Sunday, September 26, 2010

Birding this weekend

Flock of 17 Grey Heron on SaturdayJuvenile Audouin's gull

Honey Buzzards...

Record shot of the highlight - Peregrine falcon

Saturday morning saw us still sleepy eyed scanning the sea with the sea spray blowing over us. At first only Yellow-legged gulls were about until a few Marsh harriers started coming in over the sea. Two Shovlers brigtened us up, being rather worthed to have got out of bed for. A Quail low over the sea heading inland was something I had never seen. So then with 17 Grey Heron and a Sandwhich tern just before we left I was quite happy.
Another seawatch Sunday morning gave 3 juvenile Audouin's gulls passing rather close to shore for gulls to be as well as my first two Black-headed gulls this autumn. Then 9 Grey Herons (2,7) and that was that, no more was to be seen.
In the afternoon the wind had weakened so we tried our luck with some raptor watching. Not much migration, 35 Marsh Harriers and 25 Honey Buzzards in all, which cannot be expected now either with the peak being over. 8 Hobbies, 2 Kestrels and a good flock of 70 Bee-eaters were flying about. A Black Kite was a good find as usual but the most interesting was to be had from the Falcon family... a male Peregrine Falcon flew by and gave good views as it perched in a large tree. What's more the first Merlin flew or better speeded by soon before dusk.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

One of those days!

12 Grey Herons from Qawra, the reddish colour on some of them is due to the early morning light.

Just a very small part of the many flocks circling around over Malta this afternoon.

Honey Buzzard silhouette

Whatever amount of hours and days you spend birding there are still those days that stand out in your memory for some time. That start good and end good, with a lifer or two and leaving you with a great feeling of content forgetting all the other birdless frustrating hours. Today was just such a day and to make it better it was the end of the summer holidays!

We started off with a Hoopoe flushed on arriving at the seawatching point at Qawra. We said that this made it worth even if we would se nothing else. But soon afterwards a flock of 12 Grey heron flew right over us,soon followed by a flock of 5 Little Egret. Not long after that again a flock of 9 Grey Heron and 13 Little Egret up the coast. Four more flocks of the latter were seen, 8, 18, 11 and 20, making up a very good total. The bird or birds of the morning were 4 Avocets which flew by Qawra point, not only being beautiful birds, but also rather scarce. By 9 am birds of prey started to make a move hinting on the passage that was to come later. A total of 12 Marsh harriers, 4 Honey Buzzards, an Osprey, 4 Common, 2 Lesser and 4 unidentified Kestrels. That was it, we left Qawra with hope to come up to Buskett as quickly as possible.

It was only two hours later though thanks to unreliable maltese buses! We came panting up the hill crossing fingers that we hadn't lost any large flocks or anything rare. Luckily the other birders had just arrived and the first flock of 6 honey buzzards was still ciricling around. The next flock was larger and with them 2 Ospreys. The flocks of Honey Buzzards and Marsh harriers didn't stop coming the largest of around 50 birds like bomber planes coming in formation over the maltese islands. They seemed to be in a hurry to escape the bad weather that is forecasted and although the first flocks migrated by the evening 300 or so raptors were circling around in huge funnels were ever you set your bins and still they were coming, a spectacle I had never witnessed in such "epic"proportions! While they stayed over Malta held by the now complete cloud cover, Kestrels(30), Lesser Kestrels (7) and Hobbies (20) were also migrating. To make it even better a male Pallid harrier was sighted, another two Ospreys - one with a ring seen blinking, a Black kite, 2 Grey and 2 Purple Herons. The best of all was a flock of 22 Spoonbills, a lifer for me and the largest flock seen by many present. We had been getting reports of them from the south of Malta but hadn't managed to see them, then a report from closer to us, from Dingli...a lot of frantic scanning and finally someone, who deserves a big thanks spotted them flashing white over Verdala Palace.
Totals of Marsh hariers and Honey Buzzards by the end of the evening were 350+ and 450+ respectively. Good numbers of Yellow wagtails (500+) and Swallows (600+) were noted as well as the first Grey Wagtail.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Another good day up at Buskett

Honey Buzzard

Painted Lady

At Qawra two hours of seawatching produced only two Marsh harriers, but at Buskett it was another matter. Maybe not as many as yesterday but just as fun. Arrived just in time to see a dark morph Marsh harrier. Small flocks were first found as mere specks in the sky gliding towards us stopping to soar overhead for a definite identification and continuing their migration agianst the wind. The way a good day should be. A Black Kite was seen in amongst the funneling Honey Buzzards and Marsh harriers as well as a male Montagu's harrier. 4 Hobbies were circling around attempting to catch Swallows and sending Bee-eaters into tight calling flocks. As dusk was approaching the raptors that had decided to choose our island as the stopover for the night started to drop lower in the sky stooping into the trees.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Peak :D

One of the Honey Buzzards that roosted at Buskett, Photo by Ray Galea

18 Night Heron, Photo by Ray Galea

Light southwest winds looked promising so was up at Buskett early at 11 am and it wasn't for nothing. From the first scanning of the sky 7 Marsh harriers were found, first as small dots in the clouds and then coming over against the wind. They continued coming in small flocks and totals were rising. The conditions we had been waiting for had come and the birds didn't hang around. After some soaring most continued their long journey south. The largest flock was of 48 Honey Buzzards later on in the evening. Usually good days are highlighted with an eagle or a stork but it was not to be. 3 Ospreys wasn't bad though and neither 2 Black Kites which showed well. Two Eleonora's Falcons were hunting together with 5 Hobbies, one light and one dark phase. Total numbers of Honey Buzzards was 194 and Marsh harriers 142. A flock of 18 Night heron alighted from the trees, these also continued thier migration, another 2 called after dusk circling searching for companions. Bee-eaters were again present in good numbers (170) as were Barn Swallows. Two Wheatears constantly chaced each other over the garigue. Checking the weather forecast for tomorow promises good too, maybe we'll get an eagle, who knows?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Truly Unforgetable!

