Postcards From Malta: Highs and Lows

Along with common migratory Marsh Harriers, Honey Buzzards, Bee-eaters etc., the island gets its fair share of unusual or less common species. Last night, an Egyptian Vulture appeared over Malta.

A species often prized and targeted by shooters, BirdLife Malta know all too well the importance of providing extra protection to any such birds stopping over on the island. This could take the form of teams being sent to the roosting location to prevent it being shot whilst it sleeps. The Raptor Camp volunteers are the core of these protection teams and will set off at truly unsocial hours to try and prevent the killing of the bird. These night shifts are in addition to the regular shifts but no one complains. It makes a difference.

In this case, the bird was lost as it sought its resting place – no night shift. The following morning, teams were sent out to the likely roosting area in the hope that it survived the night and to monitor its departure for Africa. A relatively short journey through the early morning darkness and standard operational procedure (binoculars to hand, video cameras on standby, car parked ready to go) kicked in. Our team of four split up; two were dropped off at a vantage point to monitor a valley (a combination of foot patrol and static watching), the other two relocated to a position where raptors were known to roost. I was in the latter (well, as a driver, I had to be!). We were soon seeing Marsh Harriers taking to the sky (eleven in all) and a single Honey Buzzard – not a massive roost but still an impressive sight. But wait, what’s that?

A lone large bird across the valley flying in short stints along the ridge, landing on rocks. Camera trained on it and much discussion as to what it was. The behaviour was nothing like the Harriers, however, we weren’t confident enough in our ID skills to make a definitive call but our monitoring skills were good enough to keep the bird in view until it flew SW and towards other BirdLife Malta teams. Hours later, back at the hotel, we learned that it was the Egyptian Vulture and that the other team had had much closer views. More importantly, it left the island safely. Job done.

What a shame then that during the afternoon shift, two different teams witnessed two different Honey Buzzards targeted. One was definitely shot, the other may have survived.

No one feels that the job was done.

No one is blamed, but we all feel guilty.

No one gives up.