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A Report from

A WEEK IN CYPRUS  23/9 TO 30/9/2000,

Dominic Le Croissette

It was a last minute decision to visit Cyprus for a one week birding break this autumn. I knew that it was a well-known destination in spring but very little of the literature I read mentioned much about its potential for an autumn visit. Still, after ascertaining that a late September visit would still produce the endemic Cyprus warbler and Cyprus pied wheatear,as well as the chance of some good passage and resident species, I decided to give it a try.

  Overall, it was a successful visit, but at times very hard work because many sites seemed rather short of birds. Most of the summer migrants had either completely departed (eg buntings), or were represented only by a few stragglers (eg. Shrikes). I was too late for Demoiselle cranes and too early for Common cranes, but on the plus side there was a strong passage of Bee-eaters and raptors, especially Red-footed falcons.

  Probably the main reason for the relative scarcity of birds was the lack of water on the island. In the Akrotiri area, both the salt lake and the Phassouri area were bone dry. Ladies Mile had a small amount of brackish water that attracted a limited range of wader species. Bishop's Pool contained water and therefore held some birds. The best site of the week was Zakaki marsh which, although usually dry at this time of year, had been pumped full of water, a side effect no doubt of an industrial operation at the port rather than a concession to the birds!

  Larnaca sewage works, right next to the airport and a relatively "new" site not mentioned in any of the "where to watch..." Guides I had read, held the largest numbers and greatest variety of herons, waders and terns of any of the sites. However, the passerines and raptors were better at Zakaki, which overall was a more aesthetically pleasing site to spend time at. The dams of Asprokremos, Evretou and Akhna, and their associated reservoirs, held water but also had limited appeal for birds. Overall, Evretou was the most productive of the three.

  Away from the water, migrant passerines were generally hard to find. Willow warblers were abundant but practically the only migrant warbler species noted. A limited range of other migrant passerines were fairly common : yellow wagtail, swallow, tawny pipit, whinchat, northern wheatear and spotted flycatcher.

  Sadly, hunters were often in evidence, especially around Zakaki where bee-hives had been set up as a deliberate lure to the bee-eaters which were then shot. The use of mist-nets and limesticks was less often observed, but no doubt took place, especially in the early mornings in the east of the island. Certainly, gunshots could be heard almost constantly on some days around Akrotiri, mainly targeting bee-eaters, although sadly on the final day of my visit two Ruff were found dead, apparently shot, at Zakaki.

  On a more positive note, the Cypriots I spoke to all condemned this practice, and one of them asked me to make it clear in my report that in fact the vast majority of people on the island are against the killing of migrant birds. It was also pleasing to note that, as well as English birding residents, several Cypriot birders attended the "twitch" of the Bar-tailed godwit at Zakaki.

