η περιπέτεια στην Κύπρο- The Adventure in Cyprus: Part II

With the birders still recovering from their discovery the previous morning, they set out again, and with a determination to match that of any hard-core twitcher…

Day 3- Friday 31st March- A Day of Exploration

We awoke again ready to hit the headland for the second morning in succession, but today we tried a different strategy: we figured that we would check the perimeter path around the headland first to observe what migrants had arrived/departed overnight: since the archaeological site required an entrance fee of €4,50 for Dad (not for me, still being under-18: those who know me will be surprised to hear that I didn’t have to show them my passport!), we figured it would be best to establish first whether it was worth going in.

We pulled up & started walking back along the path: unfortunately, the Spur-winged Plovers, Black-headed Wagtails & Desert Wheatear had departed overnight, but there were still small numbers of Isabelline & Northern Wheatears around the headland: however, the real stars of the show was the now dozen-strong flock of Red-throated Pipits around the tip of the headland. Two birds in particular showed extremely well for us: one was a slightly bland juvenile, but the other was sporting a resplendant red-throat.

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A rather plain (but still very cute) juvenile Red-throated Pipit.
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Now that’s something you don’t see everyday- an adult Red-throated Pipit, with complete throat, at Paphos Headland

Having thoroughly enjoyed our time with the pipits (which now included a solitary Tawny Pipit & at least five Meadows), we moved on to the north-west side of the headland, adding Little Egret & Whimbrel to the steadily growing trip list, before making our way back around & into the car.

This time we moved onto new areas: first up was Mandria Fields, which had played host to not one, but TWO Oriental Turtle Doves mere days before our arrival. We drove past the now-famous landmark fish & chip shop & we soon hit the agricultural fields. The only doves we saw today were Collared, and unfortunately not even a sniff of the Laughing Doves which were seen here in roughly the same place as the Oriental birds. We made a bee-line for the fabled ‘Lark’s Corner’, which lived up to its name by duly turning up a few more Crested Larks. Not good! Though we did have more Red-throated Pipits in the field BEFORE Lark’s Corner. With a thunderstorm fast approaching from the south, we made a beeline for the beach & picnic area, managing to find one Isabelline Wheatear & a migrating finch flock (mostly Linnets) before the wind picked up & the rain threw itself down. Incidentally enough, we did have a cracking Baltic Gull (subspecies tick for me…) and a Scopoli’s Shearwater fly past us heading steadily westwards.

We decided to move on to pastures new, and so we found ourselves in a (now dry) river valley at the foot of the Asprokremmnos Dam: despite Dave Gosney’s promises of crakes, all we found was a very muddy track, a Wryneck and our first singing Cetti’s Warbler. We moved on to Asprokremmnos Dam itself, specifically the ‘amenities area’ and car park, where we immediately found a cracking male Spanish Sparrow singing its head off.

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Corker! A very close male Spanish Sparrow.

Otherwise this area was fairly quiet, save for the trip list additions of two Serin & a couple of Tree Pipits, as well as a female Sardinian Warbler in the trees nearby.

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Female Sardinian Warbler in the pines around Asprokremmnos.

We then had a lovely chat with a visiting birder who gave us several very useful bits of information, including the stunning revelation that a Pallas’s/Great Black-headed Gull had been present here the previous day, and that the flock it was with was due back on the dam any minute! Unfortunately it wasn’t there today, but three more Baltic Gulls were good, as was the overflying Red-throated Pipit, and a single Great Crested Grebe, a fairly scarce winter visitor on Cyprus.

We sadly had to move on, but we took a long detour back which yielded a grey male Pallid Harrier which spooked the various Spanish Sparrows on the wires, three Green Sandpipers on a river crossing, a Chukar, another Cretzschmar’s Bunting and, most importantly for me, two BONELLI’S EAGLES which hunted over one of the valleys: the twelfth lifer of the trip!

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An adult Bonelli’s Eagle that was hunting over the valley next to the road.

We soon headed back again for lunch, and yet more relaxation around the villa.

We headed just down the road for our afternoon foray, to Mavrokolympos Dam (the ‘p’ is often replaced with a ‘b’). We parked up & almost immediately found my first EASTERN BONELLI’S WARBLER in the trees along the track calling & flycatching, where we also flushed two Chukar. We also found a Painted Lady butterfly, as well as two Cyprus Wheatears & our first Squacco Heron of the trip.

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A lovely Painted Lady butterfly

Almost immediately after turning the corner, we managed to find a couple of Cyprus Pied Wheatears as well as a couple of Chiffchaffs and at least three Cretzschmar’s Buntings.

