David's Diaries 2006
Cyprus APRIL 19 TO 26, with Giles and Penny Sim, Barry and Sheila Hitchcock, David and Suzanne Nott.
I arrived at Paphos at 3.40 on a bright sunny afternoon, but my baggage took nearly 40 minutes to arrive. My RAV4 was waiting for me. It's a silver one, just like last year, and could even be the same car, After checking in at Tony's I then went down to Phassouri marsh for an hour or so. Most of the birds I expected were there, but bonuses were ferruginous duck and pied kingfisher. Hobby, teal, buzzard and snipe also seen. I chatted to a birdwatcher from West Yorkshire who told me that the island was very dry this year and that there were very few passerine migrants around.
I collected the group at 11.30 from Larnaca, where a helpful Welshman handed over the second hire car, a Toyota Land Cruiser substituted as they didn't have another RAV4. We got back at AGH at about 12.35am.
Only Giles joined me for the pre-breakfast excursion at 6.30 on a warm, sunny morning. We drove down to Curium beach, then along to Phassouri. Not many birds around, but we did see a first-year male Montagu's harrier sitting in a bush, while a black francolin showed well. Passerine migrants were few, but near the gravel pits we found two ortolan buntings, and a nightingale was singing.
At the reed beds we had excellent close views of squacco herons, and I saw the same assortment of birds as the day before. Back for an 8.30 breakfast, followed by a shopping expedition in the supermarket.
We left at .9.40, and drove down to Akrotiri, The level of the lake was very low, with only a small, distant flock of flamingoes to be seen. The beehive walk was good, with several willow warblers, blackcaps and lesser whitethroats, then great views of several rollers, a passing flock of bee-eaters and a single male golden oriole. A turtle dove was purring, and we enjoyed excellent views of a male black-eared wheatear. The level of the lake was very low.
At Lady's Mile the water levels were so low that we struggled for waders, only seeing a couple of greenshanks, a few little stints and several Kentish plovers. Last year there were probably 2,000 waders in the same area. Zakaki marsh didn't offer much more, other than a trio of common sandpipers, little egrets, squacco herons, coots, moorhens and mallard.
We drove back around the south side of the lake, pausing in a small area of attractive habitat with juniper trees close to the beehives. Here I found a handsome male red-backed shrike here, along with a singing olivaceous warbler.
My lunch of bread, cheese, ham, tomatoes, cucumber and aubergine dip was a success. After lunch we drove down to Curium beach, which was remarkably crowded. We saw a distant Cyprus wheatear and glimpsed an Eleonora's falcon. Driving along the beach road, we stopped for an isabeline wheatear, but then didn't see anything worthy of note (apart from a distant flock of slender-billed gulls over the sea) until we reached the reedbeds. Here we enjoyed the usual variety of birds, and most of the group sat down and enjoyed the warm sunshine. I wandered off a little way and found a little crake that gave great views, but which promptly disappeared as soon as anyone else appeared. Most frustrating. I even took my shoes off and paddled through the black and evil-smelling mud to try and see it, gaining a glimpse as it fluttered across a patch of open water. A pair of co-operative gull-billed terns offered some compensation, and we were later to see a white-winged black tern. A small flock of glossy ibises had been bathing, and gave great views as they spread their bronze-glossed wings in the sun. Purple herons showed well, looking very serpentine; we also saw a single night heron. A marsh sandpiper with its underparts stained tawny puzzled me for a while. Swifts flashed overhead, along with a few sand martins.
Dinner at the Village Inn. Not very inspiring. We were served by a girl from Sheppey who was charming and helpful; she is married to Yannis's partner in the business.
Friday April 21st
David Nott's birthday. We started the day at Curium Beach, were we saw chukars, and watched an Eleonora's falcon hunt a small, unidentifiable passerine. It was a spectacular chase, with the falcon making several passes, each of which was unsuccessful. The quarry set its wings and plummeted to the ground, escaping the falcon's talons.
We then went to the top of the cliffs, where we instantly saw a soaring peregrine. However, the wind was cold, so we didn't linger for long, especially as both Barry and I were wearing shorts. We finished with a short walk up the valley, enjoying good views of a male woodchat shrike.
After breakfast we drove to the Aspro dam pools, where we failed to find much of note, other than a drake teal and a glossy ibis. However, an English couple gave us directions to find a stone curlew site, and the sewage farm. We found the stone curlews in fruit-tree grove by the side of the road, while we followed our noses to find the sewage farm, where we enjoyed excellent views of five spur-winged plovers. We then drove up the Diariazos valley, but for the first time in all my visits no water was running in the river. We did seee five or six great spotted cuckoos which performed well for us. A common cuckoo also flew across the valley. I also saw a Spanish sparrow. As we drove away a long-legged buzzard flew over the second car, but I missed it.
