Over to Andy…
Cyprus Trip Report
The team of Rhys Jones, Simon Hugheston-Roberts, Eddie Urbanski and Andrew Clarke made our way to Manchester for the 5½ flight to Larnaca, arriving late evening. After picking up the jeep (a Kia Sportage, which certainly came in useful on some of the so called roads) we sped across to the other side of the island, arriving at our apartment block in Paphos in the early hours. We were greeted here by the first of innumerable Cetti’s Warblers on the trip; this one was singing away in the darkness from the car park.
Several Swifts and a group of Red-rumped Swallows were seen over our roof top penthouse while breakfasting.
Paphos is a weird place – the beachfront is full of pubs, bars, cafes and shops (plus such gems as the Lady Di Beauty Salon) which are surrounded by apartment blocks, more shops, the odd mini-orchard , kiosks, abandoned building sites etc in no particular order! It seems to be geared towards Real Brits Abroad stuff with a few blistering beer bellies already visible along the seafront. Must be awful in high season, unless Benidorm is your thing. The saving grace from a birding point of view is the Paphos Archaeological Site; a large fenced area with scrub, trees, an old quarry, rough grassland and acres of poppies and corn marigolds. It also hosts a load of Roman ruins and what’s left of some intricate mosaics. This World Heritage Site area was our destination on the first morning and was to become our temporary local patch.
Creeping through the hole in the fence to avoid paying entrance fees as the sun got warmer we were treated to some tremendous birding.
Virtually the first species we encountered was a cracking male Ruppell’s Warbler feeding on the ground at point blank range; nearby a bull-necked, Snaky-headed Orphean Warbler was similarly obliging. The first Sardinian’ of the trip was located while a fall of Lesser Whitethroats was evident.
Meanwhile, Crested Larks sang continuously and proved to be one of the sound tracks of the holiday.
A stunning male Masked Shrike swept down into the vegetation for food from the shade of a small tree and then we were distracted by the first of many Cretzschmar’s Buntings, with at least ten birds present and showing extremely well.
Several Hoopoes were logged while the first Cyprus Pied Wheatear flitted around the ruins with Northern’ and Isabelline’ seen in small numbers.
Hordes of tourists suddenly appeared but did not stop our exploits; soon we were watching a flock of 30+ Black-headed Wagtails feeding amongst the ruins (with a few other flava wagtails including presumed dombrowski and supercilliaris present).
A brilliant male Ortolan showed closely with a few more Cretzschmar’s for comparison.
Two female Blue Rock Thrushes kept us entertained while a couple of Slender-billed Gulls were offshore. We then bumped into resident birders Owen and Glynis Roberts and exchanged greetings and of course bird news. Shortly afterwards we found an Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler and a couple of Subalpine warblers. A very satisfying first morning!
After lunch in town we headed off to the Asprokremmos Dam and soon scored with two Cyprus Warblers, a calling Black Francolin, Chukar, Little Owl, Alpine Swift and a tatty Long-legged Buzzard which was apparently wintering on site. Distant gulls included Caspian’ and presumed fuscus Lesser Black-backed’.
The following morning we were fortunate in having Owen guide us around some of his local sites. First stop was the odoriferous Paphos Sewage Works with a skulking Moustached/Sedge Warbler giving us the slip. Several pairs of Spur-winged Plover showed well around the site. A distant landing Cattle Egret was claimed by one team member. The first Green Sandpiper and Black-winged Stilt of our holiday were recorded.
Mandria beach was the next destination and immediately we were connecting with some great birds. A flock of eight Short-toed Larks fed just inland of the beach while five Tawny Pipits, and three each of Isabelline’ and Northern’ Wheatears gave us ample opportunities for comparison. A singing Eastern Black-eared Wheatear perched on the picnic benches and a stunning Black Francolin was seen (the only one we actually saw on the whole trip despite them calling from many sites). The first desmarestii Shag and Spanish Sparrows of the trip were also noted.
Later we returned to the manky pool below the ‘Asbo Dam’ as we named it and flushed a Purple Heron just ahead of the only tour group we met on the island. Fortunately they managed to connect - being huge, purple and flying low over their heads helped!
While Owen, Eddie and Simon went off through the bushes some other birders (of whom there were several about the island) located a female Little Crake creeping around the margin, giving excellent scope views. Eddie managed to get back in time but Simon dipped on this potential lifer before it crept into the reeds!
