(7) Blog Posts Made in December 2013

SPTA West

It is the last week of the year and the Plain has been basking in sunshine, well some of the time.  The main roads are open as well as Imber Church and the village has been packed and chaotic with cars parked on both sides of the road as far as the bridging site 1.  I shall however start on the Centre as the annual murmuration of Starlings is back in force.  This year they are being very secretative and have estabished a roost in the centre of the impact area just south of Chirton Gorse.  I found them by following a flock and driving down the track between Redhorn Vedette and Bombard (not brilliant for cars).  There were 3 main groups and the bushes were packed.  In addition I saw 3 Peregrines that had finished hunting for the evening and were flying away.  Last Sunday I led a walk for the Wiltshire Ornithological Society to the north and west of Imber Village.  There were 46 of us and we had a very pleasant walk in the sun.  On the Plain that day was a massive cycling event, a running event, geo-caching group plus motorcross.  Then there were all the visitors to the church so it was very busy.  Fortunately we were on our own out on the training area and though there were not many birds we did see 29 species.  There were no big flocks of thrushes but there was one of Goldfinches.  In addition we saw Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Redpoll, Goldcrest, Sparrowhawk, Woodcock and Stonechat to mention a few.  The previous day I had also seen Great Spotted Woodpecker and Reed Bunting on the route.  Alas there was not a Hen Harrier nor a Short-eared Owl.  I did see them that afternoon however at bridge crossing 3.  I popped out this afternoon to the eastern side of the Warminster Danger Area and though I did not see the key wintering birds there were plenty of other birds especially in some of the scrub and gorse that has not yet been removed.  One of my favourite warbler sites by Gurkha Track is being scrubbed out and soon there will be little scrub left.  The winter bournes are not yet running though there are plenty of puddles and the ponds are full.  Despite lots of visitors, away from the major routes the area remains wild and a haven for wildlife.  Happy New Year.

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Cyprus Weekly

Birding Highlights for the Week Ending 29 Dec

Greylag Goose at Larnaca Sewage Works on 25 Dec

* Indicates that a photo of the species is included please visit Flickr site.

I visited Akhna Dam on Monday and a drake Gadwall was unusual.  A Sparrowhawk was the first for the month, as was a Long-legged Buzzard.  With Deb at work, I visited the North to have a look at Koprulu, which was very dry with few birds present.  I did see several Golden Plovers on route and 4 Wood Larks were feeding with Meadow Pipits, Crested Larks and Corn Buntings.  I drove the fields around Gulvercinlik and this produced large numbers of Calandra and Skylarks, with Calandras becoming difficult in the south, they were a good find.  On the way to Gulserin Pond, which now has water, I stopped at Clapsides Beach.  In the surf were 2 Audouin’s Gulls, an Armenian Gull, several Yellow-legged Gulls, a Sandwich Tern, Grey Plover and a Curlew.  A lone adult Greater Flamingo in the sea was a bit of an odd sighting.  At Gulserin Pond a Spotted Redshank was good to see, with good numbers of Dunlin and Little Stint.  A Sparrowhawk flushed everything a couple of times but an adult Armenian Gull was obvious.  Later in the day at Akhna, a good number of Red-throated Pipits were in the fields behind the dam with c80 Corn Buntings and 4 Great White Egrets were scattered around the dam.

Unlikely as it seems on Christmas Day, I twitched a Greylag Goose* at Larnaca Sewage Works.  Only in Cyprus would you do such a thing, but with an addition to the Cyprus Year List and the first record since 2005, it was a “must see” bird.  Safely in the bag along with 13 Greater White-fronted Geese* and a superb male Hen Harrier with 224 Golden Plovers on Spiro’s Pool, Christmas Day could continue.

On Boxing Day we ventured over to the North as the shops were open and we needed some bread rolls.  Silver Beach held 27 Golden Plovers and 4 Shelduck, whilst Clapsides had a Wigeon which was unusual.  A shave at the barbers followed because I’m on leave and was too lazy to do it myself.  The 27th at Akhna Dam was fairly dull, although the Buff-bellied Pipit was still present with Meadow Pipits and a single Water Pipit.  Hung-over on the 28th, bad head stopped play!

