Wednesday 25 October 2017

Birding Cyprus - Mid Oct 2017 - good variety inc. special Falcons

Back on Cyprus staying again in the NW at Droushia (14 - 21 October 2017). Arrived mid-evening at Larnaca Airport out East travelling the couple of hours or so to Droushia in the Northwest. Tuned into Forces Radio covering BBC Radio 5-live footy commentary. Rock FM (Paphos to Polis) was also a good listen.

Sunday 15 October 2017 - birded the western edge of Cyprus, namely sites in the NW in the morning and then Paphos area into the afternoon and evening. First stop the Baths of Aphrodite where several bird migrants were present in small numbers amongst the many resident Sardinian Warblers. Highlights included Redstart, 2 Lesser Whitethroats and a juv. Red-backed Shrike. A 'bins' only view of a large white 'Heron' heading for shore further along the Akamas Peninsula was probably a Great White Egret. Nearby, and a couple of kms inland, a Siskin on the deck by the spring at Agios Minas was perhaps unusual. Overhead action included 2 presumably local adult Bonelli's Eagles heading out into their territory, whereas an Osprey in a fast glide was probably fresh in off the Med. and definitely going places. Several Kestrels around. Barn Swallows seen moving in a group of 20 at Droushia and at nearby Kathikas another such group moved along a shallow valley that hosted Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart and a pair of Whinchats. A noisy covey of about 20 Chukar was flushed here, the chattering call a signature of the sun drenched Cyprus landscape. Last stop in the NW being at Cape Drepanum where migration was slow, very slow, if at all! Singles of Crested Lark, Sardinian Warbler and a pair of Stonechats were noteworthy plus a by default adult ‘desmarestii’ Shag was on the island.

Bonellis's Eagle, Agios Minas (15 October 2017)

Off to the SW the half hour or so journey to Paphos Headland and ending with the last light of day a few kms back up the coast near Mavrokolympos Dam. At first the Archaeological site at Paphos Headland didn't appear 'birdy'. Mid-afternoon in the high 20s with lots of sun, but it didn't turn out to bad. A thunderstorm developed to the north of Paphos but it spared the headland as it drifted east. On site: 2 Northern Wheatears, 3 or 4 juv Red-backed Shrikes, Whinchat and local Kestrels, Sardinian Warblers, Hooded Crows and both House and Spanish Sparrows. The occasional Yellow-legged Gull flew over from the Marina and another Shag headed towards Cape Drepanum, which was visible to the north. On leaving the Archaeological site I took the outer path around the Headland specifically to look for the Greater Sandplovers that spend several months in the area. 3 were sleeping trying to hide by the rock pools. At the tip of the headland a pale Wheatear was pogged up but due to the extensive foot traffic it wasn't showy. Alas, a couple of record photos revealed it to be another Northern Wheatear. Ended the day along the road to Mavro. Dam which provided trip ticks in the form of Sparrowhawk, Grey Heron and a calling Cyprus Scops Owl.

Monday 16 October 2017 - off to the Akrotiri Peninsula, taking in the Observation Deck at the Environment Education Centre, Phasouri Reedbeds and Zakaki Pools, before heading back west to scan the fields at Mandria to the east of Paphos. Ending the day on the north coast 20km east of Polis at Cape Pomos for a late afternoon seawatch. It's easy to visit the same sites day after day so trying to do different places each day or at different times, although will probably fall back into the repetitive trap.

First visit to the Environment Education Centre overlooking the Salt Lake at Akrotiri which was bone dry. Aiming to connect with raptors, arrived just before 10am spending one hour and connected with Kestrels. In the distance to the east were several large raptors and Falcons that did not have a Kestrel jizz. Both sets were too distant and the atmosphere hazy. A flock of 10 Common Cranes almost got away as they came in from the SE circled that corner and then exited back SE. Stopped off at Phassouri Reedbeds (Akrotiri Marsh). No water but the relatively recent restoration of the site evident. The tethered cattle had lots of 'Alba' Wagtails at their feet with a 'Flava' cousin. Zakaki Pools more productive hosting a fairly confiding juv. Little Crake whilst overhead a flock of Barn Swallows had single House and Sand Martins for company. A Hobby watched over the hirundines and Kestrels were present plus a brief view of a juv. Red-footed Falcon over the tree line. A couple of rufous juv. Bonelli's Eagles flew high over the hide and a Cetti's Warbler scolded from the thickset reedbed, as they like to do!

