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Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The quiet time

Its reached that time of the year when nature goes quiet for a few weeks. That well earned rest from the frantic courting, mating and breeding season that is the British spring and summer.

I returned from my hols with a head full of ideas, but knowing deep down, that I'd have to wait a few more weeks for things to get going again and for the Autumn to really kick in.

At the weekend, Calum and I decided to take a trip to see if the Dartfords that we shot earlier in the year were still about, or more importantly, still approachable.

In a word, the answer was no. After a pre-dawn start, we met and Calum drove to the location - the day looked promising and we certainly heard a lot of the birds calling while they were looking amongst the heather for their food.

The heather was a sea of colour - beautiful purple and mauve.

This was the best shot I managed after 3 hours and more by luck than judgement:


You can get a hint of the colours here, but not really what I was after.....

Later in the day we moved to another location to see what was happening there. I have to say that I was surprised to see that Swallows were still feeding just fledged young - again, this is about the best I could do of one of the parents, with the hungary young behind ......


Monday, 15 August 2011

A short video

...and my last post on the hunting subject. 

On my last day on Gozo I decided to investigate an area where I'd heard shots emanating from. A beautiful and isolated area called the Gharb Cliffs. We could hear the shots from our villa so I decided to take a closer look.

The shots turned out to be bird scarers I think, but nonetheless, the farm looked to be completely surrounded by high shooting platforms overlooking the trees, scrub and vines.

I shot this video a little further along the cliff road where 4 Cory's Shearwater had been illegally shot the week before. 

Apologies for the sound and video quality (and for my video skills !) - once again, this was shot on the wife's Sony Cyber-shot DSC- W30....

video








Friday, 12 August 2011

More on hunting in Malta and Gozo


Following my last post, I took another walk around and took some images with the wifes trusty Sony point and shoot. The image above shows the rear view of one of the hides I found on the cliff tops - it's well constructed from sandstone blocks, has a entrance, strong roof and as you will see, some degree of comfort built in......


View from the front complete with comfy leather look seat...


Below is the view from inside - a commanding position from which to see all that flys past


The user even has a purpose built drain - can't think what that might be used for, but it's at waist height - almost........


This is one of the flat surfaces placed in front of the hide - not what I described in yesterdays blog entry - but on a similar vein. You can see the next 'perch' in the background.

.......and here are the rest in the line, all were set in a rectangle, shortest side from the hide...


the view facing another hide a bit further along the cliff top. You can see the cleared ground and perches on either side...


Another view - here you can see at least 3 hides in close proximity......there are dozens all around the coast line.....


A shooting position and stool..


And from the outside - another hide is in the background..


From this image you can just make out several perches against the sea. They aren't as far away as they look here....


I can't say for sure these are shooting or trapping hides, but I found lots of cartridges scattered around.


Final picture on this subject. This is taken from yet another hide, and from behind. To the right, left and behind you can see block piles - each one one at this location had a small metal cross set into the stone, either a perch, or perhaps some way of holding a net ?


To be honest, I've no way of telling if these are structures are 50 years old or whether they were built last year. Personally, I hope they are 50 years old, and are unused relics of a hobby that has long since passed into the annals history.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

A difficult subject

As I type this entry, I am sitting next to my pool looking out across the sea on the lovely, unspoilt island of Gozo, which is located just off the south coast of Malta. This is our second visit to Gozo, having visited some 7 years ago.

Jayne, Hannah and I went for a drive yesterday and explored some of the less accessible parts of the island that we could find - well off of the beaten track and using bumpy unmade roads.

One of the first things I've noticed is the lack of birdlife here. There is a complete absence of any sort of seabird (although I did see a single Oystercatcher this morning). Not being sure as to why, I googled it and found a simple answer contained within a report written in the Independent in 2005 - it said that the reason why there are no gulls is because 'they shot them all'.

At that time, over 2 million birds were being trapped or shot each year - and that was a reduced number. In 1995, the numbers were far higher - something approaching 5 million birds. And yes, you did read that correctly - 5 million birds - now just let that sink in for a moment before you read on.

