David's Diaries 2007
Cyprus19th to the 27th March 2007
An eight-night trip in the company of Chris Cox. There was a steady but unspectacular passage of spring migrants throughout our stay, but no spectacular falls, probably because of clear skies nearly every night. The highlight of the trip was a trio of blue-cheeked bee-eaters at Phassouri on the 26th and 27th (and two on the 25th). Other birds of note seen included pallid harrier, little crake and Finsch's wheatear.
The weather was mainly fine and spring like, though we experienced snow and freezing temperatures in the Troodos, and rain at midday on the 24th.
Monday 19th March
The GB airways flight left half an hour late, but arrived in Paphos at 21.15, just 15 minutes late. The bags came through quickly and we were soon our way in our black Nissan Terrano (with the speedo calibrated in mph rather than kph). It was an easy drive to Antony's, and we were in bed not long after 10.30.
Tuesday 20th March
It was light long before 6: we left at 6.30 and drove down to Phassouri reedbeds via the coast. En route we stopped for a female hen harrier, and our first stop by the sea produced several skylarks, From the gravel pits we watched the sea, where there was a good flock of teal and a couple of shoveler drakes, plus a flock of flamingoes flighting in to Akrotiri. Black francolins called unseen. There were a few small birds around: a pair of blackcaps landed on top of a bush by the side of the track, behaving like migrants.
At the reedbeds there was plenty of water, while the first birds we saw were corn buntings: there was a flock of about 40. We soon saw a pair of spur-winged plovers, lots of teal and shovelers, a pair of gadwall and pintail and around a dozen ferruginous ducks. Several little grebes were calling, while a reed warbler sang from the reeds. All the usual birds were to be seen, such as black-winged stilts and cattle egrets around the cows, plus little ringed plover, little stint and snipe. We scoped two water pipits. Overhead there were swallows and a few swifts, while several marsh harriers were also seen. It was reasonably warm, so no need for gloves.
Back for breakfast: I'd forgotten how good the bread is here. There were a few spots of rain, so we ate inside. We stocked up with supplies at the supermarket, then left for Akrotiri at 10.10. It was now mainly overcast, though still reasonably warm. (The Nissan's temperature gauge is hopelessly pessimistic.)
We drove around the lake, seeing distant flamingoes (about 200) at our first stop, along with crested larks. We walked down to the lake from the beehives, seeing several chiffchaffs and a few lesser whitethroats in the bushes. There wasn't much to be seen on the lake other than a flock of c30 shelducks, feeding close to the flamingoes. As we walked back to the car we saw a displaying spectacled warbler, but it was a distant view.
The pools along Lady's Mile weren't particularly productive. There was a small selection of waders: several Kentish plovers, four marsh sandpipers, one black-tailed godwit, two greenshanks, one redshank, a couple of little stints and several ruffs. Among the crowd of black-headed gulls was a pair of slender-billed gulls, while we puzzled over the immature Larus gulls on the beach. They were almost certainly Armenian gulls.
Zakaki marsh didn't hold anything of note other than a single ferruginous duck, though we did see a distant flock of grey herons from here, whiffling down to the salt lake. By now it was nearly lunchtime, so we headed back to Episkopi. On the way back we stopped for a red-rumped swallow, and discovered quite a passage of hirundines, including several red-rumped, along with house martins. There were also a few swifts that looked like pallid, while Jan pointed out an alpine swift. A quail called from across the road. The sun came out as we ate in the garden at Antony's, making it very pleasant.
After lunch we drove down to Curium beach, where we saw little of note and the wind was cool and quite strong. We took the coast track back towards Phassouri, stopping a number of times for small birds. We saw several small parties of red-throated pipits, at least four isabeline wheatears, one short-toed lark, a couple of hoopoes and a super flock of yellow wagtails, the majority of which were black-headed males of the race feldeg. At least 50, possibly as many as 100, were feeding in a field of lucerne. Most of the time they were invisible, but every now and again a crowd would lift into the air before dropping back again. Here there was also a big mixed flock of linnets and greenfinches. We also heard another quail and saw red admiral, painted lady and several clouded yellows.
