Raptor Camp 2014: Why do I need to be here in Malta?

September 20, 2014 6:19 pm

 I’ve seen many interesting species here in Malta over the past five years. Only yesterday, a Maltese Wall Lizard was patient enough to allow me to approach and take its photograph whilst Scarlet Darters flew back and forth along a small stream. A couple of Painted Lady butterflies appeared, perhaps brought to the island from North Africa on the strong south-east wind. A Swallowtail revealed itself all too briefly a couple of days ago. Various species of grasshopper sprang up to avoid my feet as I walked through the countryside, whilst a Slant-faced Grasshopper remained absolutely still, disguising itself as a blade of grass. I haven’t seen a Chameleon yet this year but am still hopeful.  At the Red Tower in the late evening bats emerged and quickly dispersed to various parts of the island. This was shortly after an Osprey passed overhead.

So why am I here enjoying all this great variety of wildlife at a financial cost to Birdlife? Surely after all this time there are still not people who want to destroy it. I have met visitors to Malta from many parts of the world, from Australia to Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and other European countries, all of whom could take a positive message about the country and its wildlife back home.

It all came back to me yesterday evening. A Swift flew towards us, low up the hillside. This is not normal behaviour for this species. As it passed us we could see that its right wing was split into two parts, probably as the result of an errant gunshot from a hunter who partially missed his target. If it was a female Swift it would normally remain in the air for another eight months before stopping in a suitable place to nest. If it was a male it would never stop flying. Whichever it was it needs both wings in tip-top shape to keep it alive in the skies over Africa and Europe. A bird with an injury like this one is unlikely to survive long and will fall to ground, exhausted. One can only hope that a migrating Hobby finds it first and makes an easy meal of it to end its misery. Not an end one would normally want for such a superb species.
 Words and photos by John Aldridge