Monday 17 April 2023

Spring Birding at Cape Greco, Cyprus


Back in 2012, we took the kids abroad for the first time, to Cyprus, and absolutely loved it. We didn't know much about the island back then, and so landed up at Protaras, close to the infamous Agia Napa and on the doorstep of Cape Greco, purely by accident. Cape Greco turned out to be a Cypriot Flamborough Head and I had a wonderful couple of mornings wandering around looking for migrants. The site clearly had huge potential and was, of course, already well-known to other birders, just not me. Nevertheless, I didn't see a single birder while I was there and had the wonderful place to myself. I vowed to return - one day!

Fast forward to 2022 and we, together with three other families, decided to take a week's break in the sun in April 2023. I was keen to head back to Cyprus, and this seemed a popular option and everybody seemed happy to go to Protaras at the southeast end of the island. My plan was to get up at dawn, bird the Cape and then return to have breakfast with the rest of the gang, before heading out for family activities. This worked well, with the teenage members of the group only just surfacing mid-morning, meaning I could get a few quality hours in to start each day. 

In the run up to the trip, some class rarities were found on the island and I kept my fingers crossed they would remain: Diederik Cuckoo, Bar-tailed Lark and Menetries Warbler. 

8th April: Paphos to Protaras

Our short flight from Newcastle airport went smoothly. The journey east, via a stop off at Aphrodite's Rock was uneventful, though a flock of a dozen Glossy Ibises over the road near Paphos was cool. Laughing and Collared Doves perched on roadside wires, along with Hooded Crows, Magpies and Jackdaws, and the air was filled with Swallows, plus the occasional gang of Swifts, my first of the year. 

I had a little walk round the fields near our villa on the outskirts of Protaras, in the late evening, adding Zitting Cisticola, Crested Lark and a Stone Curlew to the list, with a lovely Mediterranean background of crickets and frogs.

9th April: Cape Greco and Paralimni

Up before dawn (I was quite excited) I headed for the Cape and to the picnic spot east of Konnos Beach. A British Birder had found a Bar-tailed Desert Lark on the footpath here earlier in the week and it was apparently still present the previous day. The walk through the scrub and down to the clifftop path was disappointingly quiet, with the occasional rattle from a Sardinian Warbler and a singing Nightingale the only birds of note. A few Audouin's Gulls headed past over the sea. Sadly, there was no sign of the lark on its favoured stretch of path. I guess I was maybe expecting a bit much for this bird to have stayed another day. Nevermind, I headed back to the car, bumping into a couple of Cypriot birders en route who immediately knew from my long face that the lark hadn't shown. 

 The footpath from Konnos Beach to Cape Greco

Cape Greco has lots of good areas, with the pines around the burger van being a great spot. Further towards the end of the headland, the road drops down sharply, before a narrowing of the peninsula, where there are a couple of arable fields and some big scrub patches. Heading south, the headland becomes rocky and arid, before you hit the barbed wire barricades of the military compound, and you can go no further. There is a lighthouse near the end with a copse of trees; this looks awesome from a birding perspective, but sadly you can't go in. 

 Looking south to the military area at the seaward-end of Cape Greco, across the lower fields.

The mix of scrub, arable, grassland and rocky slope that together with the topography create such a good migrant trap towards the end of Cape Greco. 

First up, I headed to the car park on the west side of the hill above the lower fields. The hill has a peace monument on top and below this a male Hooded Wheatear had been found and a wintering female Finsch's Wheatear was rumoured to still be around. Hooded Wheatear was one of the best birds I had seen in Eilat a couple of years ago, and I had not seen Finsch's, so this was a good next area to check. 

There were plenty of birds around, with four species of wheatear (Northern, Isabelline, Eastern Black-eared and Cyprus Pied) but no sign of the two star birds. Spectacled Warblers were very much in evidence in the low scrub, as were Sardinian Warblers, with both Tree and Red-throated Pipits calling overhead. After a while, I decided to head down to the lower fields to try my luck there. At the car park, a Lesser Whitethroat was calling from a nearby Box Thorn; I paused to look for it - there were two, and then a third, larger bird popped out - an Eastern Orphean Warbler! Nice. A couple of migrant Woodchat Shrikes were in the bushes here too, along with quite a few Nightingales and an unexpected Song Thrush.

