Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The sounds of Malta's summer

Cicada (Cicada orni)
This year, summer started later than usual and it seems that it is ending earlier as well. It has already rained and the temperature is going down but summer is not just sunny days and high temperatures. Summer, like every other season has its characteristic sounds and smells which together differentiate it from every other season.

The sound I associate most with a Maltese summer is that of the cicada the large insect that looks like a fly that spends days on end making a loud buzzing noise. 

During the night, when the cicada stops singing, the cricket takes over. This nocturnal insect used to be very common but like many other insects, especially those that live in agricultural areas, it has decreased in number probably because of the use of pesticides. 

Country people used to catch crickets and take them home to hear them sing. They caught them by placing a wet cloth on the ground in a field in which tomatoes were being grown. In the morning they collected the crickets from beneath the cloth and placed them in special cages or in a tin can.

Those walk in parts of the countryside where the bear’s breaches grows can also hear the sound of its seed pods as they crack open in the heat. The sound which resembles that of a small pistol is followed by that of its large seeds of falling on the large dry leaves of this plant.

Spanish sparrows gather in large trees to roost every evening but in summer their numbers and the noise they make reaches a peak as the population is augmented by the recently fledged birds.

In early July the first autumn migrants appear in the Maltese islands. The first birds to arrive are the waders which leave their breeding grounds in the far north immediately as soon as their short breeding season is over. They have to move south as weather at such latitudes is very unpredictable and it can snow even in August.

For those with trained ears the shrill call of another migrant bird, the kingfisher, becomes another common summer sound. Kingfishers arrive in August. They often perch on a rock along the coast waiting for a right-sized fish to swim by. It flies low over the water often making a short sharp whistle, chee, repeated two or three times. 

The most common sound nowadays is that of the ubiquitous car which can be heard even from Comino where no cars are present and because of this we often miss the beautiful natural sounds which were once part of the Maltese environment.

This article was published in The Times on 15.09.2010

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