Minutes later we had great views of a spur-winged plover right next to the track, and saw a migrating flock of c20 cormorants offshore. There were also two large rafts of ducks, consisting mainly teal, but with six pintail, several shoveler and a few garganey mixed in. The light was now excellent, illuminating the ducks beautifully out on the water.
We enjoyed good light, too, at the reedbeds. Here there were relatively few wildfowl, as most were out on the sea, but there were several shoveler, a few teal, mallard and gadwall, and some splendid ferruginous ducks that looked at their best in the sunshine. New birds included two green sandpipers and two great white egrets, one of which flew almost overhead in company with a little egret.
As the sun dropped so the temperature fell quite quickly, so we returned to Antony's, arriving back at 5.30. We had dinner at the Bistro on the main road. It was surprisingly good, and the calf's liver I had as a main course was excellent. We washed it down with a bottle of South African merlot.
Wednesday 21st March
The first day of spring, and it certainly seemed like it. Chris and I started the day on Curium beach, where Chris spotted a peregrine out over the sea, being pursued by a couple of yellow-legged gulls. Surprisingly, we failed to see any chukars, but we did get excellent views of the two Cypriot endemics, the warbler and the wheatear. The former were singing, the latter nest building.
We then drove up to the top, where a long and careful look at Kensington Cliffs finally produced a single griffon on its nest. There were plenty of alpine swifts around, while we also saw the expected shag flying over the still blue sea. Back for an 8.30am breakfast.
We set off again at 9am, driving first of all to the experimental farm on the Paphos road where we saw the first stone curlew the moment we climbed out of the car. We saw a couple more, but they were nervous and didn't want to be looked at. On a couple of hundred yards then left to the sewage farm. Here we saw five more spur-winged plovers, while a small muddy pool produced one ruff, one stilt, one green sandpiper and our first wood sandpiper. There were also a couple of tree pipits feeding on the mud. We had a quick look at the airfield, but the vegetation was long and noting was visible.
My next site was the northern end of the Aspro dam, so we wound our way up through the village of Anarita, then forking off towards the dam. The road from the top of the cliff was badly eroded, so we decided to walk down, not a hardship in the warm sunshine. We started with a fine blue rock thrush that perched for us, and followed this with kestrels and Cyprus warblers, but it wasn't until we got down to the flat ground close to the reservoir that we started finding small birds. Out on the reservoir were three drake and two duck wigeon, plus a couple of cormorants and a flock of 18 miserable-looking grey herons, all hunched up on the bank.
Our small birds proved to be more tree pipits, including three perched in a tree, a few red-throated pipits, white wagtails, corn buntings and a cock Cyprus wheatear. A little later we saw our first northern wheatear, a female. We walked on to the ruined and deserted village, where we saw two or three black redstarts, plus butterflies flying among the carpet of brilliant yellow daisies. Several kestrels were to be seen, and there were flocks of Spanish sparrows in the trees. As we walked back out of the village, a beautiful cock Finsch's wheatear suddenly flew to the left of us, looking remarkably white as it flew. Success! It perched, allowing prolonged views, then flew round us before going up the hill. We had it in view for some minutes, so were able to enjoy it to the full. Unfortunately my camera battery went flat, so though I got a few distant shots I didn't do as well as I might have done. However, it was most satisfying to have seen it so well.
It was a long and very warm walk back to the car, but having found our quarry well worth the effort.
We decided to find somewhere else to eat our lunch, so drove back to the road, flushing four short-toed larks as we did so. We drove inland, past what was either a high-security prison or an army barracks, and then on to a charming spot where we picnicked surrounded by wild flowers: white anemones, looking like pale poppies, and at least three varieties of orchids. Birds were few, but the warm sunshine was adequate compensation. After eating I strolled up the track and found a fine male masked shrike, and we also had a good view of a singing Cyprus warbler.
We then drove back to the Aspro dam pools, though only the first one held water, and its surroundings were heavily overgrown. There were a few coots and moorhens, a drake teal and a pair of little grebes, but we failed to find the little crake that had been seen there earlier. A pair of long-legged buzzards appeared, and one hung in the air over the cliff for a long time. Little owls called unseen, while a pair of kestrels was busy nest building. As we drove off a wheatear flew across the valley in front of us. I scoped it just in time to glimpse a male black-eared, our fourth wheatear in two days.
