies the trapper clearly). The remaining birds, 5 Short-toed Larks and a Red-throated Pipit, were left behind and were seized by the police. They will be released into the wild as soon as possible.

In the north of Malta, on the Marfa Ridge coast, hunters fired at a flock of Grey Herons but fortunately none were hit. The morning passed quietly for the other teams as migration was again sparse.

In the afternoon a strong west wind livened up migration. By evening many more than 50 Marsh Harriers, two dozen Honey Buzzards, the occasional Hobby, over 150 Grey Herons and 28 White Storks were sighted. The only reported incident occurred on Victoria Lines where a hunter shot into a flock of Bee-eaters. One bird was hit and badly injured. Its fate is not known.

Information was received that yesterday, 13 September, a Night Heron was shot near Garghur in the north-east of Malta.

Wednesday 15.09.2010

Heavy thunderstorms and cloudbursts forced many migrant birds to make a stopover on the Maltese islands today. Numerous Honey Buzzards and Marsh Harriers were among the arrivals, as were Bee-eaters, swallows and waders.

Four teams were deployed in the morning to monitor the departure of the raptors from their night roosts. Our teams reported no incidents, but a Honey Buzzard was shot down before the very eyes of the police at Bahrija, a notorious poaching hotspot. The poacher evaded an immediate police search and neither he nor the bird was found.

In the afternoon three teams covered the northern part of Malta to monitor the fly-in of Honey Buzzards and marsh harriers. Today the 15:00 hrs daily hunting curfew came into effect and will last until 30 September. With this measure the Government attempts to prevent the illegal shooting of protected birds species arriving from the North in the afternoon and early evening.

Nonetheless two shots were registered near Mgarr at about 17:35 hrs. A nearby CABS team filmed the hunter at close range - he can be clearly identified - especially as his vehicle registration number was noted. The man was shooting at Bran Swallows, a popular hunter’s pastime on Malta. The birds were left lying on the ground! At 19:07 hrs a shot fell near Bahrija. The only bird in the sky was a Marsh Harrier but it was probably not hit.

Five further shots were registered after the start of the curfew.

• 15:25 hrs, Xemxija, 3 shots • 18:40 - 18:50 hrs, Buskett, 2 shots

In the late afternoon we were hosts to members of a German A-level school class from the Rhineland. From a panoramic vantage point above Buskett Gardens we explained the aims, methods and scope of our operations in the Mediterranean and Germany. A good fly-in of Honey Buzzards provided an ideal practical background to our talk. The students asked many questions and showed great interest in our work.

Stop Press: The police have informed us that the Zurrieq trapper (see diary above) has been identified from our video. He was questioned yesterday and made a full confession.

Thursday 16.09.2010

In the morning three CABS teams were deployed to Bahrija, Buskett and Ghar Lapsi to monitor migration departure on Malta’s west coast. In these areas there were no incidents and some 40 Marsh Harriers and 15 Honey Buzzards were able to continue their flight to Africa unharmed. Three illegal electronic Quail decoys were active in Bahrija at 06:00 hrs.

The afternoon was also quiet with the teams switching to the north of the island where they observed the fly-in of almost 100 Marsh Harriers, Honey Buzzards and Hobbies. The shooting curfew after 15:00 hrs was mostly complied with and only 4 shots were registered after this time:

• 16:10 - 17:50 Uhr, Dwejra Lines, 2 shots • 18:55 Uhr, Manikata, 1 shot • 19:35 Uhr, Bahrija, 1 shot

CABS succeeded in delivering a hard blow against illegal trapping on the neighbouring island of Gozo. After a reconnaissance team had located a large trapping site the previous day a task force was put together and sent to Gozo as back up. The site, in the Santa Lucija area had a very large clap net and a device playing Dotterel calls. After filming the site to record evidence and the trapper at work the team moved in close to secure the site and the police were called. They caught the poacher red-handed and seized three live Dotterel and the nets.

