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CABS bird protection camp autumn 2008

Diary of events

CABS volunteers on MaltaCABS volunteers on MaltaTogether with our partner organisations, the International Animal Rescue Malta and the Nature Trust Malta the German-based Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) runs an international bird protection camp on Malta since 13 September 2008. The 24 participants are experienced campaigners from Italy, Great Britain, Poland, Germany, Israel and the United States.

The daily events are published here online at close of play every evening. This diary gives you an impression of the conditions prevailing on the island and our work in the field.

... some links to actual articles from Maltese print media

And this is our favourite :-)

02.10.2008, Thursday

Swift and Swallow shot for fun by hunters on MaltaSwift and Swallow shot for fun by hunters on MaltaThursday was very eventful. At dawn a CABS team surprised two hunters in the Salinas nature reserve in the north of the Island. The men had concealed themselves on the edge of the reserve in order to shoot water birds. They were filmed by our team and their exact location, whether within or outside the boundary of the nature reserve, is being investigated. In all the excitement the men missed shooting a Great Egret and a Marsh Harrier which flew away unscathed.

Somewhat later, at 09:30 hrs, a team near Girgenti observed the shooting of a Honey Buzzard. The seriously injured bird could not be caught - it flew away but it is unlikely to survive. Our teams were this morning once again subjected to verbal abuse by hunters; but that’s now par for the course.

In the afternoon we were informed that yet another Black Stork had been shot and killed near Mellieha - the culprit has however been apprehended by the police.

01.10.2008, Wednesday

Today it was our teams rather than the migrant birds which received the attention of the hunters. In the morning two German team members were attacked in the Dingli Cliffs area. At first the armed aggressors restricted themselves to verbal abuse, shouting ‘Heil Hitler’; then they threw stones at the conservationists. In the evening the teams were again the subject of vulgar abuse. The hunters had evidently looked forward to a few days of undisturbed and uncontrolled hunting after our departure, and were not amused that we were still there to spoil their fun.

From today, 1 October, 7 finch species can legally be caught with nets (until the EU derogation runs out on 31 December 2008). In the west of the island our teams registered good deal more than 200 occupied trapping sites in which the trappers lie in wait to catch the finch flocks in their huge clap nets.

30.09.2008, Tuesday

This morning an incident occurred at Laferla Cross at about 07:30 hrs. A very low-flying Marsh Harrier leaving the roost was immediately fired on by hunters lying in wait. The bird fell injured to the ground. As the CABS team attempted to film the poacher they were attacked by a wildly gesticulating hunter foaming at the mouth with rage. Both team members only just managed to escape unharmed.

The afternoon, the last day of the 15:00 hrs curfew, was very quiet. From tomorrow onwards the hunters can shoot again daily until after sunset – the time when of course most of the migrant birds of prey come into roost. This afternoon some 40 Marsh Harriers, a few Honey Buzzards and a couple of dozen Hobbys, managed to descend uneventfully into the Buskett Gardens roost.

29.09.2008, Monday

Today is the first day of our camp extension on Malta. In the morning our team members were deployed to the Victoria Lines. There was no sign of the Lesser Spotted Eagles which flew in yesterday evening. They were either shot in the roosts with the help of searchlights – a favourite method of the Maltese poachers – or they left unseen extremely early this morning, which is highly unlikely.

The afternoon and evening were very quiet. The hunters were flabbergasted by the sight of our team throughout the day. No sooner had the departure of the Bird Guards been celebrated than they re-appeared at the most important roosts to the bewilderment of the hunters.

28.09.2008, Sunday

Injured Honey Buzzard in the hands of a veterinary on MaltaInjured Honey Buzzard in the hands of a veterinary on MaltaToday was to have been the final day of our large scale Malta bird protection camp. As migration is still well under way, and the Maltese hunters are completely out of control, we have decided to prolong operations. A small contingent will remain to monitor the most important roosts and migration routes; if possible until raptor migration is over.

During the night one team carried out sentry duty in the Mizieb Marsh Harrier roost. As they were relieved by another CABS team in the morning the police mounted mobile vehicle patrols in the area so that the poachers were deterred from shooting at the birds. At about 07:00 hours some 70 Marsh Harriers resumed their long journey to Africa. Later however a Marsh Harrier with gunshot wounds was found in the area by local residents.