We continued up the Diarizos valley to our usual spot, crossing the stream and enjoying another walk in the sun. There were lots of corn buntings, crowds of Spanish sparrows and a pair of chukars, while we also found another masked shrike. Perhaps most memorable was a field full of wild gladioli, a beautiful sight.
Dinner next door at the Episkopi Village Inn was up to expectations: I really enjoyed my mousaka.
Thursday 22nd March
Not a good start to the day, as the Nissan's gears proved almost impossible to engage. We drove down to Phassouri with me fighting the gearbox all the way. We did, however, flush a male black francolin from the road, and Jan saw a flying quail from the vehicle.
There were no notable new birds at the reedbeds, so we drove on to the beehives where we found plenty of chiffchaffs and lesser whitethroats, while a single wryneck lifted our spirits. It was warm but hazy. Lady's Mile had even fewer waders than on our previous visit. There was a reed warbler singing at Zakaki marsh, which I thought, might have been great reed, but we didn't manage to see it.
Because driving the Nissan was such a pain I called Europcar and arranged to swap it, so after breakfast we drove to Paphos, winding our way past the tourist hotels and the grocklebait shops until we eventually found the Europcar offices. The swap didn't take long, and we ended up with a (clean) silver Terrano instead of our black one. Its clutch has much more travel and it seems a better car.
Our route than took us along the coast road, and we stopped at Cape Drepano where there had evidently been a small fall of wheatears. We saw several male northerns plus a single isabeline. There were several red-throated pipits here, too, and we even watched one chase off a wheatear. Both Sardinian and Cyprus warblers also seen here.
My hopes were raised for some migrants up on the limestone ridge, but no such luck. The only migrant we found here was another wryneck, though there were plenty of corn buntings. After lunch we drove on to Aphrodite's Baths, parked our car in the large car park with numerous other hire cars and headed off for the coastal trail, after running the gauntlet of an old girl selling oranges. "Very sweet, pound a bag." I suspect that she did good business.
The trail wasn't at first very productive, but we eventually stopped to watch a party of greenfinches and Jan managed to find a male Cretzschmar's bunting. There were in fact a pair, and they eventually gave us fine, close views, as did a male Cyprus wheatear. Out on Agios Georgios island there were nesting yellow-legged gulls, and I reckoned that I could make out an Audouin's, too. However, the range was huge, so it was impossible to be sure. By now the sun was totally occluded, and it was somewhat cooler. We walked back through the scruffy caravan park, where we found a singing serin (why are they so scarce on Cyprus?) and a male masked shrike. I failed to digiscope the shrike, as it flushed just as I was about to press the shutter.
Our last stop of the day was the Evretou reservoir, but we failed to find much of special note, here than a couple of snipe and two green sandpipers. There were the usual coots, but no ducks out on the water. We watched a shepherd with a large mixed flock of goats and sheep, plus half a dozen dogs that rushed up to bark at us, but weren't brave enough to come closer. It was slightly incongruous to see the shepherd chatting on his mobile phone.
Dinner once again next door: my portion of spaghetti was enormous.
Friday 23rd March
A warm start to the day, with the temperature around 18 or 19degC. This proved to be the day of the wheatear. Chris and I drove straight down to the gravel pits, where we soon started seeing wheatears. The first we spotted were two cock black-eareds, but the more we looked the more we found. Northern and Isabeline were the most numerous, but there were also good numbers of black-eared plus a few Cyprus. The majority were cocks, suggesting that they return to the breeding grounds first. My peak count was 23 wheatears of four species in view at once.
We spent sometime studying the Cyprus wheatears as they looked sufficiently black and white to be pied wheatears, apparently a very rare migrant through the island. However, we later saw several Cyprus wheatears in the hills that looked very similar.
