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Cyprus - 27th August – 7th September 2010

Published by Bob Swann (robert.swann AT homecall.co.uk)

Participants: Bob Swann, Dora Swann

For our late summer holiday this year we decided on Cyprus, the main aim being to try and see Demosielle Cranes on their autumn migration. I got information on sites from “A Birdwatching Guide to Cyprus, Stagg and Hearl”, which gives details on how to access all the main birding sites and what species to expect. Trip reports, available on Travelling birder.com, by Richard Bonser, Mark Hows and Philip Callagher also provided some extra information for which I was very grateful. The literature suggests that the last week of August first week of September is the peak time for migrating cranes so we timed our holiday to cover that period. We booked flights with Easyjet from Luton to Paphos. We decided to spend five nights in Limassol, within easy reach of the salt lakes and stayed in the fairly plush and central Hotel Ajax, which was very pleasant. We then had six nights in Paphos where we stayed in the more basic (but still fine) Kings Hotel. On reflection we should maybe have spent more time in Limassol as it is a more central location and closer to some of the good birding sites. Finally we used Economy Car Rentals.com to book a car with Budget, which we collected at Paphos Airport.

27th August. Arrived 1900 hours local time at Paphos collected the car without any hitches and headed along the motorway to Limassol, where we found our hotel without any hassle.

28th August. I got up at 0600 - the start of the crane quest and headed straight out past the port and down Lady’s Mile beach, then across the south end of the salt lake to Akrotiri. A Black Francolin flew across the road in front of me – a nice start. I parked in a layby above Sylvana Restaurant, which gave an uninterrupted view over the lake. A quick scan indicated no cranes were present this morning, only a few Hooded Crows.

Decided to retrace my steps to check out pools west of the Lady’s Mile Beach track, where I found lots of roosting Kentish Plovers (200+), with an obliging juvenile Greater Sand Plover. Feeding amongst them were 25 Little Stint, 2 Dunlin, 2 Curlew Sandpiper, 2 Common Redshank and a nice Marsh Sandpiper. A flyover Slender-billed Gull was the only one I saw during the entire trip. Continued up the road to check out Zakaki Pool. A good variety of birds here right next to the roadside, included Grey Heron and Little Egret, which were soon joined by two Cattle Egret, three Glossy Ibis and two Great White Egrets. A wide variety of waders included several Little Stint, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, with 4 Wood Sandpiper, a Green Sandpiper, 3 Curlew Sandpiper, a super juvenile Broad-billed Sandpiper, a very confiding Temminck’s Stint, a Greenshank, a Lapwing, a Ruff and a Common Snipe. All were regular spooked by a hunting Marsh Harrier. A family of Moorhen and two Water Rail regularly emerged from the reeds to feed out on the mud. Feeding over the pool was a mixed flock of Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow and Sand Martin.

Headed back to the hotel for breakfast after a good early mornings birding. We then went back out, first to the Phassouri reedbeds. These have been dry now for about two years. In the adjacent pasture lots of Zitting Cisticola, and small flocks of Yellow Wagtail. From the roadside trees we flushed a Barn Owl. We drove along till just beyond the end of the reedbed then turned left on the first track and followed it out onto the gravel plain leading towards the Akrotiri gravelpits. Bird numbers were pretty low, but did include our first Spectacled Warblers, Whinchat, at least 8 Lesser Grey Shrike and 5 Red-backed Shrike and a nice Isabelline Wheatear. Pools were a bit disappointing with only 2 Turnstone and 2 Curlew Sandpiper. Only raptors seen were Common Kestrels. It was now very hot so we headed back to find shade.

29th August. Another 0600 start. Still no cranes on Akrotiri but there were two roosting Black Kites. I drove to the north end of Akrotiri and at the Bakery doubled back following the signs for Agios Georgios church. Checked the bushes around the church. Found a few Willow Warbler, Spectacled Warbler, a family of Sardinian Warbler and my first Cyprus Warbler. Flushed two Hoopoe and several Crested Lark. As I was about to leave a Purple Heron spiralled down and landed in a bush close to the church. As I returned to Limassol I checked out Lady’s Mile and Zakaki pools. There were fewer birds than yesterday with the only new species being a Sanderling.

