Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Further thoughts on the petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

The above petition is now close to reaching 80,000 signatures, a tremendous achievement.   So the next obvious point to make ( of course ! ), is that , if you haven't signed , do so now !.

I'm on holiday at Spurn at present and so have lots of opportunity to consider, again and again, the overall situation as I wander around or complete a slow paced sea watch!  Cutting to the chase, the immediate , most important aspect to address and gain improvement against , is the continuing persecution of raptors.  Many of those affected are iconic members of our wildlife heritage. If there were to be any kind of similar assault on, say, our artistic heritage, there would be an outcry. As yet that hasn't occurred to the same potential extent, but will if the arrogance and self interests of the shooting fraternity continues even given its Establishment associations.

I've little doubt that any call for an outright ban would take some time to bring into being. However, a debate wherein the persecution issue was properly laid bare and the consequences of no improvement arising made apparent could help tremendously. This is where I believe the RSPB could help by encouraging support from its members.  My RSPB Campaign Newsletter arrived this week ,urging people to assist in calling for sustainable farming policies and in resisting  any extension of the large power station complex south of the important Minsmere Reserve.  Laudable both , but some mention of the continuing plight of raptors wouldn't have gone amiss.  To avoid doing so starts to accept the incidents are part of a developing permanent culture and I simply refuse to accept that position.

A recent Blog from the RSPB set out the need for a review of the grouse shooting industry, something I couldn't agree with more. But not all the membership reads such Blogs , a fact I'm reminded of given a series of recent conversations with people  at the BirdFair and elsewhere. The question , in one form or another, seems an inevitable component of any conversation........ " What's the RSPB doing about all this raptor persecution?".     Now I realise that such a demand is simplistic and with no simple answer, but it prompts me to consider whether the RSPB might be a little out of touch with the expectations of its membership ( straight forward demands in some instances).    There's an immensely loyal bunch of people out there with concerns about "its Society " as well as issues like raptor persecution. It seems to me there is an all out need to set out , even repeatedly, the extent of the Society's involvement at any one time and to try and involve the membership wherever possible and curb their frustration.  Incidentally , the one comment that comes through , time and again, is support for the magnificent work of the Investigations Team  ( I couldn't agree more ).  What does seem to go unappreciated are the position statements and summaries of what should be without any accompaniment of action points .

I'd be the first to recognize this is a difficult problem, but let's never accept it as an impossible one, which brings us full circle to the beginning. The need to precipitate action.  ACTION THIS DAY, NOT TOMORROW OR THE WEEKEND.......NOW!!

Monday, August 26, 2019

A Birder's Journey to the Big 300 By Terry Wells.

Whilst I was at the recent BirdFair at Rutland Water I went to listen to Terry Well's presentation about his new book   (pictured below ).   There was a certain honesty, lack of drama and ego about his presentation that persuaded me I should buy a copy.  I'm glad I did  and have no hesitation in recommending it to all. It can be obtained through all the usual channels ( including booksellers listed within Amazon searches ). the full title is as above,  the publisher is Silverwood Books Ltd and the ISBN number is 978-1-78132- 862-0.

For many listers their total is very much a personal matter and not open to being published, promoted,  and details given of successes and failures.  This is where this story is possibly different in that it catalogues a year of effort trying to get to or exceed  the magical 300 total.  But, first of all, let me refer back to the book in general. As might be imagined the first chapters deal with Terry's "development " as a birder, covers the years when other aspects that affect us all  have to be given attention. There are some typical "lad stories" too, the premier one is of Ray Moore and his calculator. I'll not spoil it , but suffice to say I've chuckled every day since I read about it !

But then we come to the real content of the book !   Terry's opportunity , through retirement, to try and see over 300 species in the UK in a single calendar year.   He devotes a chapter to each month and this is where I guess other listers will pore over the strategies, sequence of visits and site details with forensic enthusiasm.  The approach within these chapters , as with the birding approach itself , is consistent and "full on" with honest admissions about the failures, repeat site visits and decisions behind sometimes discontinuing a twitch. Beginners aren't left out either as interwoven in the text are explanations about white-winged gulls, organizations, official approaches to lists that might otherwise confuse people new to birding.  Perhaps a more extended explanation of the RBA Bird Alert Pro facility would have helped at some point.

I'm sure many birders will be enthused by the accounts and dream of, if not plot and plan, an attempt of their own. Setting aside the costs of time and money ( not inconsiderable ! ), the travelling and the sheer unrelenting physical demands, there is the over-riding necessity of turning out almost everyday, whatever the weather, in order to drive the list ever onwards. January and February, even March, might be mastered , but there's a long way to go thereafter and , as Terry's account aptly demonstrates, the effort needed can never diminish.  There'll be doubts and desperate, dark moments , all of which are mentioned , and, inevitably, there'll be occasions totally unconnected with birding that have to be accepted and properly dealt with. Life can't be "put on hold" for birding reasons.