The departing team members were served with a final dose of Maltese hunters' callousness and audacity as they stood with packed bags at the airport. Helplessly they watched as hunters, just metres away from the airport security fence, shoot into a flock of Marsh Harriers killing at least one bird.

In the evening 5 Lesser Spotted Eagles flew into Malta and landed in a roost in the Victoria Lines area. A gathering of several hunters had seen the birds land,and only the presence of a CABS tream and the police prevented an immediate massacre of these rare birds. Their departure tomorrow will be critical as large numbers of armed poachers will almost certainly be lying in wait.

27.09.2008, Saturday

The massacre goes on! In the morning a strengthened CABS team of 5 observed 10 hunters shooting at birds of prey, preparing to make the sea passage to Africa, on the cliffs near Ghar Lapsi. The shooting down of three birds was directly observed, 2 Lesser Kestrels and an Eleonora’s Falcon. The terrain is however very rough in the area so that visibility is difficult but observers believe that numerous other protected birds were killed. At least 250 shots were heard between 6.00 and 9.00 am in this area alone without a single legally huntable bird (Quail or Turtle Dove) being seen. Police were summoned and arrived some 45 minutes later. Two officers searched the area on foot but none of the illegal hunters could be apprehended.

At the same time, a team deployed near Luqa international airport witnessed a Kestrel being hit by shots; it fell to the ground injured in an inaccessible location. In this area at least 180 shots were heard in a 2 hour period.

In the afternoon low cloud and showers drove numerous birds of prey down from their migration route onto the island - Murphy’s Law dictated that this would happen on a Saturday when most of our activists are preparing to go home.

This evening in Mzieb a large number of birds flew in to roost - some 30 to 50 Marsh Harriers as well as Hobbys and Eleonora’s Falcons. Hunters were shortly afterwards marking the roost tree locations and passing the word around by telephone. As poachers have been active in this area already, searching for the birds with searchlights at night and killing them in the roost, several of our activists will spend the night in the woodland in order to try to prevent the worst scenario of mass slaughter of the birds.

A further tragic incident, which reflects the unbelievable environmental damage that hunters cause daily on Malta, was reported today by BirdLife Malta staff. At about 17:30 hours, in Girgenti Valley, a Lesser Spotted Eagle (German population in 2006 only 109 pairs) was shot and killed. The only ray of hope is that the culprit, who tried to flee in his vehicle (with the shot eagle) was arrested.

26.09.2008, Friday

Little happened on the penultimate day of the CABS camp. The prevailing northwest wind was unfavourable for a large ingress of birds of prey. Several dozen Marsh Harriers and Honey Buzzards as well as a few Eleonora’s Falcons (dark and light phase) were observed. The ornithological highlight was an adult Short-toed Eagle which landed in the Buskett area shortly before dusk. As with the Back Storks and the Lesser Spotted Eagles the species is the dream of every Maltese trophy collector so the bird was followed closely by a police patrol until it finally landed in a quarry near Dingli at 19:00 hrs.

It was announced today that a man had been arrested two days earlier near Zurrieq attempting to shoot down one of the Black Storks. He was observed springing out of his car, leaving the motor on, and running after the flock with a loaded gun. He will be charged with wildlife offences.

25.09.2008, Thursday

CABS car on MaltaCABS car on MaltaThe sensation of the day was the departure of the very rare Lesser Spotted Eagle (Aquila pomarina) from their night roost in Buskett Gardens. All three birds arrived on the island yesterday but, for the security of the birds (this diary is also read avidly by the Maltese hunters) this information is only published in retrospect. The three eagles had chosen two tree groups for their roost where they arrived between 18.30 and 19.00 hrs. As hunters in the past had regularly disturbed roosting birds and shot at them using searchlights, the A.L E. see out an extra patrol which remained in the area throughout the night. An additional safeguard for the eagles was provided by CABS by the deployment of four team members who, together with Maltese conservationists, remained in the immediate vicinity of the roosts throughout the night. Happily all remained quiet until dawn so that in the course if the morning all three birds could depart unhindered. On their route to the coast the birds were accompanied by several police patrols - an honour granted normally only to heads of state - based on information constantly updated by our teams and members of BirdLife Malta. This was a fully justified large scale operation which paid off. At about 10.00 pm, we received the information that all eagles had left the island for Africa.