                                                Little Crake, Zakaki Pools (16 October 2017)

The agricultural area south of Mandria was good around 'Lark Corner' with lots of 'Alba' Wagtails and amongst them a Red-throated Pipit retaining a bit of a red throat. 6 Whinchats on marker posts noteworthy as was the 'cream crown' Marsh Harrier in the area.

En route back to the NW a Long-legged Buzzard circled the hills near Stroumpi. Arrived at Cape Pomos not long after 4pm spending the last light seawatching. A loose feeding flock of around 150 Scopoli's Shearwaters spent most of the time on the horizon, although some came closer as dusk approached. On occasion Yelkouan Shearwaters (up to 5 or so) could be picked up flying alongside its larger cousin, again close to the horizon. Not much features on the smaller Shearwater at this range, looked black and white, but a couple of the closer ones presented a structure bulkier than the 'Manx' of back home, and on prolonged views they did look excessive in the tail. Cannot say 'long-tailed', they just had a somewhat, and I know it's subjective, of a 'this is not a Manxy' feel to them. No elevation at this site meant that both Shearwater species were easily lost in the troughs.

Tuesday 17 October 2017 - started back at Akrotiri, leaving the peninsula via Kensington Cliffs spending the afternoon at Mandria with sunset birding at nearby Asprokremmos Pools.

At Akrotiri visited Bishop's Pool after a stop at Zakaki Pools. Bishop's Pool was more birdy and included possibly the same juv. Bonelli's Eagle circling overhead that was perched up at distance earlier at Zakaki Pools. At Bishop's Pool, where it drew the ire of a couple of patrolling Eleonora's Falcons the pool held Teal, Little Grebe, Coot, Little Egret and Kingfisher, the last two species also seen earlier at Zakaki Pools which had in addition a Marsh Harrier and from which ~40 Common Cranes circled well to the west of the salt lake. On leaving Zakaki Pools a trip tick in the form of an elegant Spur-winged Plover landed just south of the pull in and then headed for the Lady's Mile area of the peninsula which itself hosted many Kentish Plovers. Just before midday a smart juv. Pallid Harrier circled Bishop's Pool and then headed high SW, not before showing off it's pale-lined upperwing, underwing and a face pattern characterised by a strong boa. Also, as noted on high flying adult makes a couple of years or so ago when soaring, this bird also held its wings forward creating a distinctive shape with a flat trailing edge. Kensington Cliffs held nearly double figures of Eleonora's Falcons performing their acrobatics along the cliff face. Not enough adjectives to describe these beauties. A Griffon Vulture came in from the north and Jackdaws and Feral Pigeons performed their very lesser league aerials. A small covey of Chukar flew around right at the cliff edge, madness!

Eleonora's Falcon, 17 October 2017

Mandria held a dozen Red-footed Falcons in a ploughed field late afternoon a few hundred yards NW of the 'beach' church, comfortable s├žope views. Most juvs, and at least one each of adult male and female. Getting late in the season for them. A Long-legged Buzzard took to the skies but was soon back down as it was spotted by a pair of grumpy Hooded Crows. 'Lark Corner' only produced a couple of Northern Wheatears. A few miles inland Aspro. Dam was the final stop of the day. A group of small Falcons were actively hunting the valley just before the bend towards the Dam. Walked back from the Dam car park and was treated to a hawking lesson by 4 Red-footed Falcons that were joined by a Hobby and even a Kestrel got into the feeding on the wing mood! A Peregrine must have been jealous, a small male flew through the merry bunch exiting quickly over the hill to the west. Difficult to walk away from this spectacle especially as it was instructive to compare the hunting flights and silhouette of the 'Red-foots' with that of the juv. Hobby, which could have been easily overlooked. At the Dam a group of 30 Yellow-legged Gulls took off to the coast soon followed by 6 Cormorants. The scrub held Red-throated Pipits only viewable in flight and identified by the distinctive 'spee' call. As the sun set Hooded Crows grumbled their way to roost and out of nowhere 6 more Red-footed Falcons flew in low from the north along the Dam side, again most juvs. with a beautiful adult female, her blue upperparts glowing in the early evening sunlight.