Terry deals with all of this in a way that I felt made the book very human and realistic. There's an obvious love of birds and wildlife, even landscape, apparent within his writing, but also a generosity towards people,  ( but best not to mention it if you're a dog breeder ! ).   And then there's Mary.....partner, bird spotter extraordinaire and general factotum,  even suggesting a trip to the SW in the depths of winter in a quest for certain species.  Clearly that sort of support is crucial too.

I'd recommend this book to all birders, at whatever level, as each and everyone will be able to identify with the challenges it reflects and the stories it reveals.  A great achievement, quietly told in an unassuming style. I've read it , but dipped back into it a couple of times already. Buy it, enjoy it, relive some of your own experiences, perhaps even some of the species and twitches described in the book.  And, if you're new to listing, I'm sure this will be a book that helps with your own approaches and activities.

And, finally, to Terry. Thanks for sharing. A standing testament to a lot of effort, but something we can all enjoy too, time and again I suspect !,

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A call for support from the RSPB !

It's some little time since I put out an entry on this Blog. There are good reasons for this as it happens , but the explanations can wait as the topic below demands urgent action from us all.

Recently the Directors of Wild Justice registered an E-petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting.  I'm presuming at this point that readers are conversant with the background details and arguments surrounding such a plea.  As I look at the petition site this afternoon the number of signatures stands at 69,153, a truly remarkable response given the little time which has elapsed since it went public. To gain a debate by elected members of Parliament the number of signatures must reach 100, 000 and preferably  be in excess of that figure. As many will probably know there has already been one debate associated with the petition dealing with the same subject matter and based on a previous petition registered by Mark Avery. The ensuing proceedings can only be described as a travesty, if not resulting in a wholly predictable outcome.

Endless details on persecution incidents and their association with grouse moors have been published and there is no justification in repeating those here. What appears to be central to the whole issue is the lack of any intention on the shooting industry's part to cease such persecution despite it being in flagrant disregard of the law.  Now, there are those who say it only a proportion of "bad apples" within the industry who are responsible and giving everyone a bad name. Whilst the main plank of the conservation case has been associated with the targeted activities against Hen Harriers the geographical spread of different species affected and birds shot, trapped or poisoned etc suggests we are dealing with somewhat more than a portion of a "crop", but that the prejudiced feelings against raptors is endemic within the industry.  But even if that isn't the case the fact that, other than a few published blandishments on the subject by representative organizations, the actions by the industry against its own miscreants is difficult to determine if, indeed, any pressure has been brought to bear at all ? 

In my view "enough is very much enough".  I was personally convinced that licensing would address the problem and set out my own E-petition some time ago against which the Government response was little more than a joke.  Whilst the RSPB chose not to support that petition , nor that initiated by Mark Avery to ban driven grouse shooting, it has latterly suggested that licensing should be adopted, although its efforts to gain support for this measure appear a little less than robust. Since then I have changed my position in the face of no indication for change at all being forthcoming from the shooting industry and persecution incidents, if anything, increasing.

Set against this background, and any historical positioning, it occurs to me that we now have a unique opportunity to try and really get this issue in the public domain.

But first of all, a technical point.  Should a General Election be announced the six month period wherein signatures can be submitted on a petition will close and the whole  matter fall by the wayside.   As seems likely, a General Election will be announced at some point this autumn therefore the opportunity to build up the signature total of the petition might be truncated. This surely moves towards an obvious conclusion that every effort , and by whatever legitimate means, must be employed to not only achieve a high level of signatures and demonstrate the public's abhorrence at the levels of persecution occurring . but to obtain as full a debate as possible on the matter in advance of an election and to move the issue into the very territory of subjects under scrutiny at the time of that election.

Whilst I personally doubt that driven grouse shooting will be brought to a peremptory end in 2019, the further exposure of the current persecution levels is not something the Tories would want to be asked of each of their prospective candidates when appearing on the doorstep. Neither would they want the spectre of regulation being discussed widely, particularly given the recent interest taken by both other political parties and a wide selection of the media around 12th August last !  So now is the time to demonstrate the depth and breadth of feeling on the matter within the British public.  The extent to which the shooting industry feels it can set itself outside of the law must be challenged and on as wide a basis as possible. Not only must there be a reverse in fortunes of the Hen Harrier, pictured above, but, as appeared recently, the disgusting sight of a young Golden Eagle flying around with a trap attached to its foot must surely signal an end being brought to such barbaric behaviour by those responsible.

So, enter the RSPB !   It has often been said that the membership level of the RSPB  ( oft quoted in excess of a million )  is the envy of  some of the political parties. I'm not conversant with the current levels of membership of each of the parties,but I do feel that  an opportunity exists for the RSPB to assist in bringing about what could be the greatest exposure of the persecution of raptor problem hitherto. An unequivocal, IMMEDIATE request for its membership to support the above petition , thereby politicising its  membership to take part ( at their own volition ) in a bit of old style campaigning,  could elevate the issues and allow discussion on the merits of banning , licencing, vicarious liability and so on.  The good ladies of Didsbury, Manchester who rose up against the use of bird plumes in the millinery trade would be proud......and look what that led to.