Despite lingering for a second look we soon decided to head off for other sites. Limassol Port proved to be undergoing serious road works but the diversions led eventually to some pools and our first Marsh Harriers, Coots, Moorhens and Little Grebes. A drive along the Lady’s Mile produced three Kentish’ and two Little Ringed Plovers.
Eventually we reached the Bishop’s Pool, nestled amongst flowering citrus orchards.
A Kingfisher called as we left the vehicle while a couple of smart Ferruginous Ducks headed straight for the reeds on seeing us. A Common Sandpiper fed along the shore while both Reed’ and Great Reed Warbler sang briefly. A couple of Teal were also seen. We were soon deep in a debate about the finer aspects of Chiffchaff identification as several abietinus birds called and flycatched around the pool.
Lunch beckoned at a café overlooking the vast Akrotiti salt lake nearby. Here Rhys scored with a distant male Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush which was perched on one of the few bushes. An admiring photographic posse soon headed out for great views.
Later, we drove through the so called Antenna Valley where a military listening array proved home to several teeny Spectacled Warblers.
On to another habitat: one edge of the gigantic Phassouri Reedbed – the vast acreage of reeds, pools and wet grassland make local sites like Malltraeth RSPB look like a puddle!
The area held some nice waders and waterbirds: a smart Squacco Heron, Little Egret, and a small group of Ruff, Green’ and Wood Sandpipers. A Snipe lurked in the rushes and a Water Pipit showed well. Suddenly a calling bee-eater headed over sounding rather odd – and transformed into a stunning Blue-cheeked Bee-eater. Like the earlier Rock Thrush both good records for Cyprus with few records each year.
We dipped Griffon Vulture at the stunning limestone Washington Cliffs but four Alpine Swifts sped past only yards away and a Great Spotted Cuckoo was seen briefly.
A calling Red-throated Pipit was heard by one team member as we arrived at the bottom end of the valley below the Asbo Dam while all of us enjoyed views of a party of eight Serin here. Back at the dam, 20+ Caspian’ and another fuscus LBB were found but there was no sign of the previous evening’s two reportedGreat Black-headed Gulls. Still, another great day so we returned well satisfied.
The next morning, Thursday 31st March, we headed for the Paphos headland again. A Serin sang from the roadside on the way and then a ringtail Pallid Harrier flew over the cafes, shops and seafront car park. A smart male samamisicus Common Redstart fed on the side road while once in the fence it was apparent that there were some new birds around: four Masked Shrikes, a Nightingale species, Wryneck, six Hoopoes, two calling Quail, a Black Redstart then another ringtail Pallid Harrier in off the sea. Two smart Greater Sand Plovers (Columbinus race) on the beach.
Meanwhile we enjoyed three Orphean Warblers, two Sardinian’ and a Lesser Whitethroat. Singles of Isabelline’, Cyprus Pied’ and Black-eared Wheatear were noted. Flava wagtails included 19 feldegg plus several other races.
After enjoying refreshments at another beach front café where a couple of lovely Bulgarian waitresses kept us entertained we were headed off again –this time to the glamour of Paphos Sewage Works again – or rather one of the backwaters thereof which we had been told was worth a visit. Here skips of treated sewage sludge were being dumped and proving attractive to some hungry insectivores. The wagtails were going nuts here – gorging on the critters and showing well; at least 20 White’ and many flavas including 25 feldegg, two dombrowskii, three thunbergi and one supercilliaris.
Waders comprised Black-winged Stilt, four Spur-winged Plover, three Little Ringed Plovers, Green Sandpiper and a Little Stint. A couple of Red-throated Pipits posed for all and a Tree Pipit buzzed overhead. Two Red-rumped Swallows were present and a cracking male Pallid Harrier headed high overhead.
More vis mig was evident at Mandria beach with a Kestrel “in off”, 5 Greater Sand Plovers on the sand and a nice assortment of other birds in the region: 6 Linnet, 25 Northern’ and 5 Isabelline Wheatear, 20+ Short-toed Larks and a Tawny Pipit. Nearby another Marsh Harrier was quartering the fields while the Asbo dam pools held 3 more Tawny’s.We then headed inland for the abandoned village of Foinikas at the north side of the Asbo dam and found the road winding through the hills - an obligatory stop to check the fly over raptors – produced two cracking Steppe Buzzards – another scarce migrant.
