Wednesday 17 January 2024

Cyprus 2023 - the finale!

Our last full day started with a trip to the Asprokremmos Dam and Reservoir, it was evident that there had been a clearout of migrants and apart from two Alpine Swifts it was completely dead. Even Cape Greco on the east of the island was much quieter than the past week had been if the WhatsApp group was anything to go by.

Alpine Swifts

The best bet was to head inland to Troodos and look for mountain species such as Treecreeper, Coal Tit and Jay (all endemic subspecies). First of all though we choose to stop off at the Scops Owl hotel and see if access to the gardens might be possible later that evening. There didn't seem to be anyone at hotel reception so I called out 'hello' loudly a few times and someone came out from around the back. Now bear in mind that neither Nick or I knew for sure if this was the right hotel and I didn't expect the staff to know anything about any Scops Owl. All I could do was show them a photo or illustration of a Scops Owl and hope. So, I whipped out the Collins Guide App on my phone, showed them the Scops Owl plate and played the call and they knew exactly what I was looking for (I guess the bins around my neck and generally dusty looking appearance were a dead giveaway too). They happily pointed to the trees in the garden and said that the bird is there most evenings! Result. In return for being so nice we ordered a couple of coffees from the bar and were served up with possibly THE strongest and THE sweetest cup of coffee I have ever had!

You could trot a mouse across that coffee!!


We returned briefly to the Asprokremmos Dam to search in vain for a Red-backed Shrike before setting off towards Troodos. We enjoyed a really pleasant afternoon here, it was windy but the temperature was cooler. I found an obliging Masked Shrike and spent some time in its company whilst it hunted for beetles.

Masked Shrike

Masked Shrike

I love shrikes and Masked Shrike is my personal favourite. 

We walked the paths through the pines and enjoyed nice views of a Cyprus Wheatear singing from the top of a conifer.

Cyprus Wheatear

Our primary target here was Dorothy's Treecreeper which we picked up on call first.

Dorothy's Treecreeper

I was personally quite taken by the local race of Coal Tit which looks a lot more like a potential species split than the local race of Treecreeper.

After Troodos we drove back to Agia Varvara (via to our hotel to get some fleeces for our Owling later on). The sun was dipping now and we watched a lovely mixed flock of White and Yellow Wagtails in the warm evening light. 

Blue-headed Wagtail

One of the eastern races of Western Yellow Wagtail (or an intergrade) - hard for me to tell!

We had a large mixed flock of hirundines that we had fun trying to pick out the Red-rumped Swallows in - there were several.

Our final stop was back to the Vasilias Georgias Hotel for the Cyprus Scops Owl. Cyprus Scops Owl is not considered a full species but certainly worth seeing and hearing. A wedding was in full swing when we got to the hotel after dark but we manged perched and flight views of the bird and I recorded it singing albeit with wedding chatter in the background.



And that was that! Our final bird of the trip before we headed back to our hotel for dinner and bed. 

Almost a year later what are my thoughts on Cyprus birding? Excellent, I would highly recommend it, I loved the fact that spring passage gets going in mid to late March, when I left the UK on 31st March it felt like we were still in winter's grip. A day later we were enjoying the sights and sounds of migration. The infrastructure is good, there's a good birding scene on the island, its easy to drive around and the food is great (I love a nice Greek Salad with my grilled lamb chops). I had 12 lifers and 4 subspecies ticks.

Tuesday 16 January 2024

Cyprus 2023 - the middle bit

After yesterday's mammoth day we enjoyed a small lie-in and took a late breakfast at 7:30am. We started the day at the Archaeological Site of Nea Paphos on Paphos headland. This historical landmark consists of a large archaeological area featuring ruins such as tombs, villas, roman mosaics and the famous lighthouse. Its an excellent spot for staging migrants and I really enjoyed our morning jaunt around the site.


