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 !!

Monday, April 15, 2019

Sunday, 14 April........a slow start , but what a finish !

The initial decision was to spend a full day on the Akrotiri Peninsula, however things changed !

An early visit to Zakaki Marsh produced little other than overflying Common Swifts and Swallows. However, a marauding Marsh Harrier disturbed two Night Heron , which we'd not been able to see previously.  It seemed , at that point that we were surrounded on all sides by singing Reed And Cetti's Warbler which were giving it all they'd got !

By pure chance I picked up two birds in the reedtops, one was a Blackap and the other a Penduline Tit, both of which showed quite well for a while.
We moved on to Lady's Mile where we had single male and female Marsh Harriers moving east. A few Dunlin, a Caspian Gull ,2 BHG , and a Yellow legged Gull were all that we then managed along the whole series of lagoons , other than a few Greater Flamingo.  The Akrotiri  area produced little . Most of the waders had reduced in number except Black winged Stilt of which we had over 20. After a fruitless search over a couple of areas we saw around 120 Glossy Ibis arrive at the main marsh, always a thrill

It was then that we received the call from Colin !!  " A good idea to come over to Mandria.", which we did in record time, only to discover the star bird had disappeared. We made do with sightings of Black-headed, and Grey headed Wagtails, 8 Bee-eaters moving north and a couple of Night Heron on a small island off the coast. Turning to a fresh area in the hope of seeing Citrine Wagtail ( we didn't ) , the second telephone call came, "It's back ", and off we sprinted yet again ( well hurried slowly, given a combined age of over 150 years ! )

And there it was , courtesy of Mike Hamzee's telescope facilities .......CASPIAN PLOVER . A nice female, which eventually came much closer .



Not the best photograph , I know, but sufficient to prove the case !

At that poit we decided on a leisurely return east and a rewarding drink.!!


As a final comment on the day I offer this as an insight into the focussed bu carefree lifestyle enjoyed on Cyprus.  Nearby to where we'd been the residents of one of the villages had an issue with the Government about subsidence affecting their properties. So what to to when your Government won't act ?   They strung themselves across the road and blocked the east-west Motorway for around 15 mins after which they melted away whence they came , no doubt to enjoy their success !   Can you imagine Jacob Rees-Mogg, a copy of Erskine May held aloft, marching down the centre of the M25 whilst his group of Brexiteers held back the traffic !!  It amused me greatly .

Saturday, 13 April........rather quiet , and then.....

We decided to head east and visit the various wetland areas around Larnaka. An hour or so later we were at Meneou lagoon where a  pair of Shoveler , 8 Garganey ,odd Coot and Mallard and £ Little Egret were on show , but little else except numbers of Swallow and Common Swift overhead. On to what is known as Larnaca Airport south which had a few Greater Flamingo , but nothing else. A pool on the opposite side of the road looked promising, but held only a Marsh Sandpiper and a few Black winged Stilt.

Next was Spiros Pool where a single Little Tern sat atop a post in the water, around 20/30 Black winged Stilt , a Ruff,  Kentish Plover and a party of Garganey were in evidence. An area of scrub nearby had a calling Black Francolin, Cetti's Warbler, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, and Sardinian Warbler. I was back at the car when I picked up a raptor moving east which proved to be a male Pallid Harrier.  Ho ho !   Within only a few minutes, and purely by chance , I then picked up a party of birds moving east that showed well for only a short time before disappearing east too. White winged Terns. Wow, what a purple patch !.

Larnaka Sewage Works was somewhat disappointing with only around 30 Mallard, a Garganey, Coot, and a few Black winged Stilt, which this part of the island seems to have more of than elsewhere. Larnaka Saltlake was similarly devoid of birds with nothing of note other than a few Greater Flamingo.

After some masterful navigation on my part,  which got us on the wrong road entirely, we discovered ourselves at Oroklini Lake, the flagship site of BirdLife Cyprus.   We did see odd Red crested Pochard for which the site is the only stronghold on Cyprus as well as around 40 Garganey, a few Little Grebe and numbers of Black winged Stilt  ( again ).  The site is also extremely important for Eels, which spend an appreciable amount of time maturing in its waters.

So, rather a mixed day, hard work at times, but with a couple of valued surprises!

Friday, April 12, 2019

Friday, 12th April "Things, they are a'changing" !

We'd decided in advance to have a full day of the Akrotiri Peninsula, so it was off to the Tower Hide at the Akrotiri Reserve overlooking the full expanse of the main reed bed.





Other than a Marsh Harrier we had virtually nothing until I located a Black Francolin male on the very edge of the reed bed chasing a female. Both showed their patterns and colours off well as the male enthusiastically circled the female bird with his wings half open, which reminded me of Black Grouse males in display.

We went down to the next hide and, again , had very little until a male and female Little Crake  chased around in front of us. Shortly afterwards a single Glossy Ibis flew in and commenced to feed immediately in front of us , showing off its iridescence and plumage colours to good effect.



A quick visit to Agios Georgios produced an Eastern Bonelli's Warbler, Woodchat Shrike, a flyover Bee-eater and various common species. A nice way to spend lunch !

As we'd not been to Bishop's Pool for several days we thought it wise to call in.  The female Teal was still present and 19 Night Heron's were new.These latter cascaded out of a waterside tree and proceeded to twirl about in formation for 10 minutes , providing wonderful views and admirable aerobatics !

