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A Report from

Cyprus Delights 4th - 14th April, 2007,

Chris and Alison Hall

Over breakfast in the stone walled dining room of the Vasilias Nikoklis Inn, twittering Barn Swallows flew in and out of the open door, skimming over our heads, to feed their hungry broods in nests up on the rafters. What a delightful start to a birding trip. Outside, Spanish Sparrows were busy nest building under the eaves of the red pan tiled roof. This old inn, run by Thassos and Christina, really is a wonderful place to stay.

Walking to the desserted village of Foinikas, the riverside bushes were full of chirrupping Spanish Sparrows in their hundreds, and we even spotted a Kingfisher, obligingly perched on a nearby reed stem. Along the way, Crested Larks sang and Great Spotted Cuckoos cackled noisily, showing off in the scattered bushes. In the village itself, a female Blue Rock Thrush posed on one of the old walls, in a characteristically upright stance with a markedly long bill. Sadly there was no sign of the Pallid Harriers, which had haunted this quiet valley on a previous visit, but we did have our first Sardinian Warblers and a Hoopoe perched at point blank range. Moving on to nearby Anarita Park, we found our first Red-rumped Swallows and enjoyed excellent views of jangling Corn Buntings and a superbly marked male Whinchat, which just sat there as if demanding to be admired.

In April, the site of the ancient Tombs of the Kings is decorated with fresh flowers, creating a gorgeous rock garden awash with red, yellow, pink, blue and purple, and alive with a variety of lovely butterflies. It was here we got our first Cyprus Wheatears as well as plum views of the normally skulking Nightingale. Moving on up the coast to the Avgas Gorge, a bumper bundle began with a male Pied Flycatcher, and then a handsome male Cyprus Wheatear, followed by a magnificent Masked Shrike in quick succession in the same tree! After lunch at a surprisingly chilly Lara Beach, a stroll along the beach coincided with a fall of Black- and Blue-headed Yellow Wagtails in flocks by the hundred. They were everywhere, giving great views of their brilliant yellow breasts and deep black or slate blue heads, with fifty or so well camouflaged Short-toed Larks among the throng. A very entertaining spectacle for a Good Friday.

Saturday’s first stop was Evretou Dam, which added Wood and Green Sandpipers and Ruff to our growing trip list, as well as more Yellow Wagtails for the day list. At Smigies, on the Akamas Peninsula, we hit a frenzy of activity, as the trees seemed full of migrant passerines. First new tick was a very neat male Collared Flycatcher, soon to be followed by male Redstart, Whinchat and Northern Wheatear, a Wryneck, Tree Pipits and another Masked Shrike, with an over flying Long-legged Buzzard for good measure. A further stroll through the green pastures of this beautiful area picked up Whitethroat, Cuckoo and full frame views of very dapper Woodchat Shrikes. On the way back to the inn, a visit to the pool below the Asprokremnos Dam revealed the presence of a tiny Little Crake, appearing to walk on water almost under our noses. However, the Little Bittern we spotted, did not show in the reeds as well as we would have liked.

We began Easter Sunday with another visit to the pool below the dam, where we were treated to a star performance by a Cyprus Warbler which insistently sat on top of a bush next to the track singing away madly and giving us all knock out views from our ringside seats. Next stop was the headland at Paphos. Along the shore we picked up an Isabelline Wheatear, conveniently standing next to a female Northern Wheatear, allowing a comparison of their eye stripe patterns and relative leg lengths. The Isabelline was noticeably longer legged and more upright. Inside the ancient ruins we admired the mosaics as well as a Tawny Pipit, posing on a rock, plus loads more Yellow Wagtails and both black- and pale-throated versions of super male Black-eared Wheatears. After lunch, what better than a visit to the local sewage works, where we found four or five smart Spur-winged Lapwings and a trio of Little Ringed Plovers, so close it was easy to see their yellow eye rings without needing binoculars. At the tiny chapel on the coast near Mandria, a scan of the fields produced very nice views of a pair of Stone Curlews with their starring big yellow eyes, and in the nearby Xeros Potamos riverbed, we flushed a Quail not once but twice!

Today we headed east for a change. Staking out the cliffs near the Akrotiri base, we watched a Griffon Vulture come cruising in low and slow, before settling on a ledge with its partner and tiny chick. The adults looked huge even from a distance, especially when one spread its wings and hopped up onto a slightly higher rock. Besides more showy Cyprus Warblers in the bushes around us, we had Alpine Swifts and a Peregrine swooping out towards the cliffs. Further east at Zakaki Pool, were black backed Baltic race Lesser Black-backs (try saying that quickly) and we watched a Purple Heron stealthily stalking the edge of the reeds in poised attack mode, with its long brown neck coiled and ready to strike, like a snake hanging from a tree. Then our first Squacco Heron arrived, sporting a nice apricot summer dress. Along Lady’s Mile, we began with a party of elegant Slender-billed Gulls, delicately suffused with a pink wash on the underparts and then found Little Stints and Kentish Plovers, with bizarrely long legs for such small birds. On the salt lake at Akrotiri, the Flamingoes were a long way off, but in the afternoon, Fasouri Marsh yielded a bumper crop of juicy goodies at remarkably close range and yet none of the birds seemed bothered at all. Beside Cattle Egrets, Marsh Harrier and several pairs of Garganey and Ferruginous Ducks, we were treated to a feast of waders including Little Stint, Little Ringed Plover, Curlew and Wood Sandpipers, Snipe, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit and a gorgeously iridescent Glossy Ibis. Top of the bill was a fabulous male Little Crake, which repeatedly showed well giving everyone stunning views of this normally invisible species.