After lunch the group went to Curium; I went to Phassouri, where new birds for the trip were a trio of collared pratincoles, a single whiskered tern, a grey heron and the pied kingfisher again. There was some visible migration when a mixed flock of night and purple herons appeared. The cloudy morning gave way to a bright and sunny afternoon, though with the temperature checked by a stiff and at times very strong wind.
Before dinner we celebrated David's birthday with a couple of bottles of champagne. The Village Inn managed a good cake for the celebrations, though the pink talking-candle failed to perform.
Saturday April 22nd
A clear sky and no wind, and a much warmer morning. As there were seven of us we all squeezed into the Land Cruiser with Giles at the wheel. We drove along the beach road to the gravel pits, stopping first for a co-operative black francolin that everyone got good views of, then a fine male Montagu's harrier that looked superb as it quartered over a barley field in the early morning sunshine. A single curlew was a surprise, as was a cock stonechat, the first I've ever seen here in the spring. A cock whinchat was sitting nearby.
Driving back round to the reed beds, we paused for a great spotted cuckoo, then continued to the marsh.
Here there were no surprises, and rather fewer birds than the afternoon before. We did admire a handsome white-headed stilt that Richard Chandler assured us was a female as it had a brown back.
After breakfast I made a quick visit to the supermarket to buy rump steak for Sunday's supper. As it's Easter here, all the local restaurants will be shut. We then drove north through the hills with their abandoned terraces towards the Troodos, pausing in my favourite valley for Cretzschmar's buntings and Cyprus wheatears and warblers. Great spotted cuckoos called distantly. The sun was warm. We then continued our climb to the Troodos, pausing briefly at Platres where I was lucky not to reverse back into the tree in the middle of the car park. A wren was singing here.
At Troodos it was just cool enough for a sweater. We walked along the nature trail through the pine trees, seeing several jays, two or three masked shrikes and eventually a coal tit. Both short-toed treecreepers and chaffinches were heard but not seen, nor was there a hint of a crossbill.
We stopped for our picnic lunch by the side of the reservoir in an attractive, litter-free picnic site. A coal tit nearly joined us, and chaffinches sang around us. Then the afternoon was spent in search of painted churches: we eventually found and visited three of them. At the first I sat outside a nearby church in the warm sun and was entertained by the scores of swifts and house martins soaring overhead. The church probably had 300 house martin nests on it, though many of them were broken or had been taken over by house sparrows. Close inspection proved that all the swifts were pallids,
At the second church we had to go and find the miserable unsmiling old boy who held the key, driving him back up the narrow road to the church. Here I found both a wood warbler and a singing serin, and there was also a singing olivaceous warbler.
The third church proved to be the hardest to find, but it was eventually located - we had to drive down a steep and narrow mud road, past an ancient Morris Oxford estate that looked as if it might still be used. Prospects of getting into this church looked poor, so here there was a break for ice creams until Giles spotted the priest. He was, apparently, another unsmiling old misery, but he did let everyone in. I wandered down to the bridge over the river, listening to a nightingale that I failed to find.
Dinner once again at the Village Inn, where the best thing was the remainder of David's birthday cake. A fat, white-haired English woman on the next table puffed her way through seven fags during the course of the evening, not adding to my enjoyment of the meal.
After dinner fireworks were going off all around, while the priest chanted his usual mournful stuff and the bells tolled.
Sunday April 23rd
Out at 6.30 on a beautifully warm and sunny morning. We all squeezed into the Land Cruiser and drove round to Zakaki marsh. Nothing of note for a while, then a little bittern flew across, unseen by anyone except me. I managed to find it perched high in the reeds and after a short while it flew back across the marsh, giving everyone a good view. Then, just before we left, a single whiskered tern arrived and put on a good show.
Lady's Mile was as disappointing as before, with just a few little stints, Kentish plovers with chicks and a single greenshank. Driving back to the bee-hives, I spotted a red-rumped swallow. We all climbed out of the car and enjoyed many close views as it flew around us, along with numerous other hirudines. At the beehives a turtle dove was purring: as we walked down the track we saw several blackcaps, a singing Cyprus warbler and a lesser whitethroat. I glimpsed a possible redstart. I scoped the flamingoes, now down to a dozen or so birds. As we walked back a hoopoe was calling.
After breakfast we drove west to Paphos. Just before entering the town we were stopped by police and given an Easter egg (a painted hard-boiled hen's egg); make's a pleasant change from a speeding ticket. We then got mildly lost navigating our way towards Cape Drepano, driving through the numerous new villa developments. When we finally got to the Cape we had a pleasant walk in the sun, the male members of the party looking for birds, the girls looking at the church (modern and not very exciting apparently). We found Sardinian warblers quickly, as expected, while a bonus was a small flock of half a dozen short-toed larks. It was bright and sunny, with a strong breeze but no real wind. Yellow-legged gulls were to be seen nesting on the small island offshore, along with jackdaws. The sea was a beautiful azure blue.