Back to Rabbit Farm Pools where wader numbers appeared to have reduced significantly. Two marsh Sandpiper were still present as well as a few Wood Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper. Information from a visiting fellow birder abot terns and waders sent us off to Lady's Mile pools where we soon found a good flock of Little Stints and numbers of Ringed and Kentish Plover. Unfortunately we couldn't locate the terns.  What was in store for us was far better  !  A party of five Pallas's Gulls had dropped in, one of which showed the classic black head, and all provided reasonable views despite the heat haze. Sadly they were off after a few minutes as quickly as they'd arrived so our careful stalking and telescope preparations came to naught !!

And that was today ! At the hotel the Friday night dancers and entertainers delighted everyone and the lead male dancer managed to balance 15/16 glasses on his head whilst gliding around the floor. Impressive......I'll try and get a picture next week !!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Thursday, 11th April.. Not too much in evidence , it has to be said !

After deciding to check whether any gulls were in the Lady's Mile area we travelled direct to site after fuelling up the  "Chelsea tractor ". It was quiet with not a gull in site and the only evidence of birdlife being a few Greater Flamingo, odd Black winged Stilt ,3 LRP's, and a couple of Kentish Plover.  Rather disappointing.

We struck off road towards the outfall from Zakaki Marsh to the Akrotiri Salt Lake. Overnight rain had added  a " frissant"  effect to the journey but we managed without any adventures !  Other than three Grey Heron there was nothing in sight at all despite the whole area being undisturbed . We did manage to listen to a Spectacled Warbler in full song and see both an Isabelline Wheatear and a Black eared Wheatear .

After a look at the area around the Fish Farm and along the coastal track, which produced nothing, we centred down on the pools at the Rabbit Farm. At first the area seemed devoid of waders but we then discovered at least 20 or so Ruff  in the far corner. Time provided sightings of Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, a single Collared Pratincole and a Ringed Plover. The flock of Glossy Ibis ( 47/48 ) were still present in the main Akrotiri Marsh area along with Little and Cattle Egret, but nothing else. A spell up the Tower Hide produced three fly by Ferruginous Duck but no other movement.

Finally a visit to Agios Georgios promised very little at first , but then a Common Redstart , a couple of Blackap and several Lesser Whitethroat were located deep in cover and either feeding or resting in what now was quite blustery wind conditions.

A slightly earlier return than normal allowed me to get this Blog up to date !!!  I'm hoping to include more genearl material from now on , so watch this space.  I also had to remind myself that the first quarter of my visit is already over  ( shame !! ) but, if the remaining period is as productive and enjoyable as the first spell, then I shall be very happy indeed.

Wednesday, 10th April. Routine but productive.

Other arrangements dictated that we needed to return to the hotel for early afternoon , so we concentrated on sites on the Akrotiri Peninsula. First to the Tower Hide where we had a croaking Little Bittern that refused to reveal itself !  Moving on,  a Black Francolin in flight was noteworthy, but little else was seen around the coastal track.

With time running on we settled in at the Rabbit Farm pools. A good selection of waders was present. Most of the LRP had moved on , but Wood Sandpiper and Marsh Sandpiper were still around ( or were they new birds ? ).  Patient grilling of the site produced two Sanderling in Spring plumage which then promptly disappeared. Once things had settled down  a concentrated examination of the site yielded up a Temminck's Stint and a Curlew Sandpiper. This was in transitional plumage and the forerunner of what I understand is likely to be a greater presence of birds very shortly.

A visit to Agios Georgios produced a Common Redstart but virtually nothing else  ( at least this provided a useful baseline against which to more easily judge future new arrivals ! ).

9th April......a day to remember.

Immediately after breakfast we set off to meet up with Colin Richardson for a days  "birding in the west"!.   We met at Asprokremnos Dam ( which is now full after quite a long period of being below capacity ), and covered the woodland near the car park. After a "gossip catch up" we set off to examine the woodland area.This produced a Lesser Whitethroat and a Wood Warbler, but little else , so we moved to the eastern end of the dam wall. The small patch of mud held a Wood Sandpiper, Little Egret and a Purple Heron whilst some Alpine and Common Swift flew overhead. A Marsh Harrier  was in view and a busy adult Sardinian Warbler looked after some recently fledged young.

We moved on to Timni Beach and looked over the various pools and into the flooded woodland. Little Egrets, Squacco Heron, Purple Heron , Black winged Stilt, Ruff, Greenshank , and Marsh Sandpiper were all on view , but the stars of the show were two Stone Curlew which "bombed" through the woodland and flew right over our heads!! Odd Yellow legged Gull flew along the coast and a few Northern Wheatear fed on the open "turf" areas behind the beach.

After examining a small stand of mature woodland, where we had a Green Sandpiper on a tiny pool, we moved on again to the Vivara area ( may be wrong spelling incidentally ).  On our way Colin kindly screeched to a halt in the village and pointed out a Laughing Dove pair. Shortly before this we'd stop to watch at least 200 plus Swallows feeding over a grazing sheep flock dutifully watched over by a young shepherd.  After negotiating a rather "exciting" track we came on a series of square irrigation pools , all of which were fringed by a band of luxuriant vegetation. Then the excitement began !!  In recent days there had been up to 15 Little Crake  counted in the area  ....  I was more than satisfied to get great views of four, particularly as we then saw the Baillons Crake nonchalantly parading about in the corner of one pool and also standing still under the vegetation, which allowed for tremendous telescope views.  I suspect prayers must have been offered up to St. Jude by someone  in the party as , yes, we then saw a Spotted Crake. Unbelievable , and all the "players"   providing excellent telescope views , even including some aggressive behaviour and chasing by two of the male Little Crake.  A supporting cast of Red-rumped Swallow, Sand Martin, House Martin and Swallow gathered over one of the pools and a Great Spotted Cuckoo flew over. Really, what's not to like about birding ?