A pre-breakfast amble along the dry riverbed beside the inn began with a singing Nightingale and the ubiquitous Cetti’s Warblers. By now the call of ‘Frank’ the Black Francolin was a daily sound, which haunted my brain. Often tantalisingly close, we still hadn’t had much luck with a sighting of the darn thing and it was fast becoming a bogey bird. Meanwhile, a Roller flying up the valley was new for the trip, but it didn’t hang around, so lucky we found another one showing really well on a convenient perch later in the day. Other exotic fly bys included Hoopoe and Great Spotted Cuckoo, so not a bad little list before breakfast. A final visit to the dam pool was rewarded with cracking views of a trio of Ortolan Buntings and the comical sight of two kamikaze Chukars, which literally threw themselves off the dam wall without flapping, to drop vertically like free fall parachutists. Working up the Diarizos Valley, we had another exquisite Masked Shrike but then rain stopped play and we had a memorable picnic in a hailstorm complete with a thunder and lightning show.

We were now up in the Troodos Mountains. With a bright blue halcyon sky, we set off in the fresh morning air along the Artemis Trail through pristine pinewoods alive with the nonstop songs of Coal Tits by the shed load. These were the Cyprus race with more extensive black bibs, buffer underparts and a different vocabulary to ours back home. They were everywhere and full of the joys of spring as they restlessly chased each other around. Eventually we also got to grips with Short-toed Treecreepers, Jays and several Crossbills which posed full on in the scope, though every one was a lime green female. Even now, in the middle of April in the Mediterranean, we were crossing patches of snow and at the end of the trail we had yet another Masked Shrike in the scope. Back at the car, a distant song alerted us to a Woodlark, which we managed to pinpoint in the scope on its tree top perch. After lunch, the Persephone Trail revealed yet more scenic views and Coal Tits galore but also a single fleeting male Brambling. By now we had virtually cleaned up on the birds of the Troodos.

Today we left the Troodos and made a scenic descent to the coast at Cape Aspro. It seems that every migration hot spot on this island has a sensitive military installation, and when we trained our scopes on an Ortolan Bunting in front of the wire fence bearing a no photography sign, we were soon met by one of the guards. After a bit of reassurance that we were mere birders from Britain, we were left to get on with the job of bird surveilance, as long as we looked the opposite way to the base. At the cliff top, a scan down below picked out three Eleonora’s Falcons, including a pair consisting of a dark bird and a light one with the typical black moustache and white cheeks of the falcon family. If ever I come back as a bird it will be this one, living life in the fast lane on the cliffs of Mediterranean islands and the coast of East Africa. Falcons, Cyprus Warblers and a close up Woodlark excepted, the cape was relatively quiet, presumably because the wind had not been favourable for a fall. Moving east along the coast, the braver members of the group enjoyed a quick paddle on the beach at Paramali and then it was back to Kolossi Castle for another humungus bacon sandwich, but sadly this time they were out of cake. Next stop was Larnaca sewage works and as we approached, the roadside lagoon had more Little Egrets and Slender-billed Gulls, our fourth Kingfisher of the trip but also two Little Terns and a Little Gull. From the sewage works hide, we had a single Avocet among the dozens of Black-winged Stilts, plus a Common Tern and an Armenian Gull, which showed all the key features in comparison to the larger Yellow-legged Gulls it was with. Besides being slightly smaller, it had a dark eye and a black and white tip to its bill. Our last stop of the day was at the Tekke Mosque, where a short walk was rewarded with a six pack of three large Greenshanks and three smaller Marsh Sandpipers and then a fabulous fly over by a male Montagu’s Harrier.

This was our last day in the field and yet the birding began before breakfast, in the hotel from the landing window, as a Black Francolin had been calling behind the hotel since 6am. Training the scopes in the direction of the call, we eventually nailed him bang to rights, out in the open for a clear view of the black body with white speckles, a rufous neck band and white cheeks. A result at last. After breakfast we were off to Cape Greco, where the sea was a beautiful copper sulphate blue and the Greenfinches were almost Dayglow green. Besides Lesser Whitethroat, we got spectacular views of Spectacled Warbler, but again there was no sign of a big fall. You wait all week for a Black Francolin and then two come along, as we got close views of a second calling male this same afternoon.

Back in Britain, it appeared that the weather may actually have been better than in Cyprus for a lot of the time. To avoid the roadworks on the M1 and to see Red Kites, we opted for the M40 route and sure enough, we had 11 Kites along the way. I know it’s a bit cheeky but this had brought our unofficial trip list to a nice round 120 species. Happy memories eh?


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