 Female Woodchat Shrike

Down to the Lower Fields, I bumped into Pete Wragg who told me about a male Caspian Stonechat that was present nearby. I did a loop of the area, and quickly bumped into the Casp, a smart very black and white bird with much white in the tail. Two male Ruppell's Warblers were chasing each other around the scrub nearby, my first since Israel, and my first male Cyprus Warbler of the trip was singing nearby. 

A stunning male Ruppell's Warbler, and singing male Cyprus Warbler

A lousy picture showing no diagnostic features, of the handsome male Caspian Stonechat

A little further on, I came across Andy Malley and Stuart Beeby, fellow Yorkshire birders. It really was like walking round Flamborough! It was good to chat to them and they gave me some helpful gen, including that the female Finch's Wheatear was still present in the same area as the male Hooded. My eyes must be painted on...Well, that would have to wait for another day as I was rapidly running out of time. Nearby, a stunning male Masked Shrike hunted with a couple of Woodchat Shrikes for company along the field edge, my first Hoopoe of the trip flopped past on big stripy, butterfly wings, and I almost trod on a Quail, which erupted Jack Snipe=-like from under my feet, and zipped off into the barley field. 

 Male Masked Shrike

I skirted back to the car and a vehicle approached. I recognised the two Cypriot birders from Konnos. They pulled up and the guy lowered his window and exclaimed that the lark was back! He had a big smile and proudly showed me his photo of it on his DSLR screen. Yikes! He advised me to go quickly, so I did. Ten minutes later, I arrived back on the clifftop path where I had started the day. There were no other birders present, but exactly where the guy had said, was a tiny sandy-buff lark, running around on the path. I perched on one of the benches and the lark approached within about five metres. It really was quite different from the larger, longer-billed Desert Larks I had seen in the Negev a few years ago, being small, and stubby-billed, with plain, unstreaked underparts. I had great views as it fed unconcerned within metres of where I was sitting, perched on a bench. Cracking! 

A fab morning with Bar-tailed Lark and Caspian Stonechat the stand-out birds, along with a haul of migrants; not a bad start!


Mid-afternoon, the gang returned to the Cape, to have a walk to the sea caves, which are stunning and worth a visit. This is just west of the Hooded-Finsch's site, so after a bit, one of the other Dads joined me for a little walk east. Sadly, we didn't find either bird, but we saw another Quail, a Short-toed Lark and several other wheatears.

 Isabelline Wheatear

After this, we needed to go to the supermarket in Paralimni for supplies. I hitched a lift and asked my friends to drop me off near the lake, where the Diederik Cuckoo and Menetries Warbler had been seen. It was now hot and a quiet time of day. Birding was good around the vacant development plots, some of which had large pools in them. I couldn't locate the cuckoo or the warbler, sadly, in the 45 minutes I had, but had nice views of Marsh, Wood and Green Sandpipers, Temminck's Stints and a Black Francolin. 

10th April: Cape Greco

I was determined to see the two rare wheatears today, so headed straight down to the seacaves, which lie on the west side of the headland. The dusty approach track bisects some arable fields and there were birds all over the place. I pulled up to see half a dozen stunning Black-headed Wagtails among a load of Spanish Sparrows walking about in front of me. A cloud of wagtails then erupted out of the barley crop to my left. The air was full of the calls of wagtails and the crop fizzed with activity. There were Ashy-headed Wags here too and a bunch of hybrids. Red-throated Pipits were zipping about too, with Whinchats sitting on the edges of the field. The next field over, had several hovering Lesser Kestrels some of which landed on wires by the road to consume their breakfast. This was a pretty mental start to the morning's birding! There were a good few hundred wagtails here, which presumably had roosted in the crop field. Later, another birder estimated 800 birds to be present! 

Mixed wagtails and male Lesser Kestrel

I could have watched these birds all morning, but the lure of the wheatears broke the spell and I drove down to the car park. I walked south along the edge of the military compound. Two Woodchats were hunting from the razorwire fence. Nearby, a hard 'chak' from a bush, quickly revealed my first Eastern Olivaceous Warbler of the trip, which showed right out in the open briefly. Plenty of wheatears were bouncing around on the scrubby plain, with more Cyprus Pieds, Eastern Black-eareds and Northerns than the previous day. 

