Postcards from Malta: First Shift

For the next few weeks one of the BAWC team is reporting from Malta.

As a veteran of Spring and Raptor (Autumn) Camps, I was asked to take three people who had not been here before out with me this morning on my first shift this autumn. Interestingly, they were a family who had volunteered to see what was happening on Malta for themselves. After a gentle start, with me saying several times, shifts can be quiet (by quiet I didn’t mean ‘no shooting’ as that’s pretty much a given but ‘no illegal activity’), things got interesting.
First, a bit of background. BirdLife Malta is the only Malta based conservation organisation monitoring illegal activity. They also run nature reserves on the island; have a pro-active education team engaging with youngsters in school; they lobby the government on environmental issues and recover injured birds to treat and release or euthanise. This gives them a unique position and respect from the many Maltese who are as anti-poaching as many of you are.
Back to this morning. We were assigned a couple of areas to patrol. At the first, we were treated to a flock of Bee-eaters flying at eye-level and below us calling with that very special sound they have. Best of all, none of the hunters that could have taken a shot, didn’t. Next a couple of Marsh Harriers appeared and climbed rapidly out of range as they headed out to sea to continue on their way to Africa. I encouraged the ‘newbies’ to practice their videoing skills and took them through some of the basics of what to look out for.
As the hunters were behaving themselves, we moved on. A Falcon was soon spotted; we couldn’t pin down what species but a gentle reminder that it was low enough to be shot and should be video’d spurred the camera operator into action – this isn’t a bird watching holiday, we’re here to protect birdlife. The falcon flew on unharmed. Not two hundred metres further on, a magnificent low -flying Honey Buzzard. The camera operator was straight on it and two seconds later a shot from right underneath the bird. It reacted strongly. Fearing it had been shot, we anxiously scanned the area……
The bird was still flying even lower than before and closely followed by a hunter’s two dogs. It was so low, we lost sight of it again. Jumping back into the car, we drove down the road.
The dogs ran back to where the shot had rung out. The Honey Buzzard was perched on a rock. We couldn’t see if it was injured. At that moment, a pick up truck appeared with two dogs in a cage and a worried looking hunter driving. We got footage of the registration number as it drove away. Adrenalin flooding through us, I called the police. A very quick response and an ALE Land Rover appeared with two officers. A run through of events and the decision was taken to flush the Raptor, the officers walked towards it and fabulously it took off and flew out to sea clearly undamaged.
So much for a quiet first shift!