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Malta

Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan ©Frank Dhermain

The Maltese Islands lie in the centre of the Mediterranean. They are 96km from the most southern tip of Sicily and 288km to the nearest point in Tunisia. The total area is 315.6 km2. The main Islands are Malta, Gozo and Comino. The climate is typically Mediterranean with hot, dry summers and very mild, rather moist winters (occasionally not so moist).

Habitat

Most types of habitat found in Malta are pretty much disturbed, and consist of cultivated land (44%); maquis (2.8%); garigue (12%) (including maritime); steppe (2%); cliff side (2%); clay slopes (0.5%); boulder screens (0.5%) and afforested areas (1.2%). The remaining 29% is built up and roads.

Afforested areas or woodland is a rare habitat due to human interference and few patches of native forest remain. Some areas have been planted by man but are now regenerating on their own. Most typical trees found here are evergreen oak and Aleppo pine.

Maquis is found mainly along valley sides. It is a habitat of mainly small trees and large shrubs. It is a more sheltered environment with deeper soil and more water. Typical trees include olive, carob, lentisk, bay laurel and bear`s breeches.

Garigue is a widespread habitat, which develops on karstland or as a result of a degraded maquis. It is an exposed habitat with little soil and sparse water. This is a habitat dominated by low vegetation, especially hardy aromatic shrubs. There are three types of plants: annuals which grow in winter and spend the summer as seeds; geophytes which are perennial plants with a dormant stage as bulbs and evergreen which are perennials which live throughout but must be adapted. Typical plants include Mediterranean heath, wild thyme, olive-leaved germander, Maltese spurge, rock roses and Maltese pyramidal orchid.

Steppe is an unstable and difficult environment. There are two types: natural and man-made. The natural steppe is generally made up of clay slopes. The typical plant is esparto grass. The man-made is habitat once exploited by man such as abandoned fields and overgrazed garigue.

Coastal an inland cliffs are so to speak vertical garigue. There is hardly any soil or water. Here plants occupy small ledges and cracks and are typically small shrubs. Plants on the coastal cliffs have to adapt to exposure to salty winds. Inland cliffs, valley sides and fortifications are home to many endemic plants. Typical plants include Maltese salt tree, Maltese rock centaury, Maltese everlasting, Maltese cliff-orache, caper and white snapdragon.

Coastal communities are divided into three habitats. Sand dunes a very rare due to human impact and the fact that less than 2% of coastline is made up of sandy beaches. Sand dunes are important for coastal protection and also contain many rare plants (many already extinct). It is an environment where plants have to adapt to drought, salt and shifting sands. The typical tree is the tamarisk and plants include sea holly and sea daffodil. Rocky shores contain patches of shallow and saline soil. Only salt tolerant species of plants survive and these include golden samphire and the endemic Zerapha`s sea lavender. Saline marshland forms a boundary between the marine, freshwater and terrestrial environment. During the wet season rainwater mixes with salt water to form brackish water. This environment is home to many specialised flora, which include rushes, reeds and golden samphire.

Freshwater is normally found in valleys and watercourses. Valleys are important water catchment areas, but very few watercourses hold water throughout the year. Valleys support a maquis type of vegetation. Typical trees include white poplar, willow and grey elm. Typical plants include great reed and Sicilian squill.

Rock Pools form in winter on small depressions found on karstland. Water-crowfoot is atypical plant found in rock pools.

Disturbed ground is a very common habitat (unfortunately). Such land has been degraded by human activities. Typical flora includes grasses and annuals, most of which are alien species. Alien species in such habitat include eucalyptus, castor oil tree, crown daisy, cape sorrel and prickly pear.

The birds

The number of species recorded in Malta is 375 with a great number of vagrants. 200 is more or less the number recorded annually.

If one wants to bird watch in Malta timing is of the utmost importance. It is during migration that good numbers (sometimes large numbers) of birds are seen. Few birds breed on Malta so summer is pretty quiet. Some birds winter in Malta but these are generally the commoner species. Weather is also a determining factor. This may result in a dream day full of birds or not a single feather for the record.

Breeding species are few mainly because of human persecution mostly hunting, trapping, and destruction of habitat. However, they include Yellow-legged gull, Cory’s shearwater, Levantine (Mediterranean) shearwater, Storm petrel, Moorhen, Little ringed plover, Short-toed lark, Blue rock thrush, Cetti’s warbler, Zitting cisticola (Fan-tailed warbler); Spectacled warbler, Sardinian warbler, Reed warbler, Spotted flycatcher, Starling, Tree sparrow, Spanish sparrow, Chaffinch and Corn bunting. Other occasional breeders include Little bittern, Common kestrel, Short-eared owl, Turtle dove, Cuckoo, Woodchat shrike, Quail, Swift, Swallow, House martin, Tawny pipit, Black-eared wheatear, Nightingale, Robin, Great reed warbler, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet and Serin. The Peregrine, Barn owl and Jackdaw are examples of species that used to breed but have been extirpated. It is during migration that things get going and many species, occasionally in large numbers pass through. Both the spring and autumn passages are of interest.

Hunting and trapping is a very big problem in Malta. Hundreds of thousands of birds are shot and trapped every year. They are shot both from land and from powerboats out at sea, and this is where the larger number are shot. Birdwatching can be somewhat perilous unless you know where to go at the right time as a good number of hunters consider birders as a threat and can be intolerant to say the least. Anybody interested in birding in Malta, should contact a local birder or BirdLife Malta for further information.

Maltese birdwatchers and birdwatching organisations need support from British Tourists if the slaughter is ever to end.

