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BLM appeal for help on “missing” satellite tagged Osprey

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BLM appeal for help on “missing” satellite tagged OspreyBirdLife Malta reported today that a juvenile Mediterranean Osprey fitted with a satellite tracking device in Corsica as part of a project studying the dispersal and migratory movements of these protected birds of prey has gone missing after arriving in Malta at the end of August.

Over the last week, BirdLife Malta ornithologists have been helping researchers from the project to reconstruct what happened to the young bird using data downloaded from the tracking device via the Global Position System (GPS) satellites used to “communicate” with the bird.

The sophisticated tracking devices used in this study not only allow researchers to see where the bird is, they also measure and record physiological data such as body temperature, giving a much more detailed picture of the bird’s behaviour and physical condition.

BLM said that the GPS track shows that the Osprey flew south after leaving Sicily, arriving in the Malta Freeport area in the south of the island in the afternoon on the 24th August, where it roosted overnight, possibly on top of a ship or a crane.

“The next morning, the bird left its roost just before 7am, heading north in the direction of Delimara, shortly after which the signal from the tracking device was lost. The bird’s body temperature at the time of last signal indicates that it was alive up until communication was lost,” BLM said.

Nicholas Barbara, BirdLife Malta’s Conservation Manager said, “the picture that emerges is very clear. Delimara is notorious for illegal hunting, with numerous reports every year of protected birds, including Ospreys, being shot from the peninsula or from boats close to the coast. It seems likely that this Osprey suffered the same fate and was shot at some time after 7am on the 25th August.”

“Despite little hope remaining for the bird’s survival,” BirdLife Malta said it appeals to anyone with any information to come forward.”

“It’s possible that the tracking device might have been removed and that someone found it and picked it up,” said Mr Barbara, “any new information could help.”

BirdLife said it had been receiving reports of illegal hunting in the Delimara area since early August “and this is not the only Osprey to have been shot in Malta already this Autumn.”

“Last Sunday, on the first day of the hunting season, witnesses reported another Osprey being killed close to Dingli Cliffs as it perched on a telegraph pole just after dark. And the previous week, birdwatchers reported seeing a third Osprey flying with an injury,” BLM said.

“This is an all too common story with Ospreys that come to Malta. They are extremely vulnerable to poachers and more often than not, sightings of Ospreys go hand in hand with reports of illegal shooting,” said Barbara.

This particular juvenile Osprey came from the most important breeding population of these birds in the Mediterranean, in the north of Corsica, where it was ringed as a chick on its nest at Cape Corse on the 2nd July this year.

Flavio Monti, the doctoral student whose project this Osprey was a part of, said, “Due to bad weather this is one of only six Osprey chicks to fledge from the Corsican population this year, which is the lowest breeding success rate in the last 20 years.

“It is terrible to think that one of the few chicks reared this year was probably shot and killed in Malta within two weeks of leaving Corsica to start its first migration.”

Mediterranean Ospreys are distinct from their northern European cousins, being smaller in size and hunting in the open sea rather than inland lochs and lakes, and there are still unanswered questions about their migratory behaviour. It is not known if they migrate to Sub-Saharan Africa in the autumn or if the spend the winter months somewhere in the Mediterranean Basin.

A total of 17 Mediterranean Ospreys were tagged this year as part of the study, which involves several conservation managers and researchers in different Mediterranean countries, all working cooperatively to further understanding of these birds in order to inform species management and conservation efforts around the Mediterranean.

“Results like this suggest that illegal hunting could be having a significant impact on Mediterranean Osprey populations and be undermining the efforts of conservationists to protect these birds throughout the region,” said Mr Monti.

“We all hope the other birds in the study group fair better than this one- the only one so far to go to Malta.”

Photos by Manon Amiguet: An Osprey with a tracking device fitted to its back – Replacing an Osprey on its nest after fitting it with a GPS tracker – A Mediterranean Osprey’s nest on top of a rocky outcrop on the coastal cliffs of northern Corsica – And the GPS track of the Corsican tagged juvenile, showing the route it followed on its journey from Corsica.

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