As the seasons begin to change and the hot sun of summer starts to cool, migratory bird species all across Europe prepare for their epic journey to Africa to spend the winter months. Situated in the middle of the Mediterranean and between the two continents, Malta is perfectly placed to witness the wonders of migration as it happens!
To mark this exceptional time of year, two weekends ago BirdLife Malta invited the public to participate in their Migration Festival – two days of fun-filled activities offering the opportunity to witness first-hand the thrill of this mammoth expedition undertaken by millions of birds every year.
Coinciding with the peak autumn migration period, the festival formed part of the BirdLife Partnership’s biggest annual event, EuroBirdwatch, bringing thousands of participants together from the 41 countries to enjoy this fascinating natural phenomenon, with this year attracting over 21,000 bird enthusiasts alone.
The weekend started in the leafy surroundings of Għadira Nature Reserve – currently host to an unmissable juvenile Greater Flamingo – where the BirdLife Malta team were joined by excited children, families and adults ready to watch a bird ringing demonstration. Led by veteran birders and BirdLife Malta Council members Raymond and Nicholas Galea, the two-hour session invited the inquisitive group of 25 to learn all about the importance of ringing for monitoring birds and the fascinating facts of the species of birds ringed that day, including a Bluethroat (Rożinjol Ikħal) – a scarce species owing its name to its distinctive blue colouring! The group were also able to observe the ringing of Garden Warblers, Subalpine Warblers, a Common Redstart, a Nightingale, and a Robin to name a few, making the 7:30am start well worth it!
The afternoon continued in one of Malta’s best birdwatching spots and rare woodland areas, Buskett. Accompanied by 90 eager birdwatchers and a spirited group of scouts from the Żurrieq Scout Group, Field Teacher Kathleen Galea and Reserves Warden David Attard, with the help of the BirdLife Malta education team, led the group on foot to prime watch points. This time of year is often an especially good time to witness raptor migration and so when the Marsh Harriers started circling the skies, it marked a successful end to a day’s birdwatching!
On to the Sunday and BirdLife Malta prepared for its final event of the weekend, a second guided birdwatching session, this time at Laferla Cross limits of Siġġiewi. The day was filled with anticipation as children and families looked to the skies to see what the afternoon’s migration would bring! Despite not the best turnout of species, the glimpse of Hobbies, Kestrels but also the occasional Black Kite still lit up everyone’s faces, with a graceful male Pallid Harrier (Bagħdan Abjad) – a scarce migrant for the Maltese Islands – being the star of the show.
With a total of around 250 participants, this year’s Migration Festival was a memorable one for BirdLife Malta. This was made particularly special by the sightings of around 1,250 different birds, contributing to the grand total of around four million birds counted all across the continent during all 934 of the EuroBirdwatch17 events!
We are proud to say that even though we are one of the smallest partners in the BirdLife family, we are delighted to have seen such an fantastic outcome. This was all the more rewarding due to the enthusiasm and engagement shown by everyone who chose to participate and we are so happy to have been able to share this experience with so many.
Raising awareness about wild bird conservation and the importance of protecting precious habitats is part of BirdLife Malta’s ongoing mission, as well as taking actions to actively rescue, rehabilitate and release birds which have become exhausted or injured whilst migrating. This work would not be possible without the ongoing support of our members and the public. To help save more birds, you can support BirdLife Malta’s latest campaign today: http://www.zaar.com.mt/projects/isavebirds.
By Jessica Irwin, BirdLife Malta Communications Officer
(This blog post was originally published by the Sunday Times of Malta last Sunday)