Singing of birds on Malta and Gozo, J Gibb

Tags: winter visitor, infinite variation, CUCKOO, SONG-THRUSH, autumn song, spring passage, MEDITERRANEAN SHEARWATER, BLUE ROCK-THRUSH, SARDINIAN WARBLER, MOUSTACHED WARBLER, Gozo, BLACK-HEADED WAGTAIL, White Wagtail, passage migrant, Malta
Content: (354) SINGING OF BIRDS ON MALTA AND GOZO BY JOHN GIBB. THE following notes on the singing and calling of birds, mostly of species on the British List, were made on Malta and Gozo between September, 1941, and July 1945. They do not pretend to be eompreprehensive on the subject of bird song on these islands, but they may add something to available information on the singing and calling of birds in winter quarters or on passage, a subject for the study of which an island such as Malta is particularly adapted, because all individuals of nearly all the species are definitely migrants. Where my own interpretation of a song or call has differed from that in The Handbook only in its verbal representation, then for the sake of simplicity I have used The Handbook version. But where in my opinion my own interpretation more accurately describes what I have heard I have allowed this to stand. GREENFINCH (Chloris chloris ? aurantiiventris).--winter visitor. The spring and summer call of the male "tsweee," heard regularly from mid-February till departure of birds in mid-March. LINNET (Carduelis cannabina ? mediterranea).--Winter visitor; a few breed in the neighbouring island of Gozo. In good song February and March before the vast majority of birds depart. SERIN (Serinus canariu's serinus).--Winter visitor. Sings persis tently all winter. CHAFFINCH (Fringilla c. caelebs).--Winter visitor. Song complete with terminal flourish recorded once, March 8th, 1945. CORN-BUNTING (Emberiza calandra).--Resident, breeds. Song period as in British Isles except that song is much reduced in July and early August. SHORT-TOED LARK (Calanirella b. hrachydactyla).--Summer visitor, breeds. 1. Ordinary flight call heard at all times. 2. Normal song is sustained from arrival at the end of March until end of June; becomes less frequent throughout July and was only once recorded in August. 3. Plaintive whistling "see-eer." Very distinctive. Seldom heard on arrival until mid-April. Becomes very frequent in late April and continues until the end of July and first week of August. Throughout July it is more commonly heard than the normal song. 4. A musical trill down the scale of 2-3 seconds duration, uttered from the ground or some slight eminence. Quite different from the normal song and perhaps best written "tee-tee-ti-ti-te-te-too-tootoo-too." Heard early May until end of June regularly; in July occasionally; not recorded for August and once September 19th. TREE-PIPIT (Anthus t. trivialis).--Passage-migrant. Not heard in song. The Maltese name Tizz describes thE Note. MEADOW-PIPIT (Anthus pratensis).--Winter visitor. Not heard in song. Maltese name Pespus is again descriptive of the note.
VOL. xxxix.] BIRDS ON MALTA AND GOZO.
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BLACK-HEADED WAGTAIL (Motacitta flava feldegg).--Passagemigrant. No song. Note "shrreep," harsher and less sibilant than the "tsweep" of the Blue- or Ashy-headed Wagtails. It most closely approximates to the "chizz-shrip" note of the White Wagtail, but is distinguishable from it by being monosyllabic. WHITE WAGTAIL (Motacitta A. alba).--Winter visitor and passage migrant. No song. Notes, I, the usual "tschizzik," and 2, the less common "chizz-shrip." WOODCHAT SHRIKE (Lanius s. senator).--Passage-migrant and summer visitor. I likened the song to that of a subdued Starling and lacking the cheery laughing bubbles of that bird. Collared Flycatcher (Muscicafia albicollis).--Notes, 1, a sharp hard "tzit" together with a nervous flick of the wings, and 2, a plaintive whistle "pweeeet." CHIFFCHAFF (Phylloscopus c. collybita).--Passage-migrant and winter visitor. Sings from mid-January onwards. WILLOW-WARBLER (Phylloscopus t.trochilus).--Passage-migrant. Sings regularly in April. MOUSTACHED WARBLER (Lusciniola m. melanopogon).---One only seen, March 24th, 1944. In fine song from a low fig tree bordering a field of deep scylla. I recorded it as being sweeter and not so loud as a Sedge-Warbler; it was delivered jerkily with a slight pause between each phrase. ICTERINE WARBLER (Hippolais icterina).--Passage-migrant. Sings frequently, but not well. MELODIOUS WARBLER (Hippolais polyglotta).--Passage-migrant. I was only once able to identify this species from the Icterine when I heard the characteristic sparrow-like chatter, a soft "chi-chi-chichi-chi. . ." with the mandibles slightly parted and vibrating. GARDEN-WARBLER (Sylvia borin).--Passage-migrant. Once recorded in a subdued song, April 7th, 1944. WHITETHROAT (Sylvia c. communis).--Passage-migrant. Sings occasionally end of April and beginning of May. LESSER WHITETHROAT (Sylvia c. curruca).--Passage-migrant. Song recorded March 28th, 1942. SARDINIAN WARBLER (Sylvia m. melanocephala).