I had the opportunity to visit the island of Malta for the first time this week, on a work related assignment, flying out from Leeds to Rome, on to Reggio de Calabrio, then to Luqa on Malta. The first full day was spent initially at the tiny Għadira Nature Reserve in the north of the island. Pretty much the only decent wetland site on the whole of the island, which can be viewed from elevated sites either side of the reserve. On finding the site entrance, which was heavily padlocked, I met the warden who kindly invited me in and allowed access to both hides. He explained the reserve was only open to the public at the weekend, but during the week was used to share the islands nature with the local schoolchildren.
The shallow pools held several Little Egrets and a Grey Heron, and a reasonable selection of waders including 25 Ruff, several Wood Sandpipers, Black-winged Stilts, Little Ringed Plovers, Little Stints, Snipe and a Curlew Sandpiper.
The reserve held the first larger birds that I had seen, as it was incredibly noticeable the total lack of any birds such as corvids, thrushes, gulls or anything other than Sardinian Warblers, Fan-tailed Warblers and Spanish Sparrows. A Hoopoe was flushed from one of the paths, and was seen minutes later hanging in a mist-net, being one of the few birds ringed there that day. It was mentioned that numbers were generally low, and that they would be expecting good numbers of Wood Warblers in the tamarisk at this time of the year.
Just before leaving the reserve, a distant flock of c.30 Night Herons were seen flying toward a distant headland. The warden advised that he hoped that the herons moved on, as the official start of the Spring shooting season was due to start on the Wednesday 13th. A drive on the nearby hillside provided distant views of several Blue Rock Thrushes, but little else.
In the afternoon, booked in to the Raddison Blu Golden Sands hotel for meetings, and on the room window had my first moth, a Double-striped Pug. The only other moths seen were a Vestal and a micro which has yet to be identified.
Little opportunity to do much on the Wednesday, but had a Yellow-legged Herring Gull from the hotel, heard several Blackcaps and Corn Buntings. Thursday was spent visiting Air Malta, before being free in the afternoon, when I revisited the reserve in the north of the island. Just looking from the raised areas, the numbers of birds seemed fairly similar, although the Little Egrets now numbered c.20 in total. Walking around on the headland in the north-east of the island, confirmed that there was rather little about, except I did add a fabulous male Pied Flycatcher, an Egyptian Goose (?!), several Tree Pipits and a couple of Chaffinches. This was probably the best time of the year to visit Malta, due the profusion of flowering plants and greenery swathing the rocky terrain; I can imagine a summer visit would be rather dried out and brown. A few butterflies, mainly Clouded Yellows, smaller and larger White spp.. and a good number of the Maltese race of the Swallowtail.
A gentle drive back down the west coast of the island along the high cliffs, produced the first Wheatears, which were all Northern Wheatears.
The whole island is dotted by small stone-walled bothys, most with canvas or timber canopies, which were where the shooters would secrete themselves before blasting unsuspecting migrants from the sky.
I should consider myself very fortunate that I only heard several gunshots, and did not see any hunters. But the total lack of larger birds was very evident, and I was fortunate to bump into a carload of workers from Birdlife International who were there monitoring the carnage that is still perbretated on an anuual basis with the full blessing of the Maltese governement. Absolutely scandalous that this slaughter is allowed in these supposedly enlightened times, and full credit to those few enlightened people running the reserves and trying to re-educate the locals.