On arrival at the village the ruins hosted three wheatears – which we eventually conceded were just Cyprus Pied’. A Black eared has us fooled for a while but unfortunately the wintering Finch’s were absent. A welcome Mallard was trip tick while we all managed to connect with Cattle Egret and Grey Heron and a quick look at the dam pools on our return allowed Simon to claw back Little Crake.
The following morning our destination was the Botanical Gardens (mostly native endemics) and the tourist honey pot of Aphrodite’s Pool, a truly underwhelming experience akin to glancing at a puddle in the woods… sadly we were a bit early for the black and white flycatchers which pass through in good numbers later in the spring. A Black Francolin, 5 Sardinian’, 10 Lesser Whitethroats, 6 Cyprus Pied and 5 Cretzschmar’s Buntings were found while Greenfinch and a nice looking Rock Dove was a trip tick. Orange Tip and various blue butterflies were also seen here.
Both Quail and Scop’s Owl called during a brief look at the Agros Mynas Church before we had an interesting driving experience in the hills of the Akamas Peninsula en route to Cape Drepanum. To put it simply I have seen better farm tracks on the Llŷn – a 4 x 4 is vital anywhere off the beaten track on the island. Over head the Steppe Buzzard passage continued with 4 logged plus other distant raptors including 4 probable Lesser Kestrels. A Locust also buzzed the jeep nearby.
The Cape allowed me to fill my pockets with nuts from the bored looking Asian lady at the beach stall – fuelling my search for more good birds. The best of the bunch here were 2 Slender-billed Gulls, 18 Red-rumped Swallow, a smart Bluethroat, and a probable fly away Bimaculated Lark.
Another Scop’s called around the dam in the Mako Valley where 9 Cretzschmar’s dropped in, Hoopoe, Moorhen, Reed Warbler etc. Later that evening we did some lurking at dusk around the cliffs at the bottom of the valley and eventually scored with a Barn Owl, a Little Owl and 5 Cyprus Scop’s – including one bird which responded rather well to the tape lure by landing at Simon’s feet!!! A great end to another brilliant day.
A flock of distant dark birds heading over the sea became 24 Glossy Ibis, while a Peregrine and 9 Alpine Swifts whizzed over. We had a wander around the bushes and cliff top and a good look around the rather photogenic open cast rubbish tip. Migrants were everywhere, including three Stone Curlew, 2 Hoopoe, a Woodchat and 2 Masked Shrikes, three Crested Larks (which were all over the island), a Cyprus’ and 3 Spectacled Warblers, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Izzy Wheatear etc.
A flock of 31 Garganey flew east past Kermia Beach where Swift and Snipe were new for the trip - amongst the usual wheatears and pipits. Next stop was Agia Napa – whey hey!!! So where were the ravers? Not at the sewage works unfortunately but there was some superb bird spotting to be had – new species included Greenshank, Grey Wagtail, an acredula Willow Warbler and bird of the trip for several a stunning male Cinereous Bunting that was first seen at distance on the crags overlooking the treatment plant by Rhys then successfully stalked to close range – what a stunner! This bird looked far better in the flesh than in the Collins Guide where it seems rather nondescript. Sadly the little bugger refused to pose for photographs and legged it. Three more Masked Shrikes – inc a singing male, Nightingale and Goldfinch were also here.
Owen then guided us along to a dusty little car park overlooking a small reed fringed pool – part of the Orikini(?) Marsh, and what a cracking little spot it proved to be, with scope filling views of a male Citrine Wagtail, Marsh Sandpiper, 6 Spur-winged Plover, 2 Little Stint, two each of Shoveler and Teal, a pair of Red-crested Pochard and a Greater Flamingo.
Larnaca airport is surrounded by some nice habitat including a large lake and various smaller wetlands and some extensive grassland and cereal fields. Waders included 10 Little Stint, Spur-winged Plover, 17 Ruff, 8 Kentish Plover, and an LRP, while other wetland goodies comprised 2 Black-necked Grebe, a Pintail, 6 Glossy Ibis, 3 Ferruginous Ducks, Wigeon, and Slender-billed Gull. The target species here was Calandra Lark and we eventually found two distant birds singing high in the sky over one of the grain fields. Shortly afterwards we were accosted by a couple of bored looking unfriendly airport security who advised us that birding so close to the airport fence was not on so we beat a dignified retreat.
