Friday 15 April 2016

Cyprus - Wagtails a plenty and likewise the Ficedulas

Thu 14th was a warm and sunny day temperatures reaching 28C inland of the south coast at Anarita 'Park', slightly cooler in the W/NW breeze on the coast. Started the day in the NW visiting Smiyies Picnic Site, the nearby Agios Minas area and a brief look at the Baths of Aphrodite in that order. At the first site caught up with Cretszschmar's Bunting, a singing male holding territory on the rocky slope. A female Collared Flycatcher was present in nearby pine trees, think I'm getting more confident about Ficedula id, and Serin was new for the trip. A singing male Eastern Olivaceous Warbler was by the church and the Baths of Aphrodite yielded Hoopoe and Chukar only. Off to Anarita 'Park' where up to 16 'Kestrels' flocked, presumed all to be Lesser Kestrels due to their flocking behaviour and subtle plumage characteristics. Not one adult male present, at least 1 imm. male amongst the female types. A ringtail Montagu's Harrier moved through and an adult male was in the southern end of this valley, plus a male Marsh Harrier. Another highlight being a pair of Bonelli's Eagle circling to the north for a few minutes. Ortolan Bunting showed well and an aerial feeding frenzy comprised Pallid, Common and Alpine Swifts with the 2 Swallow species in attendance. Nearby Aspro. Dam held Wood Warbler and a female Golden Oriole. Paphos Headland was ok, a noticeable presence of Northern Wheatears (15+) and 'Flava 'Wagtails (Blue-headed ones picked out). A lone part sum plum Red-throated Pipit minded it's own business walking along the Roman ruins area, and a nice Wryneck added to the mix at the northern end of the Archaeological complex. Bee-eater(s) called from somewhere up above. Ended the day at Cape Drepanum where the island's Yellow-legged Gulls were joined by a Mediterranean race Shag on the rocks. Of note were the 'Flava Wagtails probably over 80 present when they all flew up as the sun dipped, but no more than 20 in view at any one time. Most were Blue-headed with several Black-headed present plus the pair shown below. One being a candidate 'supercilliaris' not sure of their status here and the yellow as opposed to white 'super', and the other a female type Citrine Wagtail. Nice to study albeit briefly as dog walkers entered the arena.

Akrotiri church was birdy this morning (Fri 15th), many Pied and 2 male Collared Flycatchers. The chain link fence held Collared and Pied Flys, Redstart. Whinchat, Northern and Black-eared Wheatears at one stage! Shared the offerings with KH & RH. Tawny Pipit and Woodchat Shrike were a good supporting cast, and a Kingfisher flew by late morning, bizarre! Nearby Bishop's Pool held the flycatcher duo. Tried Kensington Cliffs and later the cliff face east of Aphrodite's Rock for Eleonora's Falcon without success. Both sites held Kestrel and Alpine Swift. Kensington Cliffs played host to a pair of Peregrines and a Griffon Vulture took to the sky. I was lucky to pick up a male Pallid Harrier flying fast in off the sea here at approx 14:30. Mandria fields east of Paphos saw me connect with more Northern Wheatears and a Spur-winged Plover. Ended the day again at Cape Drepanum to the north west of Paphos. Northern Wheatears shared the scrub with a female Black-eared Wheatear. A Stone Curlew flew by and sungles of Tawny Pipit and Short-toed Lark were present with many Created Larks and Sardinian Warblers in the area. Only 1 'Flava' Wagtail present this eve. Home tomorrow, trip report to come soon. A nice trip, got the impression lots of birds already migrated through, look forward to returning to check out the migration a week or two earlier.

