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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
The Dhiarizos Valley - Cyprus, 1st -3rd June 2011,
Having just come back from the wonderful week in Cyprus I feel I must share with you with the birding virtues of the Dhiarizos Valley.
I have had the pleasure of birding around the southern, Greek, half of Cyprus for a few years in my time. From 1978 to 81, courtesy of HM forces, I lived on RAF Akrotiri and then from 1989 to 91 I found myself working at the very top of Troodos Mountain, although actually residing in Trimiklini, a beautifully green village some 8 Km below the mountain village of Platres. Trimiklini was known by all who worked up the mountain as ‘the tropics’ as the snow line in winter never came below Platres. The first winter we were there we got snowed in for 3 days! Anyway suffice to say I have managed to accrue a fair few birds on the island during these times.
This trip, however, wasn’t to be a birding trip at all but had a more sombre tone as we were re visiting Limassol to visit my wife Claire’s parents’ graves at the British cemetery in the village of Erimi. They were ex pats who decided to settle in Cyprus after many visits to us and falling in love with the friendly people and more than pleasant climate, very conducive for people of a certain age. Over 18 months had passed since we had last visited and laid Claire’s dad to rest, her mum having passed on a couple of years earlier so we were due a visit to pay our long overdue respects again.
With this in mind I certainly didn’t intend to spend any time birding, and certainly hadn’t planned for such occasions. Having said that I did shoot out for a couple of mornings during the week!!
As previously eluded to I have birded around the place quite widely and have a country list of 209 so visiting in June certainly wasn’t going to give me any chance of adding to this total and I had no intention of trying. Most, if not all spring migrants, would be long gone but I was looking forward to reacquainting myself with some of the other avian delights that use the Island to breed.
We stayed at the Ajax Hotel in central Limassol away from the tourist strip, we’d done that, been there and got the t shirt so this suited us fine as access to the main motorway A1 was within a couple of minutes away with direct access to Erimi a mere 10 minutes away.
I made a conscious decision that on my two mornings out I would not go birding the usual hot spots around Limassol such as Phissouri reed beds, Bishops pool, Ladies Mile, Zakaki Marsh et al and decided I would head for the foothills to enjoy some inland birding.
I thought it would be fun to have a crack at finding Black headed and Cretzschmar’s Buntings. No particular reason for this decision as they are not lifers but they do, to me, epitomise the birds to be found around Cyprus’s foothills. Plus the fact that they are smashing birds and it would be quite satisfying to track some down. I also wanted to try and pin down a Long-legged Buzzard. After 6 years living on the island this was my bogey bird. No idea how I had missed this bird after all my time birding in Cyprus but a quick look at my country tick list prior to leaving home highlighted the omission. Records showed that the valley area was as good a place as any to try and connect, so I had a fair idea where to find one, if one was to be found!
Having decided that the Dhiarizos Valley should hold my three target birds, first light, Wednesday the 1st found me loading up my little Kia Picanto hire car, no 4 wheel drive for me! I must admit that the valley area is not a place I was familiar with but on entering the area it certainly looked promising.
45 minutes after getting in the car I was parking up in farmland around the villages of Kissousa, Malia and Vassa, all reached easily along the E601. The familiar Mediterranean habitat of maquis, roughly cultivated fields, olive trees and low shrubs and that familiar smell that goes with it when the place starts warming up in the morning greeted me as I stepped out of the air conditioned car and it was like I’d never been away.
The Dhiarzos valley track. Lots of good habitat Overview of the valley and its track
Anyone having birded around the Med will instantly appreciate what I mean when I lax lyrical about hearing insects droning, birds calling and a kaleidoscope of colourful butterflies on the wing. It was a delightful couple of hours birding, a couple of hours that produced many Cyprus Wheatears and Cyprus Warblers. I love these birds and never tire of seeing these archetypal Cypriot goodies. Other notable species seen were Great Spotted Cuckoo seemingly quite common around here, two superb Rollers looking particularly stunning in the cloudless azure blue sky, calling and occasionally tumbling, (rolling?), overhead. Sardinian Warblers, rattling away in dense scrub before revealing themselves for a tantalising few moments before disappearing again , Crested Larks cheerfully whistling everywhere and smart Red-rumped Swallows hawking overhead.
As much as it was thoroughly enjoyable, no target birds had shown so I headed towards the village of Gerovasa. Here I managed not to run over a party of Chukars, who obviously had a death wish as they continued to run down the middle of the road with me slowly chugging behind trying not to stress them out too much, and parked up after crossing the pretty dodgy looking bridge over the river.
Following the track along the river valley another equally enjoyable couple of hours birding was had with Sardinian, Cyprus, Cetti’s and Eastern Olivacious Warblers all present in good numbers. The latter having recently fledged young hunkered down in the vegetation waiting patiently for the parents to come and feed them. Again a Great spotted Cuckoo was clocked, stressing out any little brown job along its low flight path. It was also nice to see lots of Cyprus Wheatear of varying stages of plumage showing that it had been a good breeding season for them.
Cyprus Wheatear, extremely common.
Eventually I heard bird song that was a little different to what I had been used to thus far. It certainly sounded bunting like and immediately had me scoping the tree lined field edges in anticipation of something different. Lo and behold there was a cracking male Black-headed Bunting proclaiming its territory atop a small shrub. I hadn’t seen one of these little beauties for a very long time but this lovely little fella certainly was worth the wait. Unmistakable gorgeous yellow with black hood and looking just stunning against a crystal clear blue sky.
