Raptor Camp 2014: A First Timer’s Experience

September 17, 2014 9:24 pm

So how does it feel to be part of BirdLife Malta’s Raptor Camp? I am writing this as the news broke that a Maltese hunter has been found guilty of killing a young Italian stork on its first migration. And the short answer has to be sad and disappointed. 

If I had written this yesterday or the day before, the short answer would have been great. People volunteer to do all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons. I applied to join Raptor Camp this year because I wanted to be part of a team that makes a difference. I ran into a couple of veterans of the camp at Hen Harrier Day in August in England, and their description of the battle being fought on the island struck a chord. Autumn hunting is allowed, of course, there are those who take it further, who step outside the law, who are selfish, greedy and ignorant of the please of simply enjoying nature rather than exploiting it for fun or gain. 

Many of the birds that pass over Malta could end up in the UK. Many of those are not on the list of birds allowed to be hunted and inevitably many don’t make it. I wanted to balance out the bad and if, by spending time on Malta in a bright red t-shirt, I helped to prevent even one bird being shot then bring it on. 

I brought it on and headed for the camp. The first couple of days in the “Outreach” teams dotted around the island monitoring migrating birds brought conversations with many Maltese people who are against spring hunting, as well counting the birds passing overhead. Shots could be heard but as far as we could see no illegal prey was the target. It was a good feeling to have been part of the presence on Malta making a statement that illegal hunting could be opposed and ultimately stopped. 

Towards the end of the following day, the team was pulled away from the monitoring role to try and find a flock of storks that had been seen perched in town but had been lost to view. An adrenalin fuelled drive through the dark to a town where the birds were last seen resulted in a blank. A couple of frantic phone calls later, then off to another site. Still no luck. Our team, which had been “on duty” for many hours was pulled back to base and others tried to track down the birds’ location. 

When it was confirmed that one of the storks had been killed, the positive feelings began to fade. For a first timer at the camp, it felt very much like failure. So, now, sad and disappointed. 

But do you know what? I’m going out again tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that. I’m not giving up and neither is the rest of camp. 

Words and photos by Paul Bray, Raptor Camp Volunteer