Such action would need to be immediate and not prove to be the subject of endless examination, meetings on the top corridor or a discussion at the forthcoming AGM and so forth.  The RSPB appears to have been somewhat cautious in recent times when it comes to overt action and campaigning and what used to be its "one stop shop" position when it came to matters relating to birds has tarnished somewhat.  I appreciate that such a request comes at the very beginning of the tenure of its new Chief Executive and apologise accordingly, but time is of the essence and it would signal too that the Society itself has had enough given the resources and effort it has placed against the problem over the years.

Just consider what the response might be , and at this time of disjointed political unity too.  Exceeding 100, 000 would certainly seem a reality,   but surely 150, 000, even 200,000 is not beyond reach.   I doubt there is few, if any,  RSPB members who aren't appalled by the continuing presence of persecution of our raptors going on in the background and who wouldn't want the issue to be prevented in whatever way possible. Now is an opportunity to get the issue way up on the agenda.
In this sense the RSPB might be seen as pivotal in terms of improving the success of the current initiative. However, I have to say that, in the absence of overt support, one can only ponder on what, precisely, the RSPB does currently see itself as influencing and what role and positioning it  commands. Without being facetious , I have to say " remember the laws which were drummed into us all at school,    actions and opposing reactions ". The shooting industry is not going to suffer willingly any Damascene conversion and only action by the conservation organizations can bring about change.   In my opinion, now is that time !!!

And a final question! Have you signed the petition ?  If not, use the link and sign without delay.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Travelling again!

After the usual few days of  sorting out the aftermath of being away for a period , which has precluded any serious local birding, I'm off on my travels again (to Bulgaria ).  Sadly I shan't be able to post any entries whilst I'm away . I'm back shortly and will regale you with what I suspect will be some exciting insights about a country that I 'm assured is excellent for birds ( and scenery, and food and the odd vintage too ! ).

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

30 April and the final day !

My route was more or less the same as yesterday with the Agios Georgios area now devoid of people.  Lady's Mile had provided some excellent views of Greater Flamingo, a Turtle Dove , a couple of parties of Ringed Plover, some Temminck's Stints , but little else.  Agios Georgios provided a single Lesser Grey Shrike, Spotted and Pied Flycatcher and a couple of Willow Warbler.

With nothing else appearing I spent some time at the Rabbit Farm pools and had the most stupendous views of Black Francolin  I've ever managed, which made up for the absence of anything else . Seen well , it's a very attractive bird recorded on virtually every occasion on call only, and , tantalizingly, never showing itself.

Despite a fair degree of effort I got virtually nothing else and returned to the hotel early afternoon to sort out arrangements for the car's return and other routine matters. Certainly the month has been a period of a fair number of high spots , the odd disappointment and a number of absolute surprises.  Some of the anticipated migration just never seemed to happen, e.g. the usual Lesser Kestrel arrival hasn't yet happened in anything like the expected numbers, similarly Rollers have appeared in dribs and drabs, and where were those resplendent Curlew Sandpipers I was so much looking forward to seeing.  You can't have it all as the saying goes  ( neither should you ).

After a number of extremely interesting discussions with various people I would hope to put together a few Blogs looking at subjects such as shooting, poisoning, and the almost bewildering arrangements surrounding the UK's territorial presence on the island, one which is also still riven by partition and political tensions. On the other hand , Cyprus is an island of intriguing contrasts set against the situation back home. For instance, they've just been harvesting the grain fields and the large Catherine wheel straw bales are spread around the fields awaiting collection. We've a whole summer wherein our own crops grow and ripen before being harvested in early autumn.  I got to thinking , and still don't know, what now happens with those fields in Cyprus given the very high summer temperatures. The last winter was very wet and some dams are at the fullest they've been in twelve years. What differences might that evoke for the agricultural systems and the habitats, in turn , which they provide for birds ?  Irrigation might be "on " this summer, but what normally happens?

 I shall leave feeling  the need to return and experience possibly a different aspect of what is an extremely interesting place for bird migration ( Cyprus has a relatively low breeding list of species ), particularly as autumn migration can be markedly different in character to that in Spring.  A great place, happy people, great food  and one I'm pledged already to return to .

Monday, 29th April...........an affinity with Swifts !

Out early to Lady's Mile where I found precious little until coming across  a Red-footed Falcon at the very end of the track !   On to Agios Georgios where I thought it would be worthwhile to get there relatively early and see what might have arrived overnight.  I ought to have reckoned there would be a church service given it was Easter Monday here and whilst things were relatively cool........120 cars worth in fact and two cold drinks stalls.   I didn't see anything !

