Malta bird massacre

Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni), one of many species which should find Malta a perfect place to breed (C) Matt Wilson

I apologise to my readers who expect to see posts about European amphibians and reptiles on my blog but from time to time I just have to share some other information. The island of Malta is one I know well, my family holidays there every year and I know it is a beautiful island. Yet there is one alarming factor which stops me from going along on holiday there myself. To birders across Europe the illegal killing of migratory birds on this island as well as nearby Gozo is well known. Thankfully a number of organisations, specifically Birdlife Malta are acting to make the European public more aware of this “hobby” in collaboration with local law enforcement officers.

I have always enjoyed the work of Naturalist Chris Packham and find his programmes to be very insightful and angling towards conservation and education without the macho “this could kill me in 10 seconds”, animal wrangling element we are subjected to on many wildlife shows these days. He and his team are trying to bring to light the critical situation on Malta with illegal hunting where anything from Little Bittern, Mediterranean specialist species such as Bee-eaters as well as any raptor, owl, heron, song bird or sea bird are shot simply for fun on Malta and Gozo. Many of these are killed during the Spring migrations heading north so a good number of British resident species will end their days on Malta.

A Short-eared owl (Asio flammeus) after being shot (C) Birdlife Malta

A Short-eared owl (Asio flammeus) after being shot (C) Birdlife Malta

As well as ignoring European legislation, clearly Malta underestimates the potential economic value of having thousands of bird watchers holidaying on a beautiful Mediterranean island which should be full of breeding birds. Whereas many islands in Greece such as Lesvos are gaining a good economic profit from bird watching tourism. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with people shooting the odd partridge for dinner but this is simply barbaric. It would appear that the vast majority of Maltese citizens are against this illegal activity, yet it still continues as a common, widespread practice. I hope that one day I will want to visit Malta with my family to see these beautiful islands and their reptile and bird fauna. However, as long as every bird is being shot from the sky this is one tourist who won’t be going there on holiday.

BIRDLIFE MALTA http://www.birdlifemalta.org/

CHRIS PACKHAM http://www.chrispackham.co.uk/

By Matt Wilson

Long field weekend

I’ve spent the past four days exploring a number of locations in four counties with Carl Corbidge, mainly looking for reptiles but also some birds. On Saturday, at a familiar location in okay weather, we found a number of male Adders (Vipera berus) and one female. On Sunday we went to a new location and in hot weather (for Yorkshire…) we found three males and a couple of Common lizards (Zootoca vivipara). Driving back from this spot we found a small, skinny Grass snake (Natrix natrix). After dark we decided to visit a location for Great crested newt (Triturus cristatus) and we found close to 30 specimens. In one pond with a clay substrate all observed animals were  a much lighter colour.

On Monday, we drove further north to a more remote location hoping to see good numbers of raptors but before that stopped at another adder spot and saw four, pre-shed males out basking. The birds of prey didn’t show too well at our next location and aside from an occasional Buzzard (Buteo buteo) and Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) we didn’t see much bird life. However, with a nice sunny morning we explored a beautiful, remote location and found five female and two male adders some of which were showing some mating interaction. A few common lizards were also seen, including one that crossed the road in front of our car. A smashing extended weekend away from doing work!

On a more serious note I apologise that I’m unable to share any photographs of some of the amazing scenery we explored this weekend but I try my best to keep locations with reptiles as vague as possible.  There is now a growing trend of  people having “adder photography workshops”, “adder training days” and other bullshit which usually leads to hibernation sites being trampled, adders being moved, adders being caught with snake tongs (we’re not in South Africa…) or even worse, adders ending up in a vivarium!

Female adder (Vipera berus) (C) Matt Wilson

Female adder (Vipera berus) (C) Matt Wilson

Male and female adders (Vipera berus) (C) Matt Wilson

Male and female adders (Vipera berus) (C) Matt Wilson

I watched this male and female interact for about half an hour. She didn't seem interested in him... (C) Matt Wilson

I watched this male and female interact for about half an hour. She didn’t seem interested in him… (C) Matt Wilson

Female adder (Vipera berus) (C) Matt Wilson

Female adder (Vipera berus) (C) Matt Wilson

Female adder (Vipera berus) (C) Matt Wilson

Female adder (Vipera berus) (C) Matt Wilson

Stranger in a strange land, no white roses around here!

Stranger in a strange land, no white roses around here!

Female adder (Vipera berus) (C) Matt Wilson

Female adder (Vipera berus) (C) Matt Wilson

Two male adders (Vipera berus) (C) Matt Wilson

Two male adders (Vipera berus) (C) Matt Wilson

Male adder (Vipera berus) (C) Matt Wilson

Male adder (Vipera berus) (C) Matt Wilson

Grass snake (Natrix natrix) (C) Matt Wilson

Grass snake (Natrix natrix) (C) Matt Wilson

Male adder (Vipera berus) (C) Matt Wilson

Male adder (Vipera berus) (C) Matt Wilson

By Matt Wilson