We then drove up the smart new road to the top of the escarpment, where we parked in our usual picnic spot and looked for birds. It was rather cloudy here, and the wind was chilly. Though not many migrants were around we did see a few: a male pied flycatcher (not a particularly black individual), a tree pipit, an Eastern Bonelli's warbler (only seen well by me: I scoped it), and three common cuckoos, one of which was a hepatic (rufous) female, a rare bird I've only seen a few times before. There were also Cyprus wheatears and warblers, and a pair of chukars. Giles decided it was a bit windy to eat our picnic here, so we drove on. The new road bypasses the old town where we used to turn off, so I missed my usual junction. We continued almost to Polis, when I at last turned off onto a dirt road that took us into some pretty farming countryside. We stopped for our picnic by the side of the road with a fine view. A roller put in a couple of appearances, and a black francolin called unseen from not far away.
We then wound our way up the hill to a cement factory, stopping once for a soaring long-legged buzzard, before continuing our way back down to the main Polis-Paphos road on a confusing series of narrow lanes, and turned off for the Evretou reservoir dam. There were no birds on the water, and we failed to see the corn bunting that was singing cheerfully not far away. However, we had a pleasant walk in the warm sun.
Giles's vehicle was now low on fuel and causing some concern, but we had a long drag up the escarpment before finally finding a fuel station. Like all Cyprus fuel stations, it had a device for taking bank notes, so we put Cú15.00 in. It was then an easy drive back down to Pafos and along the motorway. A griffon vulture flew across the motorway, the first I had seen for two years.
We learnt from Richard and Eunice that it had been horribly windy on the coast, so we were lucky to have missed it. As all the restaurants were closed we had my mixed salad and barbecued rump steaks for dinner. Tony sportingly lit the barbecue for us, and it was really rather more fun than eating out. The steaks were tender, too.
Monday April 24th
There was a thunderstorm with heavy rain during the night, and it was still raining at 6.30 when we ventured out. We splashed our way down to Phassouri, stopping first of all on the gravel, where apart from migrating glossy ibises we saw nothing of note. By the time we got to the reedbeds the sun was shining and the clouds had rolled away. We saw the usual mixture of birds, including a very wet red-throated pipit. A spur-winged plover did a fly-by, and we also saw a small flock of ruffs and a single grey heron. Sheila and I glimpsed the little crake.
Back for our usual 8.30 breakfast. We left again at 9.30, driving first to the viewpoint overlooking Kensington Cliffs. Several Eleonora's falcons put on a fine display, and one pair were seen mating. Just as we were leaving I spotted a flying griffon vulture which turned back along the cliff. Close scrutiny with the telescope revealed that it was one of three, with the third tucked into a recessed cave where it appeared to be nesting. There is a little hope for the Cypriot griffon population after all.
We then continued to Melanda Beach, where everyone except David and I headed straight for the attractive beach-side restaurant. Here Giles paid Cú12 for five rather horrible coffees. Meanwhile I looked for birds, seeing a roller and then finding a small colony of Spanish sparrows which I eventually managed to show everyone. Sheila decided against swimming, but did have a paddle.
We came back to the Garden House for lunch: I prepared three different salads, of which the best was avocado and cashew nuts. Great debate followed lunch about going birdwatching in Bulgaria in the autumn, but no conclusion was reached.
In the afternoon we drove up to the hills, driving into a heavy shower that continued for some time before giving way to sunshine once again. While it was still raining we watched a great spotted cuckoo enjoying the rain, and having a jolly good preen. Continuing up the road, I spotted a wryneck perched close the road. Most people saw it, but it flew and I was unable to draw it back with the CD. From the same spot was watched a long-legged buzzard perched in a tree across the valley. He (or it could have been she) was unworried by a dive-bombing cock kestrel, but moved a few hundred yards when harassed by a magpie. Though we continued to my favourite valley, we didn't see anything more of note.
On our descent we tried for the black-headed bunting, but there was no response to my CD, nor a sign of the bird. We might just be a day or so too early. Continuing down the road, we found a male masked shrike perched on a telegraph wire and I managed to digiscope it. Back in Episkopi, the main street was blocked for Easter Monday celebrations. A band was playing some truly dreadful music, while a group of children were lined up for an egg and spoon race. We waited some time for the race to begin, but gave up in the end.
We had diner at the restaurant near the Curium. Those of us who had the barbecue were disappointed, but the fish mezze was good. We were the only customers. When we came out I soon called up the scops owl, and we had good views as they flew from one eucalyptus tree to another. We then all squeezed back into the Land Cruiser and Giles drove us home.
