Monday, September 19, 2011

Another update!

I'm dead tired trying to write this with nearly all spare time out in the field, even a couple of days out from dawn till dusk!

11th September: Variable wind and few birds! Only one Honey Buzzard, one Grey heron and a Ringtail harrier which we left unidentified plus an Audouin's gull from the coast.

12th September: Nothing special this seawatch either...3 Purple herons, a Little Egret, a Marsh harrier and two Sandwich terns. 3 Honey Buzzards just before we left lifted hopes of some raptor migration...we continued directly to Buskett. We had to be content with 28 Honey Buzzards and 9 Marsh harriers tough. A Nightjar at dusk was a good end to the long day.

Bee-eaters are a daily entertainment at Buskett, photo taken by R Galea.

13th September: Work nearly all day, only saw a Grey heron and 14 Bee-eater in the evening.

14th September: Some variety at Buskett, a great Pallid harrier male, 22 Marsh harrier, 25 Honey Buzzard, 3 Eleonora's falcon all dark phase 2nd years, and 3 Hobbies. What's more a Turtle Dove and 200 Bee-eater.

15th Spetember: Finally not such a bad day! Started off with seawatching as usual from 07:00 till 12:30. Well for the long hours of birding maybe not so productive but the the more I'm out the more restless I get and the more I want to be out and about with bins and telescope! A flock of 24 Grey heron circled a lot about undecided whether to migrate or not, while a single Purple heron and 14 Marsh harrier did probably migrate. Over 200 Cory's shearwater offshore as well as two Common Sandpipers flying past.

The flock of 24 Grey heron in V-formation

Continued up to Buskett, one of the better afternoons so far at least where variety is concerned. Arrived just to late to see a Black Stork but nothing we could do with that! Apart from 33 Honey Buzzard, over 50 Marsh harrier, we saw 2 Ospreys, a Black kite, 10 Lesser kestrels, 3 Hobbies and 2 Light phase Eleonora's falcon! Not was not all, the first Sparrowhawk of the autumn was spotted and gave good views. At dusk 14 Night heron and a Purple heron flew up from the trees. Peak of Bee-eaters and the highest number recorded in autumn...400+ birds! 3 Turtle Doves flashed past and a flock 13 Alpine Swift circled above. A Pied flycatcher was seen in the valley being rather scarce at this time of year.

16th September: Continued up to Buskett right after work and glad I did...walking up to the watchpoint I got a call from my sister about two Black Storks they were seeing. A sprint and found the birds just in time circling in the distance before they migrated. Not a bad day for birds of prey either, around 40 Honey Buzzards, more than 50 Marsh harrier, 4 Hobby and 4 Lesser Kestrel. However it was herons that got to a peak. A flock of 32 Grey heron was only a mere starter to an amazing flock of over 200 Grey herons in the distance. Largest flock I have ever seen with around 100 birds concentrated at the point of the V-formation! Another 51 Grey herons plus one Purple followed. A beautiful adult Red-rumped Swallow scarce in autumn was a good bonus as was the first Snipe I've seen this autumn.

17th September: Seawatch in the morning started off with a flock of 26 Little Egret followed by another 30 later. An early Marsh harrier at 07:22! Another 5 were seen. Two Audouin's gulls and two Garganeys were also spotted. My third record of Pomarine skua made the morning complete!

Up to Buskett in the afternoon was also successful. Nearly 200 BOPs in all, mostly Marsh harriers (130+) but quite a few Honey Buzzards too (60+). 3 Ospreys made us all happy as did a Black kite low in the valley. Finally 4 Hobbies and a juvenile Pallid harrier were sighted too!

Pallid harrier juvenile, photo by R Galea

As too often is the case we witnessed illegal hunting, a male Marsh harrier was shot down, and two Honey buzzards were shot at from within Buskett one being injured seen with a dangling leg. Hunting within Buskett is illegal to say nothing about the birds targeted...

18th September: Another good long day of birding! 17 Night herons were seen from the coast flying out of their roost. 13 more were seen later. Caspian tern was still not on my yearlist so I was happy to see it especially as a flock of 15! It is unusual to see this species in such a number for us, even more when the flock was followed by another flock of 7 also flying up the coast. Probably a record total for Malta! Other birds included 16 Ferruginous ducks, small flocks of Grey heron adding up to 34 in all as well as a Purple heron with them, 19 Marsh harrier, a Dunlin and 2 Sandwich tern. Unconfirmed record of Great white egret at Salina, so we sped off to have a look! Sure there it was standing in the middle of the flooded salt pans, its size and yellow bill standing out! Second yearer of the day! To make it even better an Osprey flew low over in from the sea!