Systematic List:  total species seen : 113

Little grebe :  noted at Bishop's Pool with one individual daily at Zakaki.
Black-necked grebe  :  one at Larnaca sewage farm (LSF) on 24th.
Shag  :  seen on the coast between Larnaca and Ayia Napa, also in Polis bay on 27th.
White pelican  :  four birds at LSF on 24th but these had departed by 30th.
Squacco heron  :  one at Bishop's Pool on 25th. One at Zakaki on 28th may have been the  same bird. Another was seen at the shallow end of Evretou on 27th.
Great white egret  :  the only birds noted were two at LSF on 24th and 30th.
Little egret  :  seen mainly singly or in small numbers at LSF, Bishop's Pool, Evretou and Zakaki. The highest count was 41 on rocks in Polis bay on 27th.
Grey heron  :  like above sp.,seen in ones and twos except for larger flocks on the coast at  Paphos lighthouse (10, 28th) and Polis (16, 27th).
Greater flamingo  :  seen only at LSF on 24th and 30th where it was numerous.
Spoonbill  :  one at Akrotiri gravel pit on 25th, at least 6 at LSF on 24th and 30th.
Teal  :  one or two only at Bishop's Pool and Evretou reservoir.
Mallard  :  only seen at LSF.
Pintail  :  a pair regularly at Zakaki and one or two at Bishop's Pool may have been the same  birds.
Garganey  :  the most common duck, a flock of 14 was present daily at Zakaki. Also seen at  Bishop's Pool and the Akhna dam.
Shoveler  :  one seen on the pools at Asprokremos dam on 25th, with two there the following  day.
Honey buzzard  :  one flew south along the valley near Evretou on 27th. Five flew low SW over Ladies' Mile in the early morning of 30th.
Griffon vulture  :  just the one bird seen flying low over the motorway near Episkopi garrison on 26th.
Marsh harrier  :  around Akrotiri this was by far the commonest harrier sp. Common around the reedbeds and marshes but also overflew the area, often flying high and  heading south. Up to 15 appeared to go to roost in the Akrotiri reedbeds on 26th and at least 7, including two adult males, roosted at Phassouri on 29th.
Pallid harrier  :  one juvenile at LSF on 24th. At Akrotiri, a juvenile frequented the area  between Zakaki and the edge of the salt lake on 28th and 29th. On the evening of 26th, three adult males together around the south edge of the salt lake close to Sylvana's restaurant, and one male a little more distantly from  there on the evening of 28th.
Montagu's harrier  :  just the one bird positively identified, a juvenile passing through  Zakaki on 26th. Other ringtail harriers, especially distant ones over the  salt lake on the evening of 26th, remained unidentified.
Common buzzard  :  a common migrant through Akrotiri, the best day of passage was 26th,  when at least 40 passed through Zakaki, often very high. A few noted at  other sites, including one apparently flying in from the sea at Paphos lighthouse early on 27th.
Long-legged buzzard  :  one bird seen well over the deserted village of Finikas at 10am on  29th. Further up the valley, the known site of Arminou failed to yield any sightings.
Osprey  :  on the evening of 26th, one lingered around the salt lake before flying south over  Sylvana's restaurant.
Kestrel  :  a common resident species and ?passage migrant.
Red-footed falcon  :  one of the highlights of the week was the often impressive passage of  this species over Akrotiri. The best days were 25th, with at least 60 over Zakaki mainly in the afternoon, and 26th when at least 100 passed through the same site. Mainly adult males, females and first-summer males noted on these dates and almost all the birds flew straight through without stopping. By the 29th passage was lighter and a greater  proportion of juveniles was involved ; these birds increasingly stopped  on wires and fences and hawked insects around eg. Zakaki.
Hobby  :  a common passage migrant, seen regularly around Akrotiri. Noted singly at several  other sites, except for two at the Evretou dam on 27th.
Eleonora's falcon  :  the best views were obtained from the cliffs near Quarry beach,though  frequent enough around Akrotiri. On 25th and 26th several birds  lingered around Zakaki, on several occasions coming down to drink  from the pool.
Peregrine  :  one soaring near Zakaki on 26th, and one near Quarry beach on the same date.
Chukar  :  abundant and frequently seen and heard at many sites.
Black francolin  :  although the birds were not calling, I got the impression that any early morning drive along farm tracks in the west of the island would be likely  to produce this species. A pair at Mandria early on 26th, followed by two  males between Nata and the Asprokremos reservoir early on 29th. Also a  female by the roadside at Phassouri at first light on 28th.