To end the day we then went to Anarita Park where we  looked carefully at 10 plus feeding Kestrels, all of which were Common and not the forerunners of arriving Lessers.  A brief view of Ortolan Bunting and then more Great Spotted Cuckoo ended what had been a great days birdwatching.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Monday 8th April. A slightly quieter day !

We started off the day in the Tower Hide at the main Akrotiri Reserve , but things were rather slow. A party of 8 Grey Heron went through north  and around 30 Common Swift gradually moved on within the hour. A Great Spotted Cuckoo called several times , but was never seen. Further on we counted 16 Cattle Egret and 10 Little Egret around what is now an ever reducing area of flood water.

In the Fish Farm area we had a single Isabelline Wheatear and a couple of Short toed Lark, but , otherwise , things were quiet.. The wetland area held much the same range of wader species , although at laest 17 Little Ringed Plover were now present , an obvious increase to previously.  A single Turtle Dove flew through.

During the day we visited the scrub woodland at Agios Georgos three times.   On the first occasion it was virtually birdless, on the second odd birds were in evidence ,  but later it was obvious that birds had probably filitered up the peninsula and congregated there to feed in the somewhat sheltered conditions.  Cuckoo, Blackcap, Pied Flycatcher, Collared Flycatcher, Common Redstart, Willow Warbler, Olivaceous Warbler and Masked Shrike were all recorded in differing numbers and provided a nice end to the day.





Sunday, 7th April. A day of migration in full swing !

We'd decided to check the Lady's Mile area, and the coast, for gull species as many of these would soon be moving off.  We were quite lucky as we had a Black headed Gull, several Caspian Gulls  and Slender billed Gulls. Two probable Armenian Gull were  soon lost to view.








Lady's Mile "lagoons" were very full again and held little except a few Greater Flamingos





As ever Zakaki Marsh only produced Mallard, Moorhen , Cetti's and Reed Warbler so we moved on to Phasouris within the Ackrotiri Reserve area.

Other than 2 or 3 Hoopoe  there appeared to be very little at this juncture so we moved on down to the "Fish Farm area" we'd visited yesterday and spent the remainder of the day there , the nearby wetland at Rabbit Farm or the "official reserve area around the hides. It was more than worthwhile as a really exciting day unfolded.  Two flocks of Garganey ( 70. 35 ) over the sea were followed by flocks of Glossy Ibis coming in from the south and moving northwards ( 36. 70. 26. )  . A group of 6/7 Short toed Larks were found and a mixed flock of flava wagtails, a Marsh Harrier flew inland as did a couple of Kestrels. A Stone Curlew was found on the rough area we'd explored yesterday and Blackcap , Olivaceous and Sardinian Warblers sang nearby. A Purple Heron flew inland and 2 Northern Wheatear suddenly appeared. It seemed as if there was no gap in time when something new wasn't happening !

A check of the wetland area produced 2 Marsh Sandpiper, 20 plus Ruff, Greenshank, LRP,  Common Snipe, Black winged Stilt, 4 Little Egret moving high NW, a harrier species moving N and a Peregrine male " beating " up the area and putting things temporarily to flight.   Common Swift went through and two very high ( very frustrating ) raptors ascended further and were lost to view before any details could be gained.  Amidst all this the passage of Glossy Ibis continued with a further 75, 70 and 104 moving through .

Late afternoon saw us reluctantly moving off but not before we'd had a mixed group of 23 Cattle Egret and 18 Little Egret  amidst a cattle flock. Whilst there we found ourselves surrounded by flava wagtails , which were a delight to go through and identify the different races.







As we finally prepared to move off the air was filled with the whirring presence of wings and we found ourselves counting a "descending" flock of Glossy Ibis which we could see moving in. It was difficult to get a precise count but there were at least 200 birds ( probably more )  which meant that we had recorded 581 birds moving through . We learnt later that there had been a flock of around 120 at Timni Beach around this time,  which took the day total of probable passage birds to in excess of 700 birds. I suspect there might have been more as our final count was a very conservative one.  Unfortunately , whilst trying to get a more precise count of birds on the ground, the whole flock decide to rise again and move off.



A great sight and a great end to an eventful day !

Saturday, 6th April. Migration really kicking in !

Following a report of Citrine Wagtail we went to explore the area around what is known as the old Kourian Fish Farm on the Akrotiri Penninsula. We found the field, but not a sign of any wagtails , so we explored the wider surroundings and found an expanse of open ground with scrub , exposed rock and low herbage. Things were quiet at first and then we had some buntings , which turned out to be Ortolan, numbers of House and Spanish Sparrow, calling Nightingale , singing Corn Bunting and Chiffchaff, and Hoopoe. A Common Buzzard appeared and moved inland and a Curlew called out at sea, flew close and then moved east along the coast.

Moving back towards Phasouris  along the coastal track we had both Sardinian and Fan tailed Warbler in song, 55 Garganey flew east out at sea, as did a couple of Yellow legged Gull, a Kingfisher sat on a rock and a Northern Wheatear appeared, both the latter no doubt recently arrived migrants.The wetlands near the old Rabbit Farm had a good selection of waders , but nothing appeared to be new so we moved on to Agios Georgios.

