Saturday 16 January 2016

Cyprus in Winter - trip report

  • A 3 day trip in early January with Andrew M, Saturday to Monday, targeting wintering Finsch's Wheatear.
  • BA flight from Heathrow at around midday Saturday takes just over 4 hours and gets in to Larnaca at about 6pm local time, so the whole of day one is a write off. Return flight at 7.30pm on Monday however means that the final day is a full day given the sun sets at 5pm. A bargain at £89 return, booked well in advance.
  • Stayed at Nissi Beach Hotel in Agia Napa on Saturday night, and the Almyra in Paphos on Sunday night.
  • Hotel came with breakfast, so spent only 35 euros each on food all weekend.
  • Car hire from Europecar was an excellent Subaru 4x4 which proved its worth getting to the Wheatear. However £26 from the UK turned into a further 140 euros once various taxes, fuel, waivers and so on were added. Somewhat of a con, but the car was good and the price was split between two.
  • Birded Cape Greco, Oroklini and Larnaca on Saturday, and Anarita, Phinikas and Germasogeia Reservoir on Sunday.
  • Extensive research involving Gosney, Stagg and Hearl, and recent sighting as detailed on the web to pin down sites for the Wheatear.
Day 1 - Saturday

A non-day, but a leisurely one as the flight did not leave until roughly midday. Hand baggage only and a long flight on a clapped-out 767, but bagged the exit seats which helped a great deal. Only an hour or so from Larnaca to Agia Napa on good roads, and an early night to be on tip-top form for Wheatear finding the next day.

Day 2 - Sunday

An early start from Nissi Beach and Andrew and I were at the top of Cape Greco cliffs just after sunrise. This is where I had spent a lot of time back in 2013 and I knew the area well, so we took the middle path west back towards the dump. For a map of the area please see this old blog post. We spent a little time with an engaging pair of Blue Rock Thrush before carrying on round, with Stonechat, Sardinian and Spectacled Warblers omnipresent. A fly-by male Pallid Harrier was a bit of a shock, but not totally unheard of - we reported this to the Cyprus recorder upon our return. Once back off the cliffs and more at sea level, Andrew's keen eyes picked out a flash of white rump and the Finsch's Wheatear was in the bag. Although this female bird had not been reported for several weeks, at this time of year they're more than settled onto their winter territories and won't be moving, so you can be pretty sure that any birds mentioned in December are still going to be present at the same locations in January - this proved to be the case elsewhere too. The bird was with a Stonechat, and extremely wary, vanishing whilst we were still some distance away and not reappearing until we were well back-up the slope, silouetted against the sea. We left it there, the visit was all about the male really!

Blue Rocck Thrush

Sardinian Warbler

Whilst winter in Cyprus clearly isn't as good a time to be birding as the spring, it still beats the UK - we were in shirt sleeves, birding and taking pictures under a clear sky with temperatures approaching 20 degrees. It's also the only time to guarantee seeing Finsch's Wheatear, which only arrive in October and depart by March which is before the spring migration starts. By the time Cyprus Pied Wheatear starts to arrive on territory, the Finsch's are back in eastern Turkey

After an unproductive attempt at Stonechat and various Warblers we returned to the car before zooming back to the hotel for an enormous breakfast and then checked out. I was amazed the hotel was even open, we seemed to be almost the only guests. Next stop Achna Reservoir, but this was still a litter-strewn dump, complete with a dead Cattle Egret, frequent gunfire, and water-skiing - not very conducive to birding so we did not linger and headed instead for Oroklini Marsh. This was excellent, with loads of Teal, Shoveler, a couple Greater Flamingo, and as a special world lifer bonus, three female White-headed Ducks. These had arrived in late 2015 and I was not expecting to see them, so a bit of a result. A few Spur-winged Plover skipped across the marsh, and in the far corner which is the only muddy area a handful of Black-winged Stilts.

The rest of the day was spent around Larnaca airport, with the salt lake hosting thousands of Flamingos. We birded the area between the runway and the sea, which is a network of pools and fields, and includes the sewage works. These two man-made pools held massive numbers of duck, mostly Teal and Shoveler again, but also Mallard, a few Shelduck, and seven White-fronted GeeseMarsh Harrier hunted over the water with predictable results, and my third lifer of the day came with some distant views of Black Francolin in the fields behind the hide. We both wished that we had a scope! At dusk we headed west for Paphos.

Day 3 - Monday

An even earlier start saw us in Anarita Park following a route that I had researched two years ago and had been waiting to do since then. Whilst we got this difficult to find spot bang on, there were no wintering Wheatears that we could see, so we moved on towards Phinikas, a ruined village on the side of Asprokremmos reservoir, presumably abandoned when the dam was constructed. The access track here is not passable unless in a 4x4, and after heavy rain may be even more challenging or simply not possible. It would be a half-hour walk to the village from the end of the paved road. A few Cormorants were on the reservoir, as well as a Little Egret on the beach area and two Black-necked Grebes further out. The ruins got all of our attention however, with a Black Redstart spotted on a decrepit building, and then the main target - a male Finsch's Wheatear on the beach slightly outside the village. We spent the rest of time here following this bird around and attempting to get photos of it, but whilst it did gradually seem to become accustomed to our presence, in no way would I describe it as confiding, and only my 800mm lens with a converter on it kept me vaguely in the game. Had we stayed longer we may have done better, however the promised rain started up at about half nine and sent us on our way. By the time we got back down to the coast it was torrential and any thoughts of birding west of Limassol had to be abandoned.

After another monster breakfast in order to avoid the need for lunch we drove west to try and escape the rain. We noted a few depressed-looking damp Griffon Vultures on Kensington Cliffs, but the rain started coming down even heavier, and it wasn't until mid-afternoon at Germasogeia Reservoir which is further east again that it started to ease. Here we spent a long time trying and mostly failing to get views of Moustached Warbler in the immense reed beds, but picked up Grey Wagtail, Snipe, Jack Snipe and various other birds around the margins. Our final stop of the day was Oroklini again - the White-headed Ducks were still present, and a trip highlight was thousands of White Wagtails coming in to roost at sunset, along with our first living Cattle Egrets, which numbered several hundred as they decorated various parts of the marsh. A bit of mucking about being arty with the sun setting behind the reeds, and then it was time to go back to the airport which is only 20 minutes or so away.

Trip List

Little Grebe
Black-necked Grebe
White-fronted Goose
White-headed Duck
Black Francolin
Little Egret
Cattle Egret
Grey Heron
Greater Flamingo
Griffon Vulture
Marsh Harrier
Pallid Harrier
Common Buzzard
Water Rail
Black-winged Stilt
Spur-winged Plover
Golden Plover
Jack Snipe
Black-headed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Med Gull
Collared Dove
Little Owl
Crested Lark
Meadow Pipit
White Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Blue Rock Thrush
Song Thrush
Black Redstart
Finsch's Wheatear
Spectacled Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
Cetti's Warbler
Moustached Warbler
Great Tit
Hooded Crow
House Sparrow
Corn Bunting

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