Thursday, April 28, 2011

Comino and more

To start with were we left off last week...a late Shelduck at Ghadira and a Temminck's stint as well as a Red-footed falcon female, 2 Montagu's harriers, a few Turtle doves, Collared and Pied flycatchers on the 21st. To ruin the morning birding one of the Montagu's harriers, a male, was shot down up on the ridge above Foresta 2000! Police did not respond to the report, that much to the government's promise to strictly enforce the law!

At Simar on Good Friday morning some variation with 3 Night heron, an adult Purple heron, 10 Wood Sandpiper, some 15 Turtle Dove and 8 Golden oriole plus my first Reed Warblers this year.

Little did I know that later I was going to see a bird that has eluded me so far, nervous moments waiting for the bus and on site searching for it amongst a flock of 36 Little Egrets resting on the rocks at Ghajn Tuffieha. Finally it stretched its neck from beneath its wing, and the yellow tinged head, and short orange bill became evident...Cattle egret! Fantastic bird!

Record shots, click on the image to enlarge, in the above the Cattle egret is in lower right part of the flock...

Yet another victim to illegal hunting...a Common Cuckoo shot right in the chest found dead on the roadside leading to Bidnija. This has to stop!

Back to birding, nothing much more till Comino where we stayed at the ringing station from Monday evening till Thursday morning. Great couple of days with yet another lifer and quite a good deal of other good birds like these stunning Bee-eaters!

Three Bee-eaters ringed in all...on Tuesday over a hundred were seen both migrating and feeding in the valleys with less numbers on the other days. After being fitted with a light-weight ring, and measurements taken such as weight and wing lenght the birds are released.

Only around 8 Turtle Doves seen but here's the first I've seen in the hand! Pity that it's declining and fast!

A few Golden Orioles about too...second year male above.

Another second year male, this time a Common Kestrel tough! Maybe the best bird ringed, had never seen a bird of prey on such close quarters except injured birds...

One of four Icterine warblers ringed, other passrines included quite a few Collared, Pied and Spotted flycatchers, a few Whinchats, Whitethroats, Willow warblers, a late Chiffchaff, Wood Warblers and Woodchat Shrikes.

Moreover, witnessed one of the best spectacles nature has to offer, more than 600 Honey buzzards migrating over on Wednesday. The change from south east to north east winds and low cloud cover meant that the birds few low over the islands in large flocks. Largest seen was over 150. An unforgettable experience!

The next day, the ones that had roosted on the islands, were seen gathering in small flocks and as the day started heating up, rise on the thermals and leave for Sicily and who knows where after that.

Other birds of prey seen were seven Black kites, over 10 Montagu's harriers including a few hunting low over the garigue, a Peregrine falcon stooping down on Pigeons, a Hobby and the first Sparrowhawk I've ever seen in spring.

Two Hoopoes, probably the last ones I'll see this spring were nice too. 6 Alpine Swifts and 4 Red-rumped swallow are worth mentioning apart from loads of Common Swift, House martin and Swallows passing over.

As most birds are still migrating to hurrying to their breeding grounds further north, a pair of Spectacled warblers were busy feeding four nestlings coming to and fro with food constantly.

And finally for the lifer...Stone Curlew! A scarce visitor to our shores and the 185th bird on my list of birds seen in Malta. Located first by another birdwatcher we went in search for it, walking spread out over the garigue. It flew up from between us only to settle quickly again running further away from us. Still we managed to locate it as it hid hunched up between some bushes. Amazing owl like eyes and characteristic behaviour made it really fun to watch!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

More Spring Migrants

So here goes birding these last three days...

18 Northern wheatears, two Black-eared and four Whinchat were the highlight on Monday at Xaghra l-Hamra. Nothing much else tough.

Comino yesterday was better. Started off with a juvenile Cormorant on a small rocky islet. A few Whinchats and a Black-eared wheatear on walking to the ringing station found on the island. More passerines included Redstart, Nightingale, Garden, Subalpine, Wood, Willow warbler, Whitethroat, Blackcap, Pied Flycatcher and two Linnets.
Pair of Black-eared wheatear caught together.

3 Woodchat shrikes seen including this one.

Around 6 Hoopoes about, one we were lucky to catch..the first I've seen in the hand.