Friday 17.09.2010

It didn't take long for the Maltese hunters to drop their mask and show their real face! The departure of over 100 Marsh Harriers and Honey Buzzards was greeted with salvoes of shots from the usual poachers' hotspots . On the high plateau south of Buskett Gardens three Honey Buzzards were shot at and, according to our partner organisation BirdLife Malta, a further Honey Buzzard was mortally injured. At the same spot a hunter shot dead two Dotterels before the eyes of a CABS team. The police arrived shortly afterwards but were unable to find either the Buzzard or the dead waders. At this point in time more than 40 hunters were present on the plateau.

A little further to the east near Fawwara a Hobby was shot at but obviously not hit.

In the afternoon A CABS team found a wader trapping site near Dingli from which loud Dotterel calls from an electronic device could be heard. The police, who reacted swiftly, caught the trapper red-handed and seized two artificial Golden Plovers which he used as decoys. This is now the FIFTH illegal trapper caught within only one week of our camp.

An up-to the-moment newspaper article with our lastest video material can be seen on theTimes of Malta website

This evening was relatively quiet. A light wind from the south brought in well over 200 Honey Buzzards and a few dozen Marsh Harriers. Numerous hunters watched the spectacle near the large night roost at Buskett Gardens - undoubted for many of them to choose the best sites to shoot down the birds tomorrow morning. Thzere were few shots after the 15:00 hrs curfew:

  • 17:11 - 17:20 hrs, Girgenti, 2 shots
  • 18:10 hrs, Bahrija, 3 shots
  • 19:15 hrs, Mizieb, 2 shots
  • 19:24 hrs, Girgenti, 3 shots

Update 16.09.2010: According to our partner organisation IAR 5 shots were recorded yesterday evening between 16:13 and 16:18 hrs in a valley near Garghur. On the neighbouring island of Gozo the following offences against the afternoon curfew were registered:

  • 15.09.2010, 17:16 hrs, Ta Cenc, 1 shot
  • 15.09.2010, 19:19 hrs, Sannat, 3 shots
  • 16.09.2010, 17:34 hrs, Santa Lucija, 3 shots

Saturday 18.09.2010

The fresh wind from the south allowed most of the roosting Honey Buzzards and Marsh Harriers to gain height very quickly this morning, so that the were out of range of hunters within minutes and could safely continue their flight to Africa. Six birds did not make it - they were shot by hunters! At 06:18 hrs a Marsh Harrier was greeted by a hail of lead shot at Fawwara and was badly if not mortally injured. At 07:08 hrs two Honey Buzzards crossed the crest of a hill near Zurrieq and were shot in fast succession. The plumage of another Honey Buzzard, leaving the Maltese coast near Ghar Lapsi, showed marked gunshot damage. Members of our partner organisation BirdLife Malta observed the shooting down of a further three birds of prey.

Also near Ghar Lapsi at least 6 illegal electronic decoys for Quail were heard and another was found near Zurrieq.

At midday, CABS members observed a cage trap for song birds on a flat roof not far from their hotel. The police were called and the offender cautioned. The trap was destroyed and seized as evidence.

In the evening a CABS team near Bahrija saw a Honey Buzzard being shot down directly in front of them. The drove to the spot immediately but found neither the shooter nor the bird. Apart from this shot, the curfew was complied with - at least within our area of influence. In the south of the island 8 shots were registered after 15:00 hrs:

  • 18.09.2010, 15:23 hrs, Freeport, 2 shots
  • 18.09.2010, 08:04 hrs, Freeport, 6 shots

Sunday 19.09.2010

Today was by far the worst of this year’s autumn camp on Malta with our teams witnessing the shooting of at least 9 birds of prey.

At 06:15 hrs at Il Qaws, Dingli, a Marsh Harrier was shot at and hit by two of the three shots fired. The bird flew on however with hopefully not too serious injuries. The shots were fired in the close vicinity of a CABS team but the poacher could not be seen because of the rough terrain.

Near Fawwara at 06:20 hrs a Honey Buzzard flew into a hail of shot from a hunter but was fortunately not hit. Nearby, at 07:10 hrs, hunters shot down a Marsh Harrier and a Honey Buzzard in quick succession and a further Honey Buzzard was killed in the same area at 08:50 hrs.

