from The Times of Malta, 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
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.