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A Report from

Cyprus 22nd September – 2nd October 2008.,

Steve and Sue Wilce

We took an Easyjet flight out from Gatwick and arrived in Cyprus about midday. We had learned through the Internet that Cyprus had been without any substantial rainfall for the past five winters and consequently there was a water shortage on the island. As we  approached Paphos  airport in the plane we could see a very parched and dry landscape. Water levels in Asprokremnos reservoir were down substantially.

We picked up our Honda jeep from Autostop Rent a Car and proceeded to Vasilias Nickoklis Inn at Nikoklia, where we were to stay for the next ten days. As previously, (we stayed here in the spring of 2005), a warm welcome was extended and after refreshments and quickly unpacking we drove off full of expectation. Our first port of call were paths adjacent to the water splash at Choletria. The river had dried out completely, the birds, however, had not. The bushes were full of Willow Warblers and Olivaceous Warblers. There was a brief shower of rain and after this the birds really showed well. Also present was a Stonechat and Bee Eaters flew overhead. 

We drove back and took the road towards Asprokrmnos Dam. We stopped just before the Dam because Steve had spotted a Lesser Grey Shrike perched at the top of a bush. Some Bee Eaters flew in and rested on some branches nearby. Also present was a juvenile Red Backed Shrike, a Crested Lark and a skulking Sardinian Warbler. In a field on the opposite side of the road there were numerous Yellow Wagtails  and some Goldfinches in the short vegetation.

We were watching the wagtails when a juvenile Montague’s Harrier floated past.  A Kestrel was also seen and to our surprise an Eleanor’s Falcon darted low over the fields. All this in just half an hour!! Before heading back to the Inn for our evening meal we decided to have a quick look around the aerial mast above the dam as we had seen some good birds there in the past including Red Footed Falcons,  but this time we just saw some more Bee Eaters on the wire and a Little Owl popped out and glared at us from the top of a rock.

Tuesday 23rd September

On the way up to Pano Panayia we stopped at the newly built Kanivou Dam which had been under construction on our last visit in 2005. As we stood and looked out a Booted Eagle flew low around some trees and gave great views before soaring away back over the trees.

We knew that Masked Shrike migrate early and so hoped to catch one at a well known site for them near Pano Panayia at the Monashilakas picnic site, but unfortunately did not see any. Coal Tit and Great Tits were in the pines. Lower down quite a large area had been cleared of small trees and bushes to plant vegetables. This had been rich in bird life previously but this time there was fewer birds although we saw a flock of Linnets, 2 Cyprus Wheatears, Spotted Flycatcher, 2 Blackcaps, and several Willow Warblers.

After a picnic lunch we drove to Evretou Reservoir. We had a brief look at the Dam but it was too hot for comfort so we drove to the other side, turning off towards Simou on the E712 road and following a rough track down to the edge of the reservoir. All of this part of the reservoir had dried up and we were able to drive along a track, which is usually under water, until we came closer to a moister area with a small pool of water.

We parked up and watched from the vehicle. We were delighted to see 100+ Yellow Wagtails (flava and  flavissima) all around us in the low vegetation and bathing in the pool.

While we were there 2 Little Stint flew in and gave great views at close range. Also present were 100+ Goldfinches, Swallows swooped everywhere, a Grey Heron was close by and a female Marsh Harrier quartered a reed bed opposite us before  landing  in the reeds to take a frog.

To finish the day, before returning to Vasilias Nikoklis for dinner, we drove back to the same area near the top of the Asprokrmnos Dam, that we visited yesterday. The 2 Shrikes were still there but we also saw 4 Montague’s Harriers, 3 Juveniles and 1 Male, the only male we saw on this trip. A Male and Female Marsh Harrier, 4 Kestrel and 1 Eleonora’s Falcon were present, as well as Whinchat, Sardinian Warblers, a Grey Heron and numerous Bee Eaters.

