Our first ever lunaves record

Back in 2012, before the start of the project we had captured this shot of a northbound migrant:

Still wondering what it could have been.

Have a look at the bird videos section for more videos (the above is the first one in the list).


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Enjoy it while it lasts….

What more could we ask for on a night like today’s – it seems the Zurrieq station is enjoying crystal clear skies, a gentle breeze and smooth operation with no technical glitches!

If only this were September or April………


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Zurrieq 1-0 Attard

Seems like it is a pleasant summer night there in Malta, this evening.

Although migration is very unlikely during this time of the year, there is no harm with  having the stations up and running (more information about our stations here) now that the moon is picking up.  Zurrieq station (station #2)  seems to be doing quite well after it needed a bit of assistance with orientation.  Attard station (stations #1) has a problem with alignment and focus so it is likely to be out of action for the next couple of days until we get to resolve the issue remotely.


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A new way to study nocturnal migration

Every night during autumn and spring , millions of birds set out on their time-honoured migration journey to safer grounds. Yet, despite the massive scale of the operation and the advanced technology we have access to, for most birdwatchers and researchers alike nocturnal bird migration remains elusive.

lunaves is about exploring technologies and techniques to help involve a larger number of birdwatchers and researchers in nocturnal migration studies. In the same way that passionate birdwatchers and citizen scientists have helped shape our understanding of birds today, our mission is to make the studying of nocturnal bird migration more accessible to whoever has the matter at heart.   Keep in touch on facebook.

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Living on a prayer

Have a look at this great site about a moon watching initiative in the Alps – it goes back to 2009, but it is still as relevant today.

For us who are used to the luxury of the Mediterranean climate it is inconceivable how anyone can survive moon-watching,  on the snow and without shelter.

Well, one could argue that ‘no pain is no gain’, but this is a direct quote from their site:

“at 2400 metres above sea level… where we spent almost the whole night looking out for birds. It was cold. Very cold. But the bright moonlight draping the mountains was spectacular. Interestingly (and disappointing) was that we only saw two birds the whole night”

Two $*%! birds …..and still enough defrosted brain cells to be romantic !


O’ lord, here I lie at the foot of your cross, give us this night our daily birds and lead us not in the temptation. Amen.

More information about these wonderful lunatics,  here

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In principle, it works

After a couple of nights drawing blanks  it takes more than faith to give up a warm comfortable evening to a session out in the cold,  lasering your retina for the illusive hope of bird migration, rationed one shadow at a time, at intervals that span hours.

Before you tuck in under that quilt again, have a look at these numbers:

1. Consider an imaginary massive mist net, spanning 2365 km across Europe and assume an evenly distributed  migration  across this imaginary line. 


2. It is estimated that there are about 2.1 billion songbirds and near-passerines migrating between Europe and Africa. I have not had the luck of counting them myself, but these guys and these guys did.

3. Assume that birds migrate between 100 and 200 meters off the ground. If I got my basic trigonometry right, at that distance, the diameter of a full moon in a telescope should cover between 8 to 16 meters of this imaginary mist net (note that probably 300-500m is a more suitable range, and somoene even quoted 1500m. One still needs to validate the actual visibility of small passerines at such distances. In any case, the higher up, the  more we can catch within our blinkers)

4. If 2,100,000,000 birds cross our imaginary line of 2,365,000 meters then that gives you 887 birds per meter or 7000-14000 across the diameter of the moon.

5.  Now consider a migration over a period of 80 days and the fact that you will miss 50% of the sightings because most of them will pass a different focus plane to where you are or they are too small to see (you will see some in focus, some out of focus and many you will miss).

Mother nature should yield an average of 40 – 80 bird sightings per night.  Assuming a migration window of five hours that equates to 8 – 16  birds per hour. And if you live anywhere near the coast and see wildfowl  then you can effectively double that number (these migrate during day as well).

Assumptions aside, in principle, that is not too bad.  Particularly for those that have acquired the zen to endure the barren spells typical of sea watching.

Just try not to hold on to your breath for too long.

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An irony of sorts

How many hours do you spend bird watching, scanning and zigzagging across virtual lines in the sky or clouds or against the sea? Just to feel that gentle breeze of birds passage. And it matters not if it is big or small- even the tiniest of Swallow whets the best of appetites.

Now, put on a pair of blinkers and limit your view to just a tiny sliver of the entire night sky (say 0.5 degrees). What do you think are your chances of seeing anything  flying around?

”O man of little faith, why do you doubt?”

Take Europe with its  2 billion passerines and 2 billion wildfowl.  Most of these will migrate only under the cover of darkness  – in fact it is probably the only reason why many of them have survived to date.  So if you compare your chances of  seeing something during the day when all is settled down,  with the rush hour of massive mobilization at night,  you have better  odds that something will cross across your blinkers .

The irony of this is that while there is all this bonanza, birdwatchers , are fast asleep (the normal ones at least), tucked under the sheets dreaming about the perfect catastrophe that would cause a massive fall of the very same creatures they are so fond of.

Statistics and blinkers aside, here are some pictures I have trawled from across the web. For me this is probably the point where I put the odds aside – irrespective of whether the images are photoshopped, whatever the size of the blinker, whatever the collateral damage on my retina…

Please let me have some more of this.

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Image by Don Kittle at http://kittle.ca

pajaros y luna

 Image from gaviotadetierra.blogspot.com


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