Entrance to Archaeological Site of Nea Paphos

 Migrants included Nightingale, Yellow Wagtail, Black and Common Redstarts, Wryneck, Whinchat, numerous Red-throated and Meadow Pipits plus many Hoopoes. Nick managed to flush a Quail which was actually a lifer for him and would have been for me had I seen it (I've only ever heard them in the past but never actually set eyes on one). Whilst Nick was birding around by the lighthouse I picked up a smart male Stonechat with a distinctive white rump. I called him over and we had distant and inconclusive views of the bird before it managed to vanish completely. Fortunately we caught up with it again along the fence line by the coastal path. It was still proving tricky to say what it was but with the help of some record shots of the spread tail and underwing and with a little support via mobile phone from Yoav Perlman we manged to tie the bird down as a Caspian Stonechat (L). Star bird of the morning!

Black Redstart

Paphos Lighthouse

Paphos Lighthouse

From Paphos we drove on to Evretou Reservoir which was birdless sadly. So, we decided we'd look for migrants around the Baths of Aphrodite which is near the very north west tip of Cyprus and so seemed like a good staging spot. Unfortunately it was rather full of tourists and also getting quite hot. However, we did manage to find several Eastern Bonelli's Warblers (L) in a nearby olive grove. To my ear their call is a very distinctive House Sparrow-like 'chirp' which helped us pin down their location as they fed busily in the olive trees.

Eastern Bonelli's Warbler

I mentioned Mandria in the first post, this was where we had large flocks of White and assorted races of Yellow Wagtails on the first full day. We returned there in the late afternoon when a Mourning Wheatear had been found with the Northern Wheatears and Yellow Wagtails in a ploughed field. Views were a little distant but acceptable nonetheless. The light was harsh so the apricot blush to undertail coverts isn't so visible in the photo below but it was discernible in the field - honestly!

Mourning Wheatear

We stopped for dinner in Mandria before ending the day with a reconnaissance trip to a hotel which a friendly Northern Ireland birder had told us was good for Cyprus Scops Owl. More on that later!

Cyprus 2023 - the next bit

Following breakfast we headed back to Agia Varvara to try and improve on some Little Crake photos. 

Little Crake

The birds (one male and one female) remained at the opposite side of the pool so shots were always going to be difficult and the above is the best I could manage.

Further down the track past the pools though was a small orchard and farm entrance where we enjoyed nice views of a male Collared Flycatcher, Cretzschmar's Bunting, several Tree Pipits and a Woodchat Shrike.

Tree Pipit

Woodchat Shrike

Collared Flycatcher

From here we drove to the headland at Akrotiri. Starting at the reedbed first and then driving the tracks around the gravel pits. From the elevated hide at the reedbed we had Spur-winged Plover, Black--winged Stilts, Wood Sandpipers, Great White Egrets and Glossy Ibis. Driving around the track we several groups of Teal, Glossy Ibis and Wood Sandpipers.

Glossy Ibis

We had little of much interest on our drive along the narrow tracks and eventually sighted Agios Georgios Chapel off in the distance and set forth towards that as there had been reports of migrants in the trees and bushes surrounding the little chapel. The track to the chapel looked like it had some rather large pools of water so rather than risk getting the rental car stuck, I decided to pull it over to the side and go on foot to the chapel - not a good idea as it turns out and more on that later!
En route to the chapel we dug out a few Northern Wheatears, Kentish Plovers and Nick found a male Spectacled Warbler which happened to be the only male of that species I'd ever seen. 

The chapel itself turned out to be very good with the highlight being this stunning male Ruppell's Warbler (L). 

Ruppell's Warbler

Great find by Nick and I would without hesitation mark this down as bird of the trip. 

Agios Georgios Chapel

On the opposite side of the road from the Chapel we searched a small area of scrub and bushes where we had a singing Eastern Subalpine Warbler which was a lifer for me (and possibly Nick though I stand to be corrected there) however, frustratingly, we couldn't get eyes on it and it remained unseen and unticked.

We commenced the track back to where had parked the car and from a distance through my bins I could see a British Army Land Rover parked up beside our rental vehicle with two soldiers standing by it peering in. It was then I remembered the signs saying not to stop or leave your vehicle unattended (its close to a sensitive military area and RAF base). I'll be honest and say my heart was in my mouth as I walked back along the track towards the soldiers and I wondered if we might indeed be requested to come back to the barracks and answer some questions. Thankfully, nothing like that happened. I realised my mistake, apologised for being a dimwit and promised not to leave my car like that ever again in Akrotiri. Lesson learnt!

