Cyprus 21 – 27 December 2000
Based in Limassol.
The weather was generally warm and sunny with one cold, overcast, windy day and two rather hot days. There were a couple of light showers on one day and thunder storms on one night.
This holiday was booked as a last minute deal from Gatwick and was not solely a birding holiday although a good deal of birding was done.
There is very little information available on birding Cyprus in the winter. I used the Arlequin guide (Stagg and Hearl) which gave good directions to many sites but little information on what to expect. In fact the book is misleading bringing the reader to half expect some rather rare visitors whilst one is unaware that some other more regular birds are even possible (greater sandplover especially springs to mind).
Most of my information came from resident birders whom I contacted via an RFI on UKBirdNet. My thanks goes to them for their information, without which my holiday would have been considerably less bird-rich.
I found birding difficult on the island. The birds were few and far between and when they were present, rarely gave themselves up to view. However, some of the birds which did show themselves were superb and of species which can be difficult to see easily in the Western Palearctic.
Arrived at Larnaca airport. Flamingos seen well on the Airport North Pools from the transfer bus on the way to Limassol. Day spent in Limassol. Birds included Sandwich tern, chiffchaff, white and grey wagtails (latter in Municipal Gardens near the fountains).
Trip to Paphos to investigate the various Roman Ruins. This site (on the headland between the Lighthouse and the Fort) was good for a number of open ground species including stonechats, black redstart, crested lark, skylark, linnet. Also one rather late tawny pipit here.
On the rocks below the lighthouse was a common kingfisher, 2 grey plover and at least 4 greater sandplover. This last species is regular in winter at this site (although you wouldn’t know it from the guidebooks) and was easy to see. I was told it was guaranteed here and was not disappointed. Also on rocks on the harbour side of the headland was one common sandpiper.
In the last hour of light I drove the Paphos Airport approach road looking for black francolin. Two stunning males were seen on tilled land at the edge of crops. One was sat in the sun and was beautifully lit. Towards this time of day was recommended as the best time to see them. My birds were in fields to the left of the road as you drive toward the airport after the long windbreak but before the airport perimeter fence is reached (on the right). They were found by stopping the car and scanning the fields. Be careful – the airport is a sensitive area and people lingering too long may invite unwelcome attention from the authorities.
The abandoned village of Phinikas on the western side of the Asprokremnos Dam is a ‘guaranteed’ site for wintering Finsch’s wheatear with several individuals (mostly males) holding territories. However, the site is only accessible to 4-wheel drive traffic and I was taken there by a local birder. One 1st winter male was seen well but just as the books say, it was shy and kept its distance. Chukar were common around here and there were large numbers of western yellow-legged gull here (a quick check could not find any other gulls – Armenian do occur here).
At the ‘Aspro’ pools, below the dam, we saw shoveler, teal, little grebe and heard water rail. The scrub around here also held one or two Cyprus warblers but they were difficult to see well.
Next stop was Quarry beach near Episkopi. This site held two wintering wallcreepers but on the two occasions I visited we did not find them. We did however have awesome views of griffon vultures (about 8 birds) and a pair of peregrines. In the scrub here brief glimpses were had of Cyprus and spectacled warblers.
Next, Akrotiri Salt Lake for about 400 flamingos and a range of common dabbling duck. Scrub at the edge of the lake held yet more frustrating Cyprus warblers, but I did eventually obtain reasonable views here of a male. I was surprised at how difficult it was to see the spotting and can imagine some birders coming away thinking they only ever saw Sardinian warblers. This latter species is, however, not common on the island. Eye-ring colour was more obvious.
Zakaki Marsh held zitting cisticola, buzzard and two hen harriers towards dusk. A corn bunting flew in and excellent views were had here of spectacled warbler.
An archaeological day visiting the site around Kourion (Curium). Cyprus warbler were characteristically frustrating at Kourion Stadium, a tristis-type chiffchaff and a Cetti’s warbler were present at the Sanctuary of Apollon and a 1st winter male blue rock thrush was seen on the cliff behind Kourion Beach.
Christmas day in the Troodos Mountains. Birds were generally very few and far between with no raptors apart from the odd kestrel. The waterfall trail from Kato Platres produced a few of the island subspecies of coal tit, great tit, short-toed treecreeper (good views) and wren as well as a handful of feeding siskin. Chiffchaff were also common here. An evening visit to the Arminou Dam in the Diarhessos Valley produced large numbers of finches flying up into the hills to roost. These included about 1000 serin (including one luecistic/albinistic bird), c200 chaffinch, c50 goldfinch and a handful of siskin. There were many meadow pipits also present, a common kingfisher on the reservoir shore and a blue rock thrush in the gorge leading to the dam. The dam is probably the best site on the island to see long-legged buzzard at any time of year. I dipped but it was rather late in the day for raptors.
Larnaca sewage works does not feature in any of the guides to my knowledge. This is because it has only been present for about four years. It has quickly become THE gull and waterfowl site on the island, regularly attracting rarities. It is reached by turning left along the beach road from Airport South Pools, towards Spiro’s Pool (in the guides). Just before Spiro’s Pool is reached you will see the raised bunds of the two sewage settling tanks to the left and a raised hide overlooking the causeway between the two tanks. Early morning visits are best for gulls before they move off to the various pools nearby. We arrived a little late and did not stay as long as I would have liked as we were really on our way to Nicosia to do touristy things.
On arrival there was a common buzzard floating over and on the sewage ponds were hundreds of duck which I did not check thoroughly due to time. However, the species included teal, wigeon, mallard, gadwall, shoveler and shelduck. There were three little stint at the edge and spectacled warblers were seen well here. The gulls had already started to disperse but all were checked thoroughly. There were no definite Armenian gulls but a few possible sub-adults and an almost definite 1st winter. The views of michahellis and nominate cachinans yellow legged gulls side by side were fantastic and the extremes were very obvious. Two Siberian gulls (Larus [argentatus] hueglini) were present and also surprisingly obvious. There was an adult and one 3rd winter. A Mediterranean gull was also present but, unfortunately, not the 4 great black-headed gulls which had been reported here or the four white pelicans.
On Spiro’s Pool there were flamingos (as on all the pools and lakes in this area) giving superb, close views and a little egret. Between the pool and the sea was a strip of low shrubby ground which held Spanish sparrows, house sparrows and crested lark but not the calandra larks for which this site can be good.
Last day on the island and so I made an early morning dash back to Larnaca sewage ponds. This time I did see all four 1st winter great black-headed gulls. One bird was quite advanced and almost intermediate between published illustrations of 1st and 2nd winter plumage. This bird was quite obvious. The other birds were less advanced with one looking like the 1st winter in the MacMillan guide but the other two seemed intermediate between juvenile and 1st winter plumage and were initially difficult to pick out with less well marked heads and eye-crescents.
The adult Siberian gull was again present as was one very dark cachinans type bird which may have been ‘barabensis’ or taimyrensis but was not seen well as it was distant and obscured by other birds.
Ducks were as the previous day but with pintail also. 14 white-fronted goose were present with a greylag goose. Spanish and house sparrow, crested lark, spectacled warbler and zitting cisticola were also seen well. On the beach were 27 Kentish plover.
This was my last birding experience on the island and I flew out later that day with seven lifers or more (gulls confuse the count) and some great experience of some ‘difficult’ Western Palearctic species.
The two field guides I took were indispensable (especially for sorting out the gulls). They were:
Mullarney, Svensson, Zetterström and Grant – Collins Bird Guide.
Harris, Shirihai and Christie – The MacMillan Birder’s Guide to European and Middle Eastern Birds.
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