There weren't many other migrants around, though we did manage to find a few tree pipits and short-toed larks. Out on the sea was a mixed flock of black-headed and slender-billed gulls, and we also saw a large flock of ducks that were mainly garganey. A small flock of ruffs flying north along the coast included a greater sandplover. I also managed to scope a calling francolin.
The highlight of the morning came when we were watching the wheatears. I suddenly heard a crane call, and we soon found a flock of 42 birds moving over the reedbeds and heading steadily inland. We kept them in view for some time, but the views were all going away, so a positive identification was impossible. I thought that they looked relatively small, but we will never know whether they were demoiselles or commons. The latter seems more likely.
A hen harrier flew by as we were watching the wheatears, and we later saw a marsh harrier. As we were driving back through the fields we saw another harrier that was almost certainly a first-year male Montagu's. We had earlier checked the pools at the reedbeds, but a brief scan revealed nothing new.
After breakfast we drove through Limmasol (the city bypass, or through-road, is now nearly complete) and on to Governor's Beach. Here there were several isabeline wheatears, and we also managed to find and scope four or five short-toed larks. We failed to see any stone curlews on the usual favoured site, but we did flush two pairs of quails. The wildflowers were, once again, superb.
Though it was still warm, it was becoming increasingly dull, and a few spots of rain hit the windscreen. However, the rain didn't really start until we reached John and Andrea's house at noon. We were made very welcome, and Andrea gave us a delightful lunch (with bread baked by John). It rained steadily for most of the time we were there. From their house I saw a pleasing variety of birds, including blue rock thrush, Cyprus wheatear and warbler, fan-tailed warbler, red-rumped swallow and crested lark, but we didn't see the buzzards Andrea told us about.
We didn't leave until almost 3.30, time for a look at the Kouris dam. The rain had stopped, but the temperature had also dropped. The huge reservoir looked only half full, and it was as devoid of birds as I expected. There were a couple of dozen cormorants, three grey herons and a small flock of garganey, of which all but two were drakes. We drove to the head of the dam, stopped but failed to find much on the way of birds, before continuing up the valley. Our route took us part many abandoned terraces, though some were still in a good state of repair. Apart from magpies and chukars, wheatears and goldfinches we didn't see much of note.
Dinner next door: I had two starters. The restaurant was packed: just before we left, four Cypriots sat down at the next table and started drinking, and everyone of them lit up a fag.
Saturday 24th March
It was windy in the night and still blowing strongly when we drove down to the gravel pit. Here there were considerably fewer wheatears than yesterday, but we still saw four species. We also had excellent close views from the car of a pair of spectacled warblers.
Round at the marsh there was little new, but a bittern flew past, giving a good view. Birds were few at the beehives, but we flushed an orphean warbler that gave Chris a fleeting but satisfactory view, while we both had good views of a single male Rüppell's warbler. The strong wind made bird finding difficult.
After breakfast and shopping we set off for the Troodos, driving up on our usual route through the valley where we usually stop. Birds were few: most of the birds to be found in this area are migrants. We stooped once as we climbed for a soaring long-legged buzzard, its pale tail quite conspicuous as it flew away from us. The nightingale valley was silent except for a singing wren.
As we climbed higher so the temperature dropped and the rain started. By the time we reached the top the thermometer in the car was reading OdegC and the rain was falling as sleety snow. At the very top the precipitation virtually stopped, though the visibility was poor. Chris and I braved the icy wind and soon saw both short-toed treecreeper and the endemic race of coal tit, while we heard a crossbill. No jays showed. The conditions didn't encourage further searching, so we wound our way round Mt Olympus on slushy roads before starting to descend one again. The visibility remained very poor, which is why we saw so few birds. We descended slowly, not eating our lunch until 2pm. The car still insisted that the temperature was just 5degC, but by now the sun was shining, so we didn't feel that cold.
We drove on to the coast, pausing for fine views of a pair of soaring griffons. We finished up on Melanda beach which looked attractive in the bright sunshine with the Mediterranean a deep turquoise blue behind, topped by white horses. We saw few birds here except swallows (and heard a distant great spotted cuckoo), so drove back on the coast road, dropping Jan off at Antony's.
