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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
A HOLIDAY IN CYPRUS, 26th March to 9th April 1997,
This report is reproduced here with the permission of Bren McCartney of the Berkshire Birds Web Pages
Cyprus (or at least the Greek part of it) is a largely
hilly land of mimosa and carob trees, scattered ruins of various civilizations,
huge British military bases where the Red Arrows practise, deserted Turkish
villages, and Keo. The latter company supplies everything liquid - beer, mineral
water, sherry ...
Our holiday was excellent, even though the weather had been unusually cold and wet. This had delayed migration. With hindsight, even in a more average season, we would probably have gone in late April. We only saw one over-wintering species, Greater Sand Plover, and missed some reliable summer ones.
Birdwatching And Us:
We are both keen birdwatchers, living in London. Most of our holidays, which have included several in different parts of Europe and America, have a large birdwatching element. The greatest overlap with Cyprus birds were those of Tunisia and the Greek island of Lesbos.
The Books We Used
On the assumption that most western and northern European birds would be familiar, and not wanting to take an entire library, our field guides were: Field Guide to the Birds of the Middle East, Porter, Christensen & Schiermacker-Hansen; and The Macmillan Birder's Guide to European and Middle Eastern Birds, Harris, Shirihai & Christie. This latter we did not use much. In fact, Lars Jonsson's Birds of Europe, would have been sufficient.
For flowers, we used David Burnie's Wild Flowers of the Mediterranean (Eyewitness Handbooks) which was not entirely satisfactory, but we do not know of one that is.
For sites we used Finding Birds in Cyprus, Dave Gosney, priced £5 (cheques payable to Birdguides Ltd), post free, from Gostours, Jack House, Ewden, Sheffield S30 5ZA;
and A Birdwatchers Guide to the Birds of Cyprus, Oddie & Moore (Suffolk Wildlife Trust). We bought this from The Bird and Wildlife Bookshop, 8 Royal Opera Arcade, London SW1Y 4UY (0171-839 1881).
The Cyprus Ornithological Society  (Yiangou Souroulla 6, CY-6037 Larnaka) runs a Bird Information Centre at the Apollo Hotel, Kato Paphos from 10am to 12noon, and Birdline-Cyprus, the cheap information service on 06-233707. (Note: cash pay-phones are scarce and phone cards are CY£3.) They also publish a very useful Birds of Cyprus Check List, which we bought at the Apollo. Jeff Gordon of COS is on e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org, and he posts a monthly round-up of Cyprus birds to the EuroBirdNet mailing list.
We also used information from Steve Whitehouse's Foreign
Birdwatching Reports and Information Service, 6 Skipton Crescent, Berkeley Pendesham,
Worcester WR4 0LG (01905 454541).
The Places We Went To
Unless stated, directions for the sites can be found in guides mentioned above.
26th - Flight from Gatwick to Paphos, arriving well after dark. The only birds we saw were the swallows nesting in the dining room at the Vasilias Nikolkis Inn in Nikoklia where we were staying.
27th - Woken by din of House and Spanish sparrows tap-dancing and twittering on the roof, and Stone-curlew and Black Francolin (though we did not know it at the time) calling. Woke up, too, to the realisation that the Inn is totally magic, Red-rumped as well as ordinary swallows flitting around. After breakfast the roosting Scops Owl was shown to us, and the Francolin revealed as the noisy caller.
In Paphos we went to the Apollo Hotel to find the COS people. A flock of Night Herons came in to roost in a nearby tree just as we arrived. Jeff Gordon of the COS, whose acquaintance Alastair had already made by e-mail, took us up to the lighthouse and round the headland. Pipits, wheatears (including our first-ever Isabelline); hundreds of Blue-headed and Black-headed Wagtails; Alpine Swifts wheeling overhead; three Greater Sand Plovers on the beach (a new species for us); and a female Blue Rockthrush perched up on the old Roman harbour.
Later, we went to the Asprokremos Dam Pools, where we saw a Wryneck, and lots of Cyprus warblers with their raised crests looking like bearskin helmets. We spotted our first Cyprus Pied Wheatear near the roadside on the journey back to the Inn. The clear night sky gave wonderful views of the Hale Bopp comet.