Wednesday 24th September

Weather remained hot and dry as we headed out for Akrotiri peninsular. We visited Phassouri Reedbeds but there was no water anywhere. Flocks of Red Rumped Swallows, the only ones we saw this trip, flew all around us as did the Bee Eaters. Kestrels hovered overhead and Juv. Montague’s Harrier floated by. Spotted Flycatcher was also seen.  We then decided to go down the rough track down to the Salt Lake and along Lady’s Mile to Zakaki Pools. As we drove past the Army base Steve spotted a Male Red Footed Falcon on the wires. As this was one of the birds we really wanted to see we pulled into the side of the road and  hastily erected the tripod/telescope. We just had time for a quick look each before an army jeep pulled up behind us to ask what we were doing. They pointed out we were in a restricted area, so we apologised and quickly moved on. But it was worth it for the sight of such a fantastic bird.  At the edge of the track by the Sylvania Restaurant  a Lesser Grey Shrike and a Roller was on the wires, and a very light Common Buzzard flew low giving excellent views.

All the pools were dry along Ladies Mile, there were a few Kentish Plovers but nothing else until we reached Zakaki Pools. This was much lower than usual but still held a reasonable amount of water. There was a flock of Yellow Wagtail and  Little Stints, Ringed Plovers, Curlew Sandpipers, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Redshank, Greenshank, Dunlin.  On the way back a Kingfisher was seen heading toward the pool.

We stopped opposite the Environmental Centre in Akrotiri as there was a Female Red Back Shrike showing well in the small bushes.  We also stopped off near Kensington Cliff and had good close views of Eleonora’s Falcons.

Closer to home, at Mandria there was a flock of 100+ Yellow Wagtails, 300+ Greenfinch,  a L.G. Shrike hovered over the low vegetation and Marsh and Montague’s Harriers were seen and a male Merlin flew through. Along the beach Cormorants fished from the rocks. Later that evening, at Vasilias Nikoklis we went outside to listen to the resident Scops Owl which we had heard calling from the Acacia trees just outside our room.  Managed to see the owl briefly in the beam of a torch.

Thursday 25th September

Another hot and sunny day, we breakfasted outside in the shade of the vines. Although some of the grapes had shrivelled through lack of water, Dora  picked us some fresh sweet grapes to have with our breakfast. Then we set of for the Akamas Peninsula. It was just as dusty and bumpy as I remembered it. We stopped off at a likely spot and started to see some nice birds – Willow Warblers, Cyprus Wheaters but the peace was disturbed by off-roading tour jeeps from Paphos so we moved on. Along the way we saw a Peregrine Falcon on the cliffs, Chukkar and  Black Frankolin near  the beach restaurant. Nearing the top of the track before  the parking area there was a male Black Eared Wheatear in full breeding plumage . Along Smiyes track we saw Goldfinches, Spotted Flycatchers,  Hoopoe, Red Back Shrike (female). Not many birds about at all. We drove back to one of our favourite spots in Mandria and saw all the birds mentioned on previous visits.

 We then  visited Asprokremnos pools for the first time,  We had assumed they would be dried up, but we were surprised to find some water in the pool nearest the dam. A Kingfisher  was perched in the reeds  but flew off as we approached. Three Redshank landed briefly. Nothing else was seen on the pool but  a Booted Eagle flew over.  20 Chukkar were near the base of the dam and 100+ Bee Eaters flew around us, obviously enjoying the occupants of the many Beehives there. Goldfinch, Crested Lark and Sardinian Warbler were also seen  in the shrubs close to the base of the dam.

Friday 26th September

The day started duller than usual and we had some heavy showers, however they did not last long  (by British standards). Today  we returned to Asprokremnos Pools. There was an Isabelline Wheatear on the gravel near the pumping station, together with a Northern Wheatear and a Cyprus Wheatear. There was also a flock of Linnets flying about, a Red Back Shrike and Crested Lark. The Bee Eaters were still present in large numbers and we watched and photographed them until the Beekeeper, who we had seen attending his hives earlier that morning, started shooting at them. This was understandable I suppose but not pleasant to see.