Chris and I went back to Phassouri, where we braved the wind and enjoyed the brilliant sunlight on the assembled ducks and waders. Several sand martins were hawking over the water, our first of the week, while a party of 20 little ringed plovers were feeding on the muddy margins. We walked along, checking the pools. Chris wondered whether the people in the two parked cars were watching for crakes, and as he said the word crake I spotted a female little crake walking along the edge of the reeds. She was shy and reluctant to show herself, but we eventually gained good clear views. The long primary projection was very obvious.
We also saw wood, green and marsh sandpipers (one of each), one little egret, four cattle egrets, a little stint and numerous snipe and ruffs. Stilt numbers had increased to a dozen, and lots of white wagtails were coming into roost as we left. A reeling Savi's warbler was heard several times. As we sat in the car before leaving Chris spotted another little crake, this time a male, a satisfactory conclusion to the afternoon.
We had dinner at our usual Sunday-night restaurant, where we were joined by Peter and Janet, two (formerly British) Australians on a European tour. We all had a fish meze, which was very good, even if the dishes came rather fast. We were the only diners. As we walked out I called up a scops owl that gave good views in the beam of Chris's torch.
Sunday 25th March
The clocks went forward overnight, so we went out at 7am, driving down to the gravel pit area where few birds were initially visible. It was a typically cool but clear morning, with little wind, encouraging the mosquitoes to bite us. We pursued a probable orphean warbler, saw a small selection of wheatears and eventually found three whinchats. We made a quick check of the reedbeds, but saw nothing new.
After breakfast we drove over to Larnaka, where the big salt lake held around 120 slender-billed gulls and a similar number of flamingoes. However, waders were few, just a half dozen ruffs, and there wasn't much more on the airport lake. There were, however, around 20 stone curlews that flushed a short distance.
We continued on to the bird hide, passing more flamingoes on the way. As we arrived at the hide a local birdwatcher was leaving, and told us that there wasn't much special to be seen, other than three Baltic gulls. We soon saw these (all adults), while the two lakes held lots of shoveler (perhaps as many as 1,000), along with a few wigeon, teal and garganey. The sun was shining brightly, but the air was cool.
We drove on round to Spiro's Pool, but it held nothing more than a couple of stilts. Nor could we find any calandra larks in the surrounding fields. As we left I spotted a Sandwich tern over the sea. Our next stop was Kito Dam, which we found easily enough. I had told Chris that it wasn't usually much good, but even I was surprised to climb the dam wall to find not a drop of water the other side. Nor was there bare mud: the whole area had grassed over, and it must be a long time since there was last water there.
We ate lunch here, with Spanish sparrows nest building in the trees, and a trio of great spotted cuckoos noisily chasing each other around. After lunch we continued back along the coast, stopping once for a virtually birdless walk on the coast.
We returned to Antony's, leaving again at 4pm for the reedbeds. It was now very windy, though the sun was still shining strongly. There didn't seem much new to see, though we did have good views once again of the female little crake, so I suggested to Chris that we should walk along to see if there was anything else around. We stopped to look at a marsh sandpiper and as we watched it, a wonderful bright green bird flashed across our binoculars' field of view: a blue-cheeked bee-eater. It remained in the area for the next 15 minutes, joined briefly once by another, which was the only time we heard a call. This was only my second-ever blue-cheek on Cyprus, so was quite a treat. We walked on, adding a squacco heron to the list.
This wasn't all the excitement for the day, either. Soon after setting off for home Chris spotted a cock woodchat shrike on a roadside fence, and we stopped to scope and photograph it.
Back down to Curium for dinner. Chris and I had a meat meze, which was quite a blow-out, as expected. It was excellent value at C£6.50 each. As we left I called up the scops owl once again.
Monday 26th March
It was a cool morning, and our pre-breakfast excursion was notably unproductive. We did see the same woodchat as yesterday afternoon, and on the way back, by the M1 pools we saw a small flock of tawny pipits, but the latter were the only addition to the list.
After breakfast Chris and I went back to the M1 Pools (two of them have water) where we re-found the tawny pipits, saw a good selection of wheatears (mainly northern), several hoopoes and a couple of wrynecks. There were also a couple of male subalpine warblers that were new for the list.