Record shot of the Great white egret at Salina

Up to Buskett in a hurry after that, as already quite a few Honey Buzzards were being seen migrating over. We were just in time to see the last of the birds that actually migrated, the rest remained circling around all afternoon. Sometimes they picked up a line as if to migrate but only came back shortly afterwards. We saw around 60 of 140 Honey Buzzards seen that afternoon. 60 Marsh harriers were noted, but the highlight was yet another 3 Ospreys of the 5 recorded that afternoon! Also good was another great Pallid harrier male and a Black kite! Two flocks of Lesser kestrels (18) and 5 Hobbies. Finally 3 Tawny pipits can be worth mentioning.

One of the 5 Ospreys recorded that afternoon from Buskett, with a male Marsh harrier.

The Black kite and a juvenile Honey Buzzard. Both the above photos taken by R Galea

19th September: Strong Northerly winds aren't favourable but some birds must have been caught up and passed over Malta. An Osprey made the afternoon at Buskett worthwhile, as did a hunting Eleonora's falcon dark phase. Maybe not an adult but still it was definitely in its 3cy. Photo by R Galea.

51 Honey Buzzards, 16 Marsh harrier, 3 Hobbies and two Common Kestrels weren't bad numbers for this kind of weather. Closing on a bad note is not pleasant but its reality. Two of the Honey Buzzards had missing primaries and one a damaged carpal joint flying with difficulty...hunting is such a sport...

Injured Honey Buzzard, Photo by R Galea

Monday, September 12, 2011


The flock of Turnstones first seen on the 28th August with the highest total of 8 birds feeding on the rocky shoreline was an unusual sight for Malta, one many birdwathcers made sure to enjoy. Less than hundred metres from a busy promenade locals and tourists alike noticed and could appreciate them, the birds being very tame and approachable. Such sights not only of this species but of other birds would be more common if illegal hunting came to a stop! Only today three injured birds, Hoopoe, Bee-eater and Common Kestrel were brought in to Birdlife Malta all three had to be euthanised.

Here's a video clip taken by a fellow birdwatcher, just in contrast to the dead lifeless birds, shouldn't one find more satisfaction in putting something like this together than shooting down birds?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ups and downs

Should try to post more frequently but spending most of my free time in the field it gets a bit difficult, no point sitting inside when birds are migrating overhead!

3rd September: One of the better days so far...with Little egrets making a passage in the morning and the first peak of Marsh harriers in the afternoon. Apart from the 60 Little Egret (three flocks of 26, 21 and 13), 7 Grey heron, 4 Marsh harriers and an Audouin's Gull were seen from the coast. A Black-eared wheatear was also interesting.

Up at Buskett a total of 100 Marsh harriers were seen many roosting in the wooded valley just below us at dusk. It had been a while since they chose Buskett as a roost so seeing the birds coming down one by one into the pine trees was special. This not to mention the presence of two Black kites. Other birds of prey were a Montagu's harrier with a dangling leg, a Hobby, two Lesser Kestrel and a Common Kestrel. The first flock of 10 Alpine Swifts made an appearance speeding across the sky!

26 Little egrets, taken by A. Vella

4th September: A less successful seawatch...with only 7 Little Egret and a Black-headed gull. 5 Turnstones still present making the morning a bit less boring!

Buskett in the afternoon was no better. Well 2 Eleonora's falcons weren't to grumble about one staying till dusk hunting over the trees. Otherwise 2 Common Kestrel and a Hobby was all.

Common Kestrel as it flew over, taken by A. Vella

5th September: Again rather quiet raptor wise with only a Common Kestrel and 5 Marsh harrier coming in late in the evening. Turtle doves made up for the lack of birds of prey though. Small flocks were seen flying down into the trees and at one point a flock of 14 flew up from the opposite side of the valley. An estimation of 30 birds was good for a very poor year for Turtle doves! What's more a flock of 9 Grey herons flew by.

6th September: 5 hours of seawatching produced only 3 Grey herons and 3 Marsh harriers and no need to mention very frustrated birdwatchers.
Went up to Buskett late, really thinking that I could have stayed at home but glad I did. Shortly after arriving the conspicuous call of Dottorels were heard and three passed overhead, one adult and two juveniles. A Golden oriole male was also not to grumble about! Birds of prey I got in time to see were 9 Marsh harrier (out of a total of 13), 2 Honey Buzzard (10 seen in all), and 2 unidentified Kestrels. Two Black kites and two Eleonora's falcon had been seen earlier.