We always take a turn around Mandria as it can throw up some nice birds and this afternoon we spotted a Juvenile Roller. Steve got some great photos as it seemed to be quite tolerant of us. There was a Lesser Black Backed Gull on the beach and Cormorants on the rock just offshore. 

Still hoping to see Red Footed Falcons we drove up the Dhiarizos valley to check the wires, as this is known as a site favoured by the birds. Unfortunately not today though. As it started to rain quite heavily we made our way back to the hotel for a shower and dinner.

Saturday 27th September

Although the rain had cleared and the sun was hot, it was quite windy today. We decided to revisit the Akrotiri peninsular. As we approached Limassol 3 Griffon Vultures circled high above us. At Zakaki pool the water level was much lower than previously and hence there were no waders except 2 Dunlin. 25 Grey Heron and 2 Little Egrets were counted towards the back of the pool.

At Phassouri Reedbeds, in what was once a reasonably sized copse of trees, but now are all felled, we watched a female Red Back Shrike as she flew repeated to a small thorn bush. On closer observation we discovered this was her “larder” and there was the remains of a small bird impaled on the thorns. As we watched a male Red Backed Shrike perched briefly on a tree stump in front of us but then flew of and was not seen again. This was to be the only male sited this trip. In the same area a Hoopoe flew past. Marsh and Montague’s Harriers were still present and Bee Eaters abounded.

We had a quick drive through the gravel pits to see if there was any water in the pools and found one with  2 Dunlin and 1 Ringed Plover. The rest, however had dried up.

We drove back towards home and did our now usual tour of Mandria and Asprokremnos pools but there was nothing new to note.

At Vasilias Nickoklis we noticed a large mound of vegetation on one of the tables outside. We asked Dora what they were and she said they were peanuts, freshly dug from fields at Mandria.  She showed us the shells growing amongst the roots and invited us to try them. The peanuts were so sweet and moist.  What a difference in taste when they are that fresh. Pretty soon most of the other guests had “discovered” them and everyone remarked how good they tasted..

Sunday 28th September

We decided to drive over to the Larnaca area and to the Akhna Dam as we had never visited that part of the island. The drive took us about one and a half hours. Larnaca Salt Lake and airport pools were completely dry.

We saw numerous female and juvenile Red Back Shrikes along the track at Tekke Mosque and as we watched a Hare bolted from low scrub in front of us. There also were several Crested Lark along the path. Had we known it at the time, there was water at the Larnaca Water Treatment Plant and numerous Flamingoes as well as other waders were present. Unfortunately we did not know of this site until we spoke to a local ex-pat birder a couple of days later.

Akhna Dam was busy. There was not much water left and what little was left was surrounded by fishermen and their families having a day out. We managed to find a quiet spot and were able to get quite close to approximately 25 Spur Winged Plover by staying in the jeep and using it as a hide. There was also a good mix of other waders: Kentish Plover, Ruff, Common Sandpiper, 2 Snipe, 2 Little Stint, several Dunlin and a Little Egret. Other birds in the low vegetation were: Whinchat, Willow Warblers and Goldfinches. A Hoopoe flew in briefly but did not stop for long. We had had about 15 minutes of watching and taking photographs when a fisherman and his family found our “quiet spot” and drove his car on to the bank were the waders were. He and his family got out or the car and started getting chairs out and a picnic ready. Needless to say all the birds flew off and that was the end of our bird watching at Akna Dam. We drove from there across some promising looking fields at the back of the Dam. It was full of Whinchat and several Spotted Flycatchers.

We decided to call in at Phassouri Reedbeds on the way back and spent an enjoyable hour or two watching Marsh Harriers (1 male), Montague’s Harriers, Buzzards, Kestrels and an Osprey. There seemed to be a lot of raptors in the air above some tree to the west of us. Steve thought they could be Red Footed Falcons but they were too far away to be sure.

We made our way back towards Paphos along the M1 road. Sitting on the wires next to a post was a fabulous male Red Footed Falcon and alongside him was a juvenile bird.