Our next stop was Zakaki marsh, where there was a soaring buzzard overhead the moment we arrived. It was the first of a dozen or more buzzards that we were to see during the day. These were migratory steppe buzzards of the race vulpinus. A shout of "penduline tit!" from another birdwatcher drew us to the end of the marsh, but the tit had disappeared from view. We watched and saw several sedge warblers, then I glimpsed the tits fly off, never to be seen again. However, as we chatted to their finder, a Welshman from Pembrokeshire, we did have good views of a female little crake creeping along the edge of the reedbed, followed by another flying across in front of us. A couple of water rails also called.
Lady's Mile produced no more than a trio of marsh sandpipers and a few Kentish plovers, so we drove on to the beehives where we found our first willow warbler, several chiffchaffs, lesser whitethroats, a single female orphean warbler and a flock of Cretzschmar's buntings. The sun was pleasantly warm as we watched. Then it was back for lunch, joining Jan, plus John and Andrea.
After lunch Chris and I drove back down to the reedbeds, flushing a purple heron from the road just before we arrived. I helped an English couple find a ferruginous duck (not difficult!) when Chris shouted for a pratincole. We watched it for some time in flight, and were quite convinced that it was a black-winged, until it eventually landed to reveal itself as a collared. (Tail and primaries the same length, extensive red on lower mandible.) As we watched the pratincole a blue-cheeked bee-eater appeared, soon joined by two more, and they remained for the rest of the afternoon, giving terrific views as they perched together in the reeds and swooped over the pool. While we watched we also enjoyed good views of the male little crake creeping around not far from us.
We collected Jan at 4pm and managed to show her the bee-eaters, then went hunting without great success for bee orchids. As we drove back a flock of 12 grey herons were flying over the marsh. We cut back through the fields, finding the solitary pratincole feeding on a recently ploughed field. I managed to photograph it with some success.
Dinner at the Old Stables was good value and much enjoyed.
Tuesday 27th March
For our pre-breakfast outing we drove down to Curium Beach then travelled along the shoreline to the reedbeds. The first birds we came across were yellow wagtails - there must have been several hundred - some of which were out sunning themselves on the shingle. Most were black-headed, but various other races were also present. Next we came across a small group of short-toed larks, one of which I photographed with some success. Our last flock was of tawny pipits. There was the usual scattering of wheatears, and we also saw a female hen harrier, but the reedbeds produced nothing new.
After breakfast we drove down to Zakaki, where a glimpsed little crake was about the most exciting bird. We also had good views of reed and sedge warblers. On Lady's Mile there was a trio of Mediterranean gulls, two of which were adults. Curiously, only one of the latter had the typical white eye rims. Waders were almost non-existent.
After a lot of bumping along farm tracks we eventually found Bishop's Pool, with its smart new hides. Alas, there wasn't much to be seen from them other than a few shovelers and a single drake pochard. The latter was new for the list; we heard later that he had been there all winter. At the beehives nearby we saw nothing of note. We returned via the reedbeds, where the three bee-eaters were still showing well. Here we met the Limosa/Travelling Naturalist group, with David Cottridge and Keith Grant leading. They weren't doing a great job, as they hadn't seen the bee-eaters, which we showed them. We chatted to an old boy I'd met out here last year. His name was Bob Peel, from Ripon in Yorkshire.
After a relaxed lunch back at Antony's, Chris and I walked down to Kensington Cliffs, a hot walk in the sun, with the light reflecting back off the rocks. We saw the griffon sitting on her nest, while the peregrines put on a good display. As we walked back I spotted two high harriers: pallids, one adult male, one female. They were the last addition to the trip list, No 136. We continued back to the reedbeds where we enjoyed watching the bee-eaters in excellent light. We chatted to a young man, Alistair Gibbs, who is working at the Episkopi garrison. He told us that he was the only serious birder among the 2,000 people based there. Then it was back to base, packing, and time for a take-away pizza and a glass of wine before heading to the airport.
Our flight was on time, and we arrived back at Gatwick in the early hours of the morning.