Unfortunately, time was against us and we had to make our way back, but not before seeing three Black-eared Wheatears, two Stonechats, a Grey Heron, four migrating Meadow Pipits, and, best of all, three male Cyprus Warblers singing in the scrub near the car along with a female Eastern Subalpine Warbler.

We tried to stick around at dusk to try & see whether the Cyprus Scops Owls were still here, but we were unfortunately rained out & so we went with the family for a drink at a bar in Coral Bay & then picked up a delicious takeaway of traditional Cypriot cuisine from a local tavern, including a lamb moussaka (basically cottage pie with aubergines), kleftiko (slow-cooked roast lamb), stifalo (a kind of lamb stew) and other assorted grilled meats.

Day 4- Saturday 1st April- A Day of Misfortune

Disaster struck early that morning when it was discovered that we had picked up a flat tyre at some point the previous day- the ’24-Hour Helpline’ provided no help, but we finally managed to change the tyre using a very-confusing ‘all-in-one’ car jack. The mechanic came & picked up our tyre, and said he would drop the car off in a couple of hours.

Conveniently enough, we were intending to make another morning trip to Paphos Headland, this time to locate flycatchers that had been reported the previous day by two well-known & well-respected local birders, so we reasoned that we would go birding whilst the mechanic was busy. We didn’t bother with the perimeter track this time, and instead headed straight for the compound; it soon became clear that there had either been a small fall overnight or one still evident from the previous afternoon, because we soon located at least five Nightingales, a Redstart, two Whinchats, a grey male Pallid Harrier, a Woodchat Shrike & two Spanish Sparrows, accompanying the usual Northern Wheatears, Chiffchaffs, Black-headed Wagtails, Quail & Hoopoe.

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A lovely male Northern Wheatear which showed well for us as we entered.
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The Woodchat Shrike perched atop a distant bush
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Male Redstart in the pines around the mosaics

There was also a discernible passage of herons that day, and we kicked off nicely with two Purple Herons flying around.

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Purple Heron making a fly-by

We also managed to find four Short-toed Larks near some of the ruins on the south side.

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One of four Short-toed Larks around Paphos Headland

We soon moved on to an abandoned farmhouse, where we found a cracking male Collared Flycatcher in the trees- my first for six years. We also found a very showy Ruppell’s Warbler in the vicinity.

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This male Ruppell’s Warbler showed very nicely- the Collared Flycatcher didn’t.

We headed towards the east end of the compound, where the flycatchers had been reported, and, right on cue, a male Pied Flycatcher flicked past far too quickly for the cameras. One that did linger, though, was my first SEMI-COLLARED FLYCATCHER in some trees further round.

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My first Semi-collared Flycatcher– and my thirteenth lifer of the trip.

Having picked up the car, we drove back to Mandria to search for one of our last remaining target birds, Black Francolin, as three had been reported there yesterday. Alas, no francolins were there, although we did find a ring-tail Pallid Harrier, a Spur-winged Plover in the middle of a field, a Black-eared Wheatear, a migrating flock of six Little Egret, and most of the migrants we had seen at the headland albeit in smaller numbers. A particular highlight was an Isabelline Wheatear which showed right by the road.

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Cracking Isabelline Wheatear at Mandria

We then moved on to an area west of Mandria, labelled by the locals as ‘Lower Esouzas’. We drove up to the road, and almost immediately had a male Collared Flycatcher in a row of pine trees up the road: further inspection yielded two Chukar, a White Wagtail & we also heard a seven-syllable, wailing call far over in the distance… it was our first BLACK FRANCOLIN, but we were by no means satisfied with that.

We drove further on along the valley, finding another Collared Flycatcher, two Cattle Egrets & four Spur-winged Plovers right by the road.

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Spur-winged Plover at close range. What a corker of a bird!
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Cattle Egret complete with yellow feathering.

Having told the patrolling ‘Astunomia’, the Cypriot police, that we were merely admiring the Spur-winged Plovers rather than something more sinister, we moved on to Paphos Sewage Works which we found to be overgrown save for one place to look in from: here we met Jane Stylianou, my Dad’s Cypriot equivalent, who kindly gave us some information relating to a sighting of an ‘Ehrenberg’s’ Redstart at Anarita Park. We thanked her & moved on, pledging to explore Anarita later today.