We parked the jeep in a farmers field that the post was in. The farmer was there and gave us the thumbs up to get out and  photograph the Falcons.   The birds were quite tolerant and allowed Steve to get quite close.

I happened to look further along the wires and saw another male and a juvenile bird on the wires, the next post down. These were the birds we had been hoping to see and we had excellent views. They seemed quite content to sit there, occasionally flying, but returning to roughly the same area.

Much elated after this experience we drove along the coastline and treated ourselves to an enormous ice cream cone at a pull in above Aphrodite’s Rock. We tried to watch some Eleonora’s Falcons there but were much hampered by the melting ice cream.

Monday 29th September

We started the day on the top of Asprokremnos Dam and no sooner had we arrived than an Osprey flew over and perched on some rocks below us. We watched it fishing for some time and eventually if caught a fish and flew off to the top of a pylon to eat it. There was also a tight raft of about 16 Garganey on the reservoir. A Peregrine Falcon flew below us over the edge of the reservoir’s steep banks. Also observed were Grey Herons, Cyprus Wheatears, Montague’s and Marsh Harriers and several Chukkar. The Bee Eaters had by now all moved on from this area, obviously deterred by the shooting.

We decided to look for areas  where there was water in the hope of finding some new species of birds. On our previous 2 spring visits to Cyprus we had never visited the Dams near Limossol (as mentioned in  Stagg and Hearl), so decided to try our luck there. Kouris Dam had a good write-up so we decided this would be our first port of call. As we drove up on to the Dam a bird was perched on the wall, the car disturbed it and it flew on to the rocks below. We got out carefully as the bird was a bit “flighty” and had reasonably close views of a male Blue Rock Thrush. Steve got his camera to try and get a picture but the rock thrush wasn’t having any of it and disappeared over the other side of the dam. We could still see it but it was too far away for any photographs. We then took the rough path down towards the reedbed.  Aslthough you could see the potential for this site when there was water there, we did not see another bird.

Next stop was Yermasoyia Dam. This was a much better habitat and we immediately could see a scattering of waders at the edge of the water.

A Kingfisher was perched on a small branch over the water and 7 Dunlin, 6 Little Stint and  2 Common Sandpiper fed along the water’s edge. There was an area of reeds at one side, and after watching for a while a bird appeared which turned out to be a Red Necked Phalarope. We could see another head in the reeds and thought it might be another but on emerging it turned out to be a Wood Sandpiper.  Mallard were also present. Further out in the reservoir which had dried out and grassed over we observed Montague’s and Marsh Harrier and a Merlin flew through. Other birds observed in the area were numerous Yellow Wagtails and Goldfinches.

While there we met a British birder who told us of 3 Tawny Pipits he had seen on the way up and kindly gave us directions. Luckily they were still there when we got to the area mentioned.

We returned on the B6 toward Paphos, there was very heavy rainfall on the way which we did not expect. As it cleared and the sun came out we noticed a largish bird on the wires near Kouris. We pulled in and saw a Male Red Footed Falcon on the wires and  juvenile a bit further away.  All of a sudden there were Red Footed Falcons flying everywhere about us. We counted at least 11 – mostly juveniles , 2 males and at least 1 female. It was an amazing experience. We had searched for days to see one and now they seemed to be everywhere.

Our evening visit to Asprokremos dam produced an Osprey sitting on the post and a Marsh Harrier over the water. An ex pat british birder called us over to look at a  Juv. Peregrine Falcon that he had been watching for some time. It was sitting on some rocks close to the wall and did not seem to want to fly off. We thought it might have been grounded during the heavy rainstorm we’d just had. However, a few minutes later it took to the wing and we hoped that this was a sign that it would be OK. We talked with this gentleman for some time about the development in the area and remarked how many houses had been built in the Mandria area since we were there three years ago. He told us of a site in the Olive Groves in Mandria where he had counted 75 Stone Curlew under the trees. We resolved to visit the following day.

