Tuesday 26 March 2024

CYPRUS 2024: part 2 (17-20 March)

Half-way through our week on Cyprus with, for me, the more interesting areas to come - the Troodos Mountains and the area around Pafos.

Sunday 17 March. Sunday is a good day to leave Lefkosa and we had a clear run right up into the mountains (in complete contrast to Friday's stop start arrival). We were heading for Troodos and when a few kms short saw a sign to the Botanical Gardens. As much to stretch our legs and check where exactly we were (in relation to the Artemis Trail we hoped to walk later) we decided to stop. It turned out to be an excellent move. First we saw in fairly quick succession male Serin and Siskin then in an area of fairly young open conifers near the top of the gardens heard a Coal Tit alarming. I followed it up and soon saw what looked very like a small chunky bird sat near the trunk high amongst smaller pine cones. I quickly raised my binoculars convinced it would be a strange cluster of cones as I have hardly ever seen small owls roosting in daylight. To my absolute delight a Cyprus Scops Owl, my target species, looking down at me. How fortunate was that! I quickly took some photos and called Megan over before circumnavigating the tree to find a less obscured view. After a brief stop in Troodos we drove up towards Mount Olympus to the start of the 7km Artemis Trail which circumnavigates it. We walked the trail which contours through the pine forest at just over 1800m giving regular views down to the southern coast. On the trail we saw 3 Jays, 10 Coal Tits, 3 Short-toed Treecreepers, Mistle Thrush, 150 Chaffinches and a Crossbill. Several were races that I had not seen before, although none seem likely future splits. We saw two other visitors, one a keen birder, who were interested in the Scops Owl but I'd not taken enough notice of where it was to be able to adequately describe the precise spot. We were staying in Kakopetria and would be passing the Botanical Gardens on our way so I offered to show them where we had left it. No guarantees but certainly worth a shot and a good excuse for me to see it again. After a false start I found the area it had been in and very quickly the bird, if it had moved it was only into an adjacent tree. Working my way around this tree I noticed a second Cyprus Scops Owl sitting tight against the trunk about 0.5m above its mate. Well worth returning to see two. It also removed any possible doubt that the first bird was a very grey migrant European Scops Owl that had found its way up into the mountains. Two such migrants would be unlikely in the extreme.

my first view of Cyprus Scops Owl
from a clearer angle

Serin in Troodos Botanical Gardens
Mistle Thrush and Chaffinch on Mount Olympus
Crossbill on Mount Olympus
looking south from Mount Olympus
Megan on the Artemis Trail

Short-toed Treecreeper on Mount Olympus

looking north from Mount Olympus
back with the Cyprus Scops Owl
it then joined its rather well hidden mate
Megan in a newer part of Kakopetria
Megan in Kakopetria Old Town

Monday 18 March. We walked down to the river at Kakopetria (4 Wrens and 2 Grey Wagtails) and back up through the old town looking in at the Metamorphosis of the Saviour Church soon after it opened. Leaving Kakopetria we drove to Pelentri and the Timios Stavros (Holy Cross), one of 10 UNESCO World Heritage Painted Churches. Next stop was the Kaledonia Falls trail where despite spending a couple of hour there we only saw a Jay, 12 Coal Tits and 4 Chaffinches. We headed south to the coast and the archaeological site at Kourion. Amongst the ruins we saw a Lesser Whitethroat, 3 Sardinian Warblers, 3 Black and a male Common Redstart, 2 Northern and a male Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, female Serin and a male Cretzchmar's Bunting. We continued towards Pafos seeing 5 Griffon Vultures very poorly from the road, they'd dropped out of view by the time we found somewhere safe to stop.