Within a fairly short time we had Collared Flycatcher, Chiffchaff,  Blackcap , numbers of Greenfinch , Hoopoe and a Masked Shrike, whilst , nearby, we found 2 Short toed Larks.  We decided to go back to the Phasouris reedbeds to finish the day and, whilst there , enjoyed seeing a flock of 25 plus Purple Heron,  Little and Cattle Egret , Grey Heron, and around 145 Glossy Ibis on the move. It seems our decision to keep working the Ackrotiri sites was paying dividends !

Monday, April 8, 2019

Friday, 5th April Mediterranean MigFest continues !

After yesterday anticipation ran high as to what might be expected.  First call was to Phasouris reedbeds where, first of all, we had a chat to a local ringer ( Viktor ) about what might be happening generally ,but also had the privilege of seeing several species ( Cetti's Warbler, Reed Warbler and Sardinian Warbler ) "in the hand". Watching out from the tower hide over the vast reedbed we had great views of Purple Heron, Glossy Ibis, Garganey and Ferruginous Duck besides recording a series of more common species.  Two Great White Egret were picked up in flight westwards being seriously mobbed by local Hooded Crows but, despite efforts we couldn't locate them again. All the while at least two Black Francolin called in the background !

As we drove down the road towards the flooded area near the old Rabbit Farm a metre long Whip Snake curved itself across the road and into the undergrowth. A good selection of waders was on offer.......Marsh, Wood and Common Sandpiper, Spur winged Plover, Ruff, LRP , Greenshank and a couple of Common Snipe.

From there we went on to Bishop's Pool where we had a single Teal, a couple of Purple Heron, Common Cuckoo, Olivaceous Warbler and a single male Collared Flycatcher. We then moved on to Agios Georgios where, almost immediately , we had a Wryneck in nearby trees which gave superb views. Things didn't end there as it was soon followed by a Masked Shrike. With all thoughts of lunch put aside we then began to look for what else might be around. This proved to be several Common Redstart, Chiffchaff ( abietinus ) , Blackap and Lesser Whitethroat. A look around the external boundaries of the site turned up a Subalpine Warbler , which sat on top of a bush for a while and gave good views. A little further afield both Crested Lark and Sardinian Warblers sang and brought an end to yet another tremendous day.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Thursday, 4th April. the start of it all !

An early breakfast and then, after the usual handover procedures associated with car hire shortly after 0800 hours, we were off !!



As might be imagined the first birds at Phasouris reedbeds  ( Akrotiri Reserve ) were from a list of Cattle and Little Egret, Squacco Heron , Purple Heron , Glossy Ibis and various common species including a supportive cast of Cetti's Warblers, which seemed to be everywhere. Further on we spent some time at the recently inundated area near the old Rabbit Farm where an absolute plethora of waders was in evidence,,,,Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Greenshank, Ruff, Little Ringed Plover and Spur winged Plover. A good start, all the while accompanied by Fan tailed Warblers ( sorry,  I prefer it to Zitting Cisticola !! ). Nearby a male Ruppells Warbler appeared for a short time, a nice find given they are a quite early migrant and one I could have missed.



After a brief and distant look at Akrotiri Salt Lake and the Greater Flamingo's we went on to Agios Georgios and the area of scrub woodland nearby . An old time favourite of mine and one that, today, was to prove to be a gold mine for birds. Sitting down under one of the shelters it was immediately apparent there was a lot of birds around. And so it proved with Sardinian Warbler , Blackcap, Lesser Whitethroat, Common Redstart, Eastern Bonelli's Warbler , Subalpine Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and Collared Flycatcher all been seen well. There were at least three E. Bonelli's Warblers and male Collared Flycatchers and it was a difficult task to finally move on ! A walk around the surrounding area produced a single Black-eared Wheatear and Crested Lark. An amazing early afternoon !

On to Lady's Mile , but the water levels were really high and the only birds of real interest were 7 Black winged Stilt huddled together on a small island. A call to Zakaki Marsh was disappointing at best ( about which a separate entry will appear in due course  ). The place is overgrown and displays no evidence of positive management, despite the provision of a very adequate hide. A great shame on which to end what had proved to be an absolutely tremendous first day.

Modest celebrations were offered up in return, followed by a really delicious evening meal. I have to admit I was in bed around 2100 hours , which is the equivalent of 1900 hours at home ( Good heavens  I'd be missing Channel 4 News ! ).

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Wed April 3rd In transit at last !

 0230 hours saw me leaving home, after clearing the car and windscreens of ice amidst sub zero temperatures, and taking care to avoid what seemed to be the inevitable dodgy road section !  The Doncaster/ Sheffield Robin Hood Airport is no more than an hour from home and I was in good time to sort out the car parking arrangements and be in place for the 0500 hours book in.

Come 0710 hours we were airborne and any thoughts of poor weather could be put aside !  The plane was full, "us retireds "  know how to live you know despite the doom and gloom which currently enshrouds the UK !   The flight was on time , arriving at Paphos, Cyprus at 1140 hours amidst glorious sunshine. After all the usual formalities I was in an arranged taxi being whisked eastwards to the St. Raphael Resort in Limassol where I'm going to be based until early May . Believe you me, it was a delight to be putting on sunglasses !!!