On to the Akritiri reserve where I met with Viktor , who was operating his ringing site. Views from the Tower Hide included Squacco Heron and Ferruginous Duck and one each of Woodchat, Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrike.  Things were improving  !  Viktor came up for a chat in between ringing rounds and we discussed recent sightings , including the large numbers of Swifts and hirundines over the reedbed the day previously ( 28th ). At that point a LITTLE SWIFT whizzed around the hide along with a few Swallow, odd Sand Martins and Common Swift and , at one point , was within touching distance. Tremendous ! It was about for less than a couple of minutes , but produced excellent views !

Later, I went down to Rabbit Farm pools where the water is rapidly disappearing since the temperatures zoomed. It was 27C down there and bird song, even of Cetti's Warblers , was beginning to wane. Wader numbers are going down by the day and nothing new had arrived. Two of the three Black tailed Godwits were still there whilst a Great Reed Warbler sang intermittently nearby.  I went down to Kourian Bay as I still favour the place as a visible migration spot. Over three quarters of an hour two flocks of 30 +  Glossy Ibis went east , but nothing else. Mid afternoon, and cutting back over the Akritiri wasteland area , a few Whinchat were in evidence, a female Black eared Wheatear ( pale throated form )and a couple of Hoopoe, but , otherwise, all was still and ferociously hot !  A check on various areas on the way back to the hotel produced nothing.  And that was it, a slow day but with a very good Cyprus record nonetheless.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Sunday 28th April......a very distinct fall of passerines.

An inspection of the Lady's Mile area didn't , at first , give much of an impression of things having arrived in any numbers. Moving across the salt lake, towards Bishop's Pool and beyond, it was obvious that some common migrants at least had arrived with various Blackcap, Lesser Whitethroat, and Spotted Flycatcher being in evidence and a single Black eared Wheatear in the village even.

Agios Georgios was alive with birds with Masked and Red backed Shrike, Common Redstart, Nightingale ( in partial song ), Wood Warbler s, a couple of Willow Warblers, Whinchat, Spotted and Collared Flycatcher and a very distinctive song about which the jury is currently in session ( but which I'm convinced of the answer ). I only had a very brief glimpse of the bird but remain  happy ! (Keith and his wife regaled us with accounts of recent visits to the area when they had clearly hit lucky having seen Barred Warblers and Black headed Buntings on occasions when we were off elsewhere ).

On to the Akrotiri wetland areas which, apart from three Black tailed Godwits  which fed voraciously throughout the 45 minutes we were on site, held very little else.

Sadly the time had arrived when we needed to return to the hotel as my colleague leaves shortly and things of one sort or another needed to be tied up.  I've still more time in hand so will have to see what goodies might yet arise ! It turned out to be extremely tranquil in the confines of my room at the hotel, given it was Easter Sunday, which, in turn, allowed me to get these Blog entries up to date and plot and plan ahead !

Comment........I'm firmly convinced the bird in song was Olive-tree Warbler , which I've heard in various places previously. Some questions arose concerning the possibility of it being Great Reed Warbler, but I believe the cadences and structure of that species' song is more contrasting and that of Olive tree Warbler, whilst just as harsh , is contained within more of a band and exhibits less of the extremes .  Describing bird song  is a minefield and each of us relates both to the description and reality in different ways. But there we are.........

Saturday 27th April.......things tern around somewhat.

An early start to Lady's Mile and adjacent areas.  Four Tawny pipit along one of the tracks seemed newcomers and a Whimbrel flew over calling.  A "cloud" of around 120 Glossy Ibis over Akrotiri salt lake and an accompanying swarm of 40/50 Slender billed Gulls appeared to have been disturbed  by something.  We settled by one of the farthest pools , now clearly reducing in size by the day , and soon had 42 Gull billed Terns descend and start feeding. After a short while, and great views , they all set off almost in line ENE and were lost to view. A little later I found a flock of 46 of them down on a small island at the northern end. I couldn't rid myself of the close coincidence in numbers but felt that the birds were actually separate despite the ( then ) total of 88 being rather high !! Within this same time frame 6 Little Terns arrived and dispersed.  Remarkably this movement didn't appear to include generally any common waders as only a single Kentish Plover was found.

Moving across to Agios Georgios Blackcaps and Spotted Flycatchers were seen at various places and a further 90 Glossy ibis were seen moving north.  A usual inspection round of the wetlands produced increased numbers of Collared Pratincole with some appearing to be on the move. Finally , a return inspection of the Lady's Mile area produced a Lesser Grey Shrike , a Red backed Shrike and a rather dark female Montagu's Harrier which struck off ENE across the bay ascending very gradually until lost to view.

Friday 26th April......RBS surges, that's shrikes not shares ( got it ? ).

Collecting the car I realised I was surrounded by whirling House Martins in the underground garage , all near the exit, but not venturing outside. The first youngsters from an early nesting ?