Wednesday 13 April 2016

Cyprus - Eastern gems and subspecies twitching

Overnight rain eased first thing and after breakfast I was off to Akrotiri arriving at 0930 at the church SW of the village on the edge of Akrotiri Plain (Tues 12th). Birded this area with an English/Finnish couple of Cyprus Brown-necked Raven fame, excellent company and it was nice to gain some birding gen for the area. Migrants were in but it was still slow, Woodchat Shrike and Wryneck showed nicely with Whinchat and Pied Flycatcher for company. Pipits and Wagtails called overhead and a group of 6 Tawny Pipits were in the dune like scrub. Next stop Bishop's Pool. The walk from the road was productive with 2 smart male Collared Flycatchers present and a female Pied Flycatcher. An Eastern Olivaceous Warbler sung by the entrance and Spanish Sparrows were mixed in with House Sparrows around the farm buildings. Overhead several Red-rumped Swallows joined (Barn) Swallows, Sand and House Martins. A majestic Alpine Swift mother ship drifted by flanked by 2 Common Swift fighters, rather apt for the location. The pool held chuntering Common Sandpipers, a Purple Heron trying to hide in the reeds and 4 Ferruginous Ducks a sleeping. At least 1 Pied Flycatcher, up to 2 Wood Warblers and a Willow/Chiff enjoyed insects in the trees by the steps leading down to the pool. Phassouri reedbeds next stop. Birders involved with local conservation kindly pointed to 3 Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters (took a while to enter this due to fighting Google Keep spell checker) perched on the remaining reedbed tops, the area has been desimated by fire. Nearby 6 Glossy Ibis mooched around grassland in their typical manner and close by the Akrotiri Gravel Pits were none discript in both looks and occupants, spooked a lone Little Egret. Black Francolins called, both close and distant. Mid afternoon headed back west and tried the cliffs near Aphrodite's Rock for Eleonora's Falcon, not in at the moment and fields by the coast at Mandria held a couple of Northern Wheatears only. Near Acheliea the soakway was arid and the 2 Alsatian wannabies running alongside the car near Paphos sewage works persuaded me to leave the area sharpish. Fair play the one keeping up with the car at around 30 kmh about to savage a wing mirror was in good condition. Ended the day near Mavro. Dam where at least 2 Scop's Owl called and one showed on wires for a minute in the fading light. Cyprus Pied Wheatears were everywhere, as were Sardinian Warblers and Chukars were easy to see. A male Collared Flycatcher that popped up in a bush was perhaps unexpected, and it look like it was going to roost here. A Little Owl added to variety as it sat near a cliff top taking in the cool evening air. I think it flew off before a Chukar (phonecoped below) trod on it. On arriving back at the hotel the local Scop's Owl pair were again vocal.

No obvious migrants at the church on Akritori Plain this morning (13th) but nice to catch up with Cyprus Warbler - 1 or 2 singing males. Decided to venture north to the Troodos mountains to see the speciality subspecies around Troodos village. Alpine like scenery and a sharp temperature drop from 22C at Akrotiri to barely 8C at an elevation of over 1700m. A stop at a picnic site 2km east of Troodos village had patches of unmelted snow! This quiet spot held several 'Dorothy's' Short-toed Treecreeper, the sooty bellied (Cyprus) Coal Tit  and the (Cyprus) Jay. The latter was very shy and to be honest from the briefest of views it looked like how a Jay does back home. A silhouetted (Cyprus) Crossbill flew over calling. Wren, Blackbird and a pair of Masked Shrikes were present and a Cuckoo called in the distance. Nearby at Troodos village it was possible to see the specialties and Swifts over the village, well in the cloudy and drizzly conditions I couldn't safely identify them. Back down the road to Limmasol and a stop at the comparatively sweltering Zakaki Marsh produced looks at a male Little Crake and a Squacco Heron (boc photo below) was on the brown island at the back of the pool. Drove west arriving late afternoon at Aspro. Dam to the east of Paphos. As to be expected Sardinian Warblers scolded from scrubland bushes, a Willow/Chiff flitted about the trees north of the car park which held an elusive Pied Flycatcher. Venturing through the trees to the open area looking north over the Dam was a wise move. A flock of 80 Yellow-legged Gulls on the water or circling the Dam contained a subad/adult Baltic (LBB) Gull. A grey shape floating over the cliff edge looked interesting but it was passed off as another gull because it disappeared and an adult Yellow-legged Gull appeared from that location soon after heading out over the Dam. Glad I looked skywards a few minutes later as the grey shape was in fact an adult male Pallid Harrier. It circled with the gulls for several minutes and departed in a fast glide north. Wow, a stunner! A small flock of Short-toed Larks (15-20) fed in a stony field which was patrolled by a male Marsh Harrier. A female had drifted by earlier and to the south 3 or 4 Alpine Swifts were in the sky to the east of Mandria. Trip list ticking over.

