Monday, October 24, 2011

Autumn migration: Ringing mostly!

Passerines were to be the highlight this autumn both as Raptor migration ended early this year and in terms of numbers it was a poor passage and as I was often at Simar and spent a weekend on Comino were ringing is the main activity.

7th October: A Red-breasted Flycatcher down in Buskett valley made everyone happy, not only being scarce but quite a nice species.

12th October: Unfortunately too long gaps in birding thanks to having started university but at least two mornings off for birding! Went to Qawra, Etna visible and a full moon producing a small passage of ducks. 21 Pintail followed by another 5, 5 Shoveler and 2 Common Teal. 4 Linnets migrated overhead.

14th October: Quite a lot of activity at Simar: 3 Snipe, a Dunlin, fishing Kingfishers, Little grebe, Water Rail and a Common Teal. The best was a Yellow-browed warbler tough! Present for the last week nearly. Had not seen this almost annual autumn vagrant for a while now so it was about time I caught up on one. Other passerines where a Grey Wagtail, first Stonechats, a Subalpine Warbler, Gardern Warbler, first Chiffchaffs and a Great Reed Warbler amongst others. My first time ringing myself, thanks to a few Spanish Sparrows being cought, got also to ring a Robin and garden Warbler...needless to say I was extremely happy!

19th October: Simar again. A nice gathering of wildfowl present, best being a female Pochard, a species I had failed to see since 2007. Moreover an adult Pintail and 7 Common teals. Did not get to ring anything myself, but seeing a 1st year Bluethroat in the hand was great all the same! First time there were a good number of Chiffchaffs too.

1st year male Bluethroath! Great bird!

20th October: Up to Buskett after uni, an uninjured Scops Owl was to be released after being found on the side of a busy road. Amazing bird and good to see it fly off well. A Merlin was on the hunt for the numerous passerines in the valley. The last peak of Swallows with 400 gathering before dusk, as well as 150 House Martins. 8 Sky larks settled shortly in front of us, first Dunnock, 10 Chaffinches and a Linnet.

21st October: Day off! Started early at Simar. Lured a Grey Wagtail into the nets with mp3, my first in the hand and got to ring it myself. Furthermore ringed a Reed Warbler which we concluded was a of the subspecies fuscus. Quite a few Blackcaps in the olive orchard which I was happy to ring a few of!

In the evening we set of being nearly the whole gang of young birders, for a weekend on Comino. arrived a bit late for any real birding and the ringers present were closing the nets for the night. Had a delicious grilled suasages and burgers tough before we tried to sleep full of excitement for the two days to come!

22nd October: No luck with any Scops owls or nightjar at twighlight, but quite a few birds after that. Mostly Robins, but a few Song Thrushes, Starlings, Skylarks, Blackcaps and Stonechats gave a good mixture. Showers meant that we ahd to close the nets a few times but still got up to 87 birds ringed in total.

23rd October: Another futile early start, but once the sun was shining its first rays of light over the island something interesting was found in the net. Extracting it i tought it was a female Redstart, and was content at that. But when taking measurements it became apparent it was too small for a Common Redstart. There was only one possibility left! Moussier's redstart! 12th record of the species and the first ringed! Shortly afterwards yet another was cought from the same net! Must have come in together with the southerly winds! Needless to say the atmosphere around the station was happy one!

The lack of cloud cover resulted in the nets becoming too visible as the sun rose higher on the sky and the number of birds cought decresed to nearly none per round. We flushed a Nightjar but it managed to evade the nets. Still it was an amazing weekend, got to ring 40 birds myself which I couldn't grumble about and in great company! Even better this evening I'm off for another weekend on the island!

1st year female and male Blackcap!

One of 4 Skylarks ringed.

One of two Moussier's Redstarts, 1st year female, and a fiirst record in the hand for Malta!

Monday, October 3, 2011

End of Summer Holidays

Failed once again to keep updated due to spending most of the time in the field and when not working on the trip report on our holiday to Finnmark, Norway early this summer which will be posted soon. Had some exciting days however to conclude the summer holidays and I'll include only those.

