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

21 April. Paphos.

Things to attend to in the morning, so just an afternoon out and about, returning to the same valley as two days earlier for another sampling of the butterfly riches. Temperature sitting at 32 C, butterfly activity was actually dampened a little, clearly some taking shade. Still, couldn't complain - headed again by African Ringlets, plentiful Paphos Blues and 12 Pygmy Skippers, managed 15 species of butterflies over the space of a couple of hours, mostly species as on the previous trip, but additions of Lesser Fiery Coppers and increased numbers of Eastern Dappled Whites.

22 April. South Coast and Mountains.

8.00 am on the impressive Kensington Cliffs, the sea a millpond, temperature already 24 C, quite glorious …even more so for the 30 or so Alpine Swifts darting through the skies and, point of being there, two simply stunning Eleonora's Falcons, one heading way out to sea, the other doing loops in and out of the cliff face, very nice. For added effect, one Montagu's Harrier also arrived off the sea and, only my second of the trip, a Cyprus Grayling had the good grace to pose for a photograph.

Still relatively early, I then decided to pop into Akrotiri Marsh, perfect place for my morning coffee. Four Squacco Herons and a Purple Heron, one Little Crake and one Spotted Crake, one Marsh Harrier. In the reeds, oodles of Reed Warblers, Cetti's Warblers also belting out song, while in the damp meadow, still lingering Red-throated Pipits and Wood Sandpipers, quite a few Glossy Ibises too and half dozen Spur-winged Lapwings. Coffee finished.

Next stop Lady's Mile, I actually had a one-hour online meeting to attend, but I decided the perfect backdrop to that meeting would be a pool full of waders …who says work has to be a drag? In that hour, along with the usual medley of Black-winged Stilts et al, close on 200 mixed Ruff and Little Stints, 15 cracking full summer-plumaged Curlew Sandpipers, six similarly plumaged Spotted Redshanks and, surprise of the morning, one Broad-billed Sandpiper. Meeting went perfectly well too, even if questions were asked every time the Black-winged Stilts started their loud incessant alarm calls!

Work over, time to head for the hills and get back into the butterflies. Very nice afternoon basically meandering from Kouris to Arminou. Among the butterflies logged, approximately 220 Paphos Blues, 45 Eastern Festoons, 26 Orange Tips, six Cleopatra and a whole bunch of the more common species. Also added my first Long-tailed Blue of the trip and Speckled Woods for only the second time.

All in all, a pretty good day I reckoned.
23 April. Larnaca.

What a difference a week makes! Returning to Larnaca for another attempt on Little Tiger Blue, my first port of call was the Larnaca Water Treatment Pools and associated wetlands …one week earlier they had been absolutely excellent - heaving with bird migrants, including Collared Pratincoles, Ruddy Shelducks, Pallid Harrier, Gull-billed Terns, flocks of Garganeys and ranks of more abundant migrants such as Ruffs, Little Stints and allies. Now however, it was clear they had been a mass departure, the pools were relatively quiet, a mere half dozen Garganeys, moderately small flocks of waders, no unusual species and precious few Yellow Wagtails and Red-throated Pipits, both of which had been abundant on the previous visit. Even the Greater Flamingos had shifted out, the several hundred present now reduced to about 40.

On the butterfly front however I had high hopes - despite extensive searching a week earlier, I had not located a single Little Tiger Blue nor Dark Grass Blue. Fast forward a week of good sunny weather, maybe they would be on the wing. Started out on wasteland near the seafront, a Lesser Fiery Copper and a couple of Small Whites to kick things off, but no big numbers. But then a tiny butterfly caught my eye, flitting fast and erratic. Lost it a few times, then a glimpse on the ground …a species that had been eluding me for days, Dark Grass Blue! And then there were two. European range essentially limited to Cyprus and Crete, a good butterfly to see. Small colony of Pigmy Skippers also seen.

With that, time to try again for Little Tiger Blue on the shores of Larnaca Salt Lake. Key here is to find the Zizyphus lotus bushes, the butterflies rarely wander far from these, the food plant of the caterpillars. Well, good plan, I studiously examined each bush I found, nicely stratching my legs in the process. Not a sign, one last bush a little yonder. And there, quite miraculously, one exquisite Little Tiger Blue quietly sitting on a Zuzyphus leaf. Perfectly fresh, it would appear a new emergence. And then I found two more on adjacent flower. Success, three Little Tiger Blues, my final target species in Cyprus.

Temperature rising steadily, already 34 C early afternoon, I decided to spend the rest of the day climbing to the hilltop monastery at Stavrovouni. A delightful area of stunted pine, it was also good for Cyprus Graylings: after having seen only two all week, there clearly had been a major emergence, a minimum of 70 seen over the four kilometres I hiked. Also a few Small Coppers and, at higher altitude, about 16 Eastern Festoons.

And that was that for this day, all my targets on Cyprus now seen. Headed back to the coast for an evening on Larnaca.
Agla Varvara. 24 April.

Final half day on Cyprus, popped in to Agla Varvara, a convenient stop some 15 minutes north of Paphos airport. Four Little Crakes on the pools, along with a Purple Heron, three Squacco Herons, five Night Herons and a Purple Heron, three Great Spotted Cuckoos and a Masked Shrike active in the valley, but the day's main action fell to butterflies on a wander down the valley - a clear emergence, a number of very fresh Lesser Fiery Coppers flying, so too several Swallowtails and three Cyprus Meadow Browns, only the second day I had seen these. On top of these, one fresh Lulworth Skipper, my first of the trip, and a good bunch of others, including Common Blues, Mallow Skippers, Pigmy Skipper, Clouded Yellows, Bath White and plentiful Small Whites.

Then off to the airport, returned my car at midday, checked in for my flight. A grand total of 27 species of butterflies seen during my stay in Cyprus, including the three endemics (Cyprus Meadow Brown, Cyprus Grayling, Paphos Blue) and the much desired Little Tiger Blue and Dark Grass Blue.
Since there are very many online reports for birds in Cyprus, but a decided lack for butterflies, I add a full list of species here too:


Swallowtail (Papilio machaon)
Seven seen - one in Nicosia, two at Mavrokolypos Reservoir and four at Agia Varvara.

Eastern Festoon (Zerynthia cerisy cypria)
Localised, but fairly common in the low hills. Total records consisted of 30+ at Kouris Reservoir, about 20 at Gourri, one at Mavrokolypos Reservoir, about 25 at Arminou Reservoir and 16 at Stavrovouni.

Large White (Pieris brassicae)
Scattered individuals almost daily. Records included seven at Kouris Reservoir, five at Gourri, six at Mavrokolypos Reservoir and singles at Asprokremmos Reservoir, Arminou Reservoir and Stavrovouni.

Small White (Pieris rapae)
Widespread and common. Seen at all localities visited, best counts being 50-60+ at Larnaca Salt Lake, Kouris Reservoir, Mavrokolypos Reservoir and Agia Varvara. At all other sites, generally 10-20 seen per locality.

Bath White (Pontia daplidice)
Widespread, though considerably less common than Small White. Best numbers were about 20 at Kensington Cliffs and 15 at Mavrokolypos Reservoir. Elsewhere, scattered individuals were seen at Asprokremmos Reservoir, Mavrokolypos Reservoir, Kouris Reservoir, Larnaca Salt Lake and Agia Varvara.

Eastern Dappled White (Euchloe ausonia)
Total records consisted of three individuals at Kouris Reservoir, one at Nicosia and up to ten on both visits to Mavrokolypos Reservoir.

Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines)
Recorded in the low hills - Kouris Reservoir (up to 16 on both visits), Gourri (four) and Arminou Reservoir (10).

Clouded Yellow (Colias crocea)
Widespread, but not very common - only 14 seen over the week, these being scattered individuals at Larnaca Salt Lake, Kensington Cliffs, Mavrokolypos Reservoir, Asprokremmos Reservoir, Arminou Reservoir and Agia Varvara.

Cleopatra (Gonepteryx cleopatra)
Only recorded at Kouris Reservoir (two on 16th, four on 22nd) and Arminou Reservoir (two on 22nd).

Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)
One at Larnaca Salt Lake, 11 at Mavrokolypos Reservoir, one at Arminou Reservoir, four at Stavrovouni and one at Agia Varvara.

Lesser Fiery Copper (Lycaena thersamon)
Becoming more common as the week progressed - fairly faded individuals in the first half of the week (two at Larnaca Salt Lake, one at Kouris Reservoir and one at Kensington Cliffs), then fresh new generation individuals in the latter part of the week (three at Mavrokolypos Reservoir, one at Stavrovouni and eight at Agia Varvara).

Long-tailed Blue (Lampides boeticus)
One record only - a single at Arminou Reservoir on the 22nd.

Little Tiger Blue (Tarucus balkanicus)
After failing to find them a week earlier, three at Larnaca Salt Lake on the 23rd.

Dark Grass Blue
(Zizeeria karsandra)
Two at Larnaca Water Treatment Pools on the 23rd. Failed to find at this locality a week earlier, also failed to find in the Paphos area.

Paphos Blue (Glaucopsyche paphos)
Localised, but abundant where it occurred. The best numbers were in the low hills and included 200+ at Kouris Reservoir, 180+ at Asprokremmos Reservoir, about 80 at Mavrokolypos Reservoir and 70+ at Arminou Reservoir. Also seen on various roadsides in the hill country. The only individuals seen at sea level were eight at Kensington Cliffs.

Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus)
Widespread, but not overly abundant. In numbers up to 10-12, Common Blues were seen at Larnaca Salt Lake, Kouris Reservoir, Kensington Cliffs, Mavrokolypos Reservoir, Asprokremmos Reservoir, Arminou Reservoir and Agia Varvara.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
Only seen at two localities - Larnaca Salt Lake (one on 15th) and Mavrokolypos Reservoir (one on 19th, two on 21st).

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)
Widespread, small numbers seen most days. Best counts were eight at Larnaca Salt Lake and four at Mavrokolypos Reservoir. Elsewhere, one at Kensington Cliffs, two at Asprokremmos Reservoir, two at Kouris Reservoir and one at Larnaca Water Treatment Pools.

Cyprus Grayling (Hipparchia cypriensis)
The beginning of the flight period - singles were seen at Mavrokolypos Reservoir on the 19th and Kensington Cliffs on the 22nd, then a mass emergence of at least 50 at Stavrovouni on the 23rd.

Cyprus Meadow Brown (Maniola cypricola)
Early individuals, three were noted at Mavrokolypos Reservoir on the 19th, one there on the 21st, then three at Agia Varvara on the 24th.

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)
Only seen at Kouris Reservoir, two on both the 16th and 22nd.

Large Wall Brown (Lasiommata maera)
One record only - a slightly worn individual at Mavrokolypos Reservoir on the 19th.

African Ringlet (Ypthima asterope)
Seen at one locality in the Paphos area, six on the 19th, two on the 21st.

Mallow Skipper (Carcharodus alceae)
A total of seven seen - one at Larnaca Salt Lake, one at Kouris Reservoir, one in Nicosia, two at Mavrokolypos Reservoir and two at Agia Varvara.

Lulworth Skipper (Thymelicus acteon)
One at Agia Varvara on the 24th.

Millet Skipper (Pelopides thrax)
One at Mavrokolypos Reservoir on the 19th.

Pigmy Skipper (Gegenes pumilio)
Best numbers were at Mavrokolypos Reservoir (18 on first visit, 12 on second) and in the dunes near Larnaca Water Treatment Pools (eight individuals). Elsewhere, one at Larnaca Salt Lake, one at Asprokremmos Reservoir and one at Agia Varvara.

27 species

Mostly dedicated to butterflies, with the key target being Cretan Festoon, I stayed on the north coast for the first few days, then ventured into the mountains and to the south coast.

Chania-Heraklion. 24 April.

Late afternoon arrival from Cyprus, landing in Chania to the backdrop of snow-capped mountains to the south. I collected a car and departed en route to Heraklion, immediate impressions were of a far greener island than Cyprus, an abundance of roadside flowers quite enticing. Though already 4 pm and late in the day for butterflies, I nevertheless did a couple of random roadside stops, adding my first four species on Crete - Swallowtail, Small White, Brown Argus and Holly Blue.

On a small wetland near Georgioupilis, a Pygmy Cormorant was a little unexpected, sharing its pool with assorted Coots and Moorhens, plus a small flock of Wood Sandpipers. Alongside, common birds of Crete - pretty much like Cyprus, Sardinian Warblers all over the shop, Cetti's Warblers two-a-penny along the wetland edges. Not very much like Cyprus however, the ubiquitous House Sparrows of that island were replaced by the considerably more dapper Italian Sparrows.

Arrived in Heraklion early evening, base for the next three nights.
Late afternoon arrival from Cyprus, landing in Chania to the backdrop of snow-capped mountains to the south. I collected a car and departed en route to Heraklion, immediate impressions were of a far greener island than Cyprus, an abundance of roadside flowers quite enticing. Though already 4 pm and late in the day for butterflies, I nevertheless did a couple of random roadside stops, adding my first four species on Crete - Swallowtail, Small White, Brown Argus and Holly Blue.
It's actually very green right now after a lot of winter rain, come back in July and it will be like a desert, everywhere!
Karteros Canyon. 25 April.

Twenty minutes north-west of Heraklion, Karteros Canyon is a superb location - green, full of flowers and with an abundance of butterflies. Arriving at 9.00, when the main gorge was still shaded, I initially focussed on areas of trackside vegetation adjacent to overgrown olive orchards, the first butterflies already emerging from the grass - several Speckled Woods, many sparkling Lulworth Skippers, a Common Blue or two. To ensure no Little Skippers were hiding in their midst, I spent a little while studying the Lulworth Skippers. No Little Skippers in there it seemed however, so I next climbed a little rocky knoll - excellent here too, several Swallowtails 'hilltopping', a couple of Eastern Baton Blues too, plus a Pigmy Skipper and Small Copper. Day was looking good.

Before too long, it was time to head into the gorge, hopefully it would reveal a Cretan Festoon for me. Narrow, but quite open along the track, it really was good for butterflies - heading the cast, lots of Swallowtails, an abundance of Speckled Woods and Holly Blues, many Small Whites, plus two Mountain Small Whites and singles of both Eastern Dappled White and Eastern Bath White. Also no shortage of Clouded Yellows, singles of Red Admiral and Painted Lady, reasonably frequent Common Blues and Eastern Baton Blues and my only two Long-tailed Blues on Crete.

As for Cretan Festoon, they made me wait …having walked as far as an old building midway up the gorge, I was beginning to worry a little about their absence! I needn't have, exactly at that point, a small creamy Cretan Festoon came floating past, hawked up and down the slope numerous times, then had the grace to settle upon a flower, many festoons never seem to do this! Heavily spotted, a fine female Cretan Festoon sunning before me, the trip's number one target! Soon found two more, both males but far less enthusiastic to stop, preferring instead to patrol their territories with vigor.

I wandered further up the gorge, adding Brown Argus and Mallow Skipper, but soon it began to narrow and become more wooded, excellent for yet more Speckled Woods and Holly Blues, but probably not for much else. Turned and returned to the open country around the olive orchards, two Stone Curlews were a little put out by my appearance, Red-rumped Swallows zipped over.

More Eastern Baton Blues seen, but unfortunately I now had some work to do. Excellent first morning on Crete, 19 species of butterflies seen.
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Voulismeno Aloni. 26 April.

Didn't have much time this day, but did have enough to squeeze in a couple of hours in the morning to a couple of steep valleys in the limestone karst a little west of Heraklion. Highly picturesque and not at all bad for birds - Griffon Vultures rising in the morning sun, Alpine Swifts zigzagging between them, down below Blue Rock Thrush and Black-eared Wheatears in the valleys, Eastern Olivaceous Warblers common.

My focus however was still on butterflies …and what a pleasant two hours it was! Not as prolific as Karteros Canyon the day before, but I did manage 19 species again, including my only Cretan Small Heath of the trip, one of the island's endemics, along with several very smart Cretan Festoons, 18 Swallowtails, one Cleopatra, a number of Eastern Baton Blues and my first Wall Brown of the trip. Also Small White, Mountain Small White, Eastern Dappled White, Clouded Yellow, Small Copper, Common Blue, Holly Blue, Brown Argus, Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Speckled Wood and Lulworth Skipper.

Just before leaving, somewhere from a grove of old olives, a Scops Owl decided to make a rare daytime call. Clocked that location, then returned in the evening …what a racket, at least four very vocal Scops Owls in full voice, calls echoing around the slopes, one very close. Failed to see any however! Two Nightjars also churring, very atmospheric.
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Aposelemis Dam & Mount Ida. 27 April.

A half hour east of Heraklion, I had expected Aposelemis Dam to be similar in terms of butterflies to Karteros Canyon. As it turned out however, rather hotter and drier here, the lush greenery of Karteros more muted. Considerably less impressive for butterflies as a result, only nine species seen and moderately small numbers of all. On the butterfly front, the highlights were three Cretan Festoons and an Eastern Dappled White, but absolutely trumping them were three unexpected Eleonora's Falcons - not only impressive aerial displays, but even dropping down to drink at the reservoir, one dark phase, two intermediate.

With Aposelemis not as productive as hoped, I then changed plans and decided to head to the high mountains, specifically the Nida Plateau on Mount Ida. Sitting at 1400 metres, this is the key locality for Cretan Argus later in the year, but with extensive snow patches remaining, I didn't expect too much at this altitude. How wrong I was, the road up was spectacular, butterflies especially plentiful in the 'Goldilocks' zone between 600-1000 metres - fourteen species, tops being at least 40 Cretan Festoons floating around the slopes! Also, among the rest, abundant Clouded Yellows, more Eastern Dappled Whites, a few Holly Blues and both Brown Argus and Mallow Skipper. At the plateau itself, the air rare and the skies with Griffon Vultures and Red-billed Choughs, still butterflies - Cretan Festoon over snowfields, pure magic. Also up here, Mountain Small Whites seeming to replace the Small Whites from lower down, one Wall Brown and my only Large Tortoiseshell of the trip. Optimistically walked around the sheep-grazed plateau in the hope a Cretan Argus had decided to emerge a six weeks early …probably wisely, none had. Northern Wheatears and Black-eared Wheatears, plus several Chukars, the tally here.

My destination for the evening was Kamilari on the south coast, but though less than 20 km distant, the rocky trail heading that way seemed no place for a car. Had to backtrack all the way to Heraklion, total journey 105 km. Checked into my nice apartment in the early evening, spotted some potted Geraniums in the garden. And bingo, what a good choice of accommodation - the Geraniums hosted an exquisite Geranium Bronze, the only one I would see on this trip.
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Crete is somewhere I'd really love to return to, to have a better go at birding & photography. Didn't really appreciate it last time I was there.

Nice report so far Jos
Kamilari & Kastro Fortress. 28 April.

Work to deal with in the morning, but did pop out and notch up the Geranium Bronze again, still dutifully flitting around the potted geraniums in the garden, now accompanied by several Lulworth Skippers. Also Clouded Yellow and Swallowtail drifting by, several Small Whites too.

With work done, I decided to head into the hills, choosing at random the tracks up to Kastro Fortress, some 15 km north of Kalimari. Definitely a mistake taking the shortest route, the rough boulder strewn track not ideal for the car I was driving! Somehow got up without causing any lasting damage, left the car a kilometre short of Kastro Fortress and walked the remainder. First Meadow Browns of the trip soon seen, about 35 in all, superbly fresh individuals clearly just emerged. Lots of Clouded Yellows too, plus sail-by Swallowtails and a general mix of more usual species. A pleasant wander, a couple of Woodchat Shrikes on the way up, plus plentiful Sardinian Warblers et al. Nearing the fortress, a little purple patch of flowers, a patch of flowers actively attracting butterflies - to a backdrop of Painted Ladies and Small Whites, one very exquisite Scarce Swallowtail and one very diminutive Pigmy Skipper.

Somewhere around here, just after an Eastern Dappled White, I made the not very wise decision to scramble down a steep rocky slope …didn't so much as scramble, but lost my footing and went head over heels twice and unceremoniously landed at the bottom. Twisted one angle, hurt the other foot and sprained my wrist …didn't damage my camera though :)

So to the remainder of the afternoon, now sporting a distinct limp, I decided to explore the coastal strip near Timpaki. Used the slightly longer, but better, northern track and 20 minutes later I was aside the Timpaki Salt Lake. Tucked in between the sea, a road and a disused football pitch, this tiny postage stamp sized piece of aquatic habitat nevertheless was not bad - smack in the middle a Mute Swan, surely not a very common bird in Crete, but perhaps of more interest the reasonable selection of waders - as well as a few Little Ringed Plovers a single Ringed Plover and a couple of Black-winged Stilts, at least 45 Wood Sandpipers, about 30 Ruff, a dozen or so Little Stints, two summer-plumaged Curlew Sandpipers and, pride of place, sitting on a small gravel island, seven very nice Collared Pratincoles. With my foot and ankle both hurting, it seemed a good excuse to just sit a while and watch the goings-on. Suddenly the entire pool of waders shot into the air …storming in, one Peregrine causing considerable alarm. Fortunately it didn't catch one of the Collared Pratincoles, a few minutes later all seven flew back in.

Dragged myself away and hobbled off into meadows a kilometre or so back towards Kamilari. A couple more Swallowtails, my first Large White on Crete, but the highlights were once again avian - nicely rounding the day off, a flock of European Bee-eaters hawking over an adjacent slope, several Alpine Swifts in the midst. Climbed the slope and enjoyed the spectacle, so ended the day.
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