Four raptors were shot and killed at Dwejra Lines. At 06:40 two Marsh Harriers flew together over the crest of the ridge to the south and were shot one after the other. At 07:25 hrs, at the same place, the CABS team had to watch as two low-flying Honey Buzzards - only 150 m distant - were killed with aimed shots. Although team members were at the scene only a minute later they were unable to either find the dead bird or identify the poacher. The shooting down of the Marsh Harrier and the pair of Honey Buzzards was recorded on video. South of the Buskett gardens roost, in Girgenti valley, a hunter or hunters fired three shots at a low level Marsh Harrier at 07:25 hours but failed to hit the bird.

In the afternoon Dwejra Lines was once again the focus of events for CABS. At 18:40 hrs two Marsh Harriers were shot and killed south of Mgarr within seconds. The CABS team was unable to reach the area where the shot had come from.

Our teams also recorded 15 shots after the afternoon hunting curfew - on Sundays after 13:00 hrs:

  • 13:30 hrs, eastern Dwejra Lines, 2 shots
  • 14:40 hrs, central Dwejra Lines, 3 shots
  • 15:17 - 16:46 hrs, Bingemma, 6 shots
  • 16:41 - 17:05 hrs, Mgarr, 2 shots
  • 19:15 - 19:02 hrs, eastern Dwejra Lines, 2 shots

Monday 20.09.2010

This morning was very quiet and gave no indications of the turbulent times to come later in the day. Because of the weather conditions bird migration was not as strong as on previous days and there were very few birds leaving the island around dawn. Apart from 5 illegal electronic Quail callers (4 in the north of Dingli and 1 near Mgarr) no other wildlife crime offences were recorded.

From 10:00 hrs to approximately 13:00 hrs more than 40 members of the CABS and BirdLife Malta camps took part in a search of the Mizieb woodland game reserve. In this woodland, where more than 200 birds corpses and remains had been discovered a year ago to the day, the remains of numerous protected bird species were found in the course of a three hour sweep. The skeletons and half-decayed corpses were concealed under stones and rubbish in the immediate vicinity of shooting hides. The bird killers had clearly hidden them after shooting them down, either from fear of discovery or simple disrespect for wildlife. A full list of numbers and species will be published tomorrow.

A member of CABS permanent staff and a young lady volunteer from Nottingham, England, were attacked by irate hunters (self-admitted). No one was hurt, but the police are following up charges attempted bodily harm. The offenders are known and we are filing official complaints against the 3 men.

More information on the scandalous state of affairs in the Mizieb Woodland can be read in our press release here (to follow), and a link to the video in the online version of the Times of Malta can be found here

The evening passed quietly. There were few birds on the island and accordingly there were few shots recorded after the 15:00 hunting curfew:

• 18:28 hrs, Mgarr, 3 shots • 18:40 hrs, Bahrija, 1 shot

Tuesday 21.09.2010

4 CABS teams were again deployed in the morning. Althought there were very few birds of prey still on the island those that began their departure were shot at. North of Ghar Lapsi at 06.23 hrs la ow-flying Marsh Harrier was shot at but flew on unharmed. A Kestrel with shotgun injuries was also seen in this area.

At 08.21 hrs, between Zurrieq and Ghar Lapsi, a Kestrel was brought down with 3 shots. The nearby CABS team were unable to locate the offender.

A CABS team was screamed at by a hunter south of Buskett Gardens and a violent attack on the team was warded off by our security guard who managed to calm down the man.

In the early afternoon there was a strong fly-in of birds of prey. By dusk over 500 birds had roosted, mostly Marsh Harriers and Honey Buzzards but also Hobbies and Ospreys. The Maltese hunters were of course active and numerous shots were heard after the 15:00 hrs hunting curfew:

• 16:17 hrs, St. Pauls Bay, 1 shot

• 17:31 hrs, Manikata, 1 shot

• 18:02 - 19:10 hrs, Bingemma und Dwejra, 6 shots

• 18:22 - 19:14 hrs, north of Dingli, 7 shots

• 18:32 hrs, Mizieb, 4 shots

• 19:11 hrs, Bahrija/Dwejra, 1 shot

At about 18:17 hrs a Marsh Harrier was shot at north of Dingli but fortunately not hit. Close to this incident the police caught 2 hunters shooting at birds of prey from their roof.