A good seawatching morning was 24th September producing as highlights a Great White Egret, 2 Great Crested Grebes and 2 Slender-billed gull, the latter two species being yearers. As a bonus was 76 Grey heron in small flocks, a Purple heron and a small influx of birds of prey...42 Honey Buzzards and 33 Marsh harrier. We went up as quickly as possible to Buskett, we expected a peak. For this year it was. Nothing spectacular though with many migrating high up and on a broadfront. 220 Marsh harrier and c100 Honey buzzard in all. 3 Ospreys, a Pallid harrier, 2 Sparrowhawks and a juvenile Peregrine falcon made the day. On the 25th September the dark phase Eleonora's falcon that had been hunting in Buskett valley for a week was shot from inside the bird sanctuary, when on it favourite perch! As a mere compensation 2 Hoopoes were seen coming in from the sea, and four Ospreys sighted in the afternoon.

26th September: A lifer in the morning...a Black Tern seen mobbed by gulls. Only the second sighting this year, but even when coming in good numbers it had eluded me so far. Another interesting sighting was a Nightjar coming in from the sea in broad daylight after trying to land on a yacht!

28th September: After a rather boring day we got a report of 3 White Storks perched near a football ground in Mgarr. First disbelief, then panic that we would be too late as it was soon dark!We arrived to quite a scene! Storks were perched on the floodlights above a chaos of shouting children, hunters and birders right in the middle of the village all awed by such an unusual sight for Malta! What's more they were ringed, in the fading light we managed to read Budapest! Hungarian White Storks! Confirmed in the morning when they left peacefully! In Malta such a story couldn't have a happy ending, they were shot down in the south of Malta later in the day...

29th September: On the bus stop waiting to get up to Buskett after work, when I got a call from a fellow birder. Lesser Spotted eagle! When I finally arrived it had already migrated, but soon another was spotted coming in from the same direction!! It became even more unbelievable when two more came in later in the afternoon! They gave stunning views soaring low over Buskett! It got even better with a juvenile Short-toed eagle flying over! A Steppe Buzzard not quite as exciting but still a good addition to a lengthening yearlist. At dusk one of the LSE flew down to roost in an adjacent valley to meet its fate...a volley of shots...

Lesser Spotted Eagle juvenile, photo by N Galea

A Sparrowhawk also gracing the sky with the eagles, by N Galea

The North easterly wind continued producing more eagles the next day! Four Short-toed eagles this time! I was at work and couldn't leave all afternoon...quite a lot of cursing to say the least. More cursing from the birders that saw one of the eagles being shot down! The fate of the others is not known. 3rd October: Morning at Simar, helping out with cutting some reeds to prevent the overgrowing of all the shorelines as well as observing the ringing. A Common Snipe was a first in the hand for me, and a Collored flycathcer was a good record for autumn. Other birds were a Wryneck, a Kingfisher of the 5 or so present, Willow, Reed, Garden and Wood Warblers.

Lack of sleep cought up on me when I got home, slept an hour and feeling like continuing to sleep I had to convince myself that I shouldn't miss Buskett. Nearly there when I got a call about something I in the hast of sprinting up the hill I did not quite catch. But 4 Lesser Spotted Eagles soaring above us with a Black kite was well worth it! Saw them leave northwards, where another birder saw them get shot at. Soon after only three immeadiately roosted with an injury to its left wing, another with missing secondaries...You start wishing such majestic birds do not come to Malta! After enjoying them alive you have to witness them being killed or injured by poachers. Suddenly a call of Booted eagle light phase! Sure was! Soaring above us was the lifer I and others of the younger generation had longed to see it been quite a few years since it was sighted from autumn migration!

Collared Flycatcher ringed at Simar, quite rare in autumn

The flock of Lesser Spotted Eagles before they were shot at by poachers, Photo by N Galea

Photos of the Booted Eagle at dusk by N Galea