28th - The day started brilliantly when Alastair looked out the window, and saw two Great Spotted Cuckoos on the tree and telephone wire. We spent the day in the Akrotiri area looking at the Salt Lake (the flamingos were dots in the heat haze), Ladies Mile, Zakiki pools (the best spot of the day with three Glossy Ibis among the Black-winged Stilts and Garganey), Phasouri Reed Beds, and the Akrotiri Reed Bed. This latter was very wet, and the round walk mentioned by Gosney was a complete non-starter.
29th - Our only early morning, we were up at 6am and off to Asprokremos Dam Pools. We saw the Little Crake this time, but little else and decided getting out of bed at an ungodly hour was not worth it.
After breakfast we visited the Lower Dharizos River Valley - lots of Corn Buntings, a Marsh Harrier, and a party of Yellowhammers. We did not know at that stage that they are "description birds" in Cyprus. A party of six Shoveler flew by when we reached the sea. Also of note were the orange groves, the sweet chestnut, and the pomegranete trees, as well as lots of wild flowers. We identified Naples garlic, tasseled hyacinths, and Bermuda buttercup. There were also a good few Painted Lady butterflies.
A leisurely lunch at the Inn, culture at the Paphos mosaics followed (a Black-eared Wheatear was nearby) then back to the Inn putting up a Scops Owl as we entered.
30th - Wandered around the Paphos Lighthouse Area, coming in from the "farm" end. We met some people from Stockport RSPB who directed us to our first Collared Flycatcher. We found it, plus a Common Redstart and a pair of Rüppell's Warblers.
We called in again on the COS people at the Apollo Hotel and were given information on the Finsch's Wheatear that had been seen mid-week. It was suggested that the warmer weather might have meant they had left and, indeed, we did not find them. However, others did see them a week later. We did, however, find Finikas, the deserted village where the Finsch's winter. The COS directions to it were a lot easier than those in our guides.
Take the Asprokremmos Dam Pool turning off the main Paphos/Limassol road, but do not turn in to the pool. Instead, continue until the road turns sharp right to go over the dam and, at this point, take the track ahead. Continue on the track going straight over at the crossroads, and bear right just before the radio mast, continuing down towards the water. Continue on the rough, and switchback, track until it gets down to water level, you cross a small bridge over a tributary and there is a rough stone pier into the water. The Finsch's might be here, or up at the next even more casual pier, or even in the deserted village ahead. As I have said, we did not see the birds, but there were anglers on the piers and a large flock of goats was being moved - that's our excuse. We did see a Great White Egret at the water's edge, and a huge flock of Goldfinches in the disturbing, empty, village.
31st - We, sadly, left the Inn and moved our base to Drousia in the north-west. Our first stop on the way was the Asprokremmos Dam Pool. Much the same birds as before with the addition of a Little Bittern, the first Kingfisher and Nightingales of the trip, an obliging Rüppell's Warbler, and a Purple Heron that flew overhead.
The second stop was the Mavrokolymbos Dam, where the only birds were Cyprus Pied Wheatears and Rüppell's Warblers. We next went along the F704 from Coral Bay to Kathikas - the en route highlight was a chase between two Great Spotted Cuckoos and two Magpies. In Kathikas we had lunch, and photographed the House Martin city on the church. Once at Drousia we went for a stroll north west out of the village. Tree Pipit was a new species for the trip and the morning's cuckoo/ magpie drama was repeated.
1st - Wind and rain at breakfast, but it was sunny by the time we took the link road from Kritou Terra to the B7. Bushes fairly heaving with Corn Buntings, Blackcaps and Great Tits. At the Evretou Dam we had barely left the car before the rain restarted and then, despite our four-wheel drive, we had great difficulty getting back up the hill which had turned, in minutes, into a mudbath.
After the rain eased, we set off to walk the triangle between Kato Akourdalia, Pano Akourdalia (which has an interesting herb garden) and Miliou. There were flowers everywhere, but the rain restarted and we got lost. We never did complete the route, but did get an excellent lunch in an unpromising coffee house in Miliou. We saw lots of small birds everywhere including the first Subalpine Warbler and Red-rumped Swallows.
2nd - Brilliant weather, and probably the best day of the whole trip. In the morning we drove to Baths of Aphrodite and then walked west along the cliffs. There was a nightingale (Thrush or not, we could not decide) and a Collared Flycatcher by the goat sheds, plus dozens of the various blackcapped warblers all along the route, and numerous jelly fish in the sea. By the time we returned to the goats, there had been a fall of Bonelli's Warblers, as well as a lone Wood Warbler.