Quail  :  a total of five birds flushed from low scrub around Akrotiri, suggesting the birds  were migrating through the area : two at Zakaki on 28th and three along the south  side of the salt lake on 30th.
Moorhen  :  seen in small numbers, especially at the Asprokremmos dam pools.
Coot  :  small numbers present at Bishop's Pool.
Stone-curlew  :  a flock of six flushed from the northern edge of the salt lake behind Zakaki  on 28th.
Little ringed plover  :  one or two around the pig farms in the east of the island on 24th.
Ringed plover  :  small numbers, maximum four, frequented Zakaki and Bishop's Pool.
Kentish plover  :  seen on various beaches but the highest numbers, up to 30, at Ladies' Mile.
Greater sand plover  :  one seen on the mornings of the 27th and 28th on rocks SW of Paphos lighthouse. Up to six said to be present in the general area.
Eurasian golden plover  :  one on Ladies' Mile on 29th.
Grey plover  :  one on the beach east of Larnaca on 24th.
Spur-winged plover  :  seen only on 24th around the pig-farms where 12 birds were counted.
Lapwing  :  two at Zakaki on 26th were the only birds.
Little stint  :  seen at several sites, but the largest numbers were in the Akrotiri area where up  to 40 commuted between Zakaki and Ladies' Mile.
Curlew sandpiper  :  one at Zakaki daily from 25th to 29th was joined by a second bird on 28th. Also seen on the pools around the pig-farms on 24th.
Dunlin  :  up to 15 divided their time between Zakaki and Ladies Mile.
Ruff  :  one at Bishop's Pool on 25th, and three daily at Zakaki from 25th to 30th, when sadly two of them were found dead, presumed shot.
Common snipe  :  seen at Zakaki (up to two) and one at Evretou on 27th. Several around the pig-farms on 24th.
Bar-tailed godwit  :  I found this bird, a juvenile, at Zakaki at about 2.30pm on 25th, and it was present daily until 29th. Although frequently elusive, prone to feeding quietly in hidden channels, it was very tame and would allow  a very close approach. On several occasions it was observed to fly in to Zakaki, suggesting that it probably also spent time at Ladies' Mile. This  bird's status in Cyprus is a very scarce and irregular migrant.
Spotted redshank  :  several at LSF on 24th.
Greenshank  :  like above sp.,seen only at LSF on 24th.
Common redshank  :  two were present at Zakaki and Ladies' Mile on 29th.
Common sandpiper  :  one at LSF on 24th and one around the pig-farms on the same date.
Wood sandpiper  :  one at Bishop's Pool on 25th was quite probably the same bird as one at Zakaki on 28th.
Green sandpiper  :  one around the pig-farms on 24th.
Black-headed gull  :  one at LSF on 24th.
Slender-billed gull  :  one at LSF on 24th.
Yellow-legged gull  :  flocks of birds noted eg over Zakaki port on 26th and at LSF on 30th.
Black tern  :  one at LSF on 24th was the only record.
White-winged tern  :  the most frequent of the terns, up to six at LSF on 24th with several still there on 30th. At Zakaki, a classic "saddled" juvenile daily from 25th to 29th was joined by a second bird on 28th.
Whiskered tern  :  two at LSF on 24th and one seen there on 30th. At Zakaki, two flew in on 26th with one remaining to 30th.
Rock dove  :  largest numbers were at Asprokremmos dam.
Woodpigeon  :  occasionally seen, particularly on the fields around Mandria and at Arminou.
Collared dove  :  frequent enough around habitations.
Turtle dove  :  migrants noted in ones and twos on several dates.
(Barn owl  :  a fairly recently dead one on the track to Evretou on 27th.)
Scops owl  :  heard calling on the evenings of 27th and 28th from the Vasilius Nikoklis Inn  where I was staying.
Pallid swift  :  the only swift seen, in very good light in the early morning at Mandria on 26th.
Common kingfisher  :  very common, seen frequently around any patch of water.
European bee-eater  :  this was an abundant migrant, especially around Phassouri and Zakaki  where sadly it was being shot. On a more positive note several large  flocks (of 80 to 100 individuals) passed very high over Zakaki, well  out of range of the guns.
Hoopoe  :  only two birds seen, one flew over the Asprokremmos dam pools on 26th and one  lingered on the dried-up reservoir bed of Evretou on 27th.
Greater short-toed lark  :  a total of nine around Paphos lighthouse early on 27th. On 28th at   least one was seen feeding on the ground at Akrotiri aerial farm,  but more were almost certainly present in that area.
Crested lark  :  one of the most abundant passerines on Cyprus.