On to the Troodos on what was Good Friday in Cyprus for the Greek Orthodox Church. Few people were around and we soon were at the final area you can reach. It was calm, became bright and pleasantly warm and a walk along a summit trail was a real joy. Cuckoo's called down in the valley, Cyprus Pied Wheatear chased among the sparse mature trees, a Hoopoe put on a fine display and Coal and Great Tits enveloped the whole atmosphere in song and calls.  A Turtle Dove called and Blackbirds quietly foraged on the woodland floor . Swifts whirled among the trees and I finally pinned down a Pallid Swift.  Both Common and Pallid breed in the villages nearby apparently. Despite walking several trails ,and really enjoying the atmosphere and surroundings , no Short-toed Treecreeper came my way so down the winding road we went, meeting ever increasing numbers of cars ascending higher to the much favoured restaurants located at higher elevations.

Rabbit Farm pools was the next stop which provided a couple of Marsh Sandpiper and Little Stint, a single LRP and a couple of Common Sandpiper. Over 20 Ruff in tremendous plumage were extremely excitable and spooked at every opportunity, clearly on the brink of setting off on the next leg of their migration. It was now 24 C so warming up a little.  A small party of Bee-eaters flew over in a cloudless blue sky so we never saw any of them and 19 Collared Pratincole were around.

A deliberate trawl of the "heath/scrub areas of the Akrotiri peninsula and that surrounding Lady's Mile produced 10 male Red-backed Shrike, all showing off their colours and hunting expertise.  Locate the shrike rather became the end game of the day, but was productive and satisfying.

Thursday 25th April......in some senses, best forgotten !

Early morning saw us on our way eastwards towards Larnaca where we first of all looked at the various wetlands , although these weren't our intended goal.  Things started reasonably well with a selection of waders including some fine Temminck's Stints and 11 White-winged Terns and a Whiskered Tern at Larnaca Sewage Works. So far so good.

Our primary objective was to see Calandra Lark and , whilst we did inspect some suitable places , I don't think we ever found the main area for which we'd been given directions. We did become familiar with two particular villages I wish to forget in our quest to find some lighthouse type structure, which one would imagine might be near the coast, but apparently wasn't and, in any case, was surrounded by holiday developments. After my having driven for around four hours I declared "enough was enough" and struck off back westwards. An inspection of some stretches of telephone wires ( yes, it had reached those sort of desperate levels ) that were virtually guaranteed to hold Lesser Kestrel at this time of year didn't raise the atmosphere one jot !

We went up to Germasogeia Dam and at least had a pleasant afternoon and saw some birds. A Mallard with a brood of 16 young in tow was impressive and good views were had of Purple Heron and Squacco Heron. A walk up along the inflow stream and the various "ponds" along its route provided some Great Reed Warbler song and extended views of a male Little Crake feeding out in the open.  Various birds sang, it was warm and pleasant , but no raptors appeared ,which rather summed up the delivery rating of the whole day in many senses. 

Wednesday 24th April........somewhat slow by comparison.

After a day's absence it seemed appropriate to concentrate on the Akrotiri  peninsula. The Tower hide produced what was to be the only Marsh Harrier for a while and a Golden Oriole nearby. Farther on The Rabbit Farm pools had a few Wood Sandpiper, a Collared Pratincole, Temminck's Stint and a glorious Red-throated Pipit.

Things were certainly not as hectic as we'd hoped ! We journeyed on to Kensington Cliffs along the coastal track and spent some time assembling a very short list of observations.  Again, we saw no vultures but had views of Eleonora's Falcon and Shag desmarestii .Returning along the coast we found a Lesser Whitethroat , Hoopoe and Spotted Flycatcher, so odd things were getting through.

A call into Agios Georgios produced a Pied Flycatcher and a couple of Blackcaps , but nothing else, so we cut across to Lady's Mile where we had a couple of Little Tern that were clearly new and a few Caspian and Armenian Gulls and a single immature BHG.   Thin pickings it would seem for a full day's effort.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Tuesday 23rd April..........a day to treasure !

Met Colin at Asprokremnos Dam and , almost immediately, had terrific views of a Cyprus Warbler adjacent to where we were parked . A lucky start!   Nearby we had a single Green Sandpiper, a falcon flew over ( probably a Peregrine ) , and local Red rumped Swallows put on a show as well as a Collared Flycatcher revealing itself in the plantation.

Off to the Timni Beach area to view the flooded area which has been so productive this Spring. The Forestry Department appear to be operating a bewildering policy of habitat destruction here around the picnic site by felling the mature trees. All was brought to a close when the area was then flooded by the excessive winter rains. Sadly it's beginning to dry out !  A small group of Wood Warbler, with one even in song, gave tremendous views, better than I sometimes get back on the breeding grounds in the UK.   Following this , Common Redstart, Lesser Whitethroat, lots of flava  wagtails, a Spotted Crake, a Black tailed Godwit,  Ruff, Marsh Sandpiper , 3 Baltic Gull flew west and a variety of supporting species was present and time simply flew by !  A chat with Anders Grey wherein we discovered a mutual friend  ( Phil Saunders ) who himself had been out in Cyprus not that long ago studying Rollers.....what a small , but wonderful , world that of birdwatching  actually is  !! 

