With 2 days & a morning left of the trip, the Norfolk birders had several target birds to get & get fast…
Day 6- Monday 3rd April- From Highlands to Lowlands
Today we made plans to head up into the Troodos mountains, where three endemic & two near-endemic Cypriot subspecies awaited. The mountain air was fresh & the weather bright and sunny once again as we climbed through ancient pine forests. We made one stop along the way to view two orchids in a layby.
We also stopped in a small village & watched several hirundines coming down to drink in a puddle next to the road, including several Red-rumped Swallows.
We arrived in Troodos village, and swiftly walked up a nearby track: it was very weird to be walking in snow in April on an island in the Mediterranean, with a clear sky above! Fortunately we found the birds we wanted to see fairly quickly (the only exception was the Cyprus Wren, which we neither cared about nor bothered with too much).
The first one we found, Cyprus Coal Tit, was fairly common & sung around our heads all the time. These birds are much greyer than our ones, with reduced white on the head.
Dorothy’s Short-toed Treecreeper was significantly greyer than its European congeners and had vocal pyrotechnics far different from them too. They were also fairly common where we were walking.
We found two Cyprus Jays on the track, only subtly different to our birds unlike its counterparts in the Middle East.
The near-endemic guillemardi Crossbill is apparently fairly scarce on Cyprus, so it was good to find two in the trees near the track. Apparently the male is slightly greener than other birds, though we only found a female & juvenile. This subspecies is also present in Turkey & the Caucasus.
We then drove down to the Akrotiri Peninsula in order to see if the Baillon’s Crake was showing at Zakaki; it wasn’t, so we soon moved on to the west of the peninsula. Agios Georgios Chapel still held birds, including Cretzschmar’s Bunting, Cuckoo & Semi-collared Flycatcher. We then went to Bishop’s Pool, where we found at least ten FERRUGINOUS DUCKS.
A long drive awaited, so we headed back, but not before stopping just shy of Coral Bay at Mavro Dam.
Immediately after parking up, we found two soaring Bonelli’s Eagles, an Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler & three Cyprus Warblers. Further investigation yielded other delights such as Chukar, two Whinchat, two Black-eared Wheatears, two Ruppell’s Warblers, a female Eastern Subalpine Warbler & a Cretzschmar’s Bunting.
We retired after a long day of mostly driving to the tavern where more wonderful Greek culinary delights awaited.
Day 7- Tuesday 4th April- From Forests to Fields
We made our way to the Akamas Peninsula this morning to look for two of our last remaining target birds: Long-legged Buzzard, and Cyprus Scops Owl.
The previous day in the Troodos, we bumped into a birder whom we’d put on to the Cinereous Bunting on the first day, who gave us a very useful bit of information: he had been informed by a Polish birder that there was a day roosting owl at the Baths of Aphrodite on the Akamas Peninsula which he had managed to see. I believe the term to use here is ‘Music to our ears’!
Once at the Akamas, we made a bee-line for the Baths of Aphrodite, and, following the thankfully very precise directions the birder had given us, we managed to successfully root out the owl in the tree. It was stunning views of a bird which had been increasingly frustrating us, so it was a relief to have finally seen one. This subspecies has already been split by one authority (the name of which escapes me…) and could well be split by others in the future, due to this form having a different call & being darker overall.
We then drove to Smigies picnic site, finding several Masked Shrike & Cretzschmar’s Buntings, as well as at least four Collared Flycatchers, lots of Serins & a single Pied Flycatcher. Moving on to the hills around Evretou Dam, constantly scanning for raptors, we rooted out another Bonelli’s Eagle, a very dark Marsh Harrier, a Black-headed Wagtail, and, in typical Cypriot banter, a Common Buzzard. Having failed in the buzzard quest (ish), we played our final card.
We parked up at Theletra Gorge, basically a very steep mountain with a wedge cut out of it. Several people had mentioned this as a site for Long-legged Buzzard (‘guaranteed’ as Dave Gosney put it), and after five minutes, a cracking adult LONG-LEGGED BUZZARD casually dropped in from the north & perched up on the clifftops! It subsequently did have a few fly-arounds through the gorge, and proceeded to show very well at times.
Thinking our day was done, we started to make our way home: that notion was smashed rather abruptly when a Black Kite flew past us on the road. This is quite a scarce bird to see in spring, and was the first one on Cyprus this year! This of course did not meet with the approval of two locals who screamed blue murder at us when we parked up.
We toasted our eternal good fortune at lunch, and spent the early afternoon relaxing at the poolside. Unfortunately, a nasty bit of leg cramp acquired in the pool reduced me to a hobble, so we decided on a fairly easy destination for our last evening.
We parked up at Cape Drepanum & left the rest of the family to explore the boatyard nearby. We drifted past the initial fields and headed south, rooting out a gorgeous Wood Warbler & several Whinchat.
We looked in on a weedy field and quickly found a huge flock of Yellow Wagtails: mostly Black-headed, but also some Blue-headed, as well as both the ‘dombrowskii’ & ‘superciliaris’ intergrades.
We made our way back to the villa before going out to meet with some friends who were staying in Paphos & giving our holiday a good send-off in the now-revered tavern, with moussaka, calamari & bakalavat.
Day 8- Wednesday 5th April- One Last Hurrah
The site we would go for our last morning needed no debate or argument: we would have one last explore around Paphos Headland before heading home. We caught the bus to avoid stranding the rest of the family in the villa with the bags, and walked around the exterior path. We soon found more Yellow Wagtails of various forms & intergrades.
We made our way round to the end of the headland, and a wonderful sight greeted our eyes: there must have been at least 30 Red-throated Pipits feeding in the long grass just feet away, and an Isabelline Wheatear & even a female Cyprus Wheatear joined in on the party.
Soon it was unfortunately time to leave & meet up with the rest of the family, before heading off to the airport for a very comfortable flight home, but not before seeing the only two Crag Martins of the trip coast SW past Tomb of the Kings.
I’m going to say this now, but I believe that this was my favourite holiday of all time. The twenty Western Palearctic ticks notwithstanding, the combination of great food, [mostly] hospitable people, stunning scenery, [mostly] nice weather, and of course lots of birds, make this place a great one to visit. If you ever have some time on your hands in late March/early-mid April, then you can’t go wrong with a visit to Cyprus.
There are several stand-out moments from the holiday: the huge flock of 20 Tawny Pipits at Anarita Park, the stunning Spur-winged Plover just yards away in the Lower Esouzas, the Red-throated Pipits at Paphos Headland, the hundreds of Yellow Wagtails wheeling around us at Cape Drepanum, and of course the Cinereous Bunting on the first morning at Paphos Headland.
One thing’s for certain now: we will be back…
Announcement: The blog will now go on hiatus until early June, after another blog post has been published about the rest of the Easter holidays.