                                    Red-footed Falcon, Asprokremmos Dam (17 October 2017)

Wednesday 18 October 2017 - slow paced birding. The weather remained the same, but despite the high temperatures the pm breezes made birding fairly pleasant. Stayed 'west' and visited Evretou Dam, Aspro. Dam and Paphos Headland.

Evretou Dam up in the NW was peaceful. A Long-legged Buzzard circled as did Kestrel and Sparrowhawk. A (partially Blue) Blue Rock Thrush was a nice surprise here as it flushed from the Dam wall to the cliff face opposite the shelter, in turn flushed by 2 helicopters passing along the length of the Dam. Sardinian Warblers rattled away. Off to another Dam, Aspro. Dam which held 5 Eleonora's Falcons lounging about along the eastern shore, one of which was a full dark adult. A group of Teal, single Coot, several Cormorant, Little Egret and Grey Heron present as were Chukar and Kestrel. No repeat of yesterday evening's Falcon shenanigans either, but visiting early afternoon instead. Can't grumble at connecting with 5 Falcon species in this area within 24hrs. Late afternoon at Paphos Headland where a Greater Sandplover and Dunlin fed on the rocks, and a 180° turn saw a few Stonechats present through the wire at the Archaeological site. A juv. Red-backed Shrike took stock of the surroundings from the scattered bushes therein.

                                       Long-legged Buzzard, Evretou Dam (18 October 2017)

Thursday 19 October 2017 - visited that oasis at Akrotiri, the Zakaki Pools, followed by a walk around the area by Agios Georgios nr Akrotiri village and back west to several sites east of Paphos. Before ending the day with another Cape Pomos seawatch had a few minutes at base camp - Droushia. Weather put simply as #whenwillitrain.

Zakaki Pools was good, several new birds for the trip including a Bluethroat that showed half hidden along the water's edge. Kingfisher flew over and a Penduline Tit called from somewhere in the reeds along with a couple of vocal Cetti's Warblers and a perched up Stonechat. A couple of Moorhens ventured out and a Water Rail squeaked from its hiding place. 5 Common Cranes circled over the Salt Lake for a long time, looked like they didn't have a clue as to where to drop anchor! Also up high were a pair of Common Buzzards, 3 Marsh Harriers and singles of Kestrel and Sparrowhawk. The highlight being a 'ring tail' Hen Harrier that came in from the north and made its way south dropping down somewhere over the Salt Lake. There's something daft about watching a Hen Harrier circling in 30°C heat! At the SW corner of the Peninsula visited the barren yet beautiful landscape around Agios Georgios. The scrub was virtually bird free apart from a juv. Red-backed Shrike just behind the church, and of course a Sardinian Warbler.

Headed west and tried the nature trail leading behind the car park at Aphrodite's Rock (east of Paphos). Sardinian Warblers present, but it doesn't half look a good migration trap when migration is in full swing. Nearby at Kouklia a Laughing Dove was present by the Archaeological site, on the same TV aerial as seen a few years ago. Mandria was dead!

                                          Laughing Dove, Koukila (19 October 2017)

Back at Droushia mid afternoon and a Long-legged Buzzard circled to the NW and just about to leave for Cape Pomos when a male Cyprus Wheatear perched up on a tree across the road. Good views for a minute and then it was off, no doubt to join its friends that have already left for the winter. Cape Pomos seawatch was ok, only Scopoli's Shearwaters on view in the last 90 mins of daylight and most were distant, including a loose flock of 30 on and beyond the horizon. Nice to study the different flight patterns such as the typical gull like flight interspersed with glides, and the powerful direct flight.