Onwards and upwards to Anarita Park where a local Little Owl showed well . Sadly little else appeared , so we moved on and toured a bewildering panoply of what might best be described as "the real Cyprus countryside " !   A river valley provided a glimpse of a Kingfisher, singing Golden Oriole. and various singing Olivaceous Warblers. We checked a peregrine site just as an adult brought in prey and enjoyed the cacophony which resulted !  A privileged look at a Cyprus Scops Owl left me speechless ( not something I'm known to be afflicted with ! ).  As with quite a few experiences of the last few days I was also quietly furious at my camera having seized up , but I guess I'm not the first.

On to a hillside area of open scrubby vegetation where we soon found singing Cretzschmar's Buntings  ( at least three I suspect ). A memorable  and distinct call too.

It all had to end of course as , by this time it was actually late afternoon. A day with fast moving memories appearing in sequence. Thanks Colin.   But another highlight of the day was the absolutely delicious Armenian Easter Cake kindly provided by Mrs Sylvia Richardson which sustained the birding troops through these exciting times. A confection which contained almond and cinnamon and something I guess not many have the privilege of tasting more than once ( there were several slabs for everyone ! ).  Thanks Sylvia, much appreciated !

I need to offer a correction to some information I provided previously about Crossbills in Cyprus and about which I'd been misled .  There are coloured male birds which have been seen, orange-gy I'm told, as opposed to the brick red types most of us see back home. Apologies for the confusion.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Monday 22nd April. disappointing in the extreme !

The day dawned calm, sunny and warm.  Ho, ho , ho, was this going to be a good one , particularly after yesterday's notable Common Swift passage ?

A timely departure straight to Lady's Mile.  Just as we drew to a halt we disturbed a gull from the shoreline that we then failed to relocate.  Combined opinion suggested an immature Mediterranean Gull.  An immediate disaster that didn't bode well I thought.  A few Little Stint and Kentish Plover and 2 Spoonbill relieved the frustration. On to the Akritiri peninsula proper, but this brought no respite either with very little around or new.

Kourian Bay and the Rabbit Farm areas yielded nothing much either , so we called in at Agios Georgios  where the wind strength even made opening the car door difficult. A beast of a day!  We explored various areas, but succeeded with nothing. And so , here I am typing this back at the hotel mid afternoon, acknowledging that this is the first day since my arrival where I haven't seen something new. Pitiful!   What do I do until dinnertime I ask ?

Happy Easter  Monday for all back in the UK

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Sundat 21st April.....mixed and slow.

An early start up into the foothills above Pareklesia to try and locate Cretzschmar's Bunting. It was sunny and bright , but with a very cold wind from the mountains . Despite covering what we thought were various locations the venture wasn't successful and we never even had a suspect in our sights. The truth was that there were virtually no birds on show and no accompanying song.

Back down to the lowlands and on to Lady's Mile where a few Caspian Gulls and a Slender billed Gull were present. A few Kentish Plover and an overflying flock of 40 Little Stints were on the farthest pool plus Common Swifts were beginning to come through. Eventually we drove across the sandflats and came out on the Bishops Pool road, making our way to near the Environmental Education Centre. from here we had a good view of most of the saltlake and counted at least 280 Greater Flamingos.  Common Swift movement was in full swing with seemingly unending lines of birds making their way through.

We spent some time on the coast where a couple of Little Tern flew west and a female Black eared Wheatear showed well.  All the flava wagtails of yesterday had gone from the cut fields  so we went on to the Rabbit Farm pools. We met the "Howards" there and although birds were few the jokes were good !!!   A single Greenshank and odd Collared Pratincoles were around and still the Common Swifts came through. Further time was spent around the Akrotiri area and, as we prepared to leave later in the afternoon, a couple of Gull billed Tern flew westwards through the military area.

Not a lot for a day's efforts with small birds being at a particular premium.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Saturday, 20th April......migrants still trickling in !

An early trip to Lady's Mile produced little other than numbers of Common Swift over the adjacent heath. All the Akrotiri marsh sites produced nothing that was new, but it was pleasant walking around in the warm sunshine. Rabbit Farn pools produced 3 Little Stint, 7+ Collared Pratincole  ( a noticeable increase ), a few Wood Sandpiper and Ruff and low numbers of Black winged Stilt. I suspect the Spur winged Plovers, based on the aggressive actions of the assumed male , are nesting on site , particularly as I then saw the other bird appear to "descend " on a nest. Despite a "watch" we had nothing new so we went along the coastal track.

