The majesty of migration

This autumn we completed the last transects of the boat based observations with many interesting sightings of different species. As it was in springtime, autumn is a migration season. The autumn migration appears to be spread over a longer period of time compared to spring migration. Winter visitors are not in such a rush since the urgency of breeding season is not there.

Being an important flyway in the middle of the Mediterranean, Malta hosts several migratory species both during spring and autumn, which every year fly thousands of kilometres from their European breeding sites to their African wintering grounds. Raptors such as Marsh Harriers and Honey Buzzards are common visitors in the Maltese archipelago.

Three marsh harriers flying in the direction of Malta, their main stopover before they reach African sites to winter

Three Honey Buzzards flying in the direction of Malta, their main stopover before they reach African sites to winter

Just like other birds, these magnificent predators start off their migration in a broad front moving across Europe, which narrows into one or more preferred routes termed flyways. These act like bottlenecks, funneling the migrating  birds over key areas. Birds of prey and storks rely on thermal columns of rising hot air to enable them to soar. They have great difficulties to cross large bodies of waters, since thermals only form over land and these birds cannot maintain active flight for long distances. Places like Malta are therefore of great importance for these birds. Spotting them at sea, represents a magnificent and graceful sight.

Other migrants are less commonly spotted at sea. Nevertheless, for instance end of August saw several flocks of Greater Flamingos crossing over Malta. The time of their appearance is probably due to the fact that the birds encountered drought in their breeding areas. In comparison to flamingos, herons and egrets have been recorded more often during transects at sea.

Flock of flamingos migrating over Maltese waters at the end of August.

Flock of Greater Flamingos migrating over Maltese waters at the end of August.

A mix flock of 4 purple herons and 16 little egrets migrating over the sea.

A mix flock of 4 Purple Herons and 16 Little Egrets migrating over the sea.

Some predators take advantage of the concentration of birds during migration and specialize on migrating birds. Eleonora’s Falcon, which stops over Malta during migration, has a very late breeding season coordinated with the autumn passage of southbound passerine migrants which it feeds its young.

Eleonora's Falcon as other raptors cross bodies of water during migration.

Eleonora’s Falcon as other raptors cross bodies of water during migration.

Some migrating passerines landed on the boat and had a short rest before continuing their journey towards Africa, as you can see in the pictures below:

Black redstart resting on board.

Black Redstart resting on board.

Skylark trying to find shelter on our research vessel.

Skylark trying to find shelter on our research vessel.

Starling having a lift on the boat.

Starling having a lift on the boat.

We have continued to witness migration during the autumn months on board but also kept an eye on what happened below the surface, as you can see here:

Common short beaked dolphin swimming gracefully and palyfully at the bow of the boat

Short-beaked Common Dolphin swimming gracefully and palyfully at the bow of the boat

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2 responses to “The majesty of migration

  1. Pingback: My 3 Words # 72 | emilykarn·

  2. Pingback: African, Middle East hunters against soaring bird poaching | Dear Kitty. Some blog·

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