Friday 20 October 2017 - birding saw me visit Paphos headland, Aspro. Dam and Cape Drepanum.

Firstly a last look at the Archaeological site at Paphos Headland where many Stonechat 'chacked', a Red-backed Shrike sunned itself and a flyover Red-throated Pipit called. Little breeze it was getting warm, so may sound a bit daft but headed inland to Aspro Dam. This was not a bad tactic as it turned into a raptor fest between 12 and 2pm! First up a couple of Kestrels that would be on show on and off. Enter from the left an adult female Red-footed Falcon who circled up into the deep blue sky (thought they had all gone through?) A ‘wingy’ Falcon tormented a Yellow-legged Gull on the far shore, a dark morph Eleonora's Falcon, a pale morph patrolled the Dam heading north about an hour later. In the meantime 1+ Hobby took its/their anger out on the airborne insects. Enter from the north a juv. female Peregrine demonstrating her powerful flight and flashing her white tail band as she gained height disappearing to the east. Long-legged Buzzard circled to the east. I'm saving the best to last. 2 Ospreys spent time circling the Dam, one of which had a fish take away, it's pal was jealous!

Back towards Droushia and a few kms north of Paphos a pair of Long-legged Buzzards were gliding over a valley, their long-winged and bulky structure (cf. Common Buzzard) noticeable to the naked eye. Another flew over Droushia where a cc Marsh Harrier was over the hillside sloping down towards the Med. to the north. Early evening at Cape Drepanum where a (Brown) Blue Rock Thrush looked down from the crags leading towards Agios Georgios. Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Crested Lark and Sardinian Warbler added to the birding variety.

                                      Blue Rock Thrush, Cape Drepanum (20 October 2017)

Saturday 21 October 2017 - off east to Cape Greco and Larnaca Sewage Works Pools before flying back to the UK from Larnaca in the evening.

About 2 hrs 45 mins drive from Droushia across the bottom of the island to Cape Greco. Very craggy landscape at Cape Greco with rough land and scattered bushes. The bushes at the base of a crag a few hundred yards west of the Aerial farm produced the most activity. I'm sure a Red-backed Shrike was close to taking one of the many Stonechats, a Spectacled Warbler chatted in anger and quickly disappeared into the scrub. The mound to the east had a Whinchat and Northern Wheatear whereas the telegraph wires/poles played host to a male Cyprus Wheatear. Just before leaving a (partially blue) Blue Rock Thrush was on the crag overlooking the picnic site in the north side, where 2 Barn Swallows flew south and a local Yellow-legged Gull drifted by. On leaving a couple more Northern Wheatears were present by the roadside near the visitors centre.

                                           Cyprus Wheatear, Cape Greco (21 October 2017)

Larnaca Sewage Works certainly boosted the trip list. Lots of duck dominated by Shoveler, Mallard and Teal. Also picked out were Pintail, Garganey, Wigeon, Pochard and a couple of Ferruginous Ducks. Little Grebe and Coot present and a Black-necked Grebe was close to the hide. Other stars included 70+ Greater Flamingos, double figures of Yellow-legged Gulls, several Black-headed Gulls and 2 fast moving Whiskered Terns. The list continues with Redshank and Ruff. Lots of Spur-winged Plovers (20+) on the Pool side and in nearby fields. They were spooked by a cc Marsh Harrier that made an unsuccessful swoop at the Teal. On leaving the hide Stonechat, Spectacled Warbler and Northern Wheatear were present along the track/bushes with a juv. Red-backed Shrike near the road.

A fantastic trip, good value and good variety. The Falcons were the stars. Many thanks to those who helped me in the field and online (many thanks for the twitter likes/retweets).

A detailed trip report to come once I've sorted out the photos and videos, hope this is a good taster of what mid-October birding in Cyprus can offer.