Spring Watch Malta 2013: safeguarding migrating birds

April 14, 2013 1:29 am
It is a sad indictment of the state of bird conservation in Malta that the first post on our new blogspot deals with the topic of illegal and unsustainable hunting and trapping of birds. But, given Malta’s record for bird persecution, it is perhaps inevitable. Illegal and unsustainable hunting and trapping remain the number one threat to migrating birds passing through the Maltese Islands on their return (if they’re lucky) journey between Europe and Africa.
Spring Watch volunteers record bird migration observations and monitor illegal huntign in the Maltese counrtyside during the spring hunting season, which coincides with the peak bird migration period. Photograph by Rupert Masefield
Tomorrow, this year’s annual Spring Watch conservation camp begins, with 40 international volunteers joining local conservationists to help monitor spring bird migration and deter and report illegal hunting during Malta’s spring hunting derogation period. Unfortunately, for any birds migrating through the Maltese Islands in the last few days, this year the Maltese government not only decided to open the hunting season earlier than last year, they have also removed regulations put in place to limit the number of licensed hunters and enable effective enforcement of wildlife protection laws, while failing to ensure adequate steps are taken to prevent poaching of protected birds.

Watching over Mizieb woodland as the sun comes up. Mizieb has been managed by the Federation of Hunters, Trappers and Conservationists (FKNK) as a hunting reserve since 1971 and has witnessed some of Malta’s most heinous wildlife crimes. Photograph by Rupert Masefield

This morning (Saturday 13th April) we witnessed two men targeting protected songbirds, including Greenfinches, Siskins and Hawfinches, using banned cage traps, or Trabokki, right next to a hunting reserve managed by Malta’s largest hunting association, The Federation of Hunters, Trappers and Conservationists (sic). We were able to film the men, who had got wind of our presence, as they scurried around picking up nets from the ground and removing live decoy birds (used to lure wild birds into the trap) from their cages, and the police arrived on the scene in time to apprehend these poachers. The illegal traps were confiscated and these two at least will see the inside of a courtroom. They were allowed to keep the birds they already had in their possession, though, as they could not be proved to be illegally caught from the wild– they could have bred them in captivity!

An illegal cage trap, or Trabokki, being used to trap protected finches on the edge of Mizieb woodland, in the north of Malta. Two men were apprehended by police and the banned traps confiscated, but they were allowed to keep the birds.
Turtle Doves in a cage behind the Trabokki. The trappers also had nets laid out on the ground, probably to illegally trap Turtle Doves.
The arrival of the Spring Watch volunteers this weekend represents a life-line for many protected migrating birds that would fall victim to illegal hunting were it not for the presence of these dedicated individuals acting as a deterrent to would be poachers.
Keep checking back here for updates from the camp and other news and stories about birds, conservation and nature in the Maltese Islands.
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