We arrived in Pathos on the 11th September. The first birds we noticed were the Hooded Crows on every lamp post as we left the airport. We stayed on an army base at Episkopi, and after a few days I hired a car from ‘Andy’s Car Hire’ for 14 euros a day, including insurance.
Day 1 – Before leaving the base on foot I saw a small bird on the floor in front of me, black face and bib, orange chest and belly, I was certain I was looking at and photographing a Redstart, bobbing and flicking it’s tail like a Redstart, then it flew showing the white rump and wheatear tail, surely it couldn’t be a Cyprus “pied” Wheatear with all that orange? After checking my Collins Bird Guide I confirmed it as a Cyprus Wheatear in autumn colours. We walked on through the scrub to Kensington cliffs, there were Chukars running everywhere. At the cliffs there was an Eleonora’s Falcon flying above, and below at least 20 pale and dark morphs. Amongst them were at least 2 Hobbys, then a Peregrine took off from the cliffs and proceeded to be mobbed by the Eleonora’s Falcons and Hobbys, what a sight, what a first day with 4 lifers! Day 2 – We stayed within the confines of the base where there are lots of bushes and scrub, 50+ Honey Buzzards were circling above, my photos showed at least 2 Black Kites amongst them when I checked them later. Every tall bush and stretch of barbed wire seemed to have a juvenile or female Red backed Shrike on it, one bird looked paler and greyer with a white flash on the wing, after checking my photo against the field guide it turned out to be a juvenile Masked Shrike. There were severel Crested Larks feeding on the ground when I noticed a bird that was different, it had a white eye ring, blue head and a red throat, it was my 1st Cretzschmar’s Bunting, and one of 4 more lifers today!
Day 3 – We took our hired car up into the Troodos Mountains. On the way up we had good views of 2 soaring Long legged Buzzards. At Troodos I saw two of the endemic subspecies to be found here, the Jay, maybe a little darker than normal, but not much, and the Coal Tit which is a lot darker and will probably be given full species status in the future. Day 4 – Pathos – on the headland I followed Dave Gosney’s guide book to a place where I hoped to find Greater Sand Plover, and sure enough they were there, just where he said they would be, 6 of them in all. I then went on to Pathos sewerage works, a stronghold of Spur winged Plover, but while driving up a farm track on the way there, I spotted a dozen Spur winged Plover in a field next to me. Using the car as a hide I was able to watch as the birds came within 2 or 3 yards of me, with the added bonus of 10+ Red throated Pipits and 100+ Yellow Wagtails in the same field.
Day 5 – Akrotiri gravel pits – this place was about 20 minutes drive from my base and was to become my regular birding spot. It is just a gravel road with scrub and water filled ponds on the seaward side of track. The first birds seen were 5 Marsh Harriers, including 1 male, then 2 juvenile Pallid Harriers appeared, one dropping to the floor only yards in front of me. Bee eaters were starting to appear, five on telegraph wires, a lone Spoonbill flew in and the now familiar Red backed Shrikes (no males) were on every other bush. Other birds here were Kingfisher, Green Sandpiper and 3 Stone Curlew. Another good bird here is Black Francolin and I got good views and photos of a female, again using the car as a hide. I did get a glimpse of the male but he was too quick for me to photograph. We knew when Honey Buzzards were flying over because of the screeching of the Eleonora’s Falcons mobbing them (this was a daily event). Day 6 – Phasouri reedbed – not far from gravel pits this is a series of pools in front of tall reeds, these pools have had reports of Little, Spotted and Baillon’s Crakes, but I didn’t see them. However there were still good birds, including 2 Glossy Ibis, 2 Snipe, 20 Cattle Egrets, and the ground was alive with 100+ Yellow Wagtails.
Day 7 – Phasouri wood – while driving to the reedbed I noticed a group of birders at the roadside so I pulled in to find they were watching raptors circling, then dropping into the woods to roost, mostly 50+ Honey Buzzards, but also 2 Black Kites, 2 Long legged Buzzards, and 2 juvenile Bonelli’s Eagles. Across the road there were some bee hives, and by now the Bee eaters were reaching plague proportions, 1000s swooping down on their prey. I’m sure only our presence stopped the beekeeper from shooting them (which apparently they do). Days 8,9,10 – Akrotiri gravel pits, Phasouri reedbeds and woods. There was no point in travelling further afield as everything was here. Day 11 – Bishop’s pool, and Ladies Mile beach. Bishop’s pool was disappointing with lots of Little Grebes and Coots, and plenty more Bee eaters which were now everywhere. We moved on to Ladies Mile beach where I just missed a flyover of 20+ White Pelicans, something I really needed to hear from the other birders after wasting an hour at Bishop’s Pool! Akrotiri salt lake can be seen from the beach with its 1000s of Flamingos, and Demoiselle Cranes also roost here when migrating, but sadly that was in August. The small pools at the end of the beach held lots of waders, including Sanderling, Dunlin, Kentish Plovers and Curlew Sandpipers. The telegragh wires were covered with Swallows ready to migrate.
Day 12 – Back to Akrotiri gravel pits – as the migration of Honey Buzzards started to slow down another raptor started coming in; Red footed Falcons, 5 of them in a small bare tree, 1 male, 1 female and 3 juveniles, all so different in their markings you could be forgiven for thinking they were different species. A bird flew low in front of me across the track, I first thought it was a Sparrowhawk but when it landed on a bush I got the bins on it and found it was a Cuckoo. There were lots of Northern Wheatears about, I think some may have been Isabelline Wheatear but I’m not sure. Lots of other small birds were in this area, including Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Whinchats and Fan tailed Warblers. Day 13 – A none birding day but we were treated to a low flyover of 5 Griffon Vultures while having a barbeque in my daughter’s back garden (it may have been the burgers they were after!)
Day 14 – My last birding day (hire car had to go back). Akrotiri gravel pits – by now the telegraph wires were full of Red footed Falcons in groups of 20+ and there seemed to be a lot more Hobbys flying about with the Red foots. Whether they fly in with the Red foots or just see them as competition for the same food I’m not sure. Had good views of a Tawny Pipit feeding with Crested Larks on the gravel path. With one hour left before the car had to go back, I was talking to a couple of birders at Phasouri reedbeds, I was telling them the only bird I felt I’d missed out on was the Lesser Grey Shrike. While most of the birders were telling me they had seen it and some had photograghed it, a lady birder said “there’s one on the fence over there”, I thought she was kidding me, my camera and bins were still in the car, I’ve never moved so fast, but I got good views and pictures. I couldn’t thank the lady enough. They drove away with big smiles on their faces, I think it made their day as well as mine!
SUMMARY – Cyprus is a lovely country with lovely people, but it’s downside is it’s “hunters”, they will shoot anything, all raptors, Bee eaters, they have wiped out Imperial Eagle, Griffon Vultures are down to about a dozen, and it’s all illegal. So why go to Cyprus? Well they don’t like to shoot things in front of birders carrying cameras, I think I may have saved a Marsh Harrier, just by getting out of my car and photographing the bird flying. The three hunters first broke their shotguns, then after 5 minutes they drove off.