Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Cyprus Trip Report - March 2014

Gah! Another proper trip report! Actually they're pretty easy when the trips are as short as mine typically are, and this was possibly my shortest ever, clocking in at slightly less than 48 hours outside of planes and airports. The aim of the visit was very straightforward - see, and take photos of, Cyprus Pied Wheatear. As you will see I managed this and a fair bit else besides, though clearly there is only so much that can be done in such a short time-frame.

  • A 3 day trip at the very end of March, Saturday to Monday.
  • BA flight from Gatwick at around midday Saturday takes just over 4 hours and gets in to Larnaca at about 6pm local time. Return flight at 9.30pm on Monday arrives back at half midnight. Home at 2am, at my desk for 9am!
  • Booked it as a "package", stayed at Nissi Beach Hotel in Agia Napa - flight and hotel was cheaper than flight alone. No idea why. Used zero hotel amenities.
  • Hotel came with breakfast, so spent under 100 euros including fuel and a single beer per day in recognition of a job well done.
  • Car hire from Avis cheap as chips for a complete heap, petrol guage and lighter socket both not working, this latter meant I could not charge my phone
  • Birded Cape Greco almost exclusively, with two visits to Oriklini Marsh, a visit to Achna Dam, and quick (and disappointing) looks at Larnaca Salt Lagoons and Paralimni.
  • Had no map and no Gosney Guide, though had researched Cape Greco fairly intensively - there are some excellent trip reports on the web, including ones by Nick Moss that have GPS coordinates.
  • In late March migration is underway, and it can be nice and hot. Intense heat haze by 10am that does not really subside until 4pm. Get out early!
  • Motorways excellent and no tolls.
  • Everyone is either English or speaks english. Ex-pat-tastic. Even the plugs are the UK ones. 
  • I saw no evidence of illegal trapping during my stay, though I did tend to stick to well known wildlife areas. I did however find staggering quantities of shotgun cartridges away from these areas, for instance in the Pines at Cape Greco north of the road.
Cape Greco

  • Most south-easterly point of Cyprus.
  • Bits in pink are military no-go areas, though I never saw a single soldier.
  • Paths criss-cross the entire area, you can easily bird on foot all day long.
  • Access is from Agia Napa, about 8km away via the dotted yellow line road.

  1. Dump tracks - amazing birding especially early morning. Loads of Crested Larks, Tree Pipits, Yellow Wagtails and various Wheatears. Leave the car at X, or drive the tracks.
  2. Scrub south of dump, found this good for feeding hirundines attracted by the flies.
  3. Main area of scrub, Warblers and Wheatears galore. Loads of paths to explore.
  4. Cliffs underneath main promontary, with two profitable paths. A lower one at sea-level (red), and another about half way up (orange). There is a link between the two but it's not recommended, instead swap between them at the western end. Great birding including more Wheatears, nesting Kestrel and Jackdaw, lots of Chukar and a couple pairs of Blue Rock Thrush. Accessed from area 3, or from the obvious track from the metaled road, leaving the car at X where there is a barrier preventing you from driving further. The highest point is above the orange track, and you get some great views from the top by following the path south west.
  5. Fields good for Isabelline Wheatear and raptors.
  6. Area of pines on either side of the road here, best to the north where there is no army base to stray into.
  7. Picnic are which is clearly signposted. Best site I found for Cyprus Warbler.
  8. Small chapel with blue roof if you are need of divine inspiration, more Wheatears and Warblers here.

Cape Greco, looking east towards the cape from the Dump Tracks

Day 1 - Saturday

Leisurely start, Gatwick for mid-morning, took off about lunchtime, arriving Larnaca at about 6pm, which is 2 hours ahead. Picked up my heap of a hire car and was off - the motorway network makes travelling along the south coast a doddle. Arrived at a massive hotel called Nissi Beach for around 7.30pm, dumped my bags and walked into town to find some dinner. All the restaurants are identical, and good luck finding one that isn't showing a UK football game..... No birding whatsoever, today was all about positioning!

Day 2 - Sunday

The clocks had just changed, so sunrise was around 6.15, so I was up for half five and at the Cape Greco dump tracks for first light. First bird seen was a Swallow! Much windier than I was hoping but still masses of bird activity, including large groups of Yellow Wags just in - amazing views of Feldegg, such smart birds. Gazillions of Crested Larks and Tree Pipits, and a very smart Red-rumped Swallow, the only one I saw. A pair of Black-eared Wheatear, Stonechat, and my first views of Cyprus Pied Wheatear. I was so excited I didn't know what to do next, so while the light was still lovely I went to the Picnic Area where I got brilliant views of Cyprus Warbler from the car and then still super excited went to site 4, taking the orange path in order to get out of the stiff westerly wind. There were Chukar Partridges everywhere.