In the afternoon we walked from Neo Khorio to the old church. The entire area was heaving with small birds (at last, we know what "a fall" means). We noted Red-rumped Swallows, House Martins, common Swallows, Collared Flycatchers (noticeably more on the return than the outward journey), Cyprus and Northern Wheatears, two Common Redstarts, Rüppell's and Sardinian Warblers, a nightingale sp, a party of Tree Pipits, lots and lots of Cretzschmar's Buntings, a Great Spotted Cuckoo and its Common cousin, and, best of all, a Masked Shrike.
3rd - Another moving-on day. It was sunny when we awoke, but raining by the time we arrived at Polis marshes. Heard, and saw, a Reed Warbler, the first acro of the trip. We also saw another nightingale, but, again, could not decide on the species. We retreated through the rain to Paphos and the Asprokremmos Dam Pool where we saw another Reed Warbler, and our first Woodchat Shrike and Sand Martins.
We headed up the road from the Dam to Platres in the Troodos mountains, where we checked into our hotel in the pinewood. New birds included Wren and Pallid Swift.
4th - There was bright sunshine when we awoke, and the swifts, Pallid and Common, seemed in danger of coming into our room. We walked up the Caledonian Falls trail. The falls themselves were disappointing (rubbish strewn everywhere) and the only birds we added to our trip list were a Blackbird, a party of six Siskins, and some Cypriot-race Jays.
After lunch at the Trout Farm, we drove around stopping off for a couple of walks in the pines. This gave us the opportunity to study the Cypriot race of Coal Tit - very, very different from our own with its black scarf and crown stripe. We then stopped at the totally birdless Prodhromos reservoir, before an appalling journey back to Platres in a blizzard.
5th - We cut our stay in the mountains short, in retrospect we should probably have done a day-trip, and headed down to the Phasouri Reed Beds on our way to our next hotel at Lefkara. The reed beds were much more active than the previous week. We saw several Squacco Heron, Glossy Ibis, Cattle and Little Egrets, Wood and Marsh Sandpipers, Ruff, Garganey, a large flock of Greenfinches, a Whinchat and a Purple Heron.
We then went to the Zakaki Marsh area where the star bird was the sole Spur-winged Plover of the trip. It obliged with truly excellent views. Also of note were a Little Ringed Plover and a second Whinchat. Our final site of the day was Kensington Cliffs which, because of the restrictions on visiting, we viewed from cliffs across the bay. We were "rewarded" with microscopic views of six Griffon-vultures.
6th - The rain, which had poured down in the night, had stopped by the time we left Lefkara for Larnaca, but a fierce west wind remained all day. A party of 30 Slender-billed, plus a couple of Black-headed, Gulls were all of note on the Larnaca Salt Lake (we later learned that the Greater Flamingos now frequent a private, and unviewable, site nearby), but we did visit the Tekke Mosque.
Onto the Meneou Beach Pools - Spiro's (now reachable by car) was completely deserted, but on the pool nearer to Meneou we saw a party of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. A harrier, possibly Pallid, was blown across in the wind in a shorter time than was needed for a positive identification.
After lunch we headed out to the Kiti Dam and Pool. In Kiti take the road to Tersefanou. Immediately over the bridge as you are leaving the town, turn right and then right again through a housing estate. There is a small sign in the estate marked "PROS UDATOFRAKTH KITIOU." Both the Dam and the Pool were completely dry, and we understand they have been for a couple of years, but scrub-bashing revealed a Woodchat Shrike, a Masked Shrike, a Collared Flycatcher, and, on the fields, Northern Wheatear, Whinchat and Chukar.
7th - Another change of plans. We decided that any additional bird species were likely to be in Paphos, rather than the east of the island, and that our hearts were in Nikoklia, so we decided to head back for our last two nights in Cyprus. The first stop on our way back was the Zakaki pools, where the Red Arrows were, distractingly, practising overhead. On the pools: a Marsh Sandpiper, stilts, Little Egret, a male Marsh Harrier and a Kingfisher. Phasouri was heaving with birds of much the same species as on the 5th, with the addition of a Greenshank.
