Cyprus Bird Camp, October 2023

Guest blog by Lara Winsloe

In 2022 I volunteered at the Marine Turtle Conservation Project in Northern Cyprus which is run by the local marine conservation NGO SPOT Marine Life. During my field work with nesting sea turtles, I was asked to join KUŞKOR (Society for the Protection of Birds and Nature) researchers monitoring nest boxes as part of their European roller conservation scheme.

In 2023 I was approached by SPOT to return to Cyprus as an onboard observer as part of their fisheries bycatch project. Again, KUŞKOR needed support, this time to guide the Cyprus Bird Camp. I was pleased to volunteer my weekend, and also to contribute this blog!

This, the third Cyprus Bird Camp was held in Tatlısu in Cyprus in October thanks to the ongoing support from OSME’s Youth Development Fund. KUŞKOR Board Member Robin Snape led a group of 20 young Cypriots from mixed backgrounds and schools and the three main districts of Kyrenia, Famagusta and Nicosia, on a two-day tour around the island, introducing them to the world of nature conservation and birdwatching.

On arrival at the camp in Tatliısu (Akanthou) students were given a foundation on the geological processes that created the global biodiversity hotspot Cyrus is recognised to be, along with the human threats encountered in its unique habitats. The history of biodiversity loss across Cyprus, focussing predominantly on current and growing threats to wild bird populations, was followed by a discussion of how conservation NGOs work across the island to protect and restore habitats and mitigate threats to promote remaining biodiversity.

Female Red-backed Shrike ©Dave Nye
Bonelli’s Eagle ©Dave Nye

Around 40 species were spotted during the tour, from the small yet abundant European stonechat chak-chaking in the scrub to the serene wading of Greater Flamingos in the salt marshes at Silverbeachon the eastern coast. Despite living on the island for their entire lives, this was the first time any of the students had been shown the intricacies of the birdlife and environment around them. As part of the tour, examples of conservation policy, habitat restoration and threat mitigation were given at the various sites visited, and it became clear as the day progressed that students responded with increasing enthusiasm when encouraged to consider for themselves what measures might be taken to protect and promote these unique areas.

A ringing demonstration was held back at the camp

A ringing demonstration was held back at the camp on Saturday afternoon and into the evening, where students were given hands-on experience, observing songbirds like Blackcaps, Cetti’s and Sardinian Warblers up close. They were shown what to look for amongst the feathers to tell the age and sex of the bird, and taught about the importance of ringing efforts for understanding population demographics and migration strategies. The clear highlight was a Cypriot Scops Owl, one of only three bird species endemic to Cyprus, along with the Cyprus Warbler and Cyprus Wheatear. Smaller even than the Little Owl, both volunteer staff and students alike were only too eager to see this often-heard but little-seen enigmatic creature.

Quotes from the Bird Camp participants:

“I didn’t know that the birds in Cyprus were so diverse. Thanks to this camp, I gained awareness of the biological diversity on our island, which naturally led me to the question: ‘How can we protect it?’ What impressed me the most was the methods they used to catch the birds. They managed to do it both without harming them and in a very practical way, which left a strong impression on me. At the camp, in parallel with the development of my awareness, questions arose about how the species of these birds could be protected and how Cyprus could be recognized worldwide for these beautiful creatures. Additionally, living close to an area, which is one of the bird observation areas, increased my interest in this area after the camp. If I have to mention things that I would recommend for future camps, it would be participants who adapt more to the team spirit and make efforts towards compromise. This would contribute to enhancing the experience of the camp.” Emine, Bird Camp participant

Sardinian Warbler © Dave Nye
Cetti’s Warbler © Dave Nye

Initiatives such as the Cyprus Bird Camp are integral to engaging young people in nature conservation, giving them hands-on experience with wildlife, and encouraging them to think about how to treasure and protect biodiversity. All participants received certificates of participation. KUŞKOR who led the Camp, supported by several members of the SPOT Marine Life Bycatch team, are grateful for the continued support of OSME which allows these very special events to educate and foster this new generation of conservationists and birdwatchers.

Lara Winsloe is a wildlife researcher, and recently attained her MSc degree in Animal Behaviour at the University of Exeter. She has been training in bird ringing under the BTO for several years and has worked on a mixture of avian and marine life conservation projects in the UK and overseas.

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