The hotel is rated a 5 star and certainly qualifies as far as available facilities are concerned. I booked this venture with Mercury Holidays almost a year ago , taking advantage of various deals on offer as I don't usually aspire to such comfort !  If you're in a position to do so,  then try it somewhere as the "rewards" on offer are extremely attractive.  I was joining a good friend of mine ,who visits Cyprus regularly and who was out doing the rounds of various local birding sites  with Colin Richardson, nowadays a resident of Cyprus having moved from the UAE some years ago.

As agreed we met  ( in the bar, where else ?) at 1800 hours and immediately started to plot and plan the next day's birding activities, pore over what had been seen recently and what was still around, and basically put together a birding  campaign for the next month !  Heady stuff 1 After a great meal I'm afraid I bowed out , retired to my room and availed myself of the comfort !!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

A declaration that makes no mention of Brexit !!!

Well, after several false starts I believe I can now say, "Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible ", as used to appear in times past when a break in TV transmission had occurred.  Since injuring my knee last September, moving back to normality has been slow and attempts to hasten on the process have proved futile and ill advised.

Thankfully I'm now convinced I can contemplate a bit of normal wear and tear so, to this end , I'm  just about to have a month long, leisurely birding trip out to Cyprus , which I hope will offset what has been a frustrating period.  A word of warning, don't confuse mobility with activity. Hobbling about the house ,or a quick shopping trip, aren't comparative to being out tramping around the local reservoir and, also, attempting to make the transition too early involves paying the price of further delay !

So all those enticing promises ( a big year list,  exploring new areas and participating in surveys ) have had to be set aside and more modest , undeclared targets arrived at .  Some benefits have emerged of course. I've decided on a new personal recording patch ( quite a big one, of which more later ) ,  read endless books, decided on some future survey work and researched a few foreign trips. It hasn't been a complete waste of time.

So, out to Cyprus for virtually the whole of April, which is one of the best months out there for migration.  Intensity at a gentle pace if such can be the case.  Birdlife International is promoting the importance of the European- Africa Flyway and I hope to link my own reportage with that initiative. I'll put out an introductory Blog and ,then , issue a Blog on a daily basis for the duration of the trip. For those who know Cyprus I hope it will bring back enjoyable memories and , for those who have never been, I hope it provoke an intention to visit.  After the stop-start scenario of the last few months I have to say, I can't wait !!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Islay Barnacle Goose issue appears dormant !

Since writing about the actions which Animal Concern Advice organization had raised and referred on to the Police relating to the methods undertaken as part of the Scottish Natural Heritage cull of Barnacle Geese on Islay, nothing, but nothing, appears to have happened.

I have written myself to the authors of the original paper in British Wildlife requesting any updates they might be aware of and offering to assist in promoting the issue , but have received no reply. I understand that they were invited to attend the next meeting of the Advisory Group on Islay, which is to be held in March, but such might now have been superseded given the different aspects taken over by the case. No updates appear to have been issued by either the RSPB  or Animal Concern ,or official statements issued by SNH beyond the initial response at the onset of the reports. No update has been traced on any investigations taken up by the Police either.

So, nothing, or so it seems.  Given the initial aspect drawing attention to the subject was the paper offering alternative ideas to the current SNH policies in place, quickly followed by the issues of malpractice surrounding the scheme , the appetite for change and calls for action by the various bodies appears to have subsided abruptly. On the other hand the light under the back burner going out or the long grass growing higher might be seen as a benefit by some...........


Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Project Splatter.

When first I came across the above title I suspect my reaction was similar to that which has just gone through your minds !!   But I was intrigued too, so I explored a little further.

In essence it's a Citizen Science exercise run as a serious research project by academics. With the ever growing amount of traffic on our roads the levels of roadkill very probably have never been higher. This project aims to collect all such records so that a quantified assessment can be set out and the problem given serious exposure. 

Take a read at the website Project Splatter  ( simply click on this link ) and check out the details provided.  I've elected to download the app ( Android ), which is made available, and which will now enable me to send in records as and when. Whilst I guess we're never going to be able to eliminate the problem of roadkill at least this project is making a serious attempt to evaluate the problem.  And, yes, I know that,  whilst driving along a busy road and seeing a dead Badger on the verge,  it's not even legal to reach for your phone, engage your Grid Reference app and give a precise report of location etc, but ingenuity will overcome that I'm sure !!

A simple involvement as a UK Citizen to ensure the death of part of our wildlife heritage wasn't entirely in vain. 

Monday, January 28, 2019

Criticism of Islay Barnacle Goose cull gathers momentum.

Since issuing a Blog relating to the cull of Barnacle Geese on Islay three days ago further details have now been issued on the Animal Concern Advice Line   (Barnacle Goose shooting  ). Simply tap this link and enter the News section.

Apparently the incidents caught on video occurred in February and March of 2018, which may have escaped my notice previously, as opposed to within the current winter season. These incidents have now been referred to Police Scotland for consideration of possible wildlife crimes and firearms offences. It is alleged that one of the shooters involved is possibly known to the Police already.

I would urge readers to visit the above web site, consult the reportage , set out as copy correspondence, and access the video footage, all of which give a more vivid and graphical record than can be achieved by mere description.

In addition to the above, Animal Concern has contacted Scottish MP's and drawn the matter to their attention.  Clearly the 10% "crippling rate" accepted by SNH is not resting easily with the animal welfare organization and presents a further aspect over which SNH's feet are likely to be held to the fire !

At the present time I'm unaware of any public statement having been issued by Scottish Natural Heritage  (SNH ) , which might shed further light on the reported circumstances.

