Our spring birdwatching tour to Cyprus begins with a flight London Gatwick to Paphos. We'll be met on arrival and travel the short distance to our Paphos hotel, which will be our base for the next seven nights.
Being based at Paphos allows us easy access to Paphos headland for our early morning walks – and with luck the distinctive two-note call of Cyprus Scops Owl might be heard from trees close to the hotel in the evening. Night Paphos
Days 2 - 7
PAPHOS, ASPROKREMNOS, MANDRIA, AGIA VARVARA, PHASSOURI, AKAMAS, AKROTIRI SALT LAKE, OROKLINI WETLANDS & TROODOS MOUNTAINS
The area around Paphos, on the island’s west coast, makes a superb base for a week’s birding holiday. Immediately to the southwest of town, Paphos headland is a World Heritage Site famed for its ancient mosaics and tombs... but it also happens to be one of the best sites to watch bird migration on the whole of Cyprus! In late March, the neat walled fields of rank grass and wildflowers, with shady figs, carobs and olives, can hold flycatchers, warblers and shrikes and are well worth checking regularly.
A morning’s walk around the lighthouse and headland can produce some really ace birds. Perhaps a Wryneck will pop up in front of us... or we may find Hoopoe, Red-throated and Tawny Pipits, and Crested and Short-toed Larks along with exciting eastern Mediterranean migrants such as Eastern Bonelli’s, Eastern Olivaceous, Eastern Orphean and Rüppell’s Warblers, the attractive Cretzschmar’s Bunting and Isabelline, Northern and Black-eared Wheatears.
Overnight falls can also bring several races of spring Yellow Wagtails, including the lovely Black-headed. The rugged limestone outcrops attract the handsome Blue Rock Thrush and, in March, passage waders along the rocky shore below can sometimes include Greater Sand Plover in smart breeding plumage.
Offshore, we may spot parties of Yelkouan Shearwaters scuttling by, or marvel as clusters of migrating Black-crowned Night Herons, and Squacco and Purple Herons pass by. If we are lucky, rarities may drop in - we have seen Desert Wheatear and Caspian Stonechat here.
We shall also pay a visit to the remarkable third century Roman mosaics near the Byzantine fortress overlooking Paphos harbour. These are regarded as amongst the finest in the Mediterranean. Close by is the extensive complex of the Tombs of the Kings, itself another good site for migrant birds.
Not far from town is the Esouza Valley, where pools along the gravel riverbed at Agia Varvara have recently lured many migrants - notably Baillon’s and confiding Little Crakes. Close to the towering Asprokremnos Dam, Anarita Park can hold passing raptors such as Lesser Kestrel and Red-footed Falcon. Chukar and newly arrived Great Spotted Cuckoos might also be seen and heard in the valley, and the fringing scrub is a good spot to try for the cracking Cyprus Warbler - a declining species which breeds only on the island of Cyprus.
Rocky slopes above the dam are a favoured haunt of another of the island’s delightful endemics, the dapper Cyprus Wheatear. The scarce Finsch’s Wheatear sometimes lingers in the area, too (we have been lucky to see this winter visitor to Cyprus on several previous tours), and we have another opportunity here to catch up with the elusive Black Francolin. Although often skulking, this handsome eastern Mediterranean gamebird is actually quite common in the arable coastal strip and, with a bit of luck, we should see them well during the course of our stay. North of the dam are valleys that may well hold breeding Long-legged Buzzard and Bonelli’s Eagle, so will make sure we keep our eyes to the skies!
To the east of Paphos, the coastal fields and beach around Mandria have proven to be another hotspot for migrants, notably pipits, wagtails and larks. Species to watch for include Black-headed Wagtail, Red-throated Pipit and the occasional Richard’s Pipit - and in 2018, a superb Caspian Plover turned up here! Perhaps a Pallid Harrier will ghost across the fields – late March is the ideal time to see these fabulous birds of prey - while the beach is one of the more regular 'stop offs' for Greater Sand Plover.
One day will be spent heading further east towards Larnaca, visiting both the freshwater wetlands and threatened reedbeds at Phassouri and the newly created reserve at Oroklini. Though much will depend upon water levels at the time, transient waders in spring can include Marsh Sandpiper and Great Snipe, while both Spur-winged Lapwing and Black-winged Stilt have bred at Oroklini. Marsh Harriers patrol above the pools, where March migrants such as Garganey, Glossy Ibis and several species of heron can sometimes be found in good numbers.
At first sight, the nearby Akrotiri Peninsula is a seemingly barren and featureless wasteland. The centre of this area is dominated by a vast Salt Lake, with its pink ribbon of Greater Flamingos shimmering in the heat haze. Though the size of the lake can make birding here tricky, in spring, the smaller pools around its shore often prove attractive to fleet-footed Kentish Plovers, brick-red Curlew Sandpipers and pink-hued Slender-billed Gulls. Extensive areas of halophytic Arthrocnemum scrub provide a home for the flirtatious Spectacled Warbler, and Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers pass this way - as do the Red Arrows that train at Akrotiri RAF base in spring.
Weather permitting, we will travel up into the spectacular Troodos Mountains. In late March, they can still have snow on their upper slopes and one could almost forget that this is the Mediterranean as the road winds ever higher through extensive forests of Calabrian and Black Pine. While the scenery alone would be reason enough to visit, these beautiful mountains are home to a number of birds that have evolved distinctive isolated populations: 'chocolate' Coal Tits, dusky-headed Jays and large-billed Red Crossbills await, along with 'Cyprus' Short-toed Treecreeper and a number of other endemic or near-endemic races of otherwise familiar birds.
Our route to and from the mountains passes through a picturesque undulating terrain of ‘forgotten’ valleys that are a patchwork of almond groves, vineyards and hay meadows, brimming with wildflowers. Chukar and the irascible Great Spotted Cuckoo are possible here, along with Quail calling, perhaps a Long-legged Buzzard overhead and plenty of ‘Eastern’ Jackdaws, with their distinctive silver neck collars.
Above Paphos, at the northwestern corner of the island, the extraordinary Akamas Peninsula is famed for its glorious coastal scenery ablaze with wildflowers. The Baths of Aphrodite here are a lovely sheltered spot and well worth a visit. This area is good for Cyprus Wheatear and the recently split Cyprus Scops Owl, and frequently attracts migrants such as Masked, Woodchat and Red-backed Shrikes, Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler and Pied, Collared and Semi-collared Flycatchers. Wildflowers include the endemic Cyprus Gladiolus and an array of orchids.
We have chosen to be based in one strategically placed hotel for the whole week to make this a most relaxed tour, with plenty of time spent on gentle walks enjoying the birds and scenery of this compelling island. One thing's for sure, with so many wonderful places to visit we shall never be left wanting for things to do!
The lure of the 'unexpected' is bound to call us back to Paphos and neighbouring headlands. Whether it is scanning the grassy slopes for migrant Tawny Pipits and Ortolan Buntings, watching in awe as a ghostly male Pallid Harrier floats by or just pausing to enjoy one of the many colonies of smartly dressed Spanish Sparrows... in our experience, Cyprus in March provides some of the most exciting birding in Europe! Six further nights Paphos
PAPHOS, FLY LONDON
We have time this morning to enjoy looking for migrants around Paphos - and to see if anything exciting has arrived overnight!
Afternoon transfer to nearby Paphos Airport for our flight back to London Gatwick, where our spring birdwatching tour to Cyprus concludes.