The only negative incident today happened in the early evening hours in Girgenti Valley. A CABs team, with A.L.E. support, attempted to save a downed Marsh Harrier. An excited and angry farmer insisted that the access road is private and demanded from the police that the CABS teams withdraw. No further observations of the bird were made before dusk.

24.09.2008, Wednesday

The thunderstorm which raged over Malta since yesterday evening remained over the archipelago the early morning hours and compelled many birds to remain in their night roosts until late in the morning. The CABS team which spent the night at Laferla Cross in the proximity of the flock of 11 Black Storks reported that no incidents had taken place in the small hours.

The storks however unfortunately decided not to leave their roost and directly take their migration route over the sea, but circled low around the island in small groups. That decision spelt the death sentence for at least 3 of the birds. A CABS team at Mizieb could only helplessly look on as fire was opened up on a group of three storks by shooters concealed in the woodland of the FKNK game reserve there. One of the birds was fatally hit. Shortly before this incident Maltese conservationists reported the shooting down of 2 more storks near Mdina and Zebbug. A wide scale police search for the culprits was unsuccessful. At he same time the CABS team in Mizieb attempted to recover the shot bird but were prevented from doing so by hunters pointing weapons and shouting “Germans go home”.

The video film of the Black Stork shot down yesterday beneath the Dwejra Lines caused a stir in the Maltese press. The film in Youtube had more than 1,800 visits by this evening. Despite intensive investigations the culprit has not yet been apprehended.

A further CABS team took a police A.L.E. patrol to an illegal net site on private property in the south of Malta this afternoon. Charges will be preferred against the owner of the land.

23.09.2008, Tuesday

Black Stork Down: the title of our video of the Ciconia nigra shot down yesterday and filmed by a CABS team. The video footage was published today in the Times of Malta online and on Maltese TV evening news.

Today a letter was sent by us to the Prime Minister Dr. Gonzi demanding restrictions on hunting and environmental protection measures to be implemented to protect migrant birds. The Prime Minister’s office reacted by asking the Police Commissioner to investigate our complaints.

At 07:00 hrs a CABS team observed a large unidentified wader being shot down in the area of Ghain Znuber tower in the north of the island but were unable to identify the culprits. A search later in the day proved fruitless. In the ‘Death Valley’ area NW of Dingli 5 shots were heard after the official 15:00 hrs curfew.

At about 14:00 hrs information was received that 12 Black Storks had landed on Gozo. At 16:30 hrs 11 storks were sighted in the North of Malta and around 19:00 hrs, in heavy rain and a thunderstorm, they landed in the west of the island. CABS, the police and BirdLife Malta stationed patrols in the area throughout the night.

A raptor fly in was reported from Buskett Gardens in the late afternoon and early evening but was not as large as the migrant arrival last Friday. In addition to Honey Buzzards and individual Marsh Harriers, CABS observers were treated to fantastic views of an Osprey, Eleonora’s Falcons and Lesser Kestrels. The 11 Black Storks also provided a marvellous aerial display of formation flying. In addition a flock of at least 1,000 Bee-eaters swarmed around Laferla Cross under a dark and thunderous sky. Teams will be in position well before dawn tomorrow to safeguard the fly out of the raptors

22.09.2008, Monday

CABS members plan the outingsCABS members plan the outingsIn the morning teams were deployed to Dingli Cliffs, Siggiewi and Dwejra Lines. In addition a multinational team took the ferry to Gozo to check a roost in the north of the sister island. Shortly after 8:00 am the Dingli team reported the shooting down of a bird, probably a Hobby, which fell severely wounded near to the Pulvich explosives factory. As this was on private property the police were alerted and officers searched the area, sadly without success. In the afternoon, only 1 kilometre away near Il Qaws, 2 hunters were seen after the curfew and were filmed shooting. They shot at least 4 birds were shot and the dogs were seen retrieving them. An A.L.E. patrol was alerted and they searched the area but, at twilight, without success. The area is extremely rocky and the hunters were able to conceal themselves. The CABS team recorded the incident on film.