This was fantastic, as I warmed up very quickly and getting decent images became a lot easier without the birds being blown all over the place. A superbly confiding pair of Cyprus Wheatear here ended up taking an an hour whilst I did them justice, but it was time very well spent and as far as I was concerned, mission accomplished. I then spent a bit of time working my way around the main area of scrub where I caught up with Ruppell's Warbler, before heading back to my hotel for a hurried breakfast before they finished up at 10am.

Returning to Cape Greco I took the lower red path and found Blue Rock Thrush, a couple of Cuckoos fresh in, and had tantalising views of a Wheatear on the cliff face that most closely resembled White-crowned Black to my mind. Definitely not Cyprus Wheatear, it annoyingly did a bunk before I could photograph it. I was having a wonderful time birding, so thought little of it and carried on pootling around. By now the light was pretty harsh, and photography was basically over so I tried the Pines which were dead with the exception of Hoopoe and large numbers of Greenfinch and Goldfinch. I decided to return to Cape Greco later on in the day, and went off to try and find some different habitat, doing my driving in the heat of the day. A quick stop off at Agia Napa Sewage works (accessed north of main road about 500 yards west of Kermia Beach hotel) netted Greenshank, LRP and loads of Little Grebe, but zip all else.

Paralimni/Sotira was almost completely dry bar a small amount of water on the west side next to the cement works, and was completely bird free, so I spent no time at all here and traced my way down to the A3 and headed back towards Larnaca. Oriklini, a small wetland area, is well signposted from the motorway, and a stone's throw from the sliproad are a couple of decent hides, one at either end. The northern one was by far the best, and in addition to a small group of Flamingos, I recorded Red-crested PochardShoveler, Garganey, Teal and Mallard, with waders made up by Ruff, Black-winged Stilt, Snipe, Redshank, and Black-tailed Godwit. Best of all were several Spur-winged Plover, a much hoped-for target. First House Martins and Swifts feeding here. It was here I got a text from Mick about a Hooded Wheatear having been found somewhere on the island....oh shit...... Despite no location, I had a horrible feeling, and so headed back to the cliffs at Cape Greco. Predictably no sign, and sure enough, later that evening when more news was available it was in precisely the place I had been. Notched up a lovely Northern Wheatear, and a cracking Izzy Wheatear in the glorious sunset, so not all bad news.

Nonetheless a quality day with five new birds, and pretty decent images of my primary target. I know it sounds silly to travel abroad for a single bird, but I have this minor bee in my bonnet about putting together a photographic record of all Wheatear species. Celebration in another tourist dive, with a Keo beer and a kebab. Mmmmm.

Day 2 - Monday
Final day! Started at Cape Greco again, this time on the cliff paths looking for the Wheatear. No joy, so instead birded areas 3, 2 and 1 in that order, the highlights being another friendly Cyprus Wheatear with the sea as background, and a Great Spotted Cuckoo. Jammed some images of Tree Pipit whist trying and failing to approach the male Black-eared Wheatear which was having none of it. A Harrier "in off" but into the sun went unknown, but looked slim-winged - the time of year is good for Pallid but I couldn't get any detail on the bird at all. My morning three hours up already, I had another rapid breakfast back at the hotel, and then returned to try and get images of a male Ruppell's Warbler. I couldn't manage it, but did add Wryneck and Redstart to the trip list, plus several more Hoopoe. Lots of Chiffs and Lesser Whitethroat moving through, and a notable increase in Northern Wheatear.

At midday I gave up and decided to head west, but not before finding a Woodchat Shrike near the track that leads to the dump. I needed to be back at the airport for around 8pm, though dusk is at around 7 so a moot point. First stop Achna Dam, a litter-strewn lake north of the A3 at Ormideia. I added Moorhen here (woo!) as well as Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, and two more Spur-winged Plover. Cetti's and Reed Warbler were on the margins, with many feeding White Wagtails and Marsh Harrier overhead. A pretty disgusting place with loads of crap everywhere and low water levels, so I didn't give it long, and went onwards to Oriklini again, where the Spur-winged Plover count went up by another six, although by and large the birds were exactly the same as the previous day. When I pointed out a Garganey to a man in the hide he asked if it had a long beak like an Avocet. I confirmed that it did. 

