Raptor Camp 2014: Nature’s Airshow

September 28, 2014 8:53 pm
This weekend some of the world’s top aerobatic display teams have been delighting and entertaining thousands of visitors to this year’s Malta International Airshow. Performing gravity and sanity defying aerial stunts I hope no Ryanair pilot has ever been tempted to try. I can see the attraction. I must confess to having been to one or two airshows myself (I was very young, okay?), and yes, I’ll admit I even enjoyed them!
But today, as thousands of visitors gathered at Malta’s Luqa airfield to see the Red Arrows and the Frecce Tricolori, I was busy watching feats of aerial prowess and beauty none of the stunt pilots, aircraft designers or aviation enthusiasts could hope to surpass. I was watching nature’s own annual airshow: countless birds of hundreds of different species all making their way south from Europe to Africa on their autumn migration. No pilots (except the birds themselves), no jet engines and no aeronautical engineers were involved in putting on this show. And yet the sheer variety of “performances” makes this natural spectacle one of the most amazing anyone anywhere can enjoy.
In the last week I’ve seen flocks of 200 plus Bee-eaters performing small scale murmurations like garishly colourful starlings, Honey Buzzards circling in a towering funnel over Buskett woodland as they searched for somewhere to roost for the night, and Barn Swallows in their hundreds flitting through the air moving this way and that at a twitch of their long tails, skimming inches above the ground as they catch flies at sunset.
This is my third autumn in Malta and the third time I’ve had the privilege of being present during the passage of birds on their way south to their wintering grounds. But after the government suspended the hunting season following a slew of illegal killings of protected birds (including White Storks), it is the first time I (or anyone else for that matter) has been able to enjoy this natural phenomenon without having to listen to the accompanying soundtrack of gunshots. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling a great sense of relief when watching Hobbies (the Peregrine’s little brother) diving after bats at sunset free of the fear than one of the numerous bangs might be a hunter taking aim at one of these amazing creatures.

According to the Times of Malta, the airshow is “the largest outdoor event in Malta.” I beg to differ. For me, and many others, there is another bigger and more spectacular event put on by nature every autumn and spring. I only hope I’ll be able to enjoy the same kind of pleasure watching migrating birds next spring (and autumn).

Words by Rupert Masefield.



BirdLife Malta has been given the opportunity to set up a rehabilitation centre here in Malta. The government have offered a restored farmhouse in Buskett Gardens, a protected area of woodland in the south of Malta. One of the greenest areas on the islands, the gardens provide a quiet and peaceful setting for the birds to recover in. 
The Maltese government will be covering the costs of running the centre, which will include the water and electricity to supply the farmhouse. But BirdLife Malta will have to cover all other costs. This includes funding equipment, food and medicine to treat the birds. 
Contributions to this campaign will ensure we can get this centre up and running before the next migration season. 

Please go to https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/back-to-the-sky/x/6316451 to view the campaign and make a donation. If you can’t donate, please share the link with family and friends.