We drove on across Lady's Mile Beach, stopping from time to time to scope distant waders. Best we had here were Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Greater Flamingo, Greenshank and Black-winged Stilt. 

Meanwhile a report on the Cyprus Bird Sightings WhatsApp group of a Finsch's Wheatear had us diverting towards Anarita Park. Anarita Park is a well known spot for wintering Finsch's Wheatear and we both expected those birds to be gone by the time we got to Cyprus so it was really good news to know there was still one about. Sadly though there was no sign of the bird when we got there. The diversion was worthwhile though as we did see an Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, another lifer for me!

At this stage we had left it rather late to take the long drive east for the Diedrik Cuckoo. But instead we headed back to Agia Varvara where a Baillon's Crake was now reported. Thankfully we connected with this bird quite soon after our arrival. Another lifer for me!

Baillon's Crake

Our last port of call for the day was back to the Mavrokolympos Dam to check the cliffs above the road that leads up to the reservoir for Cyprus Scops Owl. This had been a reliable spot in the past but we didn't see or hear Scops Owl on this occasion. 

Nick inspects the cliff face for Cyprus Scops Owl

It had been an extraordinarily long day and a long time since lunch, we left empty-handed and returned to the hotel for a late dinner and bed.

Monday 15 January 2024

Cyprus 2023 - the first bit

Day One

Hard to believe its almost a year ago now but in late March 2023 myself and Nick finally got to Cyprus. The original trip to Cyprus was planned back in 2020 but became a casualty to the pandemic.

On 31st March we took a BA flight from Heathrow and landed in Larnaca around teatime where upon we were whisked at scarily high speeds in a taxi to our hotel in Phaphos. We checked in, I had a brief chat with the hotel cat (every hotel needs one!) and then popped out for dinner.


Day Two

We began the day with a pre-breakfast walk to the Archaeological Site of the Tombs of the Kings which was only a five minute walk from the hotel. All in all it was a bit quiet with just a few Lesser Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Common Swifts and assorted Hirundines.


Lesser Whitethroat

After rental car collection and breakfast we set forth for Cape Depranum which was about a thrity minute drive north of our hotel and on the map looked to be a decent sort of headland for staging migrants heading north.

Agios Georgios Church at Cape Drepanum

Resident birds included Chukar (L), Sardinian Warbler and Zitting Cisticola. However, migrants were tricky to find with just a few Northern Wheatears and a single Isabelline Wheatear.

Female Sardinian Warbler with a backdrop of Zitting Cisticola

Sardinian Warbler

Zitting Cisticola

Zitting Cisticola

Isabelline Wheatear

It had been a slow start so we departed Cape Drepanum and drove 15 minutes inland to the Mavrokolympos Dam and Reservoir.

Mavrokolympos Dam and Reservoir

The action picked up a bit here with a trio of lifers in Cyprus Warbler, Cyprus Wheatear and Cretzschmar's Bunting. All great birds but all tricky photography subjects and only this Cyprus Warbler provided any sort of opportunity for a snap.

Cyprus Warbler

It was getting on towards late afternoon by now and we set off towards a spot called Agia Varvara where there had been recent reports of Little Crake, Collared Flycatcher and Great Spotted Cuckoo. I think over the course of our trip this was to become a firm favourite and we returned many times to this delightful spot. Apart from the above three species we also had Alpine Swift and Woodchat Shrike.

Our last port of call for the day was to Mandria, which is on the coast about 20 minutes south east of Phaphos and was another spot set to feature in the coming days. In a ploughed field we encountered what was undoubtedly the largest gathering of White Wagtails I've ever seen, there were hundreds of them!

White Wagtail

In a quick search of the fields closer to the sea we came across a large flock of Western Yellow Wagtails, again for me probably the largest of flock of Yellow Wagtails I've ever had the pleasure to see anywhere. The flock consisted mostly of Black-headed Wagtails (feldegg) with several other eastern races of Western Yellow Wagtail mixed in.

Then it was back to the hotel and time for dinner.