 Cyprus Wheatear

 Looking north-west towards Agia Napa from the Peace Monument car park. The rocky area along the clifftop is the area favoured by both the Hooded and Finsch's Wheatears.

I got to the Hooded's favoured area and immediately spotted a black wheatear-shaped bird distantly on a rock. At that range it was impossible to tell what it was, until it shot straight up in the air and proceeded to chase an unseen insect. This had to be the Hooded Wheatear as I remember them behaving like big crazy flycatchers when I'd seen them in Israel. I wandered over to the general area and sat down on the rocks. Within a few minutes the Hoodie appeared nearby and started to hunt Painted Lady butterflies all around, with audible snaps of its long beak, as it attempted to catch the insects. I spent a good half an hour with this really charismatic bird, before retracing my steps to look for the Finsch's. Unfortunately, this bird still eluded me. 

  Hooded Wheatear: an absolutely class bird. The bottom pic is in the same pose as painted by Darren Woodhead in the Negev, which now hangs on my wall.

After this, I had my first look at the pines near the burger van. This is a good place to look for flycatchers, but I didn't find any, with an Eastern Bonelli's Warbler the only bird of note. 

I finished up at the lower fields again, where a couple of Common Redstarts were new, plus a female Eastern Subalpine Warbler. 

11th April: Cape Greco

I took the seacaves road to the cape. Eight Lesser Kestrels were still hunting the fields in the overcase conditions, but most of the wagtails had moved on. It felt like a good day for migrants, so I went straight to the lower fields. This proved to be a good move as the area was crawling with birds. I headed round the usual loop, with sylvia warblers in every bush, and Woodchat Shrikes, Redstarts and Whinchats seemingly on every vantage point. A bird on a prominent rock was a female Blue Rock Thrush, which vanished down the sea cliff in typical fashion. Further round the loop, I completed the double with a female Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush on boulders below the army compound. 


Female Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush to the right of a female Eastern Black-eared Wheatear

Birds were coming in off the sea, with several flocks of Red-rumped Swallows, a handful of Lesser Kestrels and a Bee-eater. Two Peregrines were cruising around too, and flushed what I was pretty sure were four Crag Martins from the cliffs, though they were a bit distant to be certain. Two Ortolan Buntings were flying about in the fields along with a flock of twelve Short-toed Larks and about four Tawny Pipits. A Turtle Dove flew in off the sea and landed on the telegraph wires, my first of the spring. There were good numbers of warblers in the bushes, with two Eastern Orpheans the best, along with two Cyprus, five Ruppell's, a dozen Lesser Whitethroats, five Blackcaps, seven Whitethroats and the usual horde of Spectacled and Sardinieans.

After my early morning birding, we headed north of the border to visit some historical sites. On the journey we past some lagoons, which held Greater Flamingoes and Spur-winged Lapwings, though we didn't have time to stop unfortunately. 

12th April: Larnaca and Oroklini

Today was my daughter's birthday, so a dawn raid on the Cape was off the agenda. I did get out after lunch, however, when she went off to an escape room in Agia Napa with her friends. I headed west to Larnaca to check out some of the sites round the airport. As I headed down the road, the skies darkened and I could see flashes of distant lightning. I arrived at the salt lakes near the airport just as the torrential rain started. Hundreds of Greater Flamingoes were standing in the shallow water, looking stunning against the dark, leaden skies. Black-winged Stilts waded about nearby and a handful of Kentish Plovers were feeding on the mud. 

I moved round to the hide overlooking the water treatement reservoirs, so I could get out of the rain. Lots of hirundines and Swifts were feeding low over the water, and mixed in were about 20 Little Terns, which was a bit unexpected. A pair of Garganey were among good numbers of Shovelers and Teal, with some very pinky Slender-billed Gulls loafing on the water with the Black-headeds. In the stubble fields behind the hide, the weather had grounded a lot of small birds. There was about 100 wagtails sitting out the rain; they were mostly Black-headeds, but there were a few Ashy and Blue-headed mixed in, plus a White Wagtail and best of all, a female Citrine Wagtail (see video below). There were also several Red-throated Pipits creeping about in the cut straw too. 