Cracking bird even if a bit blurry!
He was quite easy to keep tabs on as he flew from one song perch to another circumnavigating the fields before returning and repeating the process. I could even predict where he was going to perch next so managed a few lame attempts at photographing him. A few dodgy photos later and well satisfied with the mornings birding it was time I packed up and headed back to the Ajax. It was starting to warm up quite considerably and a bit of panic tanning was planned for the rest of the day.
Two days later saw me hitting the off button on the alarm clock at 4:50 before the set time of 5am.Did I really want to get up at this hour of the morning after a night before of mixed Kebab and large Keo beer? No brainer really and an hour later I was parked up by the bridge and scoping a ropey looking fox as it sniffed along the track thinking of Chukars for breakfast no doubt.
It was still a bit chilly as the sun hadn’t managed to rise over the valley but birds were waking and declaring their presence to the new morn. Cetti’s Warblers were, as per usual, the loudest, but Sardinian and Cyprus Warblers gave it their best efforts to be heard too.
Taking the first left turn on the track I trudged up about 50 metres before setting up the scope and just waiting to see what would show. My vantage point gave me great views down the river valley, the surrounding scrubland fields and the foothills. Family parties of Cyprus Wheatears ‘ticked all around then I heard the now familiar song of a Black-headed Bunting, a quick scan producing another cracking male again pronouncing its territory to all and sundry. The added bonus of a nearby female was duly appreciated.
The first of a couple of Great spotted Cuckoos flew over and alighted in a small tree much to the chagrin of the local Wheatears. I spent quite a while here trying to get some half decent photo’s through the scope, using my sons point and shoot, and failing pretty miserably .Once again I was having a great time just enjoying the sounds of the omnipresent warblers (buggers to see), Cyprus Wheatears, smashing butterflies and all things ‘real’ Cyprus.
Omnipresent Warbler. No not a new species!
Giving up trying to get a half decent shot of any bird posing for a nanosecond I headed back down the track where yet another Great Spotted Cuckoo got short shrift from some perturbed brown job.
Back on the main track I checked out a corner of heavy scrub that had a fair bit of running water from an apparent unused irrigation system. As I was hot and thirsty it’s was fair to say any lurking birds would be partial to a thirst quencher too. Suffice to say I was extremely happy to see a Cretzshmar’s Bunting taking its morning ablutions before flying onto a sunny rock to dry off.
Mission accomplished regards the Buntings. It was only 9:30 and there were still lots of bird activity going on. I could head back to the hotel or I could have another hour or so here, hmm let me think!
Within a few moments my very easy decision to stay put was totally vindicated. Slowly walking back down the track I was made aware of the local Kestrel getting agitated and surveyed the skyline to see what was getting him so stressy. I could see said Kestrel mobbing a large raptor. Bins up and locked on confirmed a Juv? light phase Long-legged Buzzard getting royally hassled by its smaller cousin. At only the second attempt I had cracked my bogy bird and enjoyed my first new Cyprus bird in years. After scoping it for some moments it headed back, indignantly, to the relative quiet of the far valley hills.
I now had no real excuse to stay any longer and reluctantly pointed the car back over the dodgy bridge and headed home. A resplendent Hoopoe, all pink and perky, sat at the side of road, was suprisingly the only one I saw all week. A Chukar family, mum, dad and half a dozen little ‘uns nearly became road kill as I turned a corner but fortunately no harm was done as they dived head long into the roadside scrub like some kind of land grebes!
You come over the bridge from the right. Photo taken from the rough lay by where you should park.
I must admit I did succumb to temptation, well silly not to, and headed home via Phassouri reed beds where it was a nice surprise to still see some standing water that attracted 5 Little Egrets, a single Glossy Ibis, a lone Cattle Egret and an unexpected Squacco Heron.
A very quick detour to Bishop’s Pool produced a nice summer plumaged Whiskered Tern and Zakaki marsh also held a Gull-billed Tern. Good to see Zakaki is still going strong, a little oasis in the ever increasing industrialisation of Limassol Port. The lorries are a nightmare though. Back ‘in the day’ this place was absolutely fantastic, with pools both sides of the road and the old port behind the high wall also affording great birding if you could manage to see over the top! not sure how long it will last before urbanisation eventual fills it all in! A sad day for all if the unthinkable does happen.
On a more positive note the Dhiarizos Valley is so far off the tourists’ and city planners radar that it’s fair to assume this cracking site will be around for some time to come. When we return to visit Claire’s mum and dad in the future I will be heading straight there for my fill of the ‘real’ Cyprus.
For those wishing to visit, and why wouldn’t you? the directions, coming from Limassol, couldn’t be easier.
You get some idea hopefully!
Take the main A1 motorway out of Limassol heading towards Pathos. Leave at the junction signposted Erimi and Kolossi. Go through Erimi village and follow the signs to Kissousa on the E601. Turn right over the white road bridge on to the E601 and continue for a fair few kilometres. Passing Kissousa on your right continue on the E601 until you come to a left turn signposted for the village of Dora. Take this and continue towards Dora turning right at a sign for the village of Gervosa. Continue along this windy road for quite a way until you come across the dodgy metal and wooden bridge. You have now arrived at the Dhiarizos valley. Drive across the bridge, slowly! and turn immediately right and park up at the obvious layby just above said bridge.
Good luck and good birding.