When and where to watch birds in Malta

January: Mostly resident and wintering birds. Best birding: Wooded areas, harbours, reserves. Everywhere is rather quiet.
February: Mostly resident and wintering birds. Appearance of first migrants. Best birding: Same as in January.
March: Migration begins, usually starting to peak towards the middle of the month. Highlights include good passages of ducks (mainly Garganeys and Pintails); herons, raptors (mainly Black kite, Marsh harrier and Kestrel) and early migrants such as Hoopoes, cuckoos and wheatears. Best birding: NW coast for sea watching. Anywhere is good.

April: Peak migration. Anything can be expected. Good number of birds on most days. Best birding: Island of Comino, Ghadira Nature Reserve and Simar Nature Reserve, (mainly because other places are invaded by hunters).
May: Migration starts to dwindle but presence of late migrants can be quite interesting. Best birding: Comino, Ghadira Nature Reserve, Simar Nature Reserve and along the coast for Sea watching.
June: June is one of the quietest months. Only resident and breeding species are found. Occasionally there are some very late migrants. Best birding. Weather hot, birds few. The two reserves and Buskett are the only places worth visiting in the early morning.

July: Breeding birds in full activity. Early autumn migrants start to appear mainly waders. Best birding: The two reserves and places suitable for breeding birds. A night visit to the cliffs in Gozo and the south of Malta is recommended to hear Cory`s shearwater.
August: Breeding birds with fledglings and resident birds. First herons and raptors start to appear. Best birding: Same as above plus sea watching along the eastern coast of Malta.
September: Migration is in full swing. Anything can be expected. Highlights good numbers of raptors with late arrivals during the day trying to roost mostly at a small patch of woodland called Buskett. Best birding: Buskett for raptors especially in the afternoon. Sea watching along the eastern coast.

October: Peak Migration of many birds including the arrival of the first wintering birds. Best birding: Anywhere but especially along the North Eastern coast.
November: Late autumn migrants pass in good numbers. Wintering birds increase in numbers. Best birding: As above plus the North Western coast.
December: Occasional late migrants and wintering birds much in evidence. Best birding: Woodlands, reserves, harbours and coast.

Contributor

Michael Sammut

fulmar@global.net.mt

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 378

National Bird: Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarus

Checklist

Checklist

WebBirder Checklist

Fatbirder's very own checklists are now available through WebBirder

Useful Reading

Checklist of the Birds of Malta

20 pages BirdLife Malta 2004

ISBN: 165521

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Where to Watch Birds and Other Wildlife in Malta

Alex Casha 91 pages, b/w illus, maps. BirdLife Malta 2004

ISBN: 9990962014

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Useful Information

National Bird

Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius

Organisations

BirdLife Malta

Website

28 Marina Court, Triq Rigord, TaXbiex MSD 12. + 356 34 7646 blm@orbit.net.mt

The Yelkouan Shearwater Project

Website

The Yelkouan Shearwater Project is a partnership of organisations, part-funded by EU LIFE, which will give Yelkouan Shearwaters Puffinus yelkouan in Malta a bright future. The Maltese islands are very important for these seabirds. An estimated 1,500 pairs are known to breed here, which equals approximately 10% of the world’s Yelkouan Shearwater population. With the help of the EU LIFE Fund, a partnership of three conservation organisations and four government authorities are working together to reverse population declines and reduce future threats to the birds…

Reserves

Wetlands

Website

Malta presently has 2 sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance, with a surface area of 16 hectares.

Trip Reports

CloudBirders

Trip Report Repository

CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.

2003 [April] - Saul Cowen

Report

Normally I would`ve been fairly excited to visit the Med in April as it would provide me with opportunities with connecting with a lot of migrants as well as the residents. However as Malta has a reputation for being the centre of the annual slaughter of European migrant birds, I wasn`t sure whether it would be worth my while even taking my bins…

2012 [April] - Howard Williams - Malta & Comino

Report

…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…

Guides & Tour Operators

Birding Pal

Information

Local birders willing to show visiting birders around their area…

Other Links

Birding in Malta

Website

Birding in Malta, is a very informative website, designed to help both the locals and the foreigners to learn more about the Birds of Malta and lead them to understand that in Malta, a wide variety of Birds can be seen, especially during migration…

Birding in Malta

Website

The Maltese Islands are mostly ideal for the birdwatchers that are visiting the islands with their families. This is because the islands being quite small, anyone can spend a few hours of birdwatching in sites that are reached in a few minutes. One major drawback though, is the amount of bird hunters and trappers found scattered around the islands, especially during the migration period. It is therefore advisory for visiting birders to make a contact beforehand with the local birdwatchers. Safe and relaxing birdwatching will be guaranteed.

Birds & Hunting in Malta

Website

Malta has one of the world`s highest number of hunters per capita, who shoot and kill any bird that flies. The skies over Malta and the surrounding sea are devoid of birds. Each year, 3 million birds are shot or trapped on Malta while migrating between Africa and Europe in the spring and autumn, leading to a gradual decline of these beloved European birds that traditionally seek refuge in Malta.

Birds of Malta

Website

Checklist…

Malta Checklist

Website

The following is the species checklist of the birds recorded in Malta. All species listed are officially accepted. The status is also given. The species, the sequence and the scientific nomenclature all follow those adopted for the new Concise Edition of the Birds of the Western Palearctic. English names are those adopted by British Birds in 1993.

Malta Tourist Action

Website

Birds and hunting… a way to protest against the slaughter of birds in Malta…

Malta's National Bird

Website

Malta's national bird is the Blue Rock-Thrush…

Nature Trust Malta

Website

Nature Trust (Malta) was officially launched by His Excellency the President of the Republic on Friday 8 January 1999 following the merger between the Society for the Study and Conservation of Nature (SSCN) founded 1962, Arbor founded 1983 and Verde founded 1997 and later in 2001 -Marine Life Care Group (MLCG)…