After breakfast we decided to head east towards Larnaca. Followed the signs for airport and then Meneou. Here we turned left down to the shore and then left again past the dried out saltpans. A track then went out to a hide overlooking two large settlings tanks. These contained large numbers of duck, mainly Mallard (100+) and Shoveler (150+), with 35+ Garganey and 10+ Common Teal, along with Common Coot and many Little Grebes. On the edge of the tanks a scattering of waders mainly Little Stint (70+) with a few Kentish Plover, 2 Black-winged Stilt and lots of noisy smart Spur-winged Plovers.

We then retraced our steps back to the motorway and drove round Larnaca and further east till we turned off left following the signs for Achna. Just past the abandoned village of Achna (along the border with the Turkish north) we turned right following a road signposted Achna Dam. We stopped on the north side of the reservoir, where a track led down towards the shore. Out on the water we immediately saw a lone adult Great White Pelican. Feeding over the reservoir were four Whiskered Tern and a juvenile White-winged Black Tern. Along the shore line we flushed four Little Ringed Plover, a Common Sandpiper and an Isabelline Wheatear. I tried to walk along the north shore of the reservoir but the track petered out, though I did get good views of Reed Warbler and Eastern Olivaceous Warbler. I retraced my steps and walked round the ‘hen farm’ and through fields above the reservoir shore. In bushes along shore several Magpie and big flocks of House Sparrows, with a few Spanish Sparrow and Greenfinch. From edge of escarpment below the fields flushed several Chukar and a nice male Black Francolin. Once again it was getting very hot so we decided to head back to Limassol.

30th August. Another 0600 start. This time first scan over the saltlake revealed a compact flock of 50ish Demoiselle Crane – excellent! We watched them for a while as they woke up, stretched their wings and legs. As it would be a while before they took off we decided to visit Bishops Pool and check it out. The pool held large numbers of Common Coot, Little Grebe, with a few Garganey and a pair of Ferruginous Duck. An adult Black-crowned Night Heron flew across the pool. In the surrounding bushes were lots of Collared Doves and Turtle Doves. We returned to overlook the lake and at 0820 we counted 54 cranes taking off. They did a half circuit round the lake and relanded. Very pleased we headed back for a late breakfast.

We decided to head for the hills to see if it was cooler. We drove north to Pano Plates and just north of the town at the trout fish farm and restaurant we followed the Kaledonia Falls nature trail. As we walked up the trail we came across our first Chaffinch, Wren, Coal Tits (of the distinctive cypriotes race), Great Tit and eventually a Short-toed Treecreeper. The plunge pool below the falls was occupied by some very noisy visitors so we quickly headed back down the trail.

Continued north to Troodos and walked through some of the more open pine woods round the settlement. Nice views of Masked Shrikes, local Jays, our first Cyprus Pied Wheatears and a pair of Cyprus Warbler. Lots more Coal Tits and overhead feeding House Martins with a few Red-rumped Swallows.

31st August. A later start today as we decided to return east to the Larnaca area. First stop again was the hide by Larnaca Sewage Works tanks. Much as two days ago, though a few Yellow-legged Gulls and new waders included 10 Ruff, 5 Dunlin, 3 Turnstone and 2 Curlew Sandpiper. On nearby Meneou beach flushed a Curlew.

Then returned to Achna reservoir. This time on the Achna ‘bypass’ we turned off right on a track that took us to the northwest end of the reservoir. We then walked down the muddy west shore of the reservoir. This was very good for waders with 30+ Little Ringed Plover, 20+ Spur-winged Plover, 8 Black-winged Stilt, 2 Little Stint, 2 Common Sandpiper, a Ruff, a Curlew Sandpiper, a Green Sandpiper, a Greenshank, a Spotted Redshank and a nice group of three juvenile and an adult Collared Pratincole. There were also lots of herons including 14 Grey Heron, 14 Squacco Heron, 4 Little Egret and a Glossy Ibis. In bushes along the shore 6 Masked Shrike, 3 Lesser-grey Shrike and 4 Red-backed shrike. There were also lots of Willow Warblers, a Spotted Flycatcher and at least 3 Hoopoe. Along the shore we disturbed a flock of 15+ Yellow Wagtail and overhead noted a family of three Long-legged Buzzard. We then checked out the east end of the reservoir. The pelican was still there and also a Whiskered Tern, with two juvenile White-winged Black Terns and a Common Tern. Roosting in a bush by the shore was a group of 12 Black-crowned Night Herons. We really liked this site, but once again the heat drove us back to Limassol.

