Spring Watch, the calm after a storm… 

May 23, 2022 11:10 am

Relative peace has returned in the countryside now the spring hunting season is finished. The season, which opened for the vulnerable Turtle-dove for the first time since 2016, was open from 10th to 30th April 2022 up until midday. Only two species were legal to hunt; the Common Quail for the entire duration of the season, whilst the season for European Turtle-dove opened from the 17th of April.

Pallid Harrier during its spring migration over Malta (Photo by Aron Tanti)

For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to run our annual Spring Watch operations with the assistance of international volunteers. The pandemic has negatively impacted the overall numbers of overseas volunteers who join the camps, but we still managed to attract a respectable number of both new and veteran volunteers. This year, all our overseas volunteers joined us from the United Kingdom. We also had several resident volunteers join us. 

BirdLife Malta’s Spring Watch 2022 took place from 11th April to 2nd May. One of the main aims of our monitoring work was to check whether the derogation was being adhered to properly by the hunters. 

This year’s Spring Watch camp ran between 11th April and 2nd May (Photo by Milena Berezina)

With an average of three teams out every day, we had a presence in the countryside for 22 consecutive days, both during the mornings and afternoons. Our teams recorded a total of 215 illegalities; an average of nearly 10 every day!

The most numerous illegality was the use of electronic callers, which are used for artificially attracting higher numbers of birds into a particular area. While the use of electronic callers for the purpose of hunting and trapping is illegal, they continue to be a persistent and mostly unenforced issue.  

Before the official opening of the Turtle-dove hunting season on the 17th, Spring Watch teams did witness the illegal hunting and targeting of this species. Electronic callers for Turtle-dove seemed to be particularly evident this spring as well, compared to previous years.  

Monitoring the countryside for illegalities (Photo by Milena Berezina)

We were also called upon to pick up numerous shot protected species, such as Osprey and Red-footed Falcon, while several other birds were seen flying with evident gunshot injuries. One of the most shocking events during Spring Watch occurred on the night of 18th April, when a Spring Watch team in Delimara saw a good number of Marsh-harriers come into roost. However, as darkness fell, hunters were seen in the fields with the aid of an infrared camera, and many gunshots followed. The following morning, a team recovered five shot Marsh-harriers from the area with the help of the Environmental Protection Unit (EPU). One can only guess how many more harriers were targeted in total…   

European Bee-eater, a common migratory species during spring (Photo by Aron Tanti)

Despite the nature of this work, spring is still an enjoyable time of the year to be outdoors, as the spring flowers are picturesque, along with the longer and warmer days.

Seeing the return of summer migrants is always a welcome sight too, especially as we are lucky to encounter some very colourful species such as Golden Orioles, European Bee-eaters and Eurasian Hoopoes. All of these migrant species were heading north to their breeding grounds elsewhere in Europe.

We cannot do our work as effectively without the help of volunteers, and for this, we wish to thank each and every person who joined us in the field. If you think this is something that may appeal to you, or you would like more information on what this work entails, please do get in touch!  

During one of the Spring Watch 2022 shifts (Photo by Ilaria Marchiori)

By Alice Tribe, BirdLife Malta Conservation Coordinator