Swallow  :  a common passage migrant, usually in small groups, but an estimated 800 seen going to roost at Phassouri on 29th.
Sand martin  :  relatively scarce, none were located in the above roost but small groups noted  at Zakaki on 25th, 26th and 28th.
Red-rumped swallow  :  the only birds were four or five individuals heading south through Zakaki with Swallows on 25th.
House martin  :  just one bird seen, in the valley north of Nikoklia on 27th.
Tawny pipit  :  after the first birds at Paphos on 27th, this bird seemed to be a common, but  unobtrusive, migrant. Often heard, less often seen, on the fringes of Akrotiri   salt lake and around the aerial farm.
Tree pipit  :  two birds flew over the Paphos lighthouse area at first light on 27th.
Red-throated pipit  :  like the above bird, picked up by its distinctive call. The first birds were   five or six over Zakaki in the morning of 28th, including two which circled low but didn't land on the mud. A further two or three over the  Akrotiri area on 29th.
Yellow wagtail  :  a common migrant, noted at most sites.
Grey wagtail  :  the first birds were two flying high over Asprokremmos dam on 26th, with  one over Zakaki the same day. One at Arminou bridge on 27th and again  over Zakaki on 28th.
White wagtail  :  one juvenile daily on the mud at Zakaki, and several migrants noted overhead there and at other sites.
Common redstart  :  an autumn male near Paphos lighthouse on 27th.
Whinchat  :  a common migrant, seen at many sites but particularly around low bushes and scrub in the Akrotiri area.
Northern wheatear  :  quite common, eg around Akrotiri salt lake. Twelve together on one  field at Mandria on 26th was the highest single count.
Isabelline wheatear  :  two at Mandria with Northerns on 26th. One around the aerial farm on  28th and one along the south side of the salt lake on 29th. At times  this sp could be surprisingly difficult to distinguish from Northern wheatear.
Cyprus pied wheatear  :  seen mainly in the west where it was abundant away from the coast.  Particularly large numbers around the Evretou reservoir.
Cetti's warbler  :  common around bushes along watercourses, even where the water had  dried up, eg at Arminou bridge.
Fan-tailed warbler ("zitting cisticola")  :  common especially around Akrotiri.
Great reed warbler  :  one in the marshy area near Cape Greco on 24th.
Spectacled warbler  :  first seen in scrub around LSF on 24th. This bird was common in this type of habitat around Akrotiri salt lake but often very elusive and best  seen in the early morning.
Sardinian warbler  :  the first birds seen were a pair at Asprokremmos dam on 26th. This bird  seemed to replace Cyprus warbler in the scrub around Akrotiri salt lake. In the Polis / Latchi area on 27th it seemed to call from every patch of  scrub.
Cyprus warbler  :  relatively difficult to find but patience was rewarded with good views of three males and a female on the cliffs above Quarry beach on 26th.
Blackcap  :  one record only, a pair near Panagia on 27th.
Willow warbler  :  abundant in any area of vegetation.
Spotted flycatcher  :  a common migrant, noted in small numbers at many sites.
Cyprus coal tit  :  abundant in the Troodos.
Great tit  :  fairly common.
Red-backed shrike  :  this was the most common shrike,seen singly at several sites including  two around Zakaki on 28th and 29th.
Lesser grey shrike  :  there were up to three between Zakaki and Ladies Mile daily from 26th to 29th. All the birds were juveniles and I got the impression that this  was very much the tail end of passage for this species.
Masked shrike  :  a juvenile near Ayia Napa on 24th. An adult flew across the road near  Episkopi garrison on 26th but best of all was the superb adult male outside the Vasilius Nikoklis Inn on 29th.
Jay  :  seen commonly in the Troodos.
Magpie  :  common.
Jackdaw  :  common, often seen in flocks.
Hooded crow  :  common, surprisingly since there seemed to be plenty of trigger-happy  hunters around.
House sparrow  :  common around habitations.
Spanish sparrow  :  replaced above sp in rural areas. Arminou bridge was a good site for this bird in some numbers.
Chaffinch  :  several in pinewoods in the high Troodos.
Serin  :  one flying overhead near Polis was the only bird noted.
Greenfinch  :  quite common.
Goldfinch  :  very common.
Linnet  :  nowhere near as common as above sp, it was nonetheless occasionally noted.
Corn bunting  :  common enough inland in the hills, especially at Evretou reservoir where at least 30 were seen.

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