For the moment, we headed back to the villa for lunch & soon we were back at Paphos Headland with the rest of the family to view the splendid mosaics in the archaeological site. Paphos Headland is certainly one of my all-time favourite birding sites, because you can go migrant-hunting whilst scrambling around ancient ruins & viewing the stunning display of wildflowers on show at the headland.

We dropped the non-birders off at the nearby shopping mall, and progressed on to Anarita Park. Cloud had hung over the foothills all day, and it started to drizzle once we arrived. However, the seven Lesser Kestrels on the wires near the landmark ‘Loukaides chicken farm’ provided some colour on a very grey day.

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A splendid male Lesser Kestrel, one of seven birds at Anarita Park.

We drove along the rocky tracks through Anarita Park, flushing up a few interesting birds: a Chukar flew up & away from us screaming it’s iconic call; a Great Spotted Cuckoo flew down the valley away from us, two Nightingales sang from deep within the bushes, an Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler started flycatching around us, a Woodchat Shrike sat atop a distant bush, three Cyprus Wheatears moped around the bushes where a Cyprus Warbler scratched away in its version of singing; a Collared Flycatcher flicked around some rocks, at times startling the eight Cretzschmar’s Buntings that were there with it. But the sight to behold were the pipits: there must have been at least 20 Tawny Pipits, and about half that number of Tree Pipits, all wheeling around in a flock together. A Wood Warbler, too, was fantastic for me: I hadn’t seen one for four years. All together, quite a neat site, but with one thing missing: an Ehrenberg’s Redstart.

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A male Collared Flycatcher that frequented Anarita Park.

Having driven round Mandria trying (unsuccessfully) to locate francolin(s), we headed for another Scops Owl roost nearby. However, there was one tiny issue; the information we had been given said the bird started calling typically around 7pm, but what we didn’t factor in was that the clocks had changed! Therefore, we extended our francolin hunt to the back end of Choletria where we had taken a long detour two days before: not even a sniff of francolins.

We arrived at the Vasilis Nikoklis Inn near Nikokleia at around 7:45pm just as the sun was setting. It wasn’t until 8:15 when we finally picked up a CYPRUS SCOPS OWL calling on a distant hillside: it flew in to the trees around the inn, and was hooting away, but we couldn’t pick it up in the torch. Eventually, it flew back onto the hillside & disappeared at around 8:30. Very annoying indeed! (I didn’t know it at the time, but this bird was actually my 400th in the Western Palearctic: I didn’t realise until two days later!)

The delicious lamb moussaka at the tavern in Coral Bay did lift our spirits a bit, but we went to bed that night feeling a little bit miffed to say the least.

Day 5- Sunday 2nd April- A Day of Re-invigoration

Today we set out on our first full day out in the field. Our destination was the Akrotiri Peninsula, where a Thrush Nightingale had been reported the previous morning, and is also one of the best sites on the island for late wintering Armenian Gulls.

An early morning raid on Lower Esouzas to try and find the francolins drew another blank save for two Stone Curlews. Mandria did the same, although a Swallow with characteristics consistent with the Levant race ‘savignii’ did offer a nice distraction. We then set out for Akrotiri.

Having got very lost in the middle of Erimi thanks to the directions in Gosney’s book being outdated & the Cypriots changing all the signs, we arrived at Phassouri Reedbeds, where three Squacco Herons, a Wryneck,Marsh Harrier & two Little Egrets greeted us upon our arrival. Driving along the road which passes beside the reedbeds yielded a Glossy Ibis, a Purple Heron, twenty Ruff, five Wood Sandpipers, two Green Sandpipers, a solitary Whinchat, a male Collared Flycatcher (along with an unidentified female), and three separate calling Black Francolins which refused to show. But then a fourth one started up right next to us, and we finally saw it tucked away in the reeds (actually we only saw its head but that doesn’t really matter).

We moved on to Akrotiri Gravel Pits & found them to be completely impassable for our little Ford Focus, so we turned round & went back through the reedbeds, only stopping for a ringtail Hen Harrier hunting over the agricultural fields & several Yellow Wagtails, including birds of the feldegg subspecies & what is almost certainly a ‘dombrowskii’ intergrade- the photo below shows it, and the head seems a bit too grey-ish for a pure ‘flava’

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The ‘dombrowskii’ wagtail at Akrotiri Gravel Pits- note the slightly greyer head than you might expect on flava.

We then drove round to Agios Georgios Chapel- no sign of the Thrush Nightingale, but our first Cuckoo of the trip, as well as five Tree Pipits, a Redstart, two Ruppell’s Warblers, a male Collared Flycatcher, a singing Spanish Sparrow & at least three Cretzschmar’s Buntings. However, the important thing for me was the presence of at least one ORTOLAN BUNTING in with them- another lifer!

