Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
While there is a lot of negative press about shooting on Malta there is another totally different side to it too. There are innumerable sites for bird watching on the island where you don’t have to experience any shooting. Shooting in spring is now highly regulated with the situation now much improved on what it used to be in the past. I for one didn’t want any negative experiences on the island and found it very easy to enjoy my birding at areas that were full of birds and not one person around to spoil it.
My first outing of the week started at 6.30am on the 22nd and we travelled to a small valley with some tiered field systems. The field systems were a little unkempt and the habitats were varied from semi-agricultural to shrubby vegetation with some small ponds interspersed. There were almond trees throughout the area with bramble (Rubus spp.) abundant. Throughout the next hour we recorded pied flycatcher, spotted flycatcher, redstart, whinchat, garden warbler, whitethroat, woodchat shrike, golden oriole, nightingale, sedge warbler and various other small passerines on spring migration. Resident species recorded were the ubiquitous fan tailed warbler, Sardinian warbler, collared dove and blue rock thrush. This was a high value system of habitats for birds and one could spend longer here looking for more bird species if you wanted to.
The next area we went to was a large salt pan system. These areas were clearly used for salt production in the past and have excellent habitat present for wading birds as well as gulls. We spotted two Gull billed terns almost immediately upon arrival and then a Slender billed gull. Small numbers of ringed plover, one little ringed plover, one redshank and ten little egrets were also seen at this area. It is expansive and could hold a lot more birds so another visit will be penned in here for the return visit next year!
This site is on the west coast of Malta. It is scenically stunning as a site with cliffs that are breath-taking. The open areas around the car parks have the habit of recording the majority of rare wheatears on the island. Both Isabelline wheatear and desert wheatear were recorded in March of 2012 (40 Isabelline in one week actually!!).
Unfortunately we recorded only some northern wheatears here so we moved on to our next site.
We went to the airport to see if there were any harriers in the grass verges. Red throated pipits were present here during the past week.
Nothing spotted after looking for 20 minutes so we headed to the United Bar for some world class rabbit. This place is in Mgarr beside the church and definitely worth a visit. The food is amazing.
This site produced a Lesser short toed lark a few weeks ago however it had moved on by the time we visited unfortunately. The area is open scrub habitats with low stone walls throughout. Birds were scarce on the ground as this habitat is a poor supporting environment for local breeding birds. Breeding birds in the area here were Sardinian warbler and Spectacled warbler. We noted a few Woodchat Shrikes moving through and one wheatear – a northern!
Having never visited Ghadira Nature Reserve at the north of the island I decided that it would be a good opportunity to go as I was travelling to Cirkewwa to catch the ferry to Comino later that day. Ghadira is an aquatic area of brackish water where saline intrusion has created an area full of shrimp and other invertebrates. There is a series of small islands and the fringes of the aquatic habitat have extensive shrubs and reeds. The water is shallow for the most part and supports a good number of species both on migration but also resident. We recorded Eleonoras falcon here in addition to Black winged stilt, coot, squacco heron, ruff, wood sandpiper, little stint, avocet, wood warblers and little egret. The day before we arrived, a red throated pipit was seen at the reserve. Suffice to say that this small number of species we recorded is not representative of the large number of species noted here on migration. This is an excellent venue with top class viewing hides where birds can easily be observed without any disturbance to the birds. A tour guide from BirdLife Malta is always present to help and assist with any requests.
Our last area for birding before we got the ferry to Comino was Ahrax on the headland. Surrounded by cliffs it is a beautiful area with very limited shrubs to the west. We were looking for larks, pipits and any migrating passerines really. We noted 4 short toed larks and some that were definitely migrating as we were able to approach within 5 metres and they didn’t budge – great views of an enigmatic bird. From here we headed north along the cliffs and saw Tawny pipit, tree pipit and northern wheatear. Some migrating kestrels were noted with beeaters heard too.
These six sites were all visited in one day – this is easily done as Malta is very small and easily traversed. We could have seen more species had we stayed more days. I would highly recommend a visit to Malta for spring birding – it has everything you need for an enjoyable trip – lots of birds, good weather, great food and the most important thing, nice people. Without doubt the most welcoming and genuine people I have met on any birding holiday and I’ve been on plenty. I had an amazing week on Comino which is a small island north of Malta with over 20 species seen. I visited the ringing station there and had an amazing experience with some very welcoming Maltese!
Accommodation on Malta – we stayed at Porto Azzuro Hotel in Xemxija – very reasonable rates (€28/night) great rooms and nice food.
Accommodation on Comino – we stayed at the Comino Hotel – reasonable rates and again great staff, nice food (buffet system) and very quiet (it’s the only large inhabited building on the entire island).
We saw over 40 species in the week with the highlight being close views of Nightjar, Scops Owl, Golden Oriole and Collared Flycatcher.
Altogether an extremely enjoyable holiday – I’m booking it for next year again!
Little Ringer Plover