7th September: Seawathcing in strong north west winds would had been disappointing had it not been for less than 10 minutes with two flocks of birds passing through making the day. First a flock of 14 Avocets flying low over the waves and I had barely taken the scope off them as they disappeared in the distance when I spotted a flock of 51 Garganey! It was the first sizeable flock of the species I have seen I in autumn. Cory's shearwater were passing close to shore, two Marsh harriers benefitted the tail wind, two Sandwhich terns and an Audouin's gull completed the list.

8th September: Calmer north west winds was better conditions making even a a better morning seawatch. 8 Purple herons were the first to migrate over, followed by more herons: 1, 24, 8 (33 in all) Grey heron and 13 Little Egret. Marsh harriers started early appearing first as specks over the horizon in singles and small groups. A total of 37 was recorded. A Quail whizzed past as did four Garganeys all drakes. Turnstones still there but only three now. The best however was yet another Avocet flock! This was slightly larger, 17!

Record shot of the 17 Avocets, the largest flock I have seen yet! Taken by T. Micallef

9th September: Off to Buskett in the afternoon it was...the first two flocks of Honey Buzzards (10, 12), incoming in their typical glide against the wind. Moreover two Black kites, 7 Marsh harrier and 3 Hobby were sighted. An Eleonora's falcon showed well too. 20 Night herons alighted from the trees calling as they went as well as a Grey Heron. Finally more than 200 Bee-eaters, an Alpine swift, a few Common Swifts, Swallows and the first House martins were emptying the skies from insects.

10th Septmber: The cruel truth of birdwatching and maybe even more with day you go home happy and excited the next you go home thinking what was the point of getting out of bed! Variable winds and very little movement. 6 and 7 Little egrets and four Grey herons was all really with only two Turnstones now.

Buskett was better tough. Arrived only to hear that we had lost two Ospreys, for which it has been a really poor migration so far! 9 Honey Buzzards and 8 Marsh harriers were circling around, no migration evident. Hobbies peaked with at least 18 birds hunting around and about. Then the bird I and others had been hoping for was spotted, another Osprey, flashing white in the sunlight then taking a glide, wings bent in a shallow M. The 6th so far and my first this autumn. It was followed by yet another great bird, a Pallid harrier male!

A week of calm and variable wind is not looking bright but we'll see and look forward to anything migration throws at us!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Some more birding

29th August: Nothing much to see from a short seawatch, the usual Cory's shearwaters, an Audouin's gull, a juvenile yet again, and 3 Sandwhich tern.

30th August: More entertaining birding with a trickle of raptors from Buskett. Best of which was a Black kite and two adult Honey Buzzards. Eight Marsh harriers, a Montagu's harrier and a Grey heron also passed by. The first flock of Bee-eaters filled the air with their characteristic calls.

31st August: Not a bad day either, being still in the beginning at least...A hunting Eleonora's falcon light phase made the day. 12 Marsh harrier were sighted as were a Hobby and a Honey Buzzard adult. Two Turtle Doves whizzed down into the valley, been a very poor year so far for this beautiful but declining species. A Woodchat shrike perched shortly was the only interesting passerine apart from a total of 145 migrating and roosting Yellow wagtails.

1st September: The great month for watching everyone here looks forward to started off with three Purple herons over Salina. Even better were 8 Turnstones feeding along the coast. Probably it was the same flock seen on Sunday with two additions. A small flock of 5 Grey heron and a Purple heron made up the list of birds of note.
An Avocet was reported from Ghadira and we were off on the first September twitch. Seen it quite a few times before but not a bird to be missed! Other waders were two Dunlins, two Ringed Plover, and a few Little Stint and Little Ringed plovers.
Buskett in the afternoon produced 7 Marsh harrier, a Common Kestrel was all raptorwise. Furthermore a flock of 52 Bee-eater, the first Hoopoe this autumn and 135 Yellow wagtail.
2nd September: Best day so far since starting monitoring from Buskett this passage! Light to moderate south west and some cloud cover are good conditions for seeing raptors here. Marsh harriers started passing in singles and small flocks amounting to 38 birds. More exciting were Montagu's harriers migrating against the wind, 15 in all. The last eight roosted round about the countryside. How many will continue their migration south tomorow is another question with probably a very sad answer!
Two Kestrels and a Hobby were spotted too. Night herons made their prescence felt as they left their roost, 34 from Buskett flying across the sky V formation and another flock of 9. Finally it was nice to see 9 Turtle doves in all as the wind started picking up as the day started to come to an end.