I don’t get out and paint in Malta as much as I’d like. So when the opportunity arose to do some plein air painting in the beautiful November weather, I jumped at the chance. An event organised by Bird Life Malta, Wings Over Valletta was set up to celebrate the white wagtail, a migratory bird species that comes to Malta during the winter.
The wagtails travel from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe in early Autumn for warmer climes, and so Malta is simply perfect for them, as well into November it’s still a very pleasant 20 degrees Celsius. The birds set off in the morning to feed and make their spectacular return into the capital city at sunset. The birds take up residence in a tight bunch of just a handful of Ficus trees. The trees sit in front of the majestic law courts and St John’s Co Cathedral in the heart of Valletta, and quite astonishingly provide shelter for 10,000 birds.
The birds’ roosting trees
Painting under a glorious blue sky, I didn’t catch sight of any wagtails so painted them from a few reference photos.
Painting from references while the birds were out at breakfast.
Packing up, I was sad that I didn’t catch sight of these charismatic little birds. It was only a few days later leaving Valletta as the sun was just setting that I saw the spectacle. The sound of thousands of birds calling to another was loud and chaotic, but not disturbing. It’s one of those comforting winter sounds, like the clink of spoons in the bottom of cafe cups or the crackle of a fireplace.
The birds were darting into their roosts from two directions, wheeling over the newly-added and quite impressive Christmas decorations. The trees already looked full, but more birds kept coming and seemed to have their target branch identified just in time.
Even in a city so busy as Valletta, in a country as crowded as Malta, there is nature to be found. Just stop and look every once in a while.
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