The farmer had cut a couple of fields of grain crop, the straw from which was left lying out . Here we found around 200 flava  wagtails, mainly Grey headed types,  but with fewer Blue headed and only the odd feldegg  present. It was great simply parked next to the field watching them frantically feeding within metres of us. Odd Red rumped Swallow and Sand martin fed above the fields along with more numerous Swallow and Common Swift. A Great Spotted Cuckoo spent time in a nearby bush and gave great confiding views and then , later , we found a couple of Tawny Pipit nearby .

Despite searching a few other locations we had nothing new. With the wind rising yet again, a common feature of recent afternoons, our visit to Agios Georgios showed the Woodchat Shrike still present in its favourite spot , but with a Hoopoe providing good views whilst feeding n the open field surface.

Friday, 19th April..........success amongst the snow.

We set off straight after breakfast and , despite my misgivings, got through the rush hour traffic in Limassol without mishap on our way into the Troodos Mountains. It wa sa pleasant journey at the onset , but turned cooler as we gained elevation. We stopped at a fish farm area where I managed Grey wagtail , of which there's only a few known sites. Wren and Blackbird were in song so there was almost a UK atmosphere to things.

We pressed on and , quite soon , reached Troodos village, a mixture of the inevitable tourist facilities and a selection of chalet type structures. We went on higher and began to see lenses of snow left over from the winter, besides feeling the penetrating cold.  Jays and Coal Tit were easily seen , both of which have been suggested candidates as endemic species at one time or another ( notably by David Armitage Bannerman,   no relative I would add !! ). A single Cyprus Pied Wheatear sat atop a fence and provided excellent views. Driving up the road even higher I cracked the jackpot by noticing a single bird sitting at the very top of a gnarled, bare tree trunk..... a Crossbill, a species which has certainly been the subject of a lot of conjecture on Cyprus in recent times. I'm told a "red male" has never been seen , and this bird, despite giving out the typical  pose of a singing male on its favourite perch, was definitely a green type. I also thought the bill to be slightly deeper and more robust in build than in Common Crossbill  ( perhaps best not to set that particular hare coursing I thought later ! ).  Try as we might we couldn't find a Short toed Treecreeper, definitely a rather robust type here that wouldn't seem out of place among similar brethren in South America and , again, a suggested candidate for endemic status.  And then it started snowing and sleeting somewhat seriously so we decided to return later and head back down the hill.

We did , went to Akrotiri , where we had similar waders to yesterday  and where it started to rain rather heavily ( cyclonic stuff with all the accompanying thunder and lightning ). We gradually made our way back to the hotel given it was early afternoon , calling in at convenient birding spots. At Lady's Mile a few Caspian and Armenian gulls  provided some interest. A quick circuit of a couple of the pools provided a highlight to the day when we found 4 Spoonbills feeding very close to us. I've never been closer so it was a situation where we looked at them and they looked at us !!  After returning to feeding they soon took off after providing excellent close up views that will doubtless be treasured .  So we trailed back to the hotel late afternoon where the weather decided to improve......

Thursday, 18th April........a long hard day.

The day dawned bright and sunny with little wind, so we decided to cover the usual areas on the Akrotiri peninsula and then strike off elsewhere.  We checked the area around the Cat Sanctuary , where Chaffinch breed in what is thought to be their only lowland site on Cyprus ( it's  common in the upland forests ) and had a few of the Serins that are there. A Common Buzzard near to the Tower Hide was the only bird of interest so we moved on to the Rabbit farm pools .

There was a good variety of waders , including at least 70 Ruff,  2 ( new ) LRP, 2 Temminck's Stint and at least 4 Common Sandpiper. A single Common Snipe remained to taunt optimistic visitors !!
nearby 40/50 Garganey flew west over the sea , which provided a wonderful backdrop of azure blue.
We decided to move on to Kensington Cliffs , our ill fated destination of a few days ago for which we couldn't find the correct access road !!

Arriving at the cliff top we selected a convenient spot and waited. Throughout the afternoon we had views of Eleonora's Falcon several times, the first bird to arrive back a couple of days ago,  Kesret, Jackdaw, a single Yellow legged Gull and a single Cyprus Pied Wheatear.   Local information suggested that the griffon Vultures arrived back "around 4pm " so we waited patiently, only to have our vigil interrupted by two rather charming female security officers who wanted all our particulars given we were overlooking the Military Base, ( bloody residential area I would add ! ). In the end they only took down the details of yours truly which included passport number, driving licence number and mobile phone number !   I proffered my card as confirmation and felt like confirming my inside leg measurement was 28 " , but remained on my best behaviour as it had turned into a jolly occasion. All the passengers of other parked cards had wandered off so were never approached !!

But I ask you......and we never saw the Griffon Vultures either despite waiting.

Wednesday, 17th April.......good for some, not quite so good for others !