1st September. Our last morning in Limassol, decided to check out saltlake again. No cranes, so walked through scrub and bushes adjacent to fields at south end of lake. In and around the fields were lots of Chukar (25+). Also flushed a Quail, whilst overhead a flock of 12 European Bee-eaters. Then checked Lady’s Mile pools, where a Ruff was the only new species. Wader numbers were low at Zakaki pool, but a Teminck’s Stint was present again along with 10 Wood Sandpiper. Had excellent views of a Water Rail that came right out into the open below us to feed on a slice of bread. It was then followed by a Cetti’s Warbler, which hopped across the mud and also fed on the bread. Over the pools 3 Pallid Swift and later two Alpine Swift.

Returned to hotel to pack and then headed back to Akrotiri area. Stopped at Bishops Pool, where had distant views of Honey Buzzard, but better views at the pool of an Eleonora’s Falcon and a Common Kingfisher, plus usual stuff. We then drove from the Akrotiri gravel pits along the coast to Curium beach, though saw very few bird bar a couple of Lesser Grey Shrike and an offshore Common Tern. Just west of Curium beach 10+ Eleonora’s Falcons flying around the cliffs. Drove up to and west along the old Limassol - Paphos road. Viewed Kensington Cliff area, but only noted another couple of Eleonora’s Falcons. Next stop was by Aphrodites Rock where had two more Eleonora’s Falcons and 3 Shags on an offshore rock. Arrived in Paphos and checked into Kings Hotel.

2nd September. Decided to go north today. First stop was Evretou Reservoir. Just before Skoulli we turned right (towards Simou) up a hill and then turned left onto a track by a water tank. We followed this track down to the top end of the reservoir. At the muddy top end located 2 Wood Sandpiper, 2 Common Snipe, a Little Egret, 2 Common Kingfisher and a flock of 15+ Yellow Wagtail. There was also a flock of 28 Garganey. Coming down to drink were a few Linnets, Goldfinch and 2 Cretzchmar’s Bunting. Amongst the scrub at the top end of the reservoir were 3 Hoopoe, 2 Whinchat, an Isabelline Wheatear, 5 Cyprus Pied Wheatear and a Lesser Grey Shrike. In the adjacent stony field we flushed a flock of 6 Greater Short-toed Larks. We also flushed a juvenile Bonelli’s Eagle, which flew towards the abandoned village where it was mobbed by a large group of Jackdaws. As we returned to the car we noted a juvenile Citrine Wagtail feeding along the shore of the reservoir. A second bird appeared and was chased off by the first, highly territorial bird.

Returned to main road and drove on north to Aphrodite’s Bath west of Polis. Walked out along the Akamas Peninsular coastal trail. Very hot and difficult to see birds, though we did find a few Sardinian Warbler, Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrike and several Cyprus Pied Wheatears. Also a large flock of 32 Grey Heron perched on cliff top bushes and two flocks of ten and sixteen Little Egret.

3rd September. Drove north again and just before Stroumi turned off on road to Kannaviou. Just north of the village beyond the new dam turned left on a track signposted Stavros. At this point found a flock of 20+ Corn Bunting perched on roadside bushes. Drove along the side of the reservoir. Stopped now and then and in the bushes located Sardinian Warbler, Red-backed Shrike, a Spotted Flycatcher, Goldfinch and a Cretzchmar’s Bunting. As we drove up into the pine forest saw masses of Wood Pigeon and quite a few Cyprus Pied Wheatears. In one gully had a few Crag Martins and flushed 3 Chukar. Stopped at Agia picnic site where we had Chaffinch and Coal Tit, but little else. A wheel bearing on the car was making a funny noise so we thought it was safer to turn back than proceed on to Stavros.