The sad highlight of today’s events was the shooting down of a Black Stork to the east of Mgarr which was observed, and filmed, by a CABS team stationed on the Dwejra Lines. The film shows the bird falling to the ground and later being picked up by the hunters. CABS will issue a separate press release on this incident ‘Black Stork Down’ which will appear on the homepage shortly together with a video clip.

21.09.2008, Sunday

Today was a relatively quiet day. From 06:00 hrs onwards one of our teams was deployed to Laferla Cross to monitor the departure of raptors from Buskett Gardens on the other side of the valley. Between 07:00 and 09:00 hrs about a dozen Honey Buzzards and several falcons left the roost without being shot at. Some 20 minutes later a Roller (the first observed during this visit) flew low level in the direction of Dingli cliffs and came under fire. It was not hit.

Near Birzebugga, Dutch tourists who had shortly before witnessed a bird of prey (probably a falcon) being shot down reported the incident to a CABS team operating in the area. A thorough search failed to find the bird however. Otherwise few raptors reached the island today due to the prevailing north wind at present, which brings birds across the Mediterranean in surges. Our teams reported during the day only some 20-30 raptors including Marsh Harriers, Honey Buzzards and individual Hobbys and Kestrels. The curfew on hunting, today from 13:00 onwards, was generally complied with. This was almost certainly due to the many picnics and barbecues which took place across the island on the national holiday. Only a total of 8 shots were registered after the curfew - near Mgarr and Birzebugga.

20.09.2008, Saturday

On Friday evening the large scale deployment of police units and conservationist teams were able to prevent a massacre of migrant birds arriving in their roosts on Malta. On Saturday the illegal hunters had a field day.

During the night poachers sought out a small Marsh Harrier roost near Xemxija, illuminated it with headlights and powerful torches, and a dozen shots fell. According to reliable sources a further incident occurred overnight in the Mizieb reserve where a hunter used searchlights to kill an Osprey.

As dawn broke all hell broke loose in the FKNK reserve at Mizieb where many Marsh Harriers had roosted for the night. More than 40 persons opened fire on the some 120 birds which had spent the night there. Two CABS teams observed 6 birds fall to the ground and a further 20 were hit but flew on with their injuries - they are unlikely to make it to Africa, but deserve a mention in the (largely underestimated) statistics. The scene only quietened down after the A.L.E, alerted by CABS control, arrived at the scene and patrolled within the reserve. Local police units also assisted in stabilising the situation although some unrepentant hunters fired shots at the harriers even after the arrival of the law enforcers!

Two more CABS teams monitored the roost near Rabat where the previous evening fatal shots were fired at raptors. The hunters fired recklessly into the flock of panic-stricken Marsh Harriers as they left the roost and few survived. The team observed directly the shooting down of 3 birds. Here, as in Mizieb, many plots are private property and it is not possible to see into much of the area. The evening before some 30 harriers roosted here - today only 10 resumed their migration flight.

Honey Buzzard flying low over Malta: an easy target for poachersHoney Buzzard flying low over Malta: an easy target for poachersIn Buskett Gardens the police succeeded in arresting a hunter who had shot down a Honey Buzzard, which was then taken to our rehabilitation station. Its injuries are such - massive fractures and internal bleeding - that it will probably have to be put down. If all reports and conservative mortality estimates are collated, it is probable that many more than a hundred Marsh Harriers, Honey Buzzards, falcons and eagles were illegally shot today - a sad and dramatic day for nature conservation and species protection in Europe as a whole.

The afternoon was, in comparison, very quiet. At about 17:55 hrs - well after the official curfew of 15:00 hrs - 3 shots were fired near Dingli. Near Rabat one shot was heard at 18:45 hrs.

19.09.2008, Friday

Today the 19th of September was a black day for birds migrating over Malta.

