The annual boat trips to Ta’ Cenc organised by BirdLife Malta took place last week. As the breeding season of our commonest breeding seabird is in full swing, members had the chance to witness one of the most beautiful natural phenomena in the Maltese archipelago. Families, birders and nature photographers enjoyed a few hours observing Scopoli’s Shearwaters (Calonectris diomedea) off Gozo’s coast. Before setting off participants were given a short talk about the ongoing EU Life+ Malta Seabird Project, with its head researcher Dr. Benjamin Metzger explaining the main research methods and aims of the project. It focuses on three Maltese breeding seabirds (the Scopoli’s Shearwater, Yelkouan Shearwater and European Storm Petrel) and the conservation of their habitat, both on land and at sea.
Ta’ Cenc has up to one thousand breeding pairs, the largest Scopoli’s Shearwater colony locally. Other bird species such as the Short-toed Lark and the Blue Rock Thrush also breed in the garigue and steppe on these cliffs, which is one of Malta’s thirty nine Natura 2000 sites. Large groups of these shearwaters gather almost each night at dusk, close to their breeding sites in the cliffs. This grouping of seabirds as they await total darkness to enter their respective burrows, is known as rafting. We encountered small rafts at first, with some birds shearing the water’s surface by our boat. Everyone was amazed at the sight of these wonderful seabirds, especially with hazy cliffs and sunset in the backdrop.
After a while in the area surrounded by these rafts, we headed back to mainland Malta while the rafts gradually moved closer to the cliff face. On our way back a few Yelkouan Shearwaters whizzed past and some Yellow-legged Gulls flew overhead, keeping us entertained for the remainder of our pelagic trip. These boat trips are always a success, and to keep it that way we must maintain and support all local conservation efforts for our seabirds.
By Tim Micallef