Tuesday 30th September

We followed the directions given us and as we approached a ploughed field several Stone Curlew took off and flew into the adjacent olive grove. One stayed in the field, however and we were able to get a photograph before he too, flew into the groves.  We also saw 2 Rollers, one juvenile and one adult in full plumage. A juvenile Red Backed Shrike was also there. Driving along we observed two men pulling birds from lime sticks. We thought this activity was on the wane and were horrified to see it with our own eyes, carried out in full view of passers by. Obviously they were not concerned by any fine or penalty being imposed upon them.

On this sad scene we left the area and drove toward the Troodos via Nata heading for the Monashilakas picnic site to see if there were any Masked Shrike left there. We saw more Red Footed Falcons on the way up

On one section we had to take a diversion as part of the road was closed. On rejoining the road we looked back at the closed off area and saw a Harrier on the ground on a road kill. It flew off and a second took its place. As it flew you could clearly see the light band around its face which led us to believe they were Pallid Harriers. Unfortunately some works traffic arrived and the bird flew off.

At the picnic site we had very good views of Melodious Warblers, a Lesser Whitethroat, Spotted Flycatcher, Jay, Coal and Great Tits – but no Shrikes! Lizards of all varieties were everywhere though.

We returned the same way and just above Choletria saw 2 large birds in the sky – they were Booted Eagles. Suddenly one Eagle stooped at an amazing speed and took a pigeon out of the air. They both then flew out of sight. It was all over in a matter of moments. Then a Red Footed Falcon flew over.

More Red Footed Falcons were seen at virtually every place we stopped.  There were 3 at Mandria when we went there to look at the Stone Curlews (We had now seen 23).  There were about 20 Stone Curlew out in the field but the light was failing now, so no good for photos, but it was great to see so many having only seen one or two together before now.

Wednesday 1st October

Our last full day, we had an early start at Mandria to see the Stone Curlews. The edges of the field were full of them but the moment we approached closer they started to make their way into the olive groves. We observed all the birds mentioned previously as well as 4 Isabelline Wheatears in low vegetation just above the beach.

We decided to have a last look up the Dhiarizos Valley and to our pleasant surprise counted 15 Red Footed Falcons on the wires at the lower end of the valley. By this time we had seen so many we were getting quite blasé about them! Nevertheless we thoroughly enjoyed the sight of so many male, female and juvenile birds  together.

Further up the valley we took a rough track off to the  left, which, we guessed, would eventually lead back to the lower part of the valley where the falcons were. The track was very rough in parts but we came to an area of small trees bushes, parked up and waited to see what would come along. First along was a Melodious Warbler, in the same tree was a Great Reed Warbler. There were plenty of Willow Warblers around and a group of Chukkars crossed the path in front of us. We then saw a  Spotted Flycatcher and an unexpected Black Redstart. It was getting quite hot by now so we decided to get back on the main road and find somewhere for lunch. We pulled in to a little café and enjoyed our last Halloumi sandwich. 

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the Asprokremnos pools and dam area. All the Bee Eaters had moved on, there were Goldfinch, Linnets and Montague’s Harriers, but little else so we decided to go back to the Inn and spent the remainder of the afternoon drinking tea on our balcony and watching the kittens play in the garden below. 

As we were getting ready to go down for dinner the Scops Owl started to call (as he did about this time every night). As it was so warm we ate outside under the vines.

Dora pointed out a Cactus which had 3 large white blossoms on it and told us it would bloom for one night only and then the flowers would die.  The following day we noticed that they had indeed faded.

We’d had a great time in Cyprus although we had seen some upsetting scenes of bird trapping and shooting that we had not come across before. There were a lot less birds too, probably because of the lack of water anywhere, but we had had some unforgettable  “cameos” of some birds, especially raptors, e.g. booted eagles stooping onto pigeons, Osprey hunting etc. The hospitality as Vasilias Nikolis was second to none and we’d enjoyed lovely hot days and warm evenings. It was therefore with some reluctance we said our goodbyes and made our way back to the airport for our flight home.


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