We moved on past the Salt Lake with its thousands of Greater Flamingos as standard, and made our way towards Bishop’s Pool: however, on arrival, the side gate was locked, and the front gate looked to be locked, but we subsequently discovered that it wasn’t. The access route to Ladies’ Mile from here was unsuitable for our little hire car, so we turned around & decided to approach it from the north.

After a fuel stop, we pulled up at Zakaki Pool to discover it to be overgrown & basically lifeless: we didn’t see how it could support anything! Two typically elusive Black Francolins serenaded the disaster, as we couldn’t find any crakes, let alone the Baillon’s that was said to be present. We moved on to Ladies’ Mile, which, despite yielding my first MARSH SANDPIPERS along with several other waders, was equally disappointing. A drive down the road got us Spectacled Warbler & a close Greater Flamingo.

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A Greater Flamingo on one of the lagoons at Ladies’ Mile

We headed back to Zakaki just as it started raining. We sat in the hide watching the rain fall, but then, as soon as it stopped, a female LITTLE CRAKE waltzed out into the open right in front of the hide, another lifer!! It was certainly a special moment, and even Dad commented that he had never seen one like that (he last saw one at Slimbridge ten years ago, which apparently showed once every five hours!).

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This Little Crake offered views of a lifetime- cracking little bird!

We then had a choice to make- do we sit around here for two hours on the off-chance that the Baillon’s will show, or do we make a dash for Larnaca? We chose the latter, and by God I was glad that we did.

Despite hitting several very menacing rain showers on the way, we pulled up to Oroklini, and immediately a beautiful sight met our eyes: the marsh was just teeming with life (feral Greylag Geese aside…). Cattle Egrets poured in over our heads to roost, Greater Flamingoes stalked around in the water, ducks & grebes were everywhere, Black-winged Stilts flew around us, a flock of Night Herons at least 25-strong flew away to the west, Spur-winged Plovers cackled away around us, a Water Pipit darted through the reeds, almost following two Little Stints that were tucked away; it was fantastic. So, too, was our first Pallid Swift of the trip which zoomed past. Unfortunately, the tracks which you were previously able to walk along had been closed off, but that was fine because it was for the good of the birds.

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An exquisite Wood Sandpiper at Oroklini
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A gorgeous Black-winged Stilt– despite being dropped by the BBRC, they will always be first-rate rarities.

We then moved on to the other side of Larnaca, taking a detour via Livadhia village where we managed to find four Laughing Doves– unfortunately too quick for the cameras.

Having (again) fallen victim to Gosney’s outdated directions, we reached Meneou Pool- and again it was absolutely teeming with life. The five SLENDER-BILLED GULLS, another lifer, notwithstanding, all these birds weren’t new for me, it was just the sheer diversity. There were the complementary Greater Flamingoes, but the waders were the stars of the show: the whole west side of the eastern Meneou Pool was filled with Black-winged Stilts, Kentish Plovers, Ruffs, Dunlins, Little Stints, Greenshanks, Black-tailed Godwits. The 22 Marsh Sandpipers that Dad counted was the second-highest count in Meneou’s history, and we also found Cyprus’s first Red-necked Phalarope of the year. Seven Stone Curlews even dropped in.

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Every black dot in this photo is a wader- the pink ones are all flamingoes

We moved on to Larnaca Sewage Works, still startled at the diversity here. A Spur-winged Plover showed very well by the road on the way.

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What a bird! Spur-winged Plover near Meneou.

Having drawn a blank at Spiro’s Pool & Beach for a reported Greater Sand Plover, we finished off at Larnaca Sewage Works. Immediately, we were struck by the presence of at least four, possibly five, Black Francolins in the area: they are obviously much commoner in the east of the island. We were also being constantly circled by Swifts & other hirundines, which included at least two Red-rumped Swallows. The sewage works itself had two Common Sandpipers and two Ruddy Shelducks (lingering winter visitors apparently). We ended the day with our second & last Spectacled Warbler in the scrub leading up to the hide.

Or so we thought. It was 8pm & we were driving past the turning to the Scops Owl roost. We decided to give it a go… of course, right on cue at 8:15pm, the Scops Owl called once in its two-toned high pitched whistle far off on the hillside, but only once. We returned to the taverna for another extraordinary Greek-themed meal.

Part III will be coming soon…

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