On the 29th amidst a huge thunder storm which seemed to be island wide and following an earthquake which was of a 5.9 magnitude (and yes, the earth did move for me), I drove to Larnaca Sewage Works.  It was all a bit of a washout and seldom do I sack birding in Cyprus because I can’t hold my scope still or see through the rain.  Anyway, from what I did see, 2 Black-winged Stilts and a Redshank were on the lagoons with 11 Black-necked Grebes and 5 Shelducks.  As I drove past the Salt Lake returning home, it was good to see 68 Greater Flamingos returning to the lake and at least 80 Shelducks on the mud at the edge of the lake.  I returned home and it rained for the rest of the day.

Highlight of the Week:  The Greylag Goose of course and the first record since 2005, although I had seen them in my previous tour in 1998, 99 and 2000 – they used to be more regular.

Look Forward:  A New Year is looming and so to the beginning of a New Year list – childish I know, but it keeps you interested and going out.

If you are planning a visit or require more info please feel free to contact me at:  birder639@yahoo.com

Mark Easterbrook

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Cyprus Weekly

Birding Highlights for the Week Ending 22 Dec

Ruddy Shelduck Larnaca Sewage Works on 21 Dec

* Indicates that a photo of the species is included please visit Flickr site to view.

So commenced another week of not much activity due to other commitments.  On Monday we returned from Istanbul late in the evening and went straight to bed when we got home.  On 17th, Tuesday I was waiting-on at the Juniors’ lunch and had no time to do anything.  On Wednesday, the dreaded man flu struck and I went to bed for the day and finally on Thursday, I managed to get to Akhna Dam.  Amongst the Meadow Pipits was the Asian Buff-bellied Pipit* again. A couple of Water Pipits were present and a Marsh Harrier was present with a pair of Wigeon making an appearance.  3 Great White Egrets were amongst good numbers of Grey Herons and a Blackbird was unusual.  At Ay Nik, 2 Little Owls called to each other and sat on top of the Christmas tree (nice)!  On Friday, I ventured over the north, and Gulserin Pond had some water in it attracting Shovellers, Little Stints and Dunlins.  5 Armenian Gulls were amongst the Black-headed Gulls.  At Clapsides Beach, a Grey Plover was the highlight whilst at Silver Beach, 5 Golden Plovers were present with a lonely drake Wigeon and a Cetti’s, Sardinian and Spectacled Warbler made appearances.  2 adult Night Herons were at the Fresh Water Lake South with 15 Cormorants and the usual 300 or so Cattle Egrets came to roost.

On Saturday, I rose early and headed to the Larnaca area.  On the airport pool south, 4 adult Armenian Gulls were harassed by female Hen Harrier and a male Black Francolin flew for the cover of the scrub as I drove by.  On the lagoons, a Ruddy Shelduck*, 13 Greater White-fronted Geese, a drake Gadwall, 8 Greater Flamingos, a Sanderling, 11 Black-necked Grebe and a 1st Winter Mediterranean Gull.  On Spiro’s pool 32 Golden Plovers and on the beach, a Grey Plover, Redshank and Ringed Plover were present.  Larnaca Salt Lake held at least 500 Shelduck and at the northern end, I was greeted by the sight of a Wryneck – which is unusual for December.  The marshy area held good numbers of Snipe, Teal, a single Temminck’s Stint and 4 female type Reed Buntings.  3 Marsh Harriers patrolled the area and good numbers of Dunlins and Little Stints were present on the salt lake.  Oroklini Marsh (which has a new hide), held little of interest but a Peregrine and a Common Buzzard flew over and 12 Greater Flamingos were new.  A little further along the coast at Dolphin Rocks, 4 Sandwich Tern, a Caspian Gull, and a 2nd Winter Med Gull was the highlights.  Wigeon had increased to 4 at Akhna Dam and a drake Pintail was also feeding actively.

On Sunday, Deb and I went for a drive to the Cape Greco area and had lunch.  A pair of migrant Common Buzzards headed out over the sea.  Sardinian Warblers were much in evidence and very vocal, a female Finsch’s Wheatear was below the Army Camp cliffs, a single Chukar looked pathetic and a male Black Redstart was at the Cape Greco Pines area.  3 Audouin’s Gulls and a Little Egret were at Kermia Beach and on the way home after some searching 2 Greater Sand Plovers, a Dunlin and a Common Sandpiper were found amongst the Kentish Plovers at Ayia Thekla.  Another adult Audouin’s Gull loafed on the rocks at Potomas Liopetri and a Sandwich Tern was nearby.

So ended a fairly uneventful week but it got me back into the swing of it after the holiday in Istanbul.

