Raptor Camp 2013: First impressions

September 17, 2013 1:37 pm

16th September

Each year we get new (and old) volunteers coming to join Raptor Camp to help watch over the birds migrating through Malta on their way to Africa. The contribution of the volunteers, who come from all over Europe, from all backgrounds and of all ages, to protecting these birds and preventing illegal hunting cannot be overstated. Without them far more migrating birds meet their maker in these islands. The camp veterans (read, old hands/fogies, as you like) are indispensable for their knowledge of the island and the difficult job of not only detecting illegal hunting, but getting video and photo evidence of it so that the culprits can be prosecuted. They help in welcoming, inducting and guiding volunteers is also invaluable. This post comes from one of those new volunteers, 20-year-old Oliver Simms from the UK, after his first shift on Monday morning.


With bird sightings thin on the ground (or in the air, which was decidedly damp on Monday morning), one of the team members had time to take this close-up of a Painted Lady butterfly at the watch-point. Photo by Laragh Smyth

“The hunting situation in Malta is fairly well known amongst birdwatchers in the UK. It is not possible to go on to Twitter in the autumn or spring without people drawing attention to illegal hunting and we are regularly sent e-mails asking us to sign petitions against it. I wanted to experience this situation first hand and attempt to make a small contribution so I decided to volunteer at Raptor Camp. This will be very different from my previous volunteering experiences as they have involved habitat management or survey work.   

“Though I have read numerous articles on illegal hunting in Malta, this is my first Raptor Camp and I have little idea what to expect. I have no idea how I will react to the sight of birds being shot out the air but I doubt it will be easy. Although I have witnessed several times the legal hunting of grouse and wildfowl in the UK, I have never actually seen a bird being shot let alone the illegal shooting of a threatened species.

Oliver Simms, 20 year old Classics Student at Durham University, UK, on his first Raptor Camp shift.
Photo by Laragh Smyth
”This morning, I went on my first surveillance shift. Yesterday, the teams saw large numbers of raptors coming in to roost but this morning was quiet with only a few distant Honey Buzzards and Marsh Harriers. There was also little sign of illegal activity, although we did see hunters and hear a few gunshots. Other groups thankfully reported similar situations. I am fully aware that it will not stay like this all week and that I will witness the hunting that I have read about. Only yesterday, a Black Stork was shot down and other volunteers saw yesterday raptors with broken wings from gunshot wounds. I find myself in a strange situation with these reports as, for the first time in my life, I kind of hope that I do not see many birds, particularly scarce raptors, because the chances are that these birds will not survive their journey through Malta.”

First Days

A Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus) in flight over the trees of Buskett Bird Sanctuary, in the south-west of Malta. BirdLife Malta members can read more about the significance of Buskett for migrating raptors in the next issue of the Bird’s Eye View, out later this month.

Raptor Camp got off to a flying start on Sunday 15th, with sightings of 450 Marsh Harriers, 400 Honey Buzzards, 400 Bee-eaters and 140 Yellow Wagtails at Buskett in the afternoon as the teams went out for the first shift. But the strong push of these and other soaring birds also brought with it the first victims of illegal hunting. Three Black Storks (Ciconia nigra) first spotted in Gozo were shot at several times and one was hit and later died after being recovered by CABS (committee Against Bird Slaughter) volunteers and police operating on Malta’s sister island. Read the full story here


A Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) at the end of its downward wing beat passes overhead at Buskett. Photo by Ray Galea

A northerly wind brought rain overnight and on Monday morning the damp air and rain showers kept most of the broadwings that had roosted for the night on the ground in the morning. Throughout the afternoon, reports came into the office from members of public seeing birds of prey leaving their roosts, the air having cleared, and lots of shooting at these birds in areas as far apart as Bidni in south and Fomm ir-Rih and Manikata in the north, but little or no evidence of any enforcement in the form of police on the ground in the areas when the shooting was taking place.