It happens from time to time that I come across people interested in birds and birding, and live in Cyprus, but just don’t know where to start when it comes to birding in Cyprus. Maybe they want to learn more locations, or more about habitat requirements and birds’ preferences, or more about the seasonal changes in which birds are present, or just want to understand what GISS is all about. Whatever the reason, they want to become better birders.
As it happens, I got to guide a very nice couple of such birders recently, who in fact run the Aradippou Tales blog. They asked to be taken out for two half-days, on February 12 and March 5, respectively, to know more about where they might go and what they might see.
February 12, 2011
Meeting up at a car park off the Kornos exit from the motorway, we started by visiting Stavrovouni. While admittedly the area was quite quiet when we visited, it is a close-by and good location for some note-worthy breeding birds. A pair of Bonelli’s Eagles have bred in the area in past years, and Black-headed Buntings and possibly Masked Shrikes should breed there as well. This being mid-February however, none of those were present and we didn’t stay long.
Our next stop was to visit Mazatos, which is of interest as one can sometimes see a nice variety of birds that like open country as a habitat. This is particularly so for spring migrants such as upland waders, wheatears, wagtails, larks, rollers, and so on. On the way in, we saw Stonechats, a flock of Goldfinches, and a Corn Bunting, which although common here and easy to take for granted, were actually quite delightful. Besides these, there were also a variety of other common birds which we also took pleasure in watching: Skylarks, Crested Larks, White Wagtails, Zitting Cisticolas, and Kestrels. At a small pool no more than 20 meters inland from the coast, there was also a sandpiper that we unfortunately only glimpsed.
From here we carried on to Meneou, in the Larnaca district. The holding pools for the sewage treatment facility there, along with the nearby salt lakes, means this area provides comfortable habitat for a lot of coastal wetland bird species. And, as we arrived to this area the first birds we saw were the large gulls that regularly roost in the larger Meneou salt lake. It wasn’t immediately clear whether which gulls these were unfortunately, as they were greater than 500m away, but they were from within the Herring Gull Complex. Spectacled Warblers flitted about closer to us as we stopped along the road there, and a pair of Marsh Harriers in the distance caught our attention. We went for a closer look at the Harrier, which again though it’s common, it was nice to see them and introduce their typical behavior to my guests.
The birding blind by the sewage works’ holding pools was nice too. A huge flock of tightly-packed Coots was the first thing noticeable, along with Shovelers, Mallards, and Little Grebes, plus 20 Common Pochard. After a bit of scanning, I located a pair of Black-necked Grebes, and in the field to our backs was a flock of 13 Greater White-fronted Geese. The best treat however was the Peregrine Falcon which flew over, harassing the ducks. It was quite fun to watch how the ducks in the water remained calm, knowing that the Peregrine could not risk ditching into the water, but those ducks that foolishly took off were clearly terrified.
Elsewhere, there were more common wintering birds that I’ve already mentioned, excepting the addition of a Common Ringed Plover and four Kentish Plovers alongside a large beach “puddle”.
March 5, 2011
This time we met just off the motorway at the Skarinou exit, and our first site was Germosoyeia Dam, where the first obvious thing when we arrived were the skulling teams out practicing! We admired the view and proceeded to drive up to the northeast inlet of the reservoir, stopping along the way to take note of the overlooks, where we saw the Cyprus Warblers were establishing their breeding territories and also saw a passing Cormorant. Cetti’s Warblers too were making quite their usual racket here and there, and Stonechats taking up their usual perches.
Arriving at the upper end of the reservoir, a Great Egret and three Grey Herons were prowling for fish, while a Corn Bunting or perhaps two were singing within earshot. We discussed the yearly comings and goings of seasonal birds in the area, and went to the inlet stream itself, where we had the pleasure of seeing three each of both White and Blue-headed Wagtails, and a Common Sandpiper.
We next visited Zakaki Marsh, where the predominant species present was Black-headed Gulls, which were there in a large flock. Chiffchaffs frequented the reeds throughout as well, plus a Cetti’s Warbler here and there. A Marsh Harrier passed by, and Grey Herons were coming and going in ones and twos. Coots and Moorhens were there too of course, but strangely the ducks were absent – there was presumably so much water available that waterfowl were not limited to this wetland refuge. Nonetheless it was pointed out that the birds present depends not just on the time of year, but on the level of the water, either making mudflats accessible to waders or opening up wetlands elsewhere under varying circumstances.
After that we couldn’t pass up a visit to Bishop’s pool, near the RAF base. Again, Chiffchaffs, Coots and Moorhen abounded while ducks were strangely absent. So after a little chat about the dynamics of Bishop’s pool as a birding spot, we continued on to Kensington cliffs.
At Kensington Cliffs, we noted the Cyprus Warblers were out there too, and got a glimpse of something vaguely like a female Redstart or possibly a female Wheatear. Walking down to the cliffs, we saw c5 Yellow-legged Gulls, 2 Kestrels, and 6 Shag down in the water. Just as we continued to scan the area for other birds, and as I was talking about the possibilities of seeing a Griffon Vulture in the area, we spotted two landing on the cliff face some 500 meters from us. Along the cliff face, it was too difficult to see the Vultures, so we continued looking and hoping to see them better.
And boy, did we! Rather stealthily, one that must’ve taken off without us seeing it rose above the cliff’s edge right in front of us, and flew directly over us at a height of just a few meters over our heads. The size of such a bird, with wingspan up to 2.8 meters, is truly astounding especially when seen this way. It was quite a treat to see for all of us.
Guide: Dan Rhoads
Full Species List for Both Days:
Greater White-fronted Goose
Common Ringed Plover
Common Black-headed Gull
Eurasian Collared Dove
Cetti’s Warbler (H)
Eurasian Greenfinch (H)