Grey Wagtail in its full chocolate cream egg glory

Timios Stavros Church being locked up after our visit, impressively painted walls inside but photography is not allowed
Kaledonia Falls - somewhat underwhelming, at least at this time of year

Coal Tit at Kaledonia Falls

well preserved mosaics at Kourion
in the Field Guide section a Pheasant
and Guineafowl

male Common Redstart at Kourion
male Northern Wheatear at Kourion, my first of the year
male Eastern Black-eared Wheatear at Kourion

Cretzchmar's Bunting at Kourion

female Serin at Kourion

Tuesday 19 March. I was up at dawn, drove a short distance to the coast and was soon walking around the perimeter of the Pafos Archaeological Site. In 2000 when we stayed in Pafos for a week I remember walking out to the lighthouse and wandering around looking for migrants on several mornings. Now it was fenced off and didn't open until 08:30, although like most cultural sites in Cyprus was free for pensioners. With a strong NW wind blowing few migrants were in evidence. I saw Common Sandpiper, 2 Hoopoes, 6 Crested Larks, male Eastern Subalpine Warbler, Stonechat, Isabelline Wheatear and 25 Red-throated Pipits. I'd revisit with Megan when it opened on our last morning. Today we headed northwest up the coast. First stop was Mavrokolymbus Dam where we saw 4 Chukars, 2 male and a female Cyprus Warbler, a Robin and 3 male Cyprus Wheatears. Next at Agios Georgios at Cape Drepano were 2 Sardinian Warblers, a Chaffinch and a female Creztchmar's Bunting. Our final stop was the Baths of Aphrodite on the North Coast. Walking around the Botanical Gardens at the Baths of Aphrodite, the bath being rather unimpressive, we saw a sign saying 'Birdwatchers'. Following the sign led to a smallish hide overlooking a tree filled gully. We sat for a few minutes seeing nothing and thinking there could at least be a pool or a bird table to look at. For something to do I played a 15 second recording of Cyprus Scops Owl. Two minutes later I thought I heard one responding in the distance, Megan heard it too so I wasn't imagining it. I played the recording again, all 15 seconds of it, and the owl almost immediately responded from a lot closer. At the third play of the recording the Cyprus Scops Owl flew into the tree above the hide. I slowly emerged and soon spotted it glaring down at me. After 2-3 minutes it  flew back to where it came from. Wow. We walked along the coast seeing 8 Red-rumped Swallows and 7 Sardinian Warblers before returning to Pafos.

early morning Hooded Crow at Pafos
Red-throated Pipits at Pafos

Crested Lark at Pafos
Pafos Fort
Chukar at Mavrokolymbus Dam
Cyprus Warblers at Mavrokolymbus Dam

Cyprus Wheatear at Mavrokolymbus Dam
mosaics at Agios Georgios
female Cretzchmar's Bunting at Agios Georgios

lizard at Agios Georgios
Cyprus Scops Owl in the Baths of Aphrodite Botanical Gardens

Sardinian Warbler at the Baths of Aphrodite

looking east along the coast at Baths of Aphrodite

Wednesday 20 March. Our last day. I was out before dawn and drove back to Mavrokolymbus Dam for a couple of hours. I was surprised to see other cars arriving soon after I did, more so that they were not birdwatchers but seemed to be young (to me) tourists going on an organised canoe trip. I was hoping for a Great Spotted Cuckoo, 2-3 which had been seen there a few days earlier but 5 Chukars, HoopoeEastern Bonelli's, 5 Cyprus and a Sardinian Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and 4 male Cyprus Wheatears made the visit worthwhile. Back in Pafos we loaded the car left our apartment and drove to the Pafos Archaeological Site where we wandered around for two hours. I saw Spur-winged Lapwing, 3 Hoopoes, 4 Crested and 10 Short-toed Larks, 8 Sardinian Warblers, Black Redstart, male Blue Rock Thrush, 2 Northern, an Isabelline and a male Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, male Spanish Sparrow, 2 flava Wagtails and 2 Corn Buntings. The last bird I saw in Cyprus was a Marsh Harrier, from the plane as we were taking off.
Cyprus Wheatears at Mavrokolymbus Dam

Cyprus Warbler at Mavrokolymbus Dam

rather out of focus Eastern Bonellui's Warbler at Mavrokolymbus Dam
Short-toed Larks in Pafos Archaeological Park

Blue Rock Thrush in Pafos Archaeological Park
some of the more impressive mosaics

Hoopoe in Pafos Archaeological Park
Stonechat in Pafos Archaeological Park
Sardinian Warbler in Pafos Archaeological Park
Leaving Pafos
crossing the Alps

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