Cyprus is a must-visit for birdwatchers as it lies on one of the major bird migration routes across the Mediterranean. With Africa to the south, Turkey and central Europe to the north and Syria and the Middle East to the east, Cyprus is a major staging post used twice a year as birds move between Africa, Europe and Euro-Asia. Almost 200 species occur as regular passage migrants, while another 20 or so occur irregularly.
The resident species number in the lower 50s and some 40 or more are migrant species, which regularly or occasionally breed. The Island list stands at 374 species, which includes accidental or vagrant species and those like Stonechat and Black Redstart, which are abundant winter visitors. The degree of endemism is quite high which is surprising when you consider the Island’s close proximity to the mainland and its large migrant and wintering population. Two species are currently recognised as endemic; the Cyprus Wheatear and the Cyprus Warbler and both are migratory. The Island also has 5 sedentary subspecies, Scop`s Owl, Coal Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Jay and Crossbill.
Probably the best time to visit Cyprus is in the spring when, in addition to the hordes of migrants in their readily identifiable breeding plumages one can also see the resident and summer breeding visitors. Spring migration starts very early, by the end of February Great Spotted Cuckoo are numerous and the first Isabelline Wheatear are passing through. Early March sees the first Hoopoe and by the end of this month larks, hirundines, pipits, wagtails, warblers and buntings are in super abundance. Wryneck can be very common and Nightingale seem to pop out from every piece of low vegetation, quite happy to hop on the ground in front of you, quite different behavior from that observed on their breeding grounds. April is the prime month if you want the largest total of species, particularly the middle 2 weeks. Some of the winter visitors will probably still be hanging on, the migrant breeders will have arrived, including Black-headed Bunting, which is probably the latest arrival and the flocks of European migrants are streaming through; magic! It is also now that most vagrants occur as well!
Water bird and wader numbers start to build up in April and huge flocks of duck can be seen streaming by off shore. Both Cory`s and Mediterranean Shearwater add excitement to a spring [and autumn] sea watch, a pretty pointless exercise at any other time of the year. It is in spring that we are now starting to receive skua records, previously an extreme rarity, but now being seen annually thanks to some dedicated visitors. Wader passage continues well into May, Broad-billed Sandpiper being one of the latest.
Breeding birds include very high populations of Great Spotted Cuckoo, particularly in the west were their host species, Magpies are in plague proportions in some areas. Roller also breed in good numbers all over the Island, as does Masked Shrike in the foothills. Olivaceous Warbler sing from every bush and Cyprus Wheatear seem to occupy every available spot, their choice of habitat is really catholic! Cretzschmar`s Bunting breed on the sparsely vegetated hillsides but can be difficult to find unless you know where to look. Golden Oriole can be very difficult to track down on their breeding sites as you are no doubt aware, but they are there for those with the patience to search.
The spring raptor passage is only a fraction of the autumn passage but it is in spring that we receive most Pallid Harrier sightings, particularly males. Breeding raptors include decent numbers of Bonelli`s Eagle but sadly the Imperial Eagle has now been lost, unless of course you know different! Griffon Vulture are now restricted to the Western Sovereign Base site, a result of illegal shooting and poisoning. Peregrine, Goshawk and Long-legged Buzzard also breed, the first Sparrowhawk breeding record being added recently. Eleonora`s Falcon are numerous on the western sea cliffs from May onwards and Kestrel are very numerous all over the Island.
It is in the autumn, from early September onwards to the end of October, that we get the main raptor movement. Honey Buzzard can be seen in the hundreds around the Akrotiri Peninsular and Black Kite and Steppe Buzzard can also be very numerous. Lesser Spotted Eagle is annual and in some years Booted Eagle can be quite numerous. October is the month for Red-footed Falcon, the area around Mandria near the Paphos Airport and Phasouri Reed Beds being well known feeding sites for this species.
It is also in autumn, early September in fact, that we get the Demoiselle Crane. They arrive early evening at the Akrotiri Salt Lake and rest there overnight before catching the early thermals the next morning. The best time to see them is to visit the Salt Lake at first light, scope the lake from a vantage point, the area around Sylvana`s Restaurant is suggested, and then position yourself on the Salt Lake track to get decent views. Please, please do not try to get too close; they spend the night here because they are undisturbed!
The winter months can also be very productive. Stonechats, of every conceivable race, are very common as are Black Redstart. A specialty species is Finsch`s Wheatear, found in all suitable habitat, and Wallcreeper are to be found but require time, effort and some local knowledge to locate.
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