A tragedy occurred at dusk on the Dwejra Lines south of Mgarr. Some 25 Honey Buzzards and Marsh Harriers alighted to roost on a wooded ridge, under the watching eyes of 10 hunters, apparently unarmed. At 19:21 hrs, in almost complete darkness, a wild shooting spree started on the inaccessible slopes. The roosting birds were dazzled with powerful torches and shot down from their roosts. Some birds were flushed and flew around helplessly in the dark where they were mercilessly slaughtered at close range by veritable salvoes of unaimed shots, 72 in 10 minutes. Despite the increasing darkness the shooting down of 5 birds of prey was seen directly but it is not clear how many victims there were in total. The police arrived at 19:50 hrs but by this time the massacre was over and the perpetrators had slipped away into the night.

Wednesday 22.09.2010

In the morning it was relatively quiet although hundreds of birds of prey had roosted overnight on Malta. Most left safely for Africa although we witnessed two bird being shot down. At 07:26 hrs a Kestrel was shot at in Girgenti Valley and fell like a stone; another Kestrel died at Dwejra Lines south of Mgarr at 08:41 hrs. Our partners BirdLife Malta reported the killing of several Spoonbills that had spent the night in a nature reserve in the north of Malta. Of the 22 birds that arrived on Malta only 9 were alive this morning, two of them smeared with blood.

Later in the morning CABS members accompanied by police officers searched the area of yesterday’s dusk slaughter. No dead birds of prey were found in the stony and very rough terrain. A Cabs team had however observed earlier a number of men with dogs combing the area, some 3 hectares in size, for about 2 hours. The evidence had probably been removed therefore before the arrival of the police. Near a hunting hut in the area CABS volunteers found 7 dead Barn swallows in an oil drum , partly burnt together with rubbish. Some of the birds were so fresh and in good condition that they could be x-rayed. Nearby a Marsh Harrier corpse was found concealed under a stone. In the north of Malta police today arrested a man using an electronic decoy playing wader calls.

In the late afternoon hundreds of birds of prey again arrived on the islands. At 16:50 hrs an Osprey with shotgun injuries was observed on the west of Dwejra Lines. Three shots fell in this area between 17:09 and 17:32 hrs. Not far away, in Bahrija, an injured Marsh Harrier was seen fluttering around on a stony slope at 18:30 hrs. CABS members rescued the birds and brought it to a vet. Near Dingli some 5 shots were fired around 19:10 hrs.

The situation was especially bad in the Girgenti Valley south of the large raptor roost in Buskett gardens. Some 50 hunters had gathered here to observe the fly-in of birds of prey. Despite the hunting curfew a total of 22 shots were recorded between 17:00 and 18:30 hrs. Shots were fired at a Honey Buzzard at 17:23 hrs, but it flew on uninjured. The numerous Bee-eaters were shot at several times and a number of them were probably hit. The CABS team in the area received verbal abuse from the aggressive hunters who yelled slogans such as ‘Heil Hitler’ and ‘Fuck Germany. One man kicked the wing of the CABS vehicle.

Thursday 23.09.2010

Today was thankfully a very peaceful day on Malta, providing all team members the chance to recover from the past few stressful days.

Late yesterday evening a CABS team observed some 50 Marsh Harriers flying into a roost near Bahrija. Birds of prey have been shot here at night in the past by hunters using powerful flashlights so irt was decided to mount a night guard on the birds. A comfortable bed was exchanged of the back seat of a car with team members on watch in shifts. In addition the police sent regular vehicle patrols to visit the area. Our teams were also visited during the night by men in pick-ups with masked registration plates (illegal!) obviously looking for an opportunity to kill the birds without being caught. All birds flew safely off to sea at daybreak without a single shot being fired!

Migration, and also hunting, has come to a standstill because of climatic conditions. A team at Girgenti registered a single shot at 17:44 - the only one heard by our teams after the 15:00 hrs curfew.

