One of the few wetlands on the Maltese islands will be open to the public on Sunday. 

The nature reserve known as Il-Ballut ta’ Marsaxlokk is considered of significant ecological and ornithological importance, especially since its small salt marshland is home to particular flora and fauna and attracts several species of wading birds.

Squacco heron. Bird photography:  James AquilinaSquacco heron. Bird photography:  James Aquilina

The Natura 2000 site also includes a man-made enclosure known as Il-Magħluq, the surrounding terraced fields at Il-Ballut, the area known as L-Imsewweb and beneath Tas-Silġ.

Three habitats are found there, namely twiggy glasswort; Mediterranean salt meadows, which are dominated by sea rush; and thermo-Atlantic halophilous scrubs, which include the golden samphire and the glaucous glasswort. 

In addition to these plants, the outer perimeter is surrounded by a number of tamarisk trees.

Managed by Nature Trust−FEE Malta, in collaboration with ERA, Il-Ballut ta’ Marsaxlokk was declared a bird sanctuary in 1993 and hunting activities were no longer permitted.

“The small wetland is made up of mud and pools, making it fairly enticing for wading birds such as the common sandpipers, dunlins, wood sandpiper, black wing stilts as they feed on invertebrates normally found in mud flats,” said James Aquilina, a keen birdwatcher who started the first systematic ornithological research of the area in December 2014.

He has since counted 73 different species of birds, some of which are very rare sights locally.

The small wetland is made up of mud and pools, making it fairly enticing for wading birds

“The wetland also attracts wintering birds such as chiffchaffs, robins, meadow pipits, starlings, white wagtails and stonechats,” Mr Aquilina said. 

“They mostly arrive around mid-October and stay in the area till mid-March. In spring, they start their journey back to their breeding grounds in Europe.”

During the dry season, water evaporation from this area causes a rise in salinity until it reaches levels of hyper-salinity, thus supporting specific flora and fauna that can withstand harsh environmental conditions. 

Common sandpiperCommon sandpiper

On Sunday, visitors may attend a number of talks by some of the site’s helpers and volunteers about different aspects of their operations including nature conservation, wildlife rehabilitation and rescue, and also their collaboration with schools and environmental education.

There will also be a seven-kilometre fun run in the area, starting at 8am.

For more information, log on to the Il-Ballut ta’ Marsaxlokk Wetland page on Facebook.

Il-Ballut ta’ Marsaxlokk comprises three habitats that host particular flora and fauna. Photo: Nature Trust − FEE MaltaIl-Ballut ta’ Marsaxlokk comprises three habitats that host particular flora and fauna. Photo: Nature Trust − FEE Malta

Yellow-legged gullYellow-legged gull

DunlinDunlin

White wagtailWhite wagtail

Black redstartBlack redstart

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