A world of sad contrasts...this Hoopoe was found injured and very weak unable to fly due to gunshot wounds in the wing...the island is a bird sanctuary and no hunting is allowed so presumably the bird was shot at as it was leaving the coast of Malta or Gozo and continued struggling till it reached land...

A few birds of prey showed up during the afternoon, best being a Peregrine Falcon but also a hunting Pallid harrier, four Marsh harriers, a Montagu's Harrier, a Black kite and two Lesser Kestrels.

Other birds of interest were two Cuckoos, one unfortunately evading the nets by a nick, a stunning Golden oriole male, over 60 Bee-eaters, a Wryneck and 5 Turtle Doves.

More Turtle Doves today seen from Ghadira being welcomed by volleys of shots each time. Seeing them barely having reach land and shot down by hunters on the cliff was sick and frustrating. On a positive note two Marsh sandpipers spending a short while in the reserve were a nice addition to my yearlist especially being a species I hadn't seen in two years.

A Shelduck and 3 White wagtails were a bit late and unusual at this time of year. Most of the waders present till the weekend have left altough 6 Black-wined stilts were still there, as well as Little Stints and Wood Sandpiper.

An adult Purple Heron only made a brief stop at the reserve before it continued northwards and a flock of around 12 Night herons were seen shortly before they passed behind the ridge.

On the garigue area behind the reserve, we were in for two good birds. A male hunting Red-footed falcon the first this spring and only the second male of this great bird I've seen.
Then the second Rock thrush this spring also a superb's a record shot...

Quite a few Whinchats about too an estimate of at least 25, as well as yet another Black-eared Wheatear, three Whitethroats and two Woodchat shrikes. Finally some good birds this evening too, best of which being 20 Marsh harriers, a Cuckoo, a single Turtle Dove, a Golden Oriole, some hirundines including a Red-rumped Swallow, two Great Reed warblers and a Sedge.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Another update

Spotted Crake - Ghadira

Little Egrets Little Crake
Wood sandpiper

Common Snipe below the hide at Ghadira today...

Yesterday week that is last Saturday, started off with an unsuccesful seawatch but a walk around the Red tower and Foresta 2000 produced around 15 Northern Wheatears, a Whinchat and the third Black-eared wheatear so far this spring. Even a larger compensation was three Cuckoos, one being the quite scarce rufous form. A Turtle Dove flew overhead and we flushed a Hoopoe. Finally 5 Tawny pipits were feeding on the garigue.

At Ghadira some wader acvitiy of note...with 27 Ruff which were nice as well as 5 Black-winged stilt, a pair seen copulating but how much this indicates breeding is dubious, plus Little Stint (4), Snipe (1), Common sandpiper(1), Wood sandpiper (5) and first Curlew sandpiper of the year still not moulted in its more splendid summer plumage. Also yearticks were a Greenshank and a Common redstart.

Was nearly home when got a call about something at Simar reserve, but thanks to noisy maltese buses couldn't catch what it was. A few nervous seconds afterwards received a message instead...a Glossy ibis. No need to panic but still not a bird to be missed so it was off the bus and back the way I had come. Not visible when I arrived but flew up at one point circled once around before it settled down again behind some reeds...well at least I had seen it! A Squacco heron and Spotted Crake was good too.

In the evening visited one of the local valleys, yet another Cuckoo (4 in a day) on the way. Highlight tough was Great Snipe! Flushed from grass tussocks on the edge of a dam, white tail corners evident as it flew up, low croaking call, and white pattern on wings. Great bird and first time I saw it in Malta even better being self found :). A female Little Crake and Red-rumped swallow added to the list of good birds.

Spent the next day at Simar, where the Glossy ibis had stayed and gave good views but I had forgot the memory card in the laptop at home so no photos! Very stupid and frustrating! Five Little Grebes showed up, 2 chicks and one juvenile, as well as yet another Spotted Crake, 3 Ruff, 3 Little Egret, a Snipe and two Wood sandpiper. Flushed two Hoopoes off the path and a Night heron settled infront of the hide...Was shown my first Cetti's warbler nest with nice red eggs!

A male Montagu's harrier in the evening, 10 Marsh harrier, 12 Bee-eater and saw the Great Snipe again. Yet another Spotted Crake and a Woodcaht shrike and Hoopoe made it another fairly good day!