4th September. First stop was the reedy pool below the Asprokremnos Dam. As we approached we flushed a group of 10+ Chukar. We sat for about an hour getting fleeting glimpses of birds including a Common Kingfisher, at least 2 Reed Warblers, a Sedge Warbler, a Great Reed Warbler and an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler. We then drove anticlockwise round the reservoir. Just north of Nikoklela walked through some stony fields to view the north east arm of the reservoir. Got nice views of a juvenile Bonelli’s Eagle, along with a few Masked, Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrikes and the usual Cyprus Pied Wheatears. From Nana we worked our way down to the north end of the reservoir. Not much here bar three Little Egret and three Eleonora’s Falcons. Then flushed another juvenile Bonelli’s Eagle, which flew across the reservoir being mobbed by an Eleonora’s and a Common Kestrel.

Got back to the main road and cut down to the shore at Mandria. Walked through the fields adjacent to the shore. Most fields were devoid of birds, but one irrigated field held large numbers of Yellow Wagtails, whilst in a couple of weedy fields were 2 Greater Short-toed Larks, 6 Whinchat, 2 Northern Wheatear and 6 Tawny Pipit. Amongst the shrubs I found Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrike, lots of Willow Warblers and Zitting Cisticolas. Was very hot so went for a swim in the sea.

5th September. Decided to get up early and head back to Akrotiri area. On arrival found a group of five and another of three Demoiselle Cranes on the saltlake. Continued on to Lady’s Mile pools where waders included 205 Kentish Plover, 10 Little Stint and two Common Redshank. On Zakaki there were 18 Grey Heron and a Ferruginous Duck, whilst waders included 25 Little Stint, 4 Curlew Sandpiper, 2 Wood Sandpiper, a Ruff and a Greenshank. Next stop was Bishops Pool. New birds here included a Purple Heron and 11 Black-crowned Night Herons. In the nearby bushes I found a Lesser Whitethroat and pair of Cyprus Warbler. I also noted the 8 cranes flying low over the Akrotiri base. They had been disturbed by folk trying to rescue two cars stuck out on the lake.

Returned to Paphos and we decided to revisit Evretou Reservoir. It was very hot and being a Sunday there were lots of fisherman present, so fewer birds were seen. Highlights were a flock of 16 Squacco Heron with 7 Little Egret. Returned to Paphos to cool down. In late afternoon walked round the headland where I found two Greater Sand Plovers and two Common Sandpipers.

6th September. Returned to Asprokremnos, but this time to the carpark in the pine wood at the top of the dam. In the wood five Hoopoe and two Spotted Flycatcher. In the scrub beyond got good views of Spectacled Warblers. From the dam itself spotted a Peregrine and a Long-legged Buzzard.

We crossed the dam and then drove north up the Diarizo valley. Five kilometres south of Kidasi we stopped by two large puddles below the road. These were attracting birds to drink including at least 3 Ortolan Buntings. We also found a Little Owl roosting by the roadside. We headed up further north to Mandria where we had a group of 9 European Bee-eaters cross the road above us. From Mandria we cut back south via Malia and Dora (so Dora could get a photo taken at the village sign). A Common Swift was the only bird of note in this agricultural area.

7th September. Our last day. A quick check of the pine wood at Asprokremnos dam, revealed little new bar two male Cyprus Warblers in the scrub. On the pool nice views of a Great Reed Warbler and a flock of 11 European Bee-eaters passing overhead. Then walked down the dried up river valley just west of Kouklia. Got good views of 14 Chukar then 3 Black Francolins, but not much else. Returned to Mandra to check the fields. The irrigated field held 70+ Yellow Wagtail, with a mixed flock of House and Sand Martins feeding over it. Little else new, though I flushed a female Black Francolin from a field edge then found a large flock of 60+ Stone Curlew in an orchard and adjacent ploughed field. Returned to hotel to pack up.

In all we saw 119 different species and I had one lifer – the Demoiselle Cranes, so all in all it was a very successful trip.

robert.swann@homecall.co.uk