On arrival at Mandria Beach that evening Mr Jones well and truly scored while doing his obligatory seawatch with a pale-phase adult Arctic Skua – a mega for the island with less than 20 previous records!! Several flocks of Garganey were streaming past totalling 115 birds while another male Pallid Harrier was seen and a Ringed Plover.
Sunday morning found us seawatching from the Paphos headland where another Arctic Skua flew past but far more interesting were the three Scopoli’s and single Yelkouan Shearwaters – nice! There was little different species wise in the archaeological park apart from tons of Tree Pipits, a couple of Common Whitethroats, an elusive Wryneck and three even more elusive Nightingales…the noisy smorgasbord of wagtails comprised a 33 feldegg, a thunbergi and 8 flava. The beach café lunch break was enlivened by a single Kingfisher and an even more stunning Bulgarian waitress J
For some reason we had the mental idea of going back to the malodorous stinking pile of crap at the local sewage works again… for more fabulous flavas! By parking at the end of the track and carefully walking onto the desiccating sludge heaps we enjoyed great views of the hungry passerines. About 100 yellow wagtails were present – c70 feldegg, 2 supercilliaris, 5 dombrowskii, a strange unknown green headed thing and 20 females… plus 5 albas. Eddie scored with another superb male Citrine, a flock of 15 Short-toed Larks dropped in and three Alpine Swifts headed over – nice.
We had a rather strange encounter here with a visiting British bird photographer here who drove up straight onto the sludge and informed us that we could all get a lot closer (than the 20+ metres viewing distance) if we wanted. Having declined his offer he told us how good it was the other day etc then turned around and sped off – all the while disguised by a strip of camouflage netting that covered the driver’s window!
A Marsh Harrier was over the fields at Mandria and then we headed inland and got briefly lost in some fantastic little orchard where three Great Spotted Cuckoos performed well and other bits and pieces included Wood Sand at the irrigation pools, Quail, Black Francolin etc
The hills beyond the refuse tip nearby had more Cretczh Bunts, a pair of Red-rumped Swallow breeding in an irrigation pipe, 2 Whinchat, three Black-eared Wheatears but no Finch’s. Still, another cool day. That evening proved amusing – Eddie and Rhys were locked in debate on the balcony after a few drinks at which point Andrew entered the area, and asked “what the **** was that funny noise” coming from the pine trees yards away? “Ah, just some crows – they’ve been there for 20 minutes” was the reply, at which point 6 Night Herons flew from the branches overhead. Fortunately Simon was summoned rapidly and managed to connect – having said that they were hard to miss ;-)
Monday 4th April was our final day and we found much of the now regular species around the site - larks, pipits and wagtails of all flavours, various wheatears and warblers. Having said that each day brought different numbers of the main species plus a few new birds. Highlights/new ticks on patch at Paphos were 5 knackered Purple Heron straight off the sea and into the various trees, a Sandwich Tern, a Sedge’ and another Orphean Warbler, 12 Little Egrets, 3 Yelkouan Shearwaters, 7 Red-rumped Swallows and a Masked Shrike.
Loads more flava wagtails, 5 LRP’s, two Green’ and a Wood Sand were at the sewage works, with a squadron of 14 Alpine Swifts overhead. Six more Purple Herons were off Mandria beach while a final look at the ‘Asbo dam’ pines produced 3 Cretzschmar’s and a couple of Hoopoe.
A successful and highly enjoyable week with top birds (135 ish sp) and even better company. Many highlight for me, with the Cinereous bunting topping the bill. Worst was getting so close to it I couldn’t digscope it. (and dipping Finsch’s) Other “…lights” including getting ambushed by a giant tumble-weed near Larnaka, searching for the mythical Pahops health food shop and accidentally buying the most expensive bit of chesee in the world (check those receipts!)
Logistics – easy and cheap – we stayed here:
Great apartment on the edge of town with countryside views and (birds) but within walking distance of seafront etc.
Flew with Monarch and hired a car with Economy Car hire. It all came to £305 each for 4 of us – bargain : )
Books – Gosney Finding birds in Southern Cyprus
Collins and whatever your baggage allownace allows – Pipits and Wagtails would have been handy!
Special thanks of course to Owen for showing us so many brilliant sites and birds.
Disclaimer: Due to the delay between the trip and the writing of the trip report Cyprus’s avifauna may have altered slightly for tectonic reasons ; )