I switched my attention back to the reservoir and was amazed to see a dozen Collared Pratincoles had joined the hirundine flock, hawking over the water. This was a very cool sight as they swirled about under a rather terrifying electrical storm- see below!

 When I dared to venture out of the cover of the hide, I headed further along, to check out some more lagoons. There were stacks of waders present including c300 Little Stints, 80 Ruff, several Dunlin, Ringed and Kentish Plovers. I grilled the flock hard, looking for anything rarer, but couldn't pull anything out. 

 Little Stint cloud


Next up, Oroklini Lake on the east side of Larnaca. Amazingly, the Diederik Cuckoo had been relocated here yesterday and had been seen again at dawn today, but not since. I headed over there for a quick look before my time ran out. The birding was excellent from the hide, with Little Crake, several Red-crested Pochards, Black-necked Grebe and a flock of Ferruginous Ducks all seen in my first sweep. Nearby, 80 Glossy Ibises were feeding in the shallows and Reed and Cetti's Warblers were singing all around. Some Danish birders informed me that a Belgian couple had seen the cuckoo again at 3pm, only two hours earlier. Unfortunately, it eluded me again, though I only had 30 minutes to look for it, before my time ran out and headed back east to rejoin the gang. 

13th April: Cape Greco

I started at the pines, which was relatively quiet, with four Tree Pipits, two Redstarts, two Nightingales and a Turtle Dove all I could muster. 

Turtle Dove and Tawny Pipit

I headed down to the lower fields, which was also a little quieter than it had been previously. My circuit of the area revealed three Eastern Black-eared Wheatears, six Whinchats, seven Nightingales, an Ortolan, a Red-throated Pipit, Turtle Dove and three Whinchats. 25 Red-rumped Swallows came in overhead with a few House Martins and a Bee-eater. 

Male Eastern Black-eared Wheatear and male Woodchat Shrike

I decided to have another crack at the Finsch's Wheatear which Pete Wragg had reported again. I headed for the area where I had seen the Hooded Wheatear. As I dropped off the scrubby slope on the rocky plateau, I immediately noticed a wheatear sat on a boulder. Surely this was the Finsch's! It seemed to fit with what I was expecting, but it had dark on the throat, which was a surprise. I grabbed a few distant photos and then it flew off and completely vanished. I decided to walk along the rocks towards the seacaves and back to see if I could relocate it. It took my about an hour to refind it, during which time I had seen only a rather tired Turtle Dove. Back towards where I had first seen the bird, I noticed a large- long-tailed falcon coming in along the coast. It looked good for an Eleonora's, but I couldn't quite nail it, against the light. Turning my attention back to the Finsch's, to my surprise, it materialised right in front of me yet again. I then realised why it disappeared so easily; it was continually on the move and would often drop in between the rocks, into crevices and cracks where it was out of sight. I followed it for a while, as it fed happily on passing butterflies and other insects. I checked with Pete and he confirmed that this bird was a dark-throated variant. An interesting bird and a tick to boot. He also nailed the falcon as an Eleonora's. Cool. I returned to the pines, to try for flycatchers, but again without success, though a couple of Eastern Bonelli's Warblers were smart and a Marsh Harrier came in off the sea and moved inland.

Female Finsch's Wheatear. A tricky bird to pin down. 


14th April: Cape Greco

I was accompanied by Vicky this morning which was really nice and I enjoyed showing her some of the birding spots and some of the birds that I had enjoyed during the week. We started at the very end of the peninsula by the military compound. There was a male Redstart and an Eastern Bonelli's Warbler on the fence, clearly newly-arrived migrants. A couple of Hoopoes were flopping around and we drove back to the lowe fields to do the circuit. Redstarts were definitely a feature with at least six on the loop. A single Woodchat Shrike was new in, as was an Eastern Orphean Warbler. Single Tree and Red-throated Pipits flushed from the field edge and eight Red-rumped Swallows came in off the sea. Nearing the end of the loop, a pale bird pointed out by Vicky was a female ficedula flycatcher. It immediately disappeared before I could clinch it, before I refound it on the overhead wires. It seemed to be a female Pied, which was a new bird for the week, but not one of the more sought-after species. To finish the walk, a stunning male Eastern Subalpine Warbler was feeding in the flowers at the edge of the field. 