At 06:33 hrs 5 shots were fired at two Honey Buzzards leaving their night roost in the FKNK hunting reserve in Mzieb. The birds were fortunately not hit and soon gained height for their onward flight. At 06:41 hrs at least two hunters fired 6 shots at a Kestrel near the Blue Grotto near Zurrieq. The bird fell to the ground dead. Just to the north, at 07:44 hrs a hunter shot and injured a Marsh Harrier which however flew onwards. At 09:05 hrs 3 hunters at the major roost in Buskett Gardens fired several shots at a Honey Buzzard which lost height and limped from tree to tree along the valley. A CABS team deployed to foot were not able to rescue the bird which flew off with an uncertain sight in the direction of the coast.

With a strong southwest wind increasing from midday onwards migration picked up enormously. Before the sun finally set over 1,000 raptors - mainly Honey Buzzards and Marsh Harriers - had arrived at night roosts. Other species represented included numbers of Hobbys, Kestrels, Lesser Kestrels and Eleonora’s Falcons, as well as a Pallid Harrier and an Osprey.

At the Buskett gardens night roost a total of 11 shots were fired in the time-frame 16:15 to 19:10 hrs, although the curfew for hunting (of non-protected species!) begins at 15:00 hrs. It is assumed that raptors were shot at. Dozens of hunters gathered to select the best firing positions for the following morning - only the presence of bird protection teams and the police prevented a massacre today.

At a small roost near Rabat a hunter shot down two Marsh Harriers in full view of the CABS team there. He was filmed collecting the dead birds. At 19:20 hrs another hunter at the same location shot at the harriers which had already reached their roost trees - his vehicle was also filmed and the registration number is known to us. A wounded Honey Buzzard shot near Buskett was delivered to our rehabilitation station run by the International Animal Rescue (IAR) Malta.

18.09.2008, Thursday

One team was on patrol overnight and located some 8 illegal electronic bird lures for Quail on the Delimara Peninsula.

During the morning 6 CABS teams monitored the illegal hunting hotspots in the north and west of the island but all was quiet. After days of waiting, bird migration started again in earnest today. On the west coast several dozen Marsh Harriers and Honey Buzzards were observed, as well as individual Kestrels, Eleonora’s and Lanner Falcons, Hobbys, Black Kites, Grey Herons and also Wheatear, Hoopoe and even two Gannets

The 3.00 pm afternoon curfew was on the whole complied with. At about 17:30 hrs near Bahrija a single shot fell and at about 18:00 hrs 8 shots were heard from the Mzieb area where the Maltese Hunting Association has hunting rights. Quiet was soon restored after the arrival of an A.L.E. patrol alerted by CABS control.

The Maltese daily press reported comprehensively today on our successful operation against the illegal wader trappers near Bahrija.

17.09.2008, Wednesday

Once again 6 Cabs teams were on the ground today. There were no incidents in the course of the morning. Between 9.00 and 11.00 am the waders and song birds seized in last night’s operation were released in the Il Ghadira nature reserve in the presence of representatives of the police, CABS, MEPA and BirdLife Malta reserve staff (read more here). Around midday a team in the Bahrija area in the west of Malta observed a Marsh Harrier with wings completely tattered by shots. It could still fly but it will have difficulty in reaching Africa. Some time later the police found a Marsh Harrier in Mgarr with gunshot wounds. The bird was taken to the rehabilitation station run by our partner organisation IAR. The hunting curfew after 3.00 pm was again ignored this evening by hunters - migration is however very weak so that it is scarcely worth going out poaching. In the evening a presentation on bird of prey conservation was given. Among the guests were the German Deputy Head of Mission and members of Embassy staff.

The value placed on bird protection in Malta nowadays was demonstrated in the afternoon on the Mellieha beach, where a solitary Flamingo landed. Instead of being blasted out of the water by hunters - which would almost certainly have been the case a few years ago - bathers gathered to view this unusual and rare attraction until it eventually sought sanctuary in the nearby nature reserve.

16.09.2008, Tuesday

Red-throated Pipit seized from a trapperRed-throated Pipit seized from a trapperThree of our teams were out on night patrols to locate illegal electronic decoy devices broadcasting Quail calls. Altogether 19 of these illegal electronic devices were pinpointed in the north and west of Malta.

