I recently spent a day in Malta and really enjoyed it. Yes, I know, delete me from your blog roll immediately. Clearly it's not fashionable for birders to go to Malta given the the populace and their politicians' seemingly overwhelming desire to shoot anything that flaps out of the sky, but I went anyway. I have now returned, having seen barely a bird it must be said, but I do not feel guilt-ridden. It's a lovely place for a visit and I've been wanting to go for a while. That said, the hunting situation there has troubled me sufficiently to prevent me going up until this point, but there are arguments both for and against boycotting. And if I'm brutally honest here the number of tourists I saw on Malta suggests that the defiance of the entire British birding community and their mates won't make a blind bit of difference.
Given all the recent news on UK raptors, constant poisonings, shootings, trappings and the like, I also can't help thinking that we're a fine bunch to be lecturing other countries on the impact of hunting on wild birds. There has actually been some good news just this weekend, with the FKNK (The Maltese hunters federation) asking the Maltese Government to ban the spring hunting of Turtle Doves. How they can be asking for this whilst refuting that there is a decline in the species is rather odd though, not sure I understand that one but it's nonetheless the first positive news for some time. A ban does not of course prevent people from heading out and blasting any species of bird out of the sky regardless, and anyone who watched the Chris Packham segments last year will realise that the odds are hugely stacked against any migrating birds, with the police turning a blind eye for the most part. Malta is of course just the tip of the iceberg, and with it's british roots and background a natural place on which to focus. It is however just one tiny dot on an immense flyway - in my opinion it's in North Africa that the main damage is done, and that's an area that unfortunately won't make the news. It also does not help that large lengths of that huge coastline are now no go areas for western tourists, activists and media alike. Egypt, Libya, Algeria and Tunisia are all places I would not consider going at the moment, and probably will remain dangerous for years. Parts of Morocco too, more's the pity.
It was a short visit, they usually are. I arrived at lunchtime on Sunday and was home for dinner on Monday. In the 24 hours or so that I had there I did what I usually do, which is to walk miles and miles (17.49 miles to be precise) and try and soak it up as much as possible. And possibly take a photo or two. Or a thousand.
So, touchdown around midday and a cheapo bus into Valletta. I had a short wander before having a frugal lunch down by the Sliema ferry. Here I experienced the most relaxed service ever, with a simple pasta dish taking an extraordinary 90 minutes to arrive. I think the waiter's grandmother was down in the basement churning out one bowl at a time. I didn't mind - a leisurely beer whilst watching the world go by in warm sunshine is a passable way to spend time in my book. When it came it was simply delicious - cherry tomatoes from nearby Sicily (another place on my to do list), the best I've ever had, and fresh octopus. A little more time climbing the endless steps of Valletta, and then I took the ferry over the harbour to admire the skyline and wait for the blue sky - a photographic phenomenon that occurs after sunset and which I really do rather like.
Dinner was more italian food. Risotto this time, in St Julian, and chicken with figs and local wine. The local wine wasn't all that really, fairly rustic, but it felt right somehow. I walked it off by taking the long route back to my hotel, noting what might be a decent photograph for the next morning. Remarkably I managed to get up for it, and so was back in St Giljan Bay for 6am. The sunrise wasn't what I had hoped but I had good fun mucking about with my ND filter, HDR, and long exposures. Here's the result, smooth water and strange ethereal light.
My hoped-for breakfast cafe was closed on Mondays, so I crossed back over to Valletta and found a busy little place serving local office workers. I had a coffee so potent that it made me sit bolt upright, and thus recharged I positively zipped around the City. 10 euros to visit St John's Cathedral offended me, so instead I carried on walking. I went all the way around Valletta clockwise and back through Floriana, chatting on the way to local Greenfinch fanciers, and to an old lady who wanted to show me the oldest shop in Malta. Thoroughly enjoyable, though as always too brief. I wanted to be everywhere at dusk and dawn. I wanted to photograph the colourful fishing boats but didn't get to the right village. The Blue Lagoon and Gozo were also tantalisingly close, but these can be saved for another trip. Steeped in history, a strange combination of Italy and the UK, with red phone boxes alongside tiled palazzos. Views to die for around almost every corner, and incredibly photogenic. Highly recommended.