In the afternoon His Excellency Bernd Braun, the German Ambassador to Malta, met German and UK CABS members at Laferla Cross, a vantage point near the Buskett Gardens roost. During a liaison visit to the Embassy by the CABS team leaders last week he had expressed interest in learning more about our work. He was accompanied by Mrs Braun and Embassy staff members. As well as discussing operations with the CABS members present he also talked to ALE officers and a camera team from Bavarian Television. No birds of prey were seen during his one hour stay at Laferla Cross but, shortly after his departure a lesser Spotted Eagle - the only bird in the sky - sailed majestically above the area.

Friday 24.09.2010

As practically no migrating birds arrived the previous evening there were few incidents with hunters in the morning. Near Fawwara a team observed a Marsh Harrier with an injured leg. The bird will not survive such a serious injury. In the south of Malta at Delimara a Grey Heron with severe wing damage flew out to sea; but its chances of survival are slim. Yesterday evening, according to an eye witness, a heron was shot down in Delimara. Our partners BirdLife Malta reported the shooting down of a Black Stork north of Dingli during the morning.

In the afternoon migration picked up and by evening some 100 birds of prey had arrived, most of them Marsh Harriers with a good number of Hobbies. Honey Buzzards were in a minority today. The only shot recorded by CABS teams after the 15:00 hrs curfew as at 17:45 hrs near Mgarr. Local birdwatchers told a CABS team that a Kestrel had been shot at between 18:00 and 19:00 hrs from within Buskett Gardens but had escaped injury.

Information was received this evening from an anonymous source that the police had raided several hunters’ properties and had seized more than 100 illegal bird hunting trophies - presumably all stuffed birds of prey and herons. If this information is correct it would represent a severe blow against poaching on Malta and a success for nature protection. We will follow up this matter if and when more information becomes available

Saturday 25.09.2010

Today three teams were deployed on Malta and one on the neighbouring island of Gozo. During the night there were thunderstorms with at times cloudbursts. In the morning it was so windy that the birds gained height, and therefore distanced themselves from the hunters’ guns, almost immediately after leaving their night roosts. The only two reports of illegal shooting were from Delimara in the south of Malta where two small falcons were shot at around 08:37 and 09:22 hrs. They motsv probably escaped unscathed.

A CABS team on Gozo locate four active trapping installations, three with very large clap nets and electronic bird lures playing wader calls. Another had a large cage trap. In the morning the team informed the police who arrived quickly. The police officers’ slow and clumsy tactics gave the rappers time to close their nets and hide the callers. Two of the suspected illegal trappers fled the scene on motor cycles. By the time the police were on site no evidence of illegal trapping, apart from the cage trap, remained. The trap contained over 20 freshly caught Turtle Doves as well as Starlings and larks (Woodlarks - t.b.c.). Prosecution will follow in this case.

Another trapper fled from his site in Delimara when he noticed a CABS team observing him. He also had an electronic lure playing wader calls.

The afternoon passed without incident. A strong north-east wind helped the migrating birds to cross the Mediterranean so that a stopover on Malta was unnecessary. Not a single shot was recorded.

Sunday 26.10.2010

This morning saw the final operational period for CABS on Malta this autumn. Only one team was deployed (the others were all on their way to the airport). The team were positioned on the Gebel Cantar south of Buskett. This feature has to be overflown by birds roosting at Buskett on their way to the sea and to Africa. A dozen Marsh Harriers crossing the high ground very flat were not shot at; but at 07:10 hrs a small flock of Dotterels were the target of the poachers. As they appeared in the sky a cacophony of wader calls suddenly rang out. The hunters obviously activated portable callers and were lying in wait for this rare (and very trusting) species. The birds flew very low over the ridge and were shot at. At least one was hit and fell to the ground in full view of the CABS team. As the bird was on private property they were unable to act.

This year’s CABS autumn bird protection camp on Malta has now officially come to a close.

Our thanks go to all our volunteers, the Maltese Police environmental unit, our partners International Animal Rescue Malta and Birdlife Malta, as well as of course all our sponsors, without whom our operations would not be possible.

Our special thanks go to the Stiftung Pro Artenvielfalt for their very generous financial support.