What I have seen here are a few sparrows, quite a few pigeons (racing pigeons and few escapees) and one or two birds lurking in hedgerows or cactus that I can't get near enough to id.

On our drive/explore I noticed quite a few stone structures that looked to all intents and purposes like pill boxes.

On a long walk/run this morning I went to check one out a bit closer.

It looked very much like a purpose built hide. Placed in front were various posts, 2 - 3 ft of the ground and set at various ranges. All had flat surfaces on top - it looked like the dense, brittle foam that flower arrangers use.

My conclusion (despite an absence of spent cartridges)- it was a hunters hide, and we saw literally dozens of these structures yesterday. The posts and platforms used for seed bait I guess for the tired and hungry migrants.

Whether this was a shooting or net trapping hide I don't know.

The villa we are staying in has wifi, so I did some googling when I got back and I have to say I was pretty horrified at what I found.

I realised very quickly that I knew precious little about hunting in Malta, but a little research brought me to the point of this piece.

During the spring, many birds use Malta and Gozo on their migration to northern breeding grounds.

Under EU law, the hunting of birds during their spring migration and breeding period is prohibited in general. Malta, however, insists on using a derogation clause of the EU Birds Directive for allowing the shooting of a limited number of individuals of two species (Turtle Dove and Quail).

Whilst the numbers of shot species appears to be diminishing (in line with the numbers of hunters) a quick search of the net revealed a litany of recent horror stories - Osprey, Red Footed Falcon, Honey Buzzard, a flock of Spoonbills seeking shelter during a storm, Lesser Falcon, a flock of White Stork - all birds that any wildlife lover would travel to see - all reported as being illegally shot by hunters.

And that's just the birds that have been found dead or injured and handed to the authorities. God knows how many get shot and not reported ?

Something else I've learned today is that when the island was ceded by Charles V to the Knights of St John in 1530, it was on condition that an annual rent of two Maltese falcons (a Peregrine variant) was paid - one to the Spanish emperor and the other to the viceroy of Sicily.

Maltese falcons were reputed to be the finest of the peregrines. By the 1970s, the species had been all but destroyed by hunting. The last pair was shot off Ta' Cenc cliffs in 1980 - this is on Gozo, and this was where we visited yesterday.

It may have been no accident that the bird in Dashiell Hammett's classic detective novel, The Maltese Falcon, is not a real falcon, but a statue. But in the ultimate irony, Malta's national bird, the blue rock thrush, still featured on its one-lira coin - that is until the Euro took over.

Having said all of this, I am not against shooting - provided it is controlled, by the hunters and gamekeepers themselves, and the law. Provided also that the 'shoot' is of purpose reared 'game' birds that are for the table.

I wouldn't do it myself, but then I would eat, and have eaten, the prepared game.

What I can't get my head around however is just blasting something out of the sky for no reason other than 'tradition', or in the name of 'sport'. It staggers me that a place that is so beautiful and has such friendly people can support such a slaughter.

The UK is not immune of course - stories still appear all too frequently of birds of prey being illegally shot or trapped. Thankfully, the perpetrators seem to get caught and prosecuted regularly, so its certainly not open season.

Knowing how much people are willing to spend in their pursuit of rare and elusive species, I wonder what extra revenue would come to the islands if the hunters turned wardens and guides ? It is very evident that EU is investing funds on redevelopment on the islands - perhaps more pressure ought to be brought to bear and funds allocated in this direction ?

Sorry if this has been a depressing read for you, and subject for me to have researched, but I'll try to end on a relatively positive note.

RSPB, CABS (a German bird protection society) and MaltaBirdlife, the numbers of hunters appears to be diminishing. The numbers of licenses applied for is reducing year on year (Gozo had something like 56 applications in 2010 and less than half that for 2011). The Maltese government is also limiting the hunting window - this year was from 13 - 30 April, only.

Let's hope the trend continues and that the annual wonder of the migration of Europe's birdlife can use Malta and Gozo as a springboard rather than a very high, and deadly hurdle.