Next stop, the Asprokremos Dam Pool, where the significant birds included two Little Crake and a Woodchat Shrike, before finding our way back to the birdwatcher's paradise that is also known as the Vasilias Nikoklis Inn. Re-installed in our old room, we saw, from the balcony Collared Flycatcher, Cyprus Pied Wheatear, female Common Redstart, a male Marsh Harrier, Goshawk, female Blackcap, and Hoopoe as well as hearing Scops Owl and Black Francolin.
8th - A very, very windy day, with probably the best birds of the day seen from our balcony after breakfast - Collared and Pied Flycatchers, and a Woodchat Shrike. Then, a trip round the Lighthouse area in the gale revealed big parties of Short-toed larks, a Hoopoe, a Stone-Curlew in flight, a Song Thrush, Northern and Isabelline Wheatears, and a bright Subalpine Warbler. Then off to the Apollo to see the COS people and find out what we had missed during our fortnight (see Notable Dips, below).
Back to Nikoklia, and a walk up the now wet river bed where we saw flocks of Yellow Wagtails, a Common Sandpiper, Northern and Cyprus Pied Wheatears, three Common Cuckoos on a hill, a Pied and several Collared Flycatchers, plus a Masked and a Woodchat Shrike in the same tree.
Back to the Inn to read (it was too cold to sit on the balcony) and off back to London on an early flight the next day.
The Birds We Saw
We use the following COS site abbreviations in the list:
|ASL||Akrotiri Salt Lake||AD/P||Asprokremos Dam Pool|
|BofA||Baths of Aphrodite||CF||Caledonian Falls|
|DR||Dharizos River Valley||KC||Kensington Cliffs|
|KitD/P||Kiti Dam/Pool||KiP||Kiti (Meneou) Pools|
|LM||Ladies Mile||LSL||Larnaca Salt Lake|
|NK||Neo Khorio||PLA||Paphos Lighthouse Area|
|PRB||Phasouri Reed Bed||ZM||Zakaki Marsh|
a = abundant; c = common; f = frequent; o = occasional.
Species marked with an asterisk are subject to acceptance
The birds we had hoped to see, but didn't, include:
Our biggest disappointment, however, was not to see any Rollers (Coracias garrulus). How we longed for them to be on the wires outside the Inn. In a "normal" year they would have been, and we understand they finally turned up two days after we left. The cover of the Cyprus Airways magazine on our return journey featured a Roller - just to make sure we knew what a fantastic bird we had missed.
The Practicalities - Flights, Cars and Accommodation
We booked flights, cars and accommodation through Sunvil
Holidays, Sunvil House,
Upper Square, Old Isleworth, Middlesex TW7BJ (0181-568 4499 / -895 1529 fax), and we could not fault them.
Our Cyprus Airways flights were first-rate and their in-flight magazine was the best I have ever seen. It prompted us to visit the Akourdalia area, which had not been part of our intended itinerary.
We hired a Suzuki jeep through Sunvil. Pleasingly, the hire charge included everything bar fuel. The drawback to the jeep was that our luggage was on display; the advantage that it made an excellent hide as it was high and had a flat front window. We only used the four-wheel drive once, at the Evretou Dam. The difficulties we experienced then, with a good track becoming almost unpassable after a few minutes of rain, made us aware that a four-wheel drive could induce a false sense of security.
We stayed in four different places. We had pre-booked them through Sunvil, but paid extra to change when in Cyprus.
The Droushia Heights Hotel was bog-standard, but after Vasilias Nikoklis anywhere would have been disappointing. Nearly all the other guests were in one or other of two parties of German hikers. In retrospect we feel that we should have booked the Amarakos Inn instead (we stopped there in a downpour for a coffee), but the big plus of being in an uninspiring hotel was that we went out to eat in the evenings. The least promising-looking of the three open tavernas in the village provided the best meal of our trip.
The New Helvetia Hotel in Platres had an old-world charm (and wonderful marmalade), but Platres out-of-season is closed and dreary. The weather did not help. We left after two nights rather than the booked three - a reflection on the area rather than the Hotel.
The Lefkarama Hotel in Lefkara took us a day early, but again we left after two nights. Once more it was not a reflection on the Hotel, which was welcoming, but we realised that our planning had been wrong and, for any chance of seeing the birds we had gone to Cyprus for, we needed to be in the Paphos region. The Vasilias Nikoklis Inn drew us back.
If we had been blessed with hindsight when we
were planning the holiday we would:
However, hindsight is hindsight ... and we had a great time anyway.