My initial Blog rested mainly on the advocated need for the current strategy, which includes a cull of geese, to be re-visited  and revised. In the excellent paper, published in British Wildlife, mention was made of animal welfare issues, but not in detail and certainly not to the extent associated with the above reported incidents. Clearly the results of the inquiry now being conducted by the Police and the obvious negative PR aspects automatically directed towards the Strategy, it is incumbent upon SNH  to routinely re-evaluate the scheme overall and its operational management ?

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Visit to the Aire Valley. 26.1.2019

A long standing arrangement to explore the Aire Valley , near Leeds with Matthew was finally realised and proved to be remarkably productive and enjoyable.  But , first of all, it was a call into central Wakefield , and Sainsbury's , to avail ourselves of a group of Waxwings which are feeding in  the car park's trees . There. in the grey light post dawn, the small flock of Waxwings sat in immobile relief at the top of one of the trees. Had they roosted there I wonder ?   Preening and quietly sitting out they provided  great views and a good start to the day.

On to Calder Wetlands where a couple of Great Crested Grebe, Tufted, Mallard and Goldeneye were present, but little else. We then decided to cut across town to the NE and visit St. Aidans. This is a relatively new RSPB reserve , although the final negotiations have taken some time to complete. It's now fully operational with a  Visitor  Centre and car park and a full complement of access pathways around the site.

First of all we visited Lemonroyd Sewage Farm ( no good birdwatching day should be without one ). At least one of the Water Pipits present there was quickly located together with Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail and Chaffiches feeding around the beds before everything was disturbed and fled. . Nearby Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit , Wren, Robin and Stock Doves were present . Matthew had a brief view of two Green Sandpiper dropping into some favoured area at the far side of the site to which we attempted to gain access for an overview along a railway embankment, but failed.

The Aire Valley has seen much industrial activity over the years and its topographical features have changed as restoration processes have been completed. The site names of yesteryear still remain though ( Swillington, Mickletown, Allerton Bywater )  although many of the actual wetland areas I knew have been subsumed into newly formed features . St.Aidans is an extensive area ,best overlooked from the hillside on which the Visitor Centre is situated.





Even before we had left the Centre the Tundra Bean Goose had been located, feeding alone on one of the nearby open hillsides. Soon after other geese ( Grey lag Geese and Canada Geese ) were disturbed from nearby fields, descended on the site and managed to "redisribute " everything !! A walk down into the centre of the reserve provided views of a variety of duck, large numbers of Golden Plover and Lapwing overflying the site and single Curlew and Redshank.. Excellent views were then obtained of two Bearded Tits feeding in a fringing reedbed. We finally made our way back up to the Visitor Centre after resolving to visit again at some future point.  The reserve is new,  with the RSPB calling for suggestions from people of what they would like to see provided there in the future. Access footpaths appear to be already in place and no part of the reserve seemed devoid of people, people running, people with dogs , people on bikes and even someone swimming. They're a tough lot in Yorkshire !  Having said all that , the wildlife didn't seem to be at all affected by this ever-moving presence and maybe the multi use provision is a condition imposed by the local ( Leeds City ) council. Certainly I'll be back, as I can imagine that, early on a May morning, the site is a rewarding place to be , although perhaps before all the lycra begins to flash and flex !!  Given it's a well known fact that the Aire valley is a well established migratory highway, anything might be expected.

Onto the RSPB Fairburn Ings Reserve nearby where a cup of coffee was first priority on the agenda, taken whilst watching the frantic activity around the feeders.  Again, good views of duck as you might expect, particularly Shoveler, and Goosander.  A walk around one of the circuits provided views of  Lesser Redpoll, a good flock of Goldfinch and a variety of tit species including two Willow Tit , one of which was the leucistic individual we been tipped off about at the Centre. Again, a site where you could spend a full day and doubtless ratchet up a very good list of species seen. 

All in all ,a good day , and all before the rain set in mid afternoon !

Friday, January 25, 2019

Islay Barnacle Goose cull under pressure.

In the October issue of  British Wildlife there is a very interesting review of the current strategy to cull wintering Barnacle Geese on Islay  ( " The  Islay  Barnacle Goose management strategy:  a suggested way forward ."   Steve Percival and Eric Bignal.  Pp 37- 44 ).  Without repeating what is an absolute plethora of detail , this is a very welcome intervention, fully referenced, and with a raft of suggestions of what might be considered to provide a better way forward to improve a currently unsustainable strategy  and without the necessity for a cull.   Strangely enough there is almost a predictive quality interwoven in the text set against what has arisen recently this winter and. clearly, the advocated solutions laid out in the paper must now be examined seriously by the Scottish Government.



From 1999 until a couple of years ago I lived on Islay, was a member of the SNH ( Scottish Natural Heritage ) team that censused the geese each winter and, additionally, took a keen interest in the burgeoning population of Grey lag Geese on the island. The latter too, quite legally, has been reduced and contained by shooting  but, if an island wide strategy dealing with the presence and effects of geese there were to be drawn together it is my contention that their presence and effects should be included.

We need to remind ourselves of two main aspects, setting aside the fact that the most recent counts might alter the figures slightly  ( see later comments ).   Islay holds around 60% of the global population of Barnacle Geese in winter as well as around 25% of Greenland White-fronted Geese.  The numbers concerned are of International importance and under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the EU Birds Directive there is clearly a responsibility placed upon the Scottish Government to recognize this and to ensure the populations are managed accordingly.  However that presence comes with a cost to local farmers upon whose grazing lands the geese feed.  Since 1960 the numbers present in winter has grown from around 5000 to over 40,000. Such has been countered by the Scottish Government offering subsidy payments to farmers under a variety of agreements which have been amended from time to time.  From 2015 it was decided to try and bring the wintering population of Barnacle Geese down  (eventually ) to between 25,000 and 30,000 and , from that year a cull has taken place with a total of 8200 being shot including 3300 in the winter of 2017-18.

