Saturday, 2 March 2019

Cyprus in Spring (Part 2)

Saturday 2nd March - Anarita Park and the Pegeia Forest

Well it just goes to show that you can plan everything but if Mother Nature intervenes then you are stuffed. After a hearty breakfast I hit the road, destination Anarita Park and the TV mast. Target for today was to be Wheatears and any other winter residents that I could find. Sadly, as I turned off the main road, heading for  Loukaides Chicken Farm, it became apparent that I was in trouble. The winter rains had turned all the side tracks into a quagmire of red mud. Already, after only a short distance my pristine white rent-a-hide had become plastered in red mud and the upper parts were turning a delicate shade of pink.

I persevered and made it beyond Anarita village where a couple of Hoopoes laughed at me and sundry larks chortled,  as I slithered about - even on the metalled roads. I gave up, did a 180 degree turn and headed off for the Pegeia Forest - perhaps a search for Orchids would be more profitable.

I made the picnic area car park before midday and the weather was holding up, occasional bursts of sunshine and even the temperature was rising. I set off into the forest and was soon surrounded by orchids, more than I had ever seen before so I set about recording them.

Orchis syriaca, Green-winged Orchid

First up was Orchis syriaca, just about everywhere in the forest, countless numbers of them and most of them fresh.

Pale form - almost white.

Ophrys elegans

Ophrys cinereophila

Ophrys levantina

Orchis sezikiana

Ophrys sicula

I found lots of micro moths on O. levantina, not sure they are large enough to pollinate, I have a suspicion they were plundering nectar from the older flowers.

Nice to get an Orange Tip butterfly, this one stopped to stick his proboscis in a flower and gave me just enough time for a shot.

After such a poor start I ended up having a great day, six new orchid species and a butterfly. Oddly, I heard lots of birds but saw few, probably because I was staring intently at the ground most of the time. Birding and botany are probably not the most complementary of pastimes.

Sunday 3rd March - Paphos Headland

Overnight the weather had taken a turn for the worse with heavy rain showers, not the weather for photography. The plan was to have a turn around the headland so that other members of the group, who had also arrived early, would get to see the Greater Sand Plovers. Of course with the prevailing weather there was every chance of a fall of migrants.

Late morning the weather eased and we ventured forth, whilst on the headland we met some other birders who informed us of the presence of at least two Desert Wheatears and having found them easily, we settled down among the rocks for some photography.

A damp Desert Wheatear

Desert Wheatear

Desert Wheatear

Desert Wheatear

Desert Wheatear

Desert Wheatear

Having satisfied ourselves with some really close shots we went in search of more subjects. Great excitement at a distant Great Spotted Cuckoo, unfortunately inside the wire fence so I could only record it, rather than make any attempt to get closer. A flock of what I think were Red-throated Pipits flitted in and out of the fenced area - not convinced - but they do have mildly russet throats.

Monday 4th March

I was up bright and early as I wanted to see if I could find the cuckoo in the archaeological area before returning my mobile hide to the airport. The group weren't due to arrive until around 1345 so I had some three hours to find my target. Sadly, I couldn't locate it. However, I was entertained by a Sardinian Warbler and I managed to record a spanking brand new, fresh out of the chrysalis, Swallowtail that was happy to pose in the morning sunlight.

Sardinian Warbler

Sardinian Warbler

Sardinian Warbler


Possible  Cetoniinae - Oxythyrea cinctella - a flower chafer.

Hooded Crows are everywhere.

Hooded Crow

I returned the hide to Avis at the airport and then waited for the rest of the group to arrive. Paphos airport is lightly loaded at this time of year and it wasn't long before we were all aboard the minbus heading for a couple of birding stops before going to the hotel. At Mandria Beach, as I disembarked from the bus I heard the call of a Black Francolin, a bird I had never seen but before I travelled I had studied the call on Xeno-Canto. It was well hidden but I wasn't going to give up the chance of a record shot that easily. As the group drifted off into the dune slacks in search of botany, I found the highest rock to stand on to scan the fields and was rewarded with good, if distant views of the bird - life tick as they say.

Black Francolin - very vocal but distant.

Finally another visit to the sewage plant to allow the group a sighting of the Spur-winged Plovers, yet again they were inside and hard to see. Fortunately they were spooked and provided some excellent fly-bys 

Friday, 1 March 2019

Cyprus in Spring (Part 1)

Way back last year I had a long conversation with Yiannis Christofides, the botany lead for the Greenwings tour of the Pyrenees and concluded that the Birds, Butterflies and Botany of  Yiannis' beloved Cyprus would certainly afford some subjects that I had never photographed before. So I booked early, but after some research decided to extend the trip by four days so that I could do some birding on my own before the group arrived.

On the last day of February I set off for Paphos courtesy of easyJet. The journey was uneventful, if a tad long, but I was quickly through the official bits at the airport. Within an hour of landing I had picked up my Avis rent-a-hide, and was on my way to my first destination, Paphos Sewage Works. Now I know that most people would think it odd to visit such a place but this is home to some charming birds. From recent reports I had learned that there were at least twenty Spur-winged Plovers residing there and it was a bird that I very much wanted to record. As I parked up I could hear them calling and immediately found them perched on the apron of one of the ponds, unfortunately not much chance of a shot so I decided to search the nearby fields, sure enough, three to be seen though at a bit of a distance. Finally I found one that gave reasonable shots and I duly recorded it. I think the strong winds deterred them from coming out of the shelter of the works and although I hung about for a while, non ventured forth.