--Resident, breeds. In full song February to June inclusive. Sings occasionally rest of the year with a possible small gap at end of November to early December. In addition to the song and the usual strident notes there is also a soft "kuick"; often repeated two or three times at intervals of a few seconds and sometimes immediately prior to the full song. SUBALpine warbler (Sylvia c. cantillans).--Passage-migrant; one or two pairs may remain to breed. Sings regularly and well on arrival at the end of March and in April. A song of contentment rather than ecstacy, entirely lacking the raucous cries of the Sardinian, from which it is easily distinguished. DARTFORD-WARBLER (Sylvia undata ? subspecies).--Irregular winter visitor. One male recorded in slight song, January 16th, 1944.
356
BRITISH BIRDS.
[VOL. XXXIX.
SONG-THRUSH (Turdus ericetorum philomelus).--Winter visitor. Song once heard, March 4th, 1943. BLUE ROCK-THRUSH {Monticola cyanus).---Common sedentaryresident. I have noticed three distinct alarm or anxiety notes. A harsh churring ; a very high-pitched and plaintive " peep," corres ponding to the " tsee " of the Blackbird [Turdus m. merula) ; and an abrupt hard''tehuk", accompanied with a nervous bobbing, tail flicked open and wings drooped, used less frequently than the corresponding note of the Blackbird. Song Begins towards the end of January and is maintained until mid-May. In September, October and November it sings again but without the fervour of spring. The loud and pure fluting notes much resemble those of the Blackbird, though the phrases of the song are shorter ; the fine song takes on a beautifully haunting quality as it re-echoes along the steep rocky valleys and cliffs. The male delivers the song from a few well-used and prominent perches, or else in flight. In the latter case it may either be the display flight, confined to spring, when the bird flies with slow beating wings or glides with widely fanned tail, and the song becomes slower and more deliberate, but equally beautiful; or it may be in ordinary flight in spring and autumn. WHINCHAT (Saxicola rubeira),--Passage-migrant. Full song recorded once, May 15th, 1945. STONECHAT [Saxicola torquata rubicola).--Winter visitor. Two instances of slight autumn song, November 1st, 1943 and November 3rd, 1944. Full song heard February 7th, 1945. BLACK REDSTART (Phcenicurus ochrurus gibraltariensis).---Winter visitor. I listened to one singing for several minutes on March 7th, , 1942. The song consisted of a single phrase of thin sweet notes often though not invariably followed by a short metallic chatter, "tsi-tsitsi-tsi." The bird repeated this little combination maNY Times in quick succession. NIGHTINGALE [Luscinia m. megarhyncha).--Passage-migrant. Sings regularly and well on spring passage. ROBIN [Erithacus r.rubecula),--Winter visitor. Sings hard on arrival in October; song decreases throughout December and January, rising slightly in intensity in February. SWALLOW (Hirundo r. rustica).--Passage-migrant. Sings regularly on spring passage. NIGHTJAR [Caprimulgus e. europceus).--Passage-migrant. Churr ing song heard at night once for two or three minutes, May 9th, 1942. HOOPOE (Upupa e. epops).---Passage-migrant. I heard the "hoop" several times on one occasion when three birds were playing together, March 28th, 1942. The Maltese name of Dakkuka describes this note. WRYNECK (Jynx torquilla ? subspecies).--Passage-migrant. Calls regularly on spring passage, often with reduced volume. Autumn subsong twice recorded, December 1st, 1942 and November 21st, 1944.
VOL. x x x i x ] BIRDS ON MALTA AND GOZO.
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CUCKOO (Cuculus c. canorus).--Passage-migrant. Heard calling April 15th, 1942. MEDITERRANEAN SHEARWATER {Puffmus k. kuhlii).--Resident, breeds. I visited a breeding station on Gozo, June 2nd, 1945. The birds were milling round the breeding cliffs and calling continuously an almost indescribably weird cry which I attempted to translate as "eeeerweh-oooorweh, wer-huh"; this was the basis cry, the first two words distinctly separate and the final grunts often omitted. But there was infinite variation on this theme; no two birds were quite alike. The variation in pitch from bird to bird was extra ordinary: some were like the deep guttural grunting of a pig, others shrill and wheezy like a baby crying. I came to recognise a few of the more outstanding individuals by their own peculiar call from one particular spot on the cliff. This commonest note was given both in flight and from the ground. I also heard a deep purring and a cat like squeal unrelated to the usual note and I think only used from the ground. QUAIL (Coturnix c. coturnix).--Passage-migrant and resident; breeds. The triple call is first heard from wintering birds in early February; it continues through to July, becomes less frequent in August and I recorded it twice only in September. I heard it once by night at 0200 hours in a Full Moon on August 19th, 1943.

J Gibb

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