Highlight of the Week:  The Ruddy Shelduck and another sighting with photograph of the Buff-bellied Pipit.

Look Forward:  With Christmas upon us predictions are low so it’s case of getting out when I can and seeing what turns up.

If you are planning a visit or require more info please feel free to contact me at:  birder639@yahoo.com

Mark Easterbrook

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SPTA West

It has been very quiet on the Plain with only a few military stragglers still training before the roads were opened up last weekend.  It has been very windy and at times rather wet.  Only 6 of us braved the elements for a walk last Saturday.  The only birds of note were a large flock of Great Tits with some Blue Tits and a Coal Tit.  Of course there were the normal corvids and Woodpigeons.  We had plenty of fresh air even if the birds thought we were mad being out in the open. The previous day was much better (no rain) and I popped out for a look at the newly arrived Great Grey Shrike at the back of Harman Lines.  If this was the same bird as last year it may think it is in the wrong place as so much of the scrub has been removed.  There are only a few little patches left by Battlesbury Bowl and the Boreham Valley.  It was a very confiding bird as I started to attach my camera to my telescope (Birdfair purchase) it flew closer resulting in a quick change of lens by me.

The previous weekend was the Hen Harrier Survey and whilst they had 7 birds in the Centre the West saw none!  There were teams out on Saturday (not so strormy) and a few of us did the Sunday as well.  There were Golden Plover, Lapwings, Fieldfare, Kestrels and 2 Merlin but no harriers.  None of the birds roosting in the Centre came from the West so the thought is that somewhere there is a roost on the West.  The difficulty is that there has been so much scrub clearance and gazing that there does not seem to be an area that would be the right habitat to search.  As there are no troops on the area members of the conservation group will be out looking during the break.  The only other people out will be the Deer Management team but they cannot get close to deer as so much scrub has been removed.  (I wonder if the farming HLS payments are due soon?).  As the rain lashes the windows I will not be popping out on the Plain for a last look before Christmas therfore,

Merry Christmas to my reader smile

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Cyprus Weekly

Birding Highlights for the Week Ending 15 Dec

Alexandrine Parakeet at Gulhane Park Istanbul on 15 Dec

* Indicates that a photo of the species is included please visit Flickr site to view.

On Tuesday I visited the north to get some Turkish Lira prior to the trip to Istanbul.  At Clapsides Beach, 2 Curlew, 4 Grey Plover numerous Dunlins and Kentish Plovers were of interest and at Silver Beach, 4 Golden Plovers were new.  I moved onto the Fresh Water Lake South and watched 304 Cattle Egrets come into roost.  Whilst watching I saw a lone Great White Egret, 8 Cormorants, 2 Grey Wagtails, 4 Night Herons and an adult Armenian Gull washing amongst the Black-headed Gulls but nothing very unusual.

Unseasonal poor weather across the Levant produced a rare event – an un-birdable day, very rare in Cyprus.  In any event I stayed in and packed for the trip to Istanbul.  On Thursday we flew to Istanbul arriving to snow and very cold conditions.  Throughout the visit birds were scarce save for the ubiquitous Yellow-legged* and Black-headed Gulls.  I did see 2 Sandwich Terns patrolling the Bosphorus and Cormorants and Shags were well represented with Starlings sat on the Galata Bridge.  Visiting Topkapi Palace and Gulhane Park, there were the usual common woodland species with a, what appeared to be a mixed breeding colony of Alexandrine* and Ring-necked Parakeets.  I was unaware that Alexandrine Parakeets had a breeding population in the Western Paleactic and although I have seen them elsewhere they did represent a European and WP “tick”, albeit from introduced stock.  The usual Hooded Crows*, House Sparrows* and I was surprised to see Palm (Laughing Doves)* around the city.  However in Gulhane Park, despite searching for a Syrian Woodpecker as I had heard one, I think numbers are reduced probably due to the Parakeet population taking the nest holes.  There were also nest boxes for them in the park, so their expansion will be excessive.  A couple of Common/Steppe Buzzards were over the Palace but generally birding was at a low and unfortunately shopping was at a high.  When you arrive with a 12Kg case and leave with a 17 Kg case, you can work out for yourselves what went on!

Istanbul is a fantastic place and well worth a visit.  I plan to visit again in September to catch some raptor migration across the Bosphorus.

Highlight of the Week:  A mixed colony of Alexandrine* (WP “tick) and Ring-necked Parakeets in Gulhane Park, Istanbul.