Larnaca salt lagoons were disappointing, with only Kentish Plover and Green Sandpiper added, six more Spur-winged Plover, but otherwise almost no bird life at all. Isabelline Wheatears and Crested Larks omnipresent, but very little else, and the shoreline is also devoid of life. I guess like all places some areas are good and some are poor, but it had looked very promising on a map. Akrotiri, further west near Limassol, sounded very similar and is getting one great bird after another at the moment - I would have gone but it was a further hour west that I didn't really have - perhaps a further day would have been beneficial, but holiday days are precious! Instead I papped another Izzy down by the sea briefly, and then went back to Oriklini where I knew there was a good Spectacled Warbler and the light intensity and direction would be perfect. New in on the main lake, I guess to roost, were 115 Cattle Egret and 2 Little Egret, and I ended the day with a male Little Crake in the reeds just to the right of the hide, only the second I've ever seen. And that was it, dusk approaching and I had to head to the airport for the flight home. Arrived back at Gatwick at half midnight, and they parked the plane somewhere near East Grinstead and then monkeyed around for ages finding steps and a bus, so despite only having hand luggage I didn't get home until well past 2am.

The birding at Cape Greco was very enjoyable indeed. It feels like you could get something decent at every step at the prime time, and bar various walking group tours, you're very much alone. The only targets I missed here were Black Francolin and Cretschmar's Bunting. A Swedish birder I bumped into had the Bunting, and also Masked Shrike and Rock Thrush, yet didn't see any of the Cuckoos. Although it's a small enough area to do on foot, it's bigger than you think and you would probably only go through the same spots a couple of times in a day, so timing is everything. It sounds like the western end of the Island around Akrotiri and Paphos are much more intensively watched, so you might get more species that way, but this didn't bother me at all as I was there for a rather specific purpose and the rocky and scrubby point was perfect for that, with the added bonus of solitude. Had I had an extra day I would have birded Akrotiri and Anrita Park on the other side of the island for a bit of variety.

As usual I'll be adding separate photo posts of various species over on my other blog, so do do check that in the coming days. Especially for Wheatears....

Trip List

Red-crested Pochard - 15 or so at Oriklini
Chukar - all over Cape Greco
Little Grebe
Cormorant - flock of 14 headed east at dusk, Cape Greco
Black-crowned Night Heron - roosting on seaward side of cliffs at Cape Greco
Cattle Egret - roost at Oriklini >100
Little Egret
Grey Heron
Greater Flamingo - Oriklini, more at Larnaca
Marsh Harrier
Common Buzzard
Peregrine - pair round the cliffs at Cape Greco
Little Crake - male at Oriklini approaching dusk
Black-winged Stilt - Oriklini
Little-ringed Plover
Ringed Plover - Achna Dam
Kentish Plover - 8 at Larnaca Salt Lagoons on seaward side of airport
Spur-winged Plover - 2+6 at Oriklini, 6 at Larnaca, 2 at Achna Dam
Dunlin - Achna Dam
Wood Sandpiper - several at Achna Dam
Green Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Marsh Sandpiper - 1 at Achma Dam
Black-tailed Godwit - 2 at Oriklini
Ruff - Oriklini
Black-headed Gull
Slender-billed Gull - first winter briefly at Oriklini
Yellow-legged Gull
Collared Dove
Cuckoo - 2 together on cliffs at Cape Greco
Great Spotted Cuckoo - Cape Greco dump
Hoopoe - in the Pines at Cape Greco
Wryneck - Cape Greco scrub and Achna Dam
Crested Lark
House Martin
Red-rumped Swallow - Cape Greco
Meadow Pipit - single at Larnaca
Tree Pipit - very numerous at the Dump tracks, plus constant fly-overs
White Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail, inc Feldegg - early morning at Cape Greco, then scarce
Redstart - in the Pines
Blue Rock Thrush - cliffs at Cape Greco
Northern Wheatear - only at Cape Greco
Cyprus Pied Wheatear - mostly at Cape Greco
Isabelline Wheatear - commonest Wheatear
Black-eared Wheatear - 2 pairs Cape Greco
Hooded Wheatear - cliffs at Cape Greco
Lesser Whitethroat
Cyprus Warbler - Cape Greco picnic site
Ruppell's Warbler - Cape Greco
Spectacled Warbler - commonest Warbler
Sedge Warbler - Oriklini
Cetti's Warbler - Achna Dam
Zitting Cisticola - Oriklini
Reed Warbler - Achna Dam
Great Tit - Pines
Woodchat Shrike - fields near dump at Cape Greco
Hooded Crow
House Sparrow - thousands of these in every location
Spanish Sparrow
Corn Bunting


  1. Cracking stuff J as usual - it's amazing how much can be packed in when you organise it but i'd go for a week personally. Did you see any evidence of Lime sticks? I have heard that areas of MOD have been used in order to provide this speciality for local consumption.

    Laurie -

    1. Hi, no, lots of cartridges, but no evidence of trapping fortunately.

  2. Some great shots. Will have to add Cyprus to my list.

  3. Wow fabulous photos of difficult-to-catch birds! Love the 2 Warbler and Cyp Wheatear photos!