The journey to Raptor Camp

September 19, 2013 3:39 pm

17th September

by Silke Einschuetz

Silke has a background in Economics and Protected Landscape Management. She works as an independent research consultant and lives in Tregaron, Mid Wales.

My journey to Raptor Camp Malta 2013 started on the train from Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury. Anyone familiar with this train journey will know about the beauty of the Dyfi Estuary and the variety of birdlife to be found there. From the train, large flocks of Canada geese could be seen. Close by, as the train stopped at Dovey Junction, the osprey nest of the Dyfi Osprey Project was clearly visible, with the male osprey perching on a post nearby.

I was on my way from a place where these birds enjoyed relative safety and where a lot of time and effort is put in every year to make sure the ospreys have a safe and successful breeding season, to a place where, according to what I’d read and heard, a significant number of wild birds get shot illegally by hunters during migration.
I did not know what to expect, this being my first Raptor Camp but thought it was important to see for myself what the situation in Malta was.
During my first 4 days of Raptor Camp I luckily did not have to witness any birds being shot, but other team members did and there were several reports of illegal hunting before Raptor Camp started. I saw many birds I had not seen before, including Marsh Harriers, Honey Buzzards, a Montagu’s Harrier, Bee-Eaters and Blue Rock Thrushes.
It is amazing to experience migration ‘live’ and to imagine how these birds set off from their breeding grounds on their long and dangerous journey. Today, at Mthaleb, we saw several Marsh Harriers coming down into the valley to roost, which just illustrated their vulnerability to being shot, gliding over trees and fields close to the ground. Having seen these birds land safely before nightfall makes me hope our presence there made a difference, but once the morning comes and they prepare to continue their journey they will be in grave danger again.
Seeing the beauty, elegance and majesty of these birds, it makes me extremely sad that many of them will not be able to complete their journey. The starkest evidence of the situation in Malta is the fact that the overwhelming majority of the particularly rare species, such as for example Egyptian Vultures, will not make it out of Malta unscathed.
The view of the cliff-tops from one of the Raptor Camp watchpoints
in Dingli, in the west of Malta. Photo by Silke Einscheutz

I also observed many hunters, either openly in a field or in one of the numerous hides dotted across the fields. We also met locals who passed and talked to us, telling us of their views and experiences. An elderly gentleman told us he had been trapping and hunting birds himself in the past but that he had now changed his mind and was against hunting. The reason he gave for trapping and hunting birds in the past was that back then, there was nothing else to do.

We also tried to collect signatures against spring hunting and one thing that made the complexity of the hunting situation in Malta very clear was that another local gentleman told us he fully supported the petition, put his signature on the form, but refused to provide his name and address, afraid of repercussions amongst his community.
There certainly are no easy answers but, over time, hopefully attitudes will change. For me personally, it is all about the stories we tell ourselves about our place in the world and our relationship with other beings, and by raising awareness and telling a different version of this story, Birdlife Malta will hopefully be able to turn the tide.