At 06:40 hrs, a CABS team deployed near Buskett Gardens followed the flight of 12 Night Herons which were subsequerntly shot at by hunters. On its return the flock numbered only eleven! At 06:52 hrs a single Marsh Harrier unwittingly appeared in the airspace of the Maltese hunting organisation’s (FKNK) reserve where it had unwittingly spent the night. Within a blink of an eyelid a dozen or more hunters fired at the bird which executed complicated air manoeuvres to escape the area unscathed. At 08:25 hrs , three young hunters shot at a small flock of passing Common Sandpipers killing one bird. In the south of the island, near Birzebugga, two CABS members were verbally abused by a group of excited hunters but no physical violence was used.

All team members have worn their very striking CABS T-shirts - with 'CABS Bird Guard'in bold gold lettering - from day one onwards, which some feared would make them sitting targets for extremists. The contrary was the case. The T-shirts acted as a magnet for Maltese citizens and tourists alike, who expressed their appreciation of our presence or were brought up to date on the present threat to migrating birds on Malta and elsewhere in Southern Europe.

15.09.2008, Monday

Today, Monday was also relatively quiet due to the climatic conditions - the six operational teams provided above all an important visible presence on the ground.

In the early morning about 06:30 hrs 8 shots were fired just north of Zurrieq into a flock of Bee-eaters. As the hunters became aware of the presence of one of our teams the shooting ceased immediately so that the migration of three Marsh Harriers and a Honey Buzzard, which passed through some 15 minutes later, was unhindered. At about 12:20 hrs a unidentified large falcon was shot at by a hunter near Siggiewi but was not hit. Three illegal electronic lures for decoying Quails were discovered on Marfa Ridge in Northern Malta.

The 15:00 hrs afternoon hunting curfew on hunting, imposed by the Maltese Government for the main raptor migration period, came into effect today, but is only in effect until 30th September. Most hunters abided by the new regulations today; except for breaches near Mgarr (1 shot 19:00 hrs) and Buskett (18:00 - 19:00 - 2 shots).

14.09.2008, Sunday

5 CABS teams were deployed today. In the early morning all Bird Guards were spread widely around the raptor roost in Buskett Gardens. Thanks to the presence of conservationists and police patrols a dozen Marsh Harriers were able to take flight without hunters opening fire. As some 100 Bee-eaters began to fly around the hills somewhat south of Laferla Cross at about 09:00 hrs, wild volleys of shots broke out; the hunters deployed there had evidently decided to release their pent up emotions by shooting at the colourful birds, which are much sought-after trophies.

Near Buskett, in the Girgenti re-entrant, a German CABS team filming the fly-off of a Honey Buzzard were confronted by a group of aggressive hunters on a small road which showed no signs of being private property. The team was rudely mishandled, but the arrival of the police and a CABS back up team soon managed to take the steam out of the situation,

The afternoon was very quiet due to the onset of stormy weather - and not least because hunting is forbidden after 13:00 hrs on Sundays. Nevertheless three shots were fired at large falcons in the area north of Zurrieq at 16:20 hrs (probably Saker or Lanner Falcons) but they hopefully escaped unscathed. Three more shots were fired shortly afterwards.

13.09.2008, Saturday

The first participants of the large scale CABS bird protection camp landed on the island at midday today. In the early afternoon the first two teams deployed to operational areas in the north of the island at Manikata and Buskett to monitor hunting activity.

At Buskett Gardens, where many raptors roost overnight, numerous hunters were stationed in the area to observe and record the arrival of numerous Honey Buzzards and Marsh Harriers - undoubtedly in order to select the best fire positions for tomorrow morning. Two Marsh Harriers were shot at although there was a strong and obvious presence in the form of CABS and BirdLife Malta teams . To the north of Manikata a concealed CABS team observed two hunters on the cliffs shooting at migrating Kestrels - two birds were shot down. Another hunter, scarcely 20 years of age, used Barn Swallows for target practice. The police were alerted but, by the time they arrived, the hunters had scarpered.