Now at this point it is important for me to say that the intention of this Blog entry is to alert people to the situation and to ask that, if they so desire,  they should read the above paper and absorb the compelling arguments it puts forward, the facts and figures it contains , as well as the proposals for the current strategy to be revisited. There are accompanying issues such as the use of lead shot and animal welfare problems.  It may well be that questions raised by birdwatchers who have visited in winter can play an integral part in bringing about change. Islay itself has very few active birdwatchers and no past history of opposition from the same cohort, so external pressure is a necessity. The RSPB  ( and the WWT ) both resigned from the National Goose Forum a while ago, appropriate action at the time, but something that will do little to assist the progression of change now needed. A joint formal complaint to the European Commission was submitted by the two bodies but, given the current mess in which the UK finds itself , one wonders what influence anything emanating from Europe might have under current circumstances.  I also confess to no longer having the confidence I did in RSPB which appears to have morphed into a very cautious conservation body .  So, watch this space for advice on what to do and lend any weight you can to a call for a new strategic approach.

But the story doesn't end there I'm afraid !

A little while ago it was reported that SNH had held a "training day" for staff, farmers and marksmen reiterating  ( one assumes ) the laws relating to both Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese ( which is totally protected ! )  and the appropriate approaches to be taken when implementing the cull.  Without being overly cynical one has to ask, in the light of the evidence referred to below, what prompted the sudden concerns re "best practice " and the need for a "course"?  One couldn't write the script in terms of what then followed , as the extract from The Ileach  ( Islay's local newspaper ) reports on.


         
                    


                 Barnacle goose cull controversy

                    Ileach 46/07 19 January 2019


Animal Concern Advice Line (ACAL) have published an article, along with three videos of shooters in action , which expresses their disquiet about the shooting of geese on Islay.
According to them, the lethal aspect of the goose management programme should be halted im­mediately. “Barnacle goose num­bers have fallen dramatically,” they say. “The November count having gone down from 48,400 to 30,400, a drop of 37% since the previous year.
“Breeding rates are at an excep­tionally low level with only 3% of the flock being young birds, the lowest percentage in over 25 years. Scotland has a duty to care for these otherwise protected birds instead of killing them.”
They analyse the video footage on their site and question whether the shooters are following the pre­scribed rules.
They ask, “Given the matter of seconds between arrival and shooting how did the shooters even attempt to follow the rules and ensure there were no white-fronted geese, curlew, lapwing or other birds amongst the barnacle geese?”
Summing up ACAL’s concerns on 10 January, John F. Robins writes, “On the grounds that it is cruel, scientifically flawed and could be endangering the conser­vation status of the global popu­lation of barnacle geese, Animal Concern Advice Line asks the Scottish Government to imme­diately stop killing geese on Islay and conduct a full review of the Islay Local Goose Management Scheme.”
SNH whose responsibility it is to oversee the culls defended their methodology.
“Goose management on Islay is carried out in the most hu­mane way possible with the aim of reducing the significant level of agricultural damage caused by grazing geese and maintaining the population of barnacle geese at close to the current level of around 30,000.”
They are however limiting the cull this year to 1000 because the goose population this year has seen a dramatic decrease over pre­vious years.
After viewing the videos, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) commented, “We have requested that SNH run their methodology past the Scot­tish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals (SSPCA) as an independent animal welfare authority.
“RSPB Scotland recognises that Islay’s globally significant Greenland barnacle goose popu­lation has impacts on agricultural systems on Islay. We have, how­ever, consistently promoted an approach that combines strategic goose scaring with management support for affected farmers, rath­er than large scale shooting.”
RSPB Scotland believe that SNH’s Islay goose strategy set a “dangerous precedent” for wildlife management in Scotland.
“SNH has not shown willing to adjust policy on this, so we have reluctantly resigned our seat on the National Goose Management Review Group,” said Paul Watson added.
Back in 2015 when the cull was first mooted The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and RSPB Scotland complained to the European Commission in Brus­sels based on our opinion that the Scottish authorities have not met all the necessary conditions, nor had a sufficient evidence base, in order to justify the large cull of a European protected species.
In their complaint they wrote, “We are concerned that the gener­al approach adopted – deliberately reducing populations of protected wildlife species through killing as a low cost-solution where con­flict emerges – may, through the precedent now emerging on Islay, become a standard approach to the management of other pro­tected species and populations in Scotland, and thereafter elsewhere in the UK and possibly further afield.”

                 
Now, I would urge you to take a look at the Animal Concern Advice Line website and navigate through to the videos concerned  ( be persistent ).Clearly the action being pursued by the marksman is unprofessional at best and warrants the above referrals being made. I suppose the last comment to be made, although I doubt the final comment, is that , in recognition of the reduction in numbers of attendant Barnacle Geese this winter on Islay and the low productivity rate arising from last year's breeding season ( 3% )  SNH has announced that the cull will be limited to 1000 birds only this winter ( which might already have been achieved  ? ).

I've a feeling that this might well be a subject to which a future report is required !! 


Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Scottish sojourn tied off !!

In bringing this Blog up to date I'll first of all offer something akin to advice ,with an accompanying moral attached !

