Sunday, November 4, 2012

When raptors spread their wings

Honey buzzard

The autumn raptor migration is in full swing. 

Every day thousands of birds of prey start a precarious journey south to avoid the cold weather in their breeding grounds in Europe. Their routes will take them over forests, mountains lakes and rivers. 

Not being fond of wide sea crossings many will veer to the west over France, Spain and Gibraltar to cross into Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar. 

Others will take an eastern route, reaching Africa via Turkey, where they only have to cross the narrow Istanbul Strait which is also known as the Bosphorus.

Other raptors, including many birds of prey from Scandinavia, take a route directly south, flying over Italy, Sicily and over Malta and from here to North Africa.

Migrating raptors avoid wide sea crossings because when soaring, they use rising air currents, known as thermals, which form above land but not above water.

In Malta, raptors can be seen throughout September. The largest numbers arrive during the third week. The most common species are marsh harrier (bugħadam aħmar), honey buzzard (kuċċarda), hobby (seqer tal-ħannieqa) and kestrel (spanjulet). Other species are seen especially falcons such as the Eleonora’s Falcon (bies tar-reġina) as well as several species of eagle.

Watching migrating raptors can be an unforgettable experience and the beautiful thing about it is that no experience is needed to enjoy the spectacle. On good days hundreds of raptors can be seen soaring; some high and some very low. Late in the afternoon many close their wings and dive for the trees to roost. 

One of the best spots to watch the raptors is in the area just outside Buskett Gardens known as Clapham Junction.

I have watched migrating raptors in several places in Europe, Asia and Africa but up to now I have not been to a place where these majestic birds can be seen as beautifully as at Buskett. 

If Buskett and the surrounding areas continue to be strictly protected, every autumn, birders from other parts of the world will start visiting Malta specifically to watch raptors migrating over Buskett. 

This article was published in The Times on 19.09.2012

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