Cold spell brings rare wildfowl to Malta

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Subject: Cold spell brings rare wildfowl to Malta
From: "david camilleri" <>
Date: Fri, 04 Jan 2002 04:45:29 -0500
Friday, January 4, 2002
< Cold spell brings rare wildfowl >

by Natalino Fenech


The cold spell in December brought a large number of waterfowl to Maltese
shores, including some very rare wildfowl.Three red breasted geese, a species of
geese that has never been seen in the Maltese islands before, were shot on December 20.
Two were shot in Gozo and one in Mellieha bay. The ones in Gozo were taken at

Marsalforn and Ghasri valleys.


Red breasted geese breed in the Arctic circle and Russia. A peculiar habit of
such geese is that they nest very close to nests of birds of prey such as

peregrine falcons and rough legged buzzards.


It is believed they do so for protection as gulls and other predators would be
less likely to venture close to their nests to take the eggs or goslings.
Red breasted geese winter in Romania and Bulgaria and they are accidentally seen
in other parts of Europe from Britain to Cyprus. But it is doubtful whether the
individual birds seen in Europe are wild birds or whether they had escaped from
some waterfowl collections or parks and joined other geese on migration, as they

are often known to do.


One of the red breasted geese shot in Gozo was in fact observed with other
larger geese before it was shot. A bean goose and two white fronted geese were
also shot from Malta shortly afterwards on the same day. Small flocks of geese

of up to 40 birds were seen that day.


A smew, a duck that breeds in the northern Taiga and which winters in some
eastern European countries, was seen at the Ghadira reserve on the same day.
Smews are fish eating diving ducks with saw-toothed bills.
The smew is a very rare visitor, last recorded in 1910, when three were shot at

Ghajn Tuffieha. Other individual birds were shot in 1864.


Several ducks, mostly mallards, wigeons, pintails, shelducks and shovelers,
gadwalls as well as teals were seen, some in considerable flocks.
Six tufted ducks and two red crested pochards were among the other rare ducks
spotted in late December. A number of swans were also seen. A flock of 13 birds
was seen. Unfortunately, although protected by law, several of the swans were

shot both from land as well as from seacraft.


Apart from wildfowl, another rarity was the occurrence of a small number of snow
finches. The only record of snow finch dates back to October 1970, when a single
bird was trapped in Gozo.
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david camilleri
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