"When moving from one "base" to another don't leave key computer components at your last place of residence".  I'll leave it to you to piece together !

The last days spent in Scotland saw weather conditions being fairly constant and saw little in the way of unexpected bird records during routine birding, other than a Barn Owl on the 8th. A further visit to the Cromarty Firth encountered similar tidal conditions to previously, lots of birds, which included a nice flock of Lapwing and a few Bar-tailed Godwit. Numbers of gulls, ducks and waders were impressive, but revealed nothing exciting, although it was nice to see several groups of Scaup so easily.

A visit to the Findhorn valley was unproductive and disappointing. The lack of activity generally set against the sheer splendour of the isolation and tranquility was adequate compensation in itself. However, returning over the high ground to the north and coming across the major works in hand installing new transmission lines and the seeming plethora of new access roads cutting across the moorland was a direct contrast to what had gone before. The only new thing here was Red Grouse and a cyclist in training who commendably matched my progression over the twisting road !

A series of calls to various sites on Speyside, the Insh Marshes and the Firth of Forth before returning home provided some nice sightings including Whooper Swan, Northern Eider, Velvet Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Duck and a few common waders, but no Red-necked Grebe or Surf Scoter !

Things are now back to normal (22nd ) ,  although sadly the Scottish sojourn didn't produce as much as hoped for. I suspect a "Can do better !" verdict overall in several respects !!

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Black Isle and Cromarty Firth. 4th January, 2019.

A more pleasant day, even with a period of sunshine!  With day temperatures at 8/9 C this was northerly sub tropical stuff at this time of year !!!


A full circuit of the Black Isle and a prolonged period watching over the Cromarty Firth.  A vain search for a reserve area on the north bank east of Alness and Invergordon provides an excuse for a further visit !   Munlochy Bay  was fully inundated but , nonetheless, held some Wigeon, Teal and Shelduck with some Curlew and Redshank at the extreme western end.   Chanonry Point was disappointing with virtually nothing in sight other than confirmation that charges are now made for car parking.  First erect some hideous and unnecessary barriers, install a bit of landscaping and then charge the public for looking out over the Moray Firth with the hope of seeing Bottle -nosed Dolphins.  But you could do that before and with a greater sense of the outdoors without the intrusion of some contrived provision !!  Yes, higgledy piggledy parking may have been the order of the day,  but do we want a spoonfed , disciplined countryside which doubtless delights the health and safety brigade no end ?!

So, leaving that behind I cut across to the Cromarty Firth and began to scan the water. A flock of Scaup were present, several Northern Eider , some Long-tailed Duck , with a few males getting excited,  Goldeneye , Red breasted Merganser  and the odd Slavonian Grebe. As ever the inner sanctum of Udale Bay played host to numbers of Wigeon, Teal and Shelduck  with lots of waders in evidence on the now developing, more distant mudflats, providing both a challenge and delight when scanning through them.

Late afternoon saw more cloud developing and temperatures dropping.  Definitely no longer tropical !!

Alturlie Point,Inverness. 3rd January, 2019

An extended visit to Alturlie Point alongside the Moray Firth east of Inverness,  (which can be combined very easily with a trip to the Retail Park !! ).

Rather grey and cold with daytime temperatures around 2/3C .  Tide was fully up with the accompanying collections of waders and gulls on the shoreline.   A good selection of corvids in nearby fields  ( Carrion Crow, Hooded Crow, Rook and Jackdaw )  would have been a good study ground for any beginner. 

Out on the Firth there was a good selection of duck on offer ( Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Goldeneye, Scaup, ) with an odd Red-breasted Merganser and a very obliging female Long-tailed Duck. Several small rafts of both Scaup and Goldeneye were farther out too.  Grey-lag Geese fed in nearby fields and an overflying Cormorant added to the picture. Waders were represented by Oystercatcher, Redshank and Curlew.  Noticeably absent were any small birds as I walked along the road running immediately adjacent to the water.

So, a modest but pleasant array of birds, good views and an easily visited location.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

A kaleidoscope of colour. 1st January, 2019.

It's a new dawn ,
It's a new day,
It's a new life.

An' I'm feeling good.

Whilst it was never intended to be a designated birding day, in the end it turned out to be really enjoyable. I'm in the Scottish Highlands, west of Inverness, with yesterday being an unseasonable 15C.   I've a feeling this will change !!

Up early and all the feeders filled in anticipation of a good showing in the garden.  I wasn't disappointed.  But first, in that cold light of dawn, Whooper Swans called from the nearby Firth and a few small skeins of Pink-footed Geese flew out to their feeding areas.

The next few hours were a bustle of activity with Great, Blue and Coal Tits, Siskins, Tree and House Sparrows, a small flock of Long-tailed Tit, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, Goldfinch, Chaffinch and an odd Greenfinch, a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a few Yellowhammers.  Seen at close quarters the colours were great to see and certainly brightened up the day. A Red Kite drifted over late morning adding a little excitement to the proceedings. I enjoyed it , although compared to the undoubted frantic activities of some, the ultimate day total of , ( whisper it ), 23 was relatively modest. Most surprising was a pair of Oystercatcher seen feeding later on the grass verge near to some traffic lights in the otherwise built up area leading to Charleston School.  Unexpected and a real blaze of contrast as I waited my turn at the lights !   

I no longer have a garden and realised how much of a luxury and privilege it can be to really study birds up close. If I'm honest I really enjoyed it, despite it being a low key intro to what I hope will be a bumper year.  

HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone.