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Birds and Butterflies of Cyprus & Crete, April 2022. (1 Viewer)

Jos Stratford

Eastern Exile
Staff member
United Kingdom
Having seen all but two of Europe's fifteen swallowtails, festoons and apollos, the primary goal of this trip was to find one of these remaining two, namely Cretan Festoon. With no convenient flights from Lithuania directly to Crete however, I decided to travel via Cyprus - this not only enabling me to look for Cretan Festoon and the other Crete endemics, but also to savour the delights of early spring in Cyprus, the specific targets here being Paphos Blue, the Cypriot race of Eastern Festoon and Little Tiger Blue, though with Cyprus having seen a cold winter I expected to be too early for the last of these species. Naturally, with spring migration in full swing, and the likes of Pallid Harriers moving through and Cyprus Warblers and Cyprus Wheatears arriving, birding would also figure prominently, generally the idea to go birding earlier in the day, switching to butterflies as it warmed up.
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14 April. Lithuania - Cyprus.

Groan, a 9.20 pm scheduled flight didn't manage to leave Vilnius till 10 pm. Further delayed by the need to avoid Ukrainian airspace, it was over three-and-a-half hours later that we did a bleary-eyed landing in Larnaca, the car rental place fortunately remaining open. Picked up the car, tootled the few kilometres into Larnaca town, checked into accommodation near 2.30 am.

15 April. Larnaca.

After not very long in bed, rose and drove round to the area south of the Larnaca airport, a fantastic area of mixed habitat - salt lagoon, coastal marshes, agricultural meadows and, top of the lot, the large pools of Larnaca Sewage Treatment Works. Black Francolins calling from scrub all around, a nice male strutting out into the open, Zitting Cisticolas and Crested Larks even more widespread. After a quick look at the salt lagoon (essentially full of Greater Flamingos and Black-winged Stilts), I then sat myself in the hide overlooking the freshwater sewage pools - a very nice place to spend an hour or so, two Ruddy Shelducks and at least 45 Garganey among the many wildfowl present, a good mix of waders picking their way along the margins, Ruff, Wood Sandpipers and Little Stints in the main, but also Spur-winged Lapwings too, perhaps 40 in all, including those on adjacent fields. The undoubted highlights here, however, were two Collared Pratincoles that hawked the pools for most of the time I was present, plus a female Pallid Harrier that cruised through about a half hour after I arrived. Also nice, several Little Terns active, a party of Gull-billed Terns passing through and a dozen or so Glossy Ibises.

Quite happy with that, I then continued to Spiro's Pool a couple of kilometres further - had been a Caspian Plover here some days earlier, but if it was still present, I certainly did not find it. Huge numbers of waders present though, Ruffs and Little Stints in their hundreds, Wood Sandpipers also abundant. Sifted through them, adding Marsh Sandpipers and Kentish Plover to the day tally, plus Ringed Plovers and Little Ringed Plovers, but nothing even remotely similar to a summer-plumaged Caspian Plover! Some compensation in the neighbouring agricultural fields - very impressive indeed, a mixed flock of about 25 Yellow Wagtails and 30 Red-throated Pipits, the former in mixed races and the latter in full summer colours, nice indeed.

Assorted extras this morning included several Marsh Harriers, one Purple Heron, a flushed Quail, four Hoopoes, a Northern Wheatear and two Ortolan Buntings.

It was now midday, fairly hot and full glorious sunshine …time to look for butterflies. My main target in the Larnaca area was Little Tiger Blue, a species that likes arid area and is particularly fond of Zizyphus bushes. Unfortunately, this species is generally a later season specialist and though they can fly in mid-April, 2022 had been an unusually cold winter and chances of it already being on the wing were somewhat low. And that is how it turned out, several hours of walking the margins of Larnaca Salt Lagoon yielded not a single sign of one. Butterfly numbers in total were actually very low, the totals amounted to about 50 Small Whites, one Clouded Yellow, eight Painted Ladies, one Red Admiral, one Common Blue, one Small Copper and, top of the day, two Lesser Fiery Coppers, one Mallow Skipper and one Pigmy Skipper.

In the course of searching for the Little Tiger Blues, some bird action too - one Great Spotted Cuckoo, one male Collared Flycatcher and two Marsh Sandpipers.

Day one over, 73 species of birds, nine species of butterflies.
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16 April. Akrotiri.

Twitch …two days earlier, a Demoiselle Crane had been frequenting Akrotiri Gravel Pits, a fairly extensive area of arid gravel lands and damper depressions. Many a year since I'd seen this species, so seemed a good idea to move the Akrotiri Peninsula forward in my plans, my initial idea to explore the area later in the week. After an hour or so along Lady's Mile, umpteen waders including summer-plumaged Curlew Sandpipers and Spur-winged Lapwings among the again dominant Ruffs and Little Stints, I shifted westward to the Gravel Pit area. Started at Agios Georgios church, Collared Flycatcher and Spotted Flycatcher in the surrounding shrubbery, plus too Spanish Sparrows and Lesser Whitethroat. And from there, I meandered north, a Woodchat Shrike and a few Isabelline Wheatears on the open gravel areas, Cetti's Warblers in the scraps of reed. Didn't really have high hopes of finding the target bird, but reaching the far north of the area, almost abutting Akrotiri Marsh, I stopped to scan and there, stately strutting its stuff, one most resplendent Demoiselle Crane, immediately elevating itself to 'bird of the trip' status.

Stayed with the bird a half hour or so, then skirted round to the north of Akrotiri Marsh. A very productive area, a mix of damp meadows grazed by cattle, shallow pools and extensive reedbeds, all were full of birds - aside plenty of Wood Sandpipers, Moorhens and Coots, also one Purple Heron, two Squacco Herons and plenty of Cattle Egrets, Little Egrets and Glossy Ibises. Also one Honey Buzzard and a pair of Bonelli's Eagles overhead and assorted passerines around the marsh, Red-throated Pipits, Great Reed Warblers and Zitting Cisiticolas included.

With that, it was back on the hunt for butterflies for the afternoon, this time the key target being Paphos Blue. Fairly randomly, I chose to head to low hills a little to the north, occasional Small Whites on route not inspiring much confidence. Then however I hit the jackpot - a fairly unassuming roadside verge full of small blue butterflies … and in moments it was clear what they were, all Paphos Blues. Quite mobile, they were at least 60 at this single spot, a further colony a kilometre or two further even better with perhaps 200 along an old track, cracking little butterflies. Also Orange Tips and Large White.

A couple of kilometres further again, I stopped in a gently wooded area aside a stream. Paphos Blues distinctly lacking here, but a second treat awaiting - floating around the slopes, at least 30 Eastern Festoons! Also my only Speckled Woods of the trip to date, several more Orange Tips, two Cleopatra, a Mallow Skipper and a Common Blue. Rather a pleasing mix in all, added Eastern Dappled White and Lesser Fiery Copper to the day tally at a further random stop in the lowlands.

Day totals, 66 species of birds,11 species of butterflies.
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17 April. Cape Greco.

Started the morning at Cape Greco, a limestone headland jutting south-east into the Mediterranean. On arrival, one Whinchat on a spindly branch, one female Pallid Harrier cruising over, not a bad start. Initial signs however did not hint at heavy migration this day, the outer peninsula actually quite quiet, bar hordes of non-migrant House Sparrows and Chukars! Nevertheless, over the next few hours, the tally of good species did begin to rise - a Long-legged Buzzard and a splendid male Pallid Harrier migrating through, a mini-bevy of wheatears (three Cyprus Wheatears, one Black-eared Wheatear and one Northern Wheatear) and an assortment of Sylvia warblers, no less than seven species in all, eight Cyprus Warblers heading the cast, ably supported by four Eastern Subalpine Warblers and a Spectacled Warbler. Red-rumped Swallow, Common Nightingale, Turtle Dove and Quail also seen, plus European Bee-eaters overhead.

Moving inland a couple of kilometres, a small belt of pines also proved very productive, chiefly as haunt for at least six Collared Flycatchers, right smart birds. Aside them, one Wryneck, a couple of Ortolan Buntings, four Common Redstarts and a couple of Whinchats. European Bee-eaters overhead again.

Departed Cape Greco mid-morning and drove the few kilometres up to Paralimni, the extensive salt flat to the town's west the main attraction. Full of water and full of waders, Ruff and Little Stints were the main components, both in their hundreds, a reasonable mix of others also present, including Spur-winged Lapwings and Kentish Plovers. New for the trip, also added Woodlark and Tawny Pipit here.

For a 'quiet' morning, it hadn't been bad - ended up with 70 species, a few real specials in their midst. Switching back to butterflies, I needn't have bothered - high cloud and hazy sunshine at best, this was to be a poor day for butterflies: only four species in total, these being about my first Swallowtail of the trip, plus about 15 Small Whites, one Eastern Dappled White and one Mallow Skipper.

With that, I abandoned the southern coast and decided to have a look at Nicosia, more the curiosity of seeing the only divided city in Europe than anything else. Crossed into the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, had a wander round, admired the mass flocks of Common Swifts. Curiosity satisfied, back to southern Cyprus.
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18 April. Mountains and Southern Coast.

Warm and humid, but blighted a little by a kind of hazy sun merging into light cloud cover, somewhat darkened on occasion by dust brought on southern winds. Plan for this day was to focus on butterflies while crossing the central mountains from Nicosia in the east to Paphos in the south-east. With considerable luck, perhaps there could have been an early Cyprus Grayling on the wing, but with the not perfect weather it was always going to be a struggle to see any butterflies! In the event, in the few sunny spells that did break through, the main butterfly that I encountered was Eastern Festoon, almost all in pristine fresh condition suggesting a somewhat late emergence this year. Large White and Small White also seen in small numbers, so too Orange Tip.

On route, a few nice birds too - several Masked Shrikes, occasional Cyprus Wheatears, one Black-eared Wheatear, several Red-rumped Swallows and one Cretzschmar's Bunting, plus a general assortment of Cypriot hill country birds, Jays, Coal Tits et al.

With weather not looking to significantly brighten, I quit the hills mid-afternoon and headed for the southern coast. Two relatively short stops - Kensington Cliffs and Agio Varvara. The first of these is famed for its Eleonora's Falcons, a couple of which had returned in previous days, but my birding highlights here were limited to flocks of Alpine Swifts cruising the cliffs. Still, did have a new species of butterfly for the trip - at least 20 Bath Whites on the slopes at the base of the cliffs. Also flying, several Small Whites, a couple of Clouded Yellows, a small colony of Paphos Blues, one Lesser Fiery Copper, one Common Blue and one Painted Lady.

Moving onto Agio Varvara, my final stop of the day, a short walk around these pools was a very pleasing way to end the day - a mass swirl of Barn Swallows and House Martins, a smattering of Red-rumped Swallows and Sand Martins in the midst, then four Little Crakes and a Kingfisher on the pools themselves.

Moved down to Paphos, base for the next few days.
19 April. Paphos District.

With bright sun till early afternoon, a dedicated butterfly day, the key target being the rare African Ringlet, a highly localised species favouring steep rocky lowland slopes. Arrived at my chosen locality as the sun began to warm, Bath Whites already on the wing, a loose colony of Paphos Blues soon after, plus the first of the day's Small Coppers. Ambling round trying to identify the most likely spot for African Ringlet, my first surprise of the day was a Cyprus Grayling, an endemic species that I had assumed would not be flying yet given the lateness of the season this year. Wandered down the slope, things got better and better - among many Small Whites, a few Large Whites and Eastern Dappled Whites, quite a few more Paphos Blues, a scattering of Common Blues and, holding territories on the track, at least 18 Pigmy Skippers. At slightly lower altitude, flying around a steep slope as they should, I then found my target for the day - five African Ringlets, a sixth along a track nearby. Dainty little butterflies, this is indeed a mini ringlet. Sharing the general habitat, alongside Pigmy Skippers, one splendid Millet Skipper, another butterfly that I didn't expect to be on the wing. Truly was becoming a good butterfly day, this further reinforced with a fly-by Swallowtail and a Cyprus Meadow Brown, this latter being the final of the island's three endemic butterfly species.

By early afternoon, with Red Admiral, Painted Lady, two more Cyprus Meadow Browns and a Mallow Skipper added, my day tally had now reached 19 species …one higher than the total I had seen on the whole trip prior to this day!

Unfortunately, clouds were beginning to build, hugging the hills to the north. Decided to call it quits, spent some time more searching for Dark Grass Blue in coastal patches of grass …no sign.

Total butterfly count for the day:
Swallowtail - 2
Eastern Festoon -1
Large White - 4
Small White - 60
Bath White - 15
Eastern Dappled White - 3
Clouded Yellow - 2
Small Copper - 3
Paphos Blue - 80
Common Blue - 10
Red Admiral -1
Painted Lady - 1
Cyprus Grayling - 1
Cyprus Meadow Brown - 3
Large Wall Brown - 1
African Ringlet - 6
Mallow Skipper - 1
Millet Skipper - 1
Pigmy Skipper - 18

With nose stuck to the ground most of the day, not a lot of birds to add this day, top of the lot were two Bonelli's Eagles and a fly-over flock of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters.
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That's quite a huge list of the ones seen so far Jos.
In terms of butterflies, Cyprus is fairly poor in diversity in comparison to most of Europe, but I am quite happy with the selection I am seeing 👍

(by all accounts, the season is also late this year, numbers of individuals already on the wing far lower than in a normal year)
20 April. Paphos.

A moderately quiet day. Ambled around Paphos Archeological Site early morning, migration relatively muted however - top birds were one Montagu's Harrier in-off and a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater hawking around the amphitheatre. Best of the rest, one Woodchat Shrike, one Collared Flycatcher, an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, a Wood Warbler and a flock of Tawny Pipits.

Thereafter, I visited the valley beneath Asprokremmos Reservoir to look for butterflies. Bar masses of Paphos Blues and a scattering of other common species, not a lot happening on that front either. Fortunately, there was another highlight - one massive and very fat Blunt-nosed Viper, the only venomous snake in Cyprus. Not at all timid, this super beast actually slithered towards me each time I crouched to take photographs, rearing its head cobra-style. Cracking snake! Also saw the non-venomous Black Whip Snake, a far more wary thing, rapidly vanishing into vegetation when it saw me.

For evening entertainment, it was time to seek out Cyprus Scops Owl, the final of the island's endemic bird species. Chose a site about a half hour north-east of Paphos, an area of streamside olive orchards and larger trees dotted alongside. Seems to have been a good strategy, pulling in a little after sunset, several Cyprus Scops Owls were already calling, one pair very close to the one side. Didn't take long to find them, the one bird seeming to engage in courtship feeding, flying in several times to pass food to the mate, very nice views. Bonus, also one Long-eared Hedgehog here. Not a bad night!
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I’ve never had Blue cheeked bee- eater in Cyprus over 4 visits, had to go to Turkey for them. You just seem to bump into them Jos!
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