We met Colin after taking a quicl kook at Lady's Mile. This had a few Caspian Gull and a BHG , but little else. On to Akrotiri where we looked at the various wetland areas, the best birds being a Collared Pratincole, some Wood Sandpipers and a small number of Ruff.

we then went to Rabbit Farm pools where a Great Snipe had been seen. We went through the various waders present, had tremendous views of a Common Snipe , and received a variety of directions on where the bird was thought to be. Suddenly , all the waders spooked and went around a couple of times before plunging back on to the various pools present. Some were lucky, others less so as there were three Snipe in flight ,which kept changing position within the main flock of Ruff. Whilst I saw all three birds the only individual I got conclusive views of was Common Snipe, so one left for later !!

A round trip of a now windswept Akrotiri peninsula produced nothing other than a party of Short toed Lark. We checked the small islands off the coast near the ship wreck as greater Sand plover had been seen there previously, but waves and spray was overtopping the whole area.  Finally we reached Agios Georgios where we had a single Spotted Flycatcher. The Wood chat Shrike was still present on its favoured perch on the fence adjacent to the church.

On to Akrotiri Salt lake where we could see groups of waders around the various flooded areas. Brilliant views were had of the Greater Flamingo, some of which were in display, reaching up to their full height and holding out teir wings showing the black undersides.  On to Bishop's Pool where we had the female Teal and a single male Ferruginous Duck. We found some migrants in the shelter belt adjacent to the olive grove ( Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Wood Warbler, Pied Flycatcher )> time was pressing on so we left the site , only to find we were locked in !   Colin located the foreman , a Filipino with a huge grin, who kindly let us out to end what had been a rewarding , but also disappointing day in some respects.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Tuesday, 16th April.......Germosoigea dam and coast.

But first a tale of woe !    Sorry for the delay in processing these entries , but I've had a few problems with WiFi connectivity !! This is not the only techie problem either ! My camera has thrown a wobbly, and whilst nothing appears to be broken , it nonetheless refuses to operate properly.  No pics of rarities for the present I'm afraid!.

I didn't recognize the area when first we arrived as the winter rains had filled it to capacity. Spur valleys were full  and few of the regular areas for waders or crakes remained compared to the more usual circumstances. Nonetheless , it's a great area , seems under watched  but has tremendous potential. It sits in a huge basin and has always struck me as a good area for raptors, indeed, Long legged Buzzard and Bonelli's Eagle have been seen there.  But not on this day. The heavens opened, gave the car a good wash , but brought scanning activities to a halt.   The only real bonus by lunchtime was a singing Common Whitethroat, yep that was how far we had descended , folks !  The only redeeming feature from the area on this occasion was finding a shop which sold us the most delicious chicken rolls I've ever tasted ( notice the "ever"  ).

So down to the coast we went, where we had brilliant views of a male Golden Oriole near Phasouris reedbeds  and then found a newly arrived Isabelline Wheatear  and a Squacco Heron , (which literally looked as if it had reached the coast and pitched down onto the strand line !), near the now disused fish farm.  Despite searching , little else seemed on offer so we went on again to Lady's Mile  where the situation repeated itself. A few gulls allowed us to exercise our new found "expertise ".

Monday, 15th April......best dubbed a gull day.

An early visit to the Phasouris reedbeds ( Akrotiri Reserve ) produced a Great Reed Warbler below the Tower Hide, a Savi's Warbler nearby and a singing Sedge Warbler a little closer to the coast. A small party of Turtle Dove sheltered in the reeds and a further 6 flew over before they themselves pitched into the reeds, as did 3 Purple Heron.

The Rabbit Farm pools provided views of 2 Temminck's Stint, 11 Little Stint, a Kentish Plover and a male Garganey as well as a selection of the commoner waders ( read regular ). Ruff numbers appear to fluctuate daily here and were currently down to 16. However, after the very wet winter period there are pools all over the place where disturbed birds might conveniently retire to !!

By this point, late morning, the wind had strengthened to Force 5/6 + westerly and we wondered if this might produce some birds over the sea. After about 20 minutes I picked up a very distant group of birds which were battling there way towards land. These turned out to be 18 Glossy Ibis , which took ages to get to the coast, but which finally made it and pitched into cover almost immediately they made it over land ! Minutes later 9 Baltic Gulls flew westwards along the coast. There is usually a marked passage of these in April but they were the first we had had.

A visit to Agios Georgios wasn't filled with many expectations as the wind was pretty strong by this point. The trees swayed around with the onslaught but we found a solitary Collared Flycatcher making the best of the conditions.

On to Lady's Mile ,where most of the waters held nothing, and the farthest, open lagoon was very exposed. Nonetheless we had several Kentish Plover and a single Little Stint.  We retired to the first pool and spent quite a time studying gulls, namely Caspian and Armenian Gulls.  Things finally clicked into place and will , hopefully, remain !!