Monday was the last day we saw the Great Snipe, hope it migrated and did not succumb to illegal hunting! Nothing much else about until Friday. A shift from the calm stable weather saw a small influx of birds of prey. Best being Montagu's harriers... saw up to 18 but others counted 35!

Quite a few Lesser Kestrels and Marsh harriers too, with the first Honey buzzard being great, an adult male! Moreover first Golden oriole and Pied Flycathcer. Flock of 13 Bee-eater and three more Red-rumped swallow.

Lifer just as I was waiting to enter Ghadira nature reserve saturday morning, Gull-billed tern flew over and circled around in the bay before it came back and landed inside. Collared flycathcer male brought my yearlist up to 122. While 4 Grey herons and 7 more flying over, 6 Little egret, 13 Marsh harriers, a few Lesser Kestrels and a Spotted crake were also good. Waders were a Dunlin, 9 Black-winged stilt, a Curlew Sandpiper, a Green sandpiper, 2 Ruff, breeding Little-ringed Plovers, and 5 Wood sandpipers of note. Woodchat shrike, 2 Wheatear , 4 Short-toed lark and 3 Tawny Pipits on the garigue area behind the reserve.

In the evening, Hobby, a Wood Sandpiper, 25 Bee-eater, 2 Woodcaht shrike and 6 Golden orioles were good. Three calling Great reed warblers, a Redstart, Whitethroat, 0ver 300 Swallows, a few Sand and House Martins and two Red-rumped swallows.

Today back to clear weather and a lack of birds unfortunately but wind will shift again during the week so hopefully will be good, fingers crossed!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

More birding...end of March beginning of April

Male Black-eared wheatear
Record shot of a great lifer, Rock Thrush!

A trickle of migration this last week, managed to reach the goal of 100 yearticks by end of march exactly and currently at 108...

On Monday (29/03) saw the first Black-eared wheatear (a black throated melanoleuca male), Wood Warbler and Whitethroat as well as a 3 Little Egrets, handfull of Marsh harriers, 4 Lesser Kestrels, a Hoopoe and a Wryneck.

Tuesday went to Majjistral National park, a large area of garigue and good wathcpoint for migration, where we spotted 2 Black Storks! My first sighting of these great birds in spring. Also 13 Little egret resting on the rocks, a Black Kite, 3 Marsh harrier, a feeding flock of 15 Short-toed lark and to top it up a Pallid harrier male.

31st March saw us seawatching with Curlews being the highlight. Two flocks of 14 and 10 the larger flock giving good views. A flock of 8 Wood sandpipers passed by as did a single Shelduck. A small passage of Sandwhich terns, 10 in all much completed the list.

First Bee-eaters heard on the 2nd of April and on the 3rd was at Simar. A drake Ferruginous duck was nice as was a a Night heron 2 juvenile Little grebes and their parents, a Snipe and a pair of coots. Not much else tough. Passerines only represented by a few Swallows, a Subalpine warbler, a few Blackcaps, a Great reed and a Sedge warbler. Two Pallid harriers, a male and a female made me complete the day with a smile.

Ferruginous Duck

Little Grebe adult with two juveniles

Saw the first Purple heron the next day coming up the one of the valleys close to home before dusk. A Hobby was another yeartick too as were two Whinchats and two Bee-eaters. Other birds were two Grey herons, two Marsh harriers one with an injured wing, a Kestrel, a Wood sandpiper flew overhead calling while a Wryneck flew into the reeds on our approach as well as 4 Wheatears feeding in a field and a singing Willow and Sedge warbler.

Purple heron at dusk
Very windy yeaterday and Buskett did not produce much except a late Song thrush and the first Cuckoo this year. Checking out a nearby garigue area produced the unexpected. A stunning male Rock Thrush! The lifer was followed by yet another year tick, a Woodchat shrike as well as two Northern Wheatears.

Today was back at Xaghara l-Hamra, had too high expectations with the north east wind which did not quite pay off. Well first Turtle Dove and another Cuckoo so cannot grumble. 11 Wheatears in all as well as a beautiful Black-eared male. Quite a few Tawny Pipits, a Whitethroat and singing Corn Buntings. Better than all that was a Weasel running along a rubble wall stopping to look at us and sprinting across the road. Only third time I had seen this scarce and only carnivorous mammal in Malta and definetly the best time.