Spurred on by the flycatcher, we finished with another loop of the pines. Three Redstarts were zipping about and I did find a flycatcher, but unfortunately it was another Pied! Best of all, however, were two absolutely stunning Wood Warblers, which glowed in the spring sunshine, completely out-doing the nearby Eastern Bonelli's Warblers which looked monochrome in comparison. 

Eastern Bonelli's Warbler

 Wood Warbler - is there a more cracking Phyllosc?

With the rising temperatures, the Starred Agamas (lizards) were out in force. I watched a male Cyprus Warbler singing from a bush by the car and then it was time to say farewell to Cape Greco once again. 

This really is a fantastic place and with more birders working the site, it is certainly turning up a lot of really good birds. As we drove to the airport, news came through that Pete Wragg had a male Pallid Harrier in off the sea and a male Finsch's Wheatear near the lower fields, just proving the point. It was great to stick to this area and not spend the holiday driving about too. This meant I didn't see the birds that were being seen down at the western end of the island, round Paphos and Mandria, but maybe next time we will stay up that end. If I don't succumb to the lure of Cape Greco that is!


Big thanks to Jane Stylianou, Pete Wragg, Andy Malley, Stuart Beeby and others who shared their birding news with me. I notched up 108 species during the week; not bad for what was primarily a family holiday. 

There is a great email group run by Jane which helps share Cyprus bird news and a local Whatsapp group for visiting birders too. Both are worth joining if you visit. 

 Masked and Woodchat Shrikes, Cape Greco

Saturday 1 April 2023

The Wheldrake Six

I was greeted by overcast skies and a cold northerly wind blowing as I headed out for some local birding. North Duffield Carrs was quiet, save for an adult female Peregrine, two Marsh Harriers and some chipping Snipe. Wildfowl numbers were well down, with only six Pintail among the 150 Wigeon and 50 Teal.

Reports were coming in from elsewhere of lots of Kittiwakes, dumped on inland waters by the northerlies. This attractive gull is scarce in the York area so I decided to make haste and check as many watery patches as I could find in the York area. There were no gulls at North Duff, so next up, Aughton Ings. There was little of note at Aughton either, and certainly no pelagic gulls, so I moved on to East Cottingwith, to have a look at the Wheldrake Ings refuge. 

My first sighting was Duncan standing scoping the refuge from the path near Pool Hide, directly opposite me. A few gulls were loafing at the northern end of the refuge, so I swung my scope round to them and immediately noticed the persil-white head, lemony beak and black wingtips of a Kittiwake! And another - there was a small group, mixed in with some Common Gulls; six in all. 


Duncan Bye and Kittiwakes

I quickly rang Duncan to alert him and whilst speaking on the phone, they took flight. Oh no! Thankfully, they circled back round and landed in the middle of the flood, giving great views. A couple of times one or two birds started displaying and the distinctive cry of 'kittiwake' echoed across the ings - a strange sound to hear at this site!

Kittiwakes are always a good bird to find inland, being one of the most marine gulls. It seems that strong winds and poor weather can dump birds inland during the winter, but northerly or northeasterly winds during March and April can turn up birds too. Presumably these birds are cutting across country on the way back to nesting sites on the east coast, and pause for a much-needed rest, after battling into a headwind. A flock like this is pretty normal, as this species is very sociable, migrating in groups, sometimes numbering hundreds. In Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, a flock of 140 was seen today, for instance. 

In the York area, they have become scarcer since the turn of the century, perhaps reflecting the national decline in population. However, their occurence is linked closely to the weather at specific times of year, so that may be the main influencing factor. The record count for the York area is a flock of 31 at Wheldrake Ings on 25th January 1994, with further flocks including 15 on 17th April 1992, 17 on 24th March 1985, both of which were at Wheldrake. 


Besides the Kitts, eleven Black-tailed Godwits were flying around and I was sure I heard Raven croaking but I couldn't pick it up. Several Sand Martins were sheltering from the wind behind the tall trees near the canal and a couple of Chiffchaffs were singing.

Later on, I dropped in at Hes East hoping for further Kittiwakes, but sadly there were none present. Maybe this was a bit too much to ask! Four Lesser Black-backed Gulls, seven Sand Martins and a couple of Great Crested Grebes were the only birds of note.