Cyprus Bird Watching
Cyprus is great for bird watching. Due to the variety and diversity of the country-side, the Island possesses the most interesting and varied bird-life of any island in the Mediterranean: a spectacular coastline; a central plain, fertile in winter and spring, arid in summer; foothills covered with thyme, lavender and stunted oaks; shaded wooded valleys; and pine-clad mountains rising to the massif of Troodos, snow-covered for part of the year.
Each season in Cyprus produces different bird species, bird watching becomes a very interesting event as a wide variety of birds can be watched at all times of the year.
The actual resident bird population is relatively small. Only about 50 species are present on the island throughout the year. The best time for bird watching is during the migration periods, from March until May and again in September and October, their numbers are augmented by another 140 species as millions of birds use Cyprus as a staging post on their migrations between northern Europe and Africa. During winter, 45 others which breed in Europe and Siberia, regularly visit the island as the mild climate produces an abundance of food to sustain them until they move north again in the spring to breed.
Of the resident birds the Cyprus Warbler is very special, for it is found nowhere else in the world. The Cyprus Warbler is superficially similar to its close relative the Sardinian Warbler, which is found all around the Mediterranean, and the Ruppel’s Warbler, which is confined to the shores around the Eastern end of the sea. Both are common migrants through Cyprus but neither breed on the island.
The male Cyprus Warbler is more striking than either of its cousins. But, like them it has a jet black and white moustacial stripe, but whereas the Sardinian has a white chin and Ruppel’s a black bib, the Cyprus Warbler has the chin and throat barred with black which continues down the breast and along the flanks. His mate is very similar to both the hen Sardinian and Ruppel’s Warblers but is streaked on the throat and breast.
The birds are irregularly distributed throughout the island. In some areas they are quite common, but in others which would appear to offer identical habitat, they are entirely absent. They are usually found in scrub country both on the coast and inland in the mountains, and are particularly common in the foothills below Macheras Monastery.
Another particularly interesting Cyprus resident, which is found in the maquis scrub near Paphos, is the Black Partridge. A beautiful game bird which is widely distributed from the Middle East to India, the Cyprus population being its most westerly stronghold. Other residents which excite visitors and birdwatchers are the birds of prey, particularly the magnificent Bonelli’s and Imperial Eagles, and the two species of vulture which are frequently seen soaring over the plains.
April and September – Migrating Time
Migration time, particularly April and September, is the most exciting period for bird-watchers in Cyprus. Waves of migrants arrive on the south coast and move slowly across the island resting and feeding to regain their strength after their long journey across the Sahara and the Mediterranean, before moving on north to breed. The southern peninsula of Cape Gata, Cape Kiti and Cape Greco, and the salt lakes near Larnaca, are the best places to observe the migration but individuals and parties of migrating birds may be encountered on the island at this time and on a single day in April it is quite possible to see more than 100 different species. In the autumn the movement is in reverse and the birds congregate on the Southern peninsula before departing for Africa.
Some of the most exotic birds to be found in Europe are common migrants
through Cyprus: Bee-eaters, Rollers, Shrikes and Hoopoes are all common while graceful Great White Herons and Little Egrets may be seen near water or flying in loose formation – white crosses against the blue Cyprus sky. Cyprus is on the main migration route for the Cranes which pass over the island in huge skeins; sometimes migrating at night, the only indication of their passing being their honking calls breaking the stillness of the velvet Mediterranean night, or as shadows silhouetted against the moon.
Spur-Winged Plovers, African birds which in recent years have begun to invade Europe and are now moving westwards having found a vacant niche for themselves on the edge of freshwater marshes, are also regular visitors to Cyprus and might one day settle to breed beside any of the newly created reservoirs.
Winter brings another stream of visitors to the island. Birds from the far north move south to a warmer climate where they can find sufficient food to sustain them until they fly back north to breed. The best known visitors are the Flamingos which migrate from the Caspian Sea to winter on the salt lakes at Akrotiri and Larnaca. Usually the wintering flock at Akrotiri numbers about 5500 and that at Larnaca 2000, though they fluctuate from year to year.
Robins, Blackcaps, Thrushes, Blackbirds, Redwings and many other well-known European birds are among these northern visitors. Most spend the winter in the wooded valleys where they are not easily seen. One, the beautiful little Stonechat, prefers the open plains where, from November until March, it can be seen by the
roadside perched on top of a bush which it uses as a vantage point to seek out insects in the low scrub.
A not so regular visitor is the Mute Swan which, when visiting Cyprus create a great deal of interest and excitement amongst local ornithologists and bird-watchers. It was thought that the swans, which normally migrate from the Russian Black Sea coast to winter in southern Turkey and Iran, had found the weather to be unusually cold in those areas and had flown south to the warmer climes of Larnaca and Akrotiri salt lakes.
With such a variety of birds on the island, bird watching enthusiasts and visitors to Cyprus can be certain of seeing a number of new and exotic species all year round.