Tuesday April 25th
As the group were catching a reasonably early flight we didn't do a pre-breakfast excursion, but at 7am I walked up the road to the church with David and Suzanne. The new developments that have sprung up since we first came to Episkopi are alarming, but typical no doubt of much of this area of Cyprus. The only bird of note was an unseen nightingale that uttered a little subsong.
We left for the airport a little after 8am, arrived at 8.40 and soon parked the Land Cruiser close to the terminal. I went inside to see everyone off: there was no queue and not many people around, though the conveyor belt had broken down. I bade everyone farewell, then drove round to the sewage farm where I saw a single spur-wing, but not nearly as close as on the previous visit.
My next stop was the Aspro dam pools, where there was little excitement. A trio of red-rumped swallows passed through, several alpine swifts came over and a glossy ibis and a purple heron dropped in. The drake teal was still present, and a single night heron appeared. A flock of around 60 glossy ibises passed over high in a straggling V, heading north.
After lunch at AGH I drove down to Phassouri where I spent the afternoon. A pleasing sight was the Red Arrows, the first time I've seen them this year. It was bright and sunny, though when the sun was obscured behind a cloud it became a little chilly. There was a constant passage of hundreds of hirundines (mainly sand martins) and swifts all afternoon. Once a pair of pratincoles put in an appearance, while glossy ibises were a constant source of entertainment. Around 55 birds were preening and feeding on the marsh, and every now and again they got up and circled round. A flock of a similar size also passed over.
Two flocks of night herons came in, the first of nine birds joined by one of a dozen or so a little later. When the second group joined the first in the reeds there was a lot of arguing, with at least one heron falling in the water. The pied kingfisher put in two appearances, a snipe came in, and at least 40 yellow wagtails were around all afternoon. A dozen whiskered terns and four white-winged blacks added greatly to the enjoyment of the afternoon, while my best count of ferruginous ducks was five together. I chatted and pointed out birds to a number of people, and managed to find a high, soaring peregrine.
Dinner at the Stables with Richard, Eunice, Roger and Mary, plus a Canadian called Colin who was also staying at AGH. I had a mezze, which wasn't bad.
Wednesday April 26th
A classic Akrotiri morning, with Red Arrows and golden orioles. I left Antony's at 6.10 and drove down to the gravel pits with the sun rising as I travelled. There were signs of a slight migration: whinchat, a couple of willow warblers and a blackcap, but nothing more exciting. However, five spoonbills flying north-west were a surprise. At the reedbeds I photographed a squacco and a purple heron, both of which looked good in the early morning sunshine. It was a cool morning, just 7degC, with a clear sky.
I then drove round to the beehives, where there was a disappointing lack of birds to be seen. However, I carried on past the bushes and photographed a crested lark, and scoped four slender-billed gulls out on the salt lake, plus just two flamingoes. For some reason I decided to walk on a little farther, and soon found two stunning male golden orioles which flew tantalisingly ahead of me. However, I did manage to get a number of satisfactory shots. As I walked back I saw another golden oriole, and then up to four spectacled warblers. These are delightful little birds, quite the daintiest of all the Sylvia warblers. A cuckoo also flew over.
The Red Arrows took off at 8am on the dot and put on their usual spectacular performance. By the time I drove home at 8.30 the temperature had risen to 19degC.
At breakfast Richard showed me pictures of a pair of red-footed falcons that he had just photographed, so I went to look for them. Alas, they weren't still to be seen, but I did find a whinchat, a female red-backed shrike and a pair of ortolan buntings. Round at the reedbeds there was nothing new showing, though there was probably a dozen white-winged black terns and rather fewer whiskered than yesterday. As I still had plenty of spare time I decided to drive up into the hills in search of black-headed buntings. I went to the area where I usually find one, driving with the windows open hoping to hear one. I did manage to hear one, and I soon located the bird sitting in the top of a small, dead tree, and took a few shots. It flew, but I called it back with the CD and took a few more shots, none particularly good. Then it was back to AGH, passing a masked shrike on the wires on the way. Squeezing all the lemons that Antony had given me in to my case was the final challenge., while Sirri presented me with an Easter loaf to give to Jan.
The drive to the airport was easy, as was parking the car. It was absolute chaos in the airport as numerous First Choice flights were departing at about the same time. Giles would have loathed the experience. I queued for 55 minutes to get rid of my bag. However, the flights left only 15 minutes late at 4.30 local time, and arrived back in Stansted on time, much to my surprise.
My total for the trip of just 121 species was low, but a reflection of a poor year for passage migrants and particularly waders, and also the fact that I didn't visit Larnaka, which always adds several species to the total. New birds for my spring list were ferruginous duck, stonechat and Bonelli's warbler, while I have only seen spoonbill once before.