Moderate to strong Northwest winds...why go up to Buskett I thought. I was going to Qawra instead but changed my mind in the last minute. Now I'm extremely happy I made that decision!
I wasn't expecting anything really but a few Marsh harriers started appearing quite quickly. They continued coming in small flocks in against the wind some continuing some circling low preparing to roost. Between around 2 pm to 4 pm over 50 Marsh harriers were seen, together with 6 Honey Buzzard, a Black Kite, Montagu's harrier and an Osprey. Already content having had no expectations at all. But that was because I wasn't aware what was flapping closer to Malta. Suddenly I saw them a small cloud of large circling birds. At first glance I called out, "look herons", it quickly changed to "WHITE STORKS" though! We were stunned! All 29 of them! We didn't enjoy them for long before phone calls were made in rapid succession and record shots taken. They were followed till they became specs in the horizon and were gone as quickly as they had come. Altough the adrenaline is still flowing and I'm overjoyed that I was one of 3 that witnessed probably the largest flock of storks recorded in Malta, have mixed feelings because of those regular birders which lost the flock just because they couldn't today....
When the commotion was over we noticed from the photos that they were infact 28 White and 1 Black Stork amongst them! We hadn't even noticed with the excitemnet!
Just to make the day even better in the late evening two large flocks of Grey and Purple herons migrated in large V formations ( 92, c50 Grey herons, 3, c20 Purple Herons). The most I have ever seen in a day. A few more Marsh harriers and Honey buzzards as well as 4 Hobbies, 3 Alpine Swifts and 120 Bee-eaters. A Crossbill was another great bonus to a day I wan't forget quickly!

A few of the Marsh harriers

Male Marsh harrier

28 White and a Black Stork! (click for a larger image)

Photo taken by Ray Galea

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Well can't grumble...

Flock of 15 Little Egrets over Qawra this morning

3 Purple Herons

Smallest of three small "funnels" seen this afternoon at Buskett, 7 Honey Buzzards and 2 Marsh harriers

An hour and a half seawatching in the late morning gave two yearers and some other good birds. The first being a Slender-billed gull and an Audoin's Gull. Also two flocks of Little Egrets, 16 and 10, then 3 Purple Herons which circled for some time above us. Scopoli's Shearwaters were as usuall seen on the horizon. To start on the note of raptors one Marsh harrier was seen.

Several more were seen in the afternoon in singles, small flocks and together with Honey Buzzards, which were the definite highlight. Although two flocks of a total of 60 birds set high hopes early on that came to nothing, they were great to watch circling around in the azure sky. Today numbers of raptors were the highest recorded yet this September (72 Honey Buzzards and 46 Marsh harrier), noting that it has been a very poor migration so far.
One has to mention an Osprey which seems always to brighten up the day as well as 3 Hobbies. Finally around 60 Bee-eaters flying about around us were fun as were a Golden Oriole and 6 Turtle Doves.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

An unexpectedly good day!

Strong north west wind isn't the weather you would hope for neither for seawatching and even less for raptor watching, but it didn't turn out that bad.
Spent the morning at Qawra scanning the sea and was rewarded with relatively good views of 2 Caspian terns, it had been a year seen last. What's more 5 Sandwhich terns were hanging around the fish farms together with plentiful Yellow-legged gulls and further out Scopoli's shearwaters.
Marsh harriers appeared over the horizon in singles, seven in all. 2 Little Stints and some small flocks of Swallows were to be last birds of the day, hadn't I got a call when I got home about 23 Honey Buzzards.
Therefore it was up to Buskett, where we only got too late to see 4 Dottorels, would be lifers and not the first time I had missed them. The strong wind didn't give us the most pleasant conditions up on the exposed hill top but it was worth it. It didn't turn out to be the passage of raptors we had hoped for, a total of 11 Marsh harriers and the our first Black kite of the autumn. However suddenly there were a flock waders flying quiclky past - short but good views of 10 Dottorels! So we got our lifer all the same, great birds! To complete the day, just when we were geting quite cold and thinking about home a flock of 50 Grey herons together with 3 Little egrets flew by in formation in the distance.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

It's back!

Juvenile Honey Buzzard

What with a practically birdless maltese summer and 5 weeks in Norway (trip report coming soon), it;s a long time since last post but here we are again!

Raptor migration has started and up we went to Buskett, the best location to watch them. Not the best conditions though, Scicily being covered with clouds. An Osprey made up for a lot of fruitless scanning. As usaull it didn't stay long and continued till it became a dot on the horizon.

Later in the afternoon 4 Hobbies circled around and the first yearer of this autumn...a light morph Eleonora's falcon. As to often it had evident injuries caused by illegal hunting, a dangling leg and missing primaries.

Two female Montagu's harriers gave rather good views, as well as one Honey buzzard, a Marsh Harrier and a Kestrel. Around 60 Bee-eaters, 40+ swallow and two Nightingales pretty complete the picture for today.