Monday 11 April 2016

Cyprus first observations

Back on Cyprus for the second time, first visit in Spring. Staying again in the north west at Droushia and first day (Sun 10th) spent in roughly the north west area. Having been rudely awoken by a pair of duetting (Cyprus) Scop's Owls at 01:00 the day, how dare they :)  , the day turned into a pleasant yet warm one with temps in the low 20s. Early cloud cover gave way to sunny afternoon skies with a gentle westerly breeze. The skies dominated by (Barn) Swallows and the land by Sardinian Warblers. The Baths of Aphrodite held few migrants early morning, but a Red-rumped Swallow was noteworthy and at least 2 male Cyprus Pied Wheatears showed well giving their 'electric' song, trying their best to be heard over the monotonous Sardinian Warbler background. Several lone Long-legged Buzzards took to the air in the north west, big beasts (one shown below together with its smaller cousin - boc). A colony of Spanish Sparrows at Theletra Gorge were nice to see as the 'House' variety were all over the towns and villages. Nearby a Squacco Heron crossed Evertou Dam and a Wood Warbler was feeding up in a tree by the track to the Dam. Late afternoon visit to Cape Drepanum produced a flock of 50 Glossy Ibises north and on terra firma bucket fulls of Crested Larks, singles of Whinchat, Fan-tailed Warbler and Woodchat Shrike. A couple of skittish flocks totalling about a dozen 'Flava' Wagtails comprised Blue-headed and Black-headed. Brief looks at a Wheatear (Northern/Isabelline). A few hours earlier at Droushia near the hotel a different ID challenge, a female Ficedula sp. Big white wing panel and decent white wing 'drop' patch but no 2nd wingbar. Mournful peep call when alarmed. Absence of 2nd wingbar suggests Collared Flycatcher? The day ended venturing a little south to connect with another (Cyprus) Scop's Owl- one calling bird near 'Mavro' Dam at dusk and it's mate seen in flight crossing the valley. A flock of 10 'kwoking' Night Herons flew high overhead and Chukar seen here on the tops.  This cracking location held Cyprus Pied Wheatear and a Common Buzzard (boc photo (bottom) below, points to Steppe?) attracted the attention of a Kestrel and Hooded Crows. Not to forget those pesky Sardinian Warblers that seemed to be in every bush!

A Hoopoe tried to give me a race as it flew alongside the car near Kathikas on returning to Cape Drepanum early morning (Mon 11th). At the headland it looked like an overnight clear out, very quiet. Of note a Greenshank eluded me as it called overhead going fast north, but a male Spanish Sparrow was seen present by the small harbour. Off to Paphos Headland and there were several Brit birders on site. Quiet for migrants at first, seemed like more birders present than migrant birds, but it seemed to pick up as the morning progressed. A couple of flocks of Bee-eaters (6 and 9) moved through and a Nightingale showed well. 'Flava' Wagtails flew around the headland producing no opprtunity for racial id and a couple of Red-throated Pipits offered brief looks only, and would have been easily overlooked if they hadn't given their distinctive 'spee' call. A flock of Spoonbills/Egrets remained unidentified as they disapoeared north and into the heat haze. 2 Whinchats showed and most bizarrely on leaving the site a pale phase adult Arctic Skua flew nonchalantly high west over the headland. A couple on site had told me earlier of a Hooded Wheatear, a rare visitor to Cyprus, they had found the previous day on the coast by Paphos airport. I decided to check it out as it was only 15 mins or so away, and after no sign it was picked up on the coastal fringe. A stunning bird, nice to see it in good light and at close quarters, interesting feeding behaviour very keen to hover in pursuit of an insect. Boc comparison photos of Cyprus Pied Wheatear (top) and Hooded Wheatear (bottom) below. Nearby a Black Francolin called but would not show itself. Spent the rest of the afternoon and evening an hour's drive to the east on the Akrotiri peninsula. The church near Akrotiri village held a lone male Pied Flycatcher but by now a strong westerly winds had developed making birding uncomfortable and no doubt keeping passerines down. Lady's Mile held Kentish Plovers and Little Stints plus 3 Greater Flamingoes, whilst a Northern Wheatear moved along the shingle/scrub across the road. Zakaki Pools held Water Rail, 7 Ferruginous Ducks, 5 squabbling Little Egrets and an onlooking Cattle Egret amongst other species. Again the strong wind wasn't helping and it got a bit parky as dusk approached. The scrub produced flight views of Black Francolin, a scolding Spectacled Warbler and a more peaceful Hoopoe. 4 Glossy Ibis roosted on the salt lake edge, which seemed miles away, the lake also sported a quartering cc Marsh Harrier. A nice way to end the birding day. As I type the overnight rain has started, thundery showers expected through the day tomorrow.