Look Forward:  Many species have been pushed south due to the poor weather coming down from the Arctic across the Black Sea, through Turkey and towards the Lavant so something good should turn up.

If you are planning a visit or require more info please feel free to contact me at:  birder639@yahoo.com

Mark Easterbrook

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Cyprus Weekly

Birding Highlights for the Week Ending 8 Dec

Female Little Bustard at Geri (Buffer Zone) on 4 Dec

* Indicates that a photo of the species is included please visit Flickr site to view.

As is the norm there was no possibility of birding on Monday although going to lunch a Great Tit was present in the camp area.  On the morning of the 3rd, a Black Redstart was present near to the accommodation blocks.  On Tuesday afternoon which was pretty miserable and windy, I visited Akhna Dam.  Water Pipits seem to have declined in numbers and the Buff-bellied Pipit was nowhere to be seen.  In the fields a single Red-throated Pipit, complete with red throat was amongst c60 Corn Buntings but there wasn’t much of interest.  At the dam, the now regular female Hen Harrier spooked what waders were present which included 5 Redshanks, 1 Greenshank and a Dunlin.  Good numbers of Spur-winged Plovers are wintering and a single Teal flushed from the water’s edge.  Meadow Pipits and Wood Larks were well represented and a male Black Francolin flew in and quickly hid in the undergrowth.  On the way home at Vrysoulles, no Barn Owl but a Little Owl was present in the regular roost.  I received an email late on Tuesday informing me that there was a Little Bustard in the buffer zone near a town called Geri – south of Nicosia, but no more details.  It had been found by a local naturalist and photographer, George Chris.

On Wednesday at work, I received an email from Colin Richardson, informing me that access had been arranged to see the Bustard and where I had to be and at what time.  As soon as I’d finished work I drove to the “twitch” – with 3 of us there that’s as big as it gets in Cyprus for the 3rd record of Little Bustard.  As we drove to the area a female Hen Harrier flew over the fields, whilst several Larks and Stonechats were also present.  Suddenly there was the Little Bustard*, a female not 10 yards from the car.  Feeding actively and very tame, we edged closer taking some great shots and looking at its cryptic plumage in detail – a fantastic bird for Cyprus.  I fear for its well being, as it is so tame and seemingly having no fear, I would have thought that the likelihood of it being shot is high.  As we left the area we saw a male Finsch’s Wheatear and Black Redstart.  On the way home I stopped at Larnaca Sewage Works – shame to miss an opportunity and as it’s the first visit of the month, caught up with some good species for the monthly checklist.  3 Gadwalls was a good count, 5 immature Greater Flamingos were feeding and 3 Black-necked Grebes were predictable.  Shellducks have increased to 76 and Greater White-fronted Geese have reached 12.  Waders represented were 1 Ruff, 5 Redshanks and 4 Little Stints.  A single adult Mediterranean Gull loafed with c700 Black-heads, but generally it was all rather predictable.  Spiro’s Pool held 136 Golden Plovers and the Airport fields another 31 and an adult male Peregrine Falcon.  On Spiro’s Beach, 1 adult Ringed Plover and 4 Kentish Plovers was at that was available.  Still, a great day out with superb views of the Little Bustard which were the best I’ve ever had anywhere in the world.

Thursday was the promotion board results and as I was unsuccessful, I got drunk anyway.  On Friday, I took Deb to Nicosia before proceeding to Troodos for the station Christmas Ball.  In Ledra Street, Nicosia a Grey Wagtail called and flew above me which was unexpected.  The weather was horrendous in the mountains and with visibility down to about 5 metres, no birding was done.  A patch of clear weather on Saturday morning allowed me to catch up with most of the mountain endemics an in the village of Omodos, several Sardinian Warblers and Serins showed periodically.  A single Grey Wagtail was at the Caledonian Falls Trout Farm but with the cloud cover coming down once more that was it for the day.

On Sunday, returning home I stopped at Oroklini Marsh where a large group of Lapwings had gathered along with a single Starling.  At the nearby Dolphin Rocks, a single Caspian Gull joined c170 Black-headed Gulls and 3 Sandwich Terns.  Continuing the coastal theme, at Dhekelia Power Staition, at least 13 Shags had gathered.  I dropped Deb at home and returned to Akhna Dam where it was very quiet, however I re-found the Asian (japonicus) Buff-bellied Pipit* and got a bit of a ropey photo for recording purposes.

Highlight of the Week:  The 3rd record of Little Bustard for Cyprus, showing down to 5 metres.

Look Forward:  Christmas is upon us but next weekend we are off to Istanbul to celebrate Deb’s Birthday, so birding highlights may be a bit sparse.

If you are planning a visit or require more info please feel free to contact me at:  birder639@yahoo.com

Mark Easterbrook

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Cyprus Weekly

Birding Highlights for the Week Ending 1 Dec

Buff-bellied Pipit at Akhna Dam 24 Nov

* Indicates that a photo of the species is included please visit Flickr site to view.

Where has the year gone?  I can’t believe it’s December already!  Anyway, with the beginning of the week came 2 independent confirmations that the bird I photographed on 24 November at Akhna Dam was indeed a Buff-bellied Pipit* of the Ssp Japonicus (Asian Buff-bellied Pipit), although not split from the North American form rubescens it is very obviously different. With 2 previously reported this year, one in March and probably the same bird as I saw earlier in the month; perhaps they’ve always been present but remained undetected?  Having looked for the bird in several Middle East countries the most recent being Israel in 2011 with Tim Cowley, I was delighted to catch up with it.  Submitted to the sub-rarities committee, we await the outcome.  As is the norm, no birding was undertaken on Monday due to the early evenings drawing in; it is now scarcely bird-able by 1610.

On Tuesday, a Christmas visit to JUMBO.  With Oroklini now flooded again, the prospects are good.  However, on arrival there was work taking place on behalf of Birdlife Cyprus to regenerate the area and make it more of a reserve.  When completed it looks like it will be a good site for birds, although accessing and viewing may be difficult so not so good for birders.  So not much was seen but Water and Meadow Pipits were around in good numbers, 9 Teal, a group of Spur-winged Plovers and a Grey Heron.  At the man made channel next to JUMBO, 7 Little Ringed Plovers, 4 Little Stints and 4 Spur-winged Plovers were present.

Wednesday presented an opportunity to get to Akhna Dam which was extremely quiet, although a female Hen Harrier flushed good numbers of Corn Buntings as I entered the site.  I did however managed to locate and photograph the Buff-bellied Pipit* once more amongst Water and Meadow Pipits.  As I watched, I caught site of a Water Rail briefly, which then flew to another reed bed where 2 Bluethroats were located.  As I left the site, I paused to look at the waders which consisted of 5 Redshanks and 2 Redshanks amongst the 30 or so Spur-winged Plovers.

On Wednesday afternoon I visited Akhna Dam to see what was new.  A Black-winged Stilt was new, a Water Rail was seen as I watched and photographed the Buff-bellied Pipit* again amongst the Meadow* and Water Pipits*.  2 Greenshanks were noisy as several Corn Buntings and a Red-throated Pipit passed overhead and a female Hen Harrier was nice to see.  On Thursday, Christmas decorating of the Mess took precedence and you can imagine how delighted I was that this activity had stopped me from birding?

On Friday afternoon, I met Colin Richardson and 3 other birders from Paphos who were interested in seeing the Buff-bellied Pipit.  After some time we located the bird once more feeding amongst the other Pipits so all were delighted with the result.  Whilst watching we added Starlings, Wood Larks, Greenshanks and a Great White Egret and the star of the day and a year tick for me a female Merlin did a fly through.  With Marsh and Hen Harriers putting in appearances, the last bird of the day was a surprised Moustached Warbler.  Saturday was fairly dull where only a Redshank and a Black Redstart were seen at Silver Beach prior to having the “Movember” growth removed by Mehmet.

At Dhekelia Fire Station on 1st Dec, 10 Stone Curlews were roosting with a Black Redstart close by.  At Akhna Dam later in the afternoon, many Pipits were still present but I couldn’t find the Buff-bellied on this occasion.  A single Greenshank and Great White Egret were still active and a newly arrived Dunlin was also on the lagoons.  With the wind blowing “a hooley”, there was little chance of much else but a cracking male Hen Harrier followed by a female and a female Marsh Harrier were a consolation.

Highlight of the Week:  Confirmation of the Buff-bellied Pipit* sighting.

Look Forward:  A trip to Troodos next weekend for the Xmas Ball could bring anything and hopefully a Brambling.

If you are planning a visit or require more info please feel free to contact me at:  birder639@yahoo.com

Mark Easterbrook

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