Spur-winged Plover or Spur-winged Lapwing.

Not the best quality but a record nonetheless - and I planned to return.

So, it was too early to go to the hotel and I knew there was a chance of another rarity at Paphos headland. I parked at the large free car park at the archaeological site, strapped my camera to my back and set off in a very strong wind. By now the three a.m start was beginning to tell, I ignored sundry Pipits, Larks and Wheatears to reach my destination in good light. I scanned the headland adjacent to the large concrete block and located four birds, a lone Turnstone and three Greater Sand Plovers. Hunkered down against a fierce wind they didn't look as if they wanted to fly anywhere so I set about getting closer. The place was deserted, just me and the birds and as I crept through the rocks they eyed me warily. I took my time, each time a bird fidgeted I paused, waiting for the birds to settle down. Finally I was in camera range and I filled my boots, recording another 'lifer' - two in a day - what a start.

The flecks are flying sand - not the best camera environment.

Greater Sand Plover (m)

Greater Sand Plover (f)

As I arrived at the Axiothea Hotel, my base for the next five days, I met Yiannis in the car park, he must have known I was coming. It was good to have dinner together and get the lowdown on the forthcoming tour.

Day 1.  Paphos Archaeological Site, Paphos Sewage Works and the Asprokremmos Dam

After what Yiannis describes as the 'best breakfast in Cyprus' I headed off for a day's birding and as it happened, some early botany on Paphos Headland. I was a tad early but they opened the gates for me, I paid my pensioner rates entrance fee and set off in search of something to photograph.

First up was a pair of the ever present Crested Larks, birds that seem to just stay ahead of you, never close but OK for a shot.

Crested Larks

Crested Lark

I was being distracted by the botany, Cyclamen persicum were everywhere and the stalks of the Orchis collina, the Fan Winged Orchid were a disappointment, I had hoped to record a flowering specimen. I planned to do a circular tour round the site, travelling as far as the lighthouse and then doing a zig-zag return. Just after some newly excavated remains I was accosted by a little old lady who told me in no uncertain terms to go away. I had noticed her hunched form, peering intently at the ground, poking the vegetation with a large stick and placing something into a carrier bag. I left, not wanting a confrontation, I later learned from Yiannis that she was collecting wild asparagus and that the natives defend their patch fiercely.

Cyclamen persicum

Cyclamen persicum

The morning sun was finally having an effect and things were starting to move. Butterflies, mainly whites and countless Painted Ladies were flitting about and several Starred Agama lizards were sunning themselves. Stonechats were everywhere and always in pairs.

Painted Lady

Starred Agama, Stellagama stellio

Starred Agama, Stellagama stellio

Starred Agama, Stellagama stellio

Starred Agama, Stellagama stellio

Snake-eyed Lizard, Ophisops elegans

Corn Buntings and Sardinian Warblers were common too.

Corn Bunting

Sardinian Warbler

I wish I could have a pound for every Stonechat that I saw during the week, they were everywhere in good numbers.

In a field below the lighthouse I located my first orchids, plenty of Ophrys flavomarginata, some Ophrys umbilicata and the last remaining Orchis collina in bloom and a white one at that.

Ophrys flavomarginata

Ophrys flavomarginata

Ophrys flavomarginata

Ophrys flavomarginata

Ophrys flavomarginata

Ophrys flavomarginata

Ophrys flavomarginata

Ophrys umbilicata

Ophrys flavomarginata?

Orchis collina - The Fan-lipped Orchid - the only one I found in bloom, the rest had long gone.

Orchis collina - The Fan-lipped Orchid

Paphos Lighthouse and the location of the orchids

Finally the non-orchid botany, there were plants everywhere and I just couldn't record all of them

Having circumnavigated the whole of the archaeological site it was time to revisit the sewage works, visitor numbers were increasing and it was unlikely that any birds would be happy to pose.

At the sewage works the Spur-winged Plovers had come out to feed in the adjacent fields and the mobile hide paid dividends. Not only did I get the plovers but a nearby Chukar gave me  a life tick. A supporting cast of Cattle Egret, Laughing Dove and a host of Spanish Sparrows, none of which presented themselves for a photograph.

Spur-winged Plover

Spur-winged Plover

Spur-winged Plover

Spur-winged Plover

Chukar !  Not the most salubrious of surroundings - but happy to record it

I drove round Mandria Beach but found little other than a large flock of larks at "lark corner" so I made haste for the Asprokremmos Dam. By the time I reached the dam ominous clouds were gathering and I felt a few spots of rain. During the winter Cyprus has experienced heavy rainfall and this was evident as the dam was full, almost overflowing. I walked across the barrage, putting at least ten Chukar off the dam wall. In the far corner I found a Blue Rock Thrush but the light was poor and the shots I took are pretty grim. I walked down the path towards the river bed at the bottom and found quite a few Ophrys flavomarginata but precious little else. The heavens opened and I decided that it was time to head back to the hotel for a late afternoon "cuppa". All in all an auspicious start to the holiday.