Sunday, 21 December 2014

American wigeon, Marshside

The American wigeon was again at Marshside today, and showed well at quite close range, but spent much of its time asleep. The light was also pretty poor, which didn't help from a photography point of view.

Year 2014: 281 (American wigeon)

This is probably about a third of the wigeon flock.

Rossall Point, Fleetwood

We called in at Rossall Point today for a look at the long staying shorelark which showed exceptionally well in the picnic area next to the cafĂ©. Then we  had even better views of the snow bunting which was on the beach near the lookout. Supporting cast included three purple sandpipers, turnstones, ringed plover and three red-breasted mergansers.

Year 2014: 280 (Shorelark)

Friday, 19 December 2014

Overwintering "brevirostris" Chiffchaffs in Cyprus

Set against all of the fantastic species I saw on my holiday to Cyprus in December 2014, such as Finsch's wheatear, spur-winged plover, wallcreeper and greater sandplover, you might think that a chiffchaff would be amongst the least interesting. You'd be wrong. On 14th December I innocently recorded the call of one of the many individuals I came across, uploaded it to xeno-canto as race brevirostris and put a link to it on my blog, little realising that it was about to be analysed by some of the leading chiffchaff experts in the land, and potentially help change our understanding of the wintering ranges of chiffchaff. Based on these discussions, emails and personal research, I've put together a summary below of the situation as I see it regarding wintering chiffchaffs in Cyprus. Thanks to John Harris for his help.

Disclaimer: The following notes are entirely my opinion based on extremely limited non-scientific observations and do not necessarily represent the opinions of any other individual.

Virtually from the moment I arrived in Cyprus I couldn't fail to be aware of chiffchaffs. At first they were annoying little blighters because I couldn't work out what it was that was calling. They were a frequent, nagging soundtrack to all of the other fantastic birds I was seeing as if they were saying "forget that spur-winged plover, look at me"! The problem was, they weren't calling "huweet" like the British chiffchaff  Phylloscopus collybita collybita, they were calling "peep", in fact a call very similar to that of Siberian chiffchaff P. c. tristis, and there were lots of them about. I probably heard upwards of 10 a day, all over the place in a variety of habitats.

Following a little research on the Internet I came to the conclusion that in both plumage and call, these chiffchaffs most closely matched birds from the region of N and W Turkey, which have been designated as brevirostris by some authors but are merged with abietinus by others. However at this stage I still had no knowledge of the status of brevirostris on Cyprus.

Fortunately I recorded one of the calls and uploaded it to xeno-canto (you can hear it below). After an initial contact by John Harris, I got involved in email conversations with several people, including internationally recognised chiffchaff experts and senior BirdLife Cyprus representatives regarding the possible race of these birds.

It turned out that brevirostris has never been officially recorded on Cyprus. The long held assumption was that over wintering chiffchaffs on Cyprus fall into two races, P. c. collybita and P. c. abietinus. However, both of these races call "huweet", a call which I just didn't hear in the 13 days I was on the island. Everything went "peep".

My recording was analysed, and based on that analysis it emerged that the Cyprus birds do indeed have a call matching brevirostris. Far from being unknown on Cyprus my experience from admittedly limited observations indicate that brevirostris (whether as a separate race or just a form of abietinus) is by far the commonest chiffchaff in winter, certainly in the areas of western Cyprus which I visited.

So I suppose we can conclude by saying, if future research shows that  brevirostris warrants status as a separate taxon, then this is probably the race of chiffchaff which overwinters on Cyprus. If not, then the race occurring on Cyprus in the winter is indeed abietinus but it is the eastern form which calls "peep" and not "huweeet". Clearly anybody visiting Cyprus who hears a "peep" needs to consider this before claiming a tristis. Research into chiffchaff genetics is continuing.....

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Harriers and chiffchaffs around Nata Village

This afternoon we had a final walk with the dog up into the hills around Nata village. Our walk took us through almond and olive groves, and the common birds were serin, linnet, Sardinian warbler and Stonechat.

We came across one small area of almonds which had a small flock of hawfinches, I still can't get over how relatively common they are here. Apparently it's been an exceptional winter for them, not only here but in Greece and probably Turkey as well.

Also "peeping" away in the bushes and scrub, chiffchaffs, which it now appears may well be brevirostris after all, but that's a story for another day. Its a developing stort as they say! They have a sibe chiffchaff like call, but apparently they've never been recorded on  Cyprus before, so what's going on?

Best sight of the day, and perhaps most surprising, four hen harriers flying over the hillside. Two males and two ringtails.

 Almond flower.


Male hen harrier.


Paphos sewage works

I managed to persuade Elaine that no holiday to Cyprus was complete without a visit to Paphos sewage works,  so we called in briefly. There was work going on and most birds had probably been scared away,  but there were still two spur-winged plovers and a cattle egret.

Highlight of the day was a red throated pipit which flew over calling.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Fabulous Finikas Finsch's finale

Today we took the dog for a 10 mile hike over the hills near Nata, returning via Finikas village and the Asprokremmos Dam for a last look at our local Finsch's wheatears. On the walk we came across lots of serins, several chukar, a few Sardinian warblers and a small flock of about 10 woodlarks, but as expected most of the bird action was around the abandoned village, where we found an adult blue rock thrush, two Finsch's wheatears, several black redstarts and a couple of Chiffchaffs of the race brevirostris, one of which at last allowed me to grab a photograph to put with the sound recording  I made on Sunday.

Blue rock thrush.

Finsch's wheatear.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Striated Heron, Zakaki Marsh

I finally caught up with the juvenile striated heron at Zakaki this morning. This is the first for Cyprus and possibly a first for Europe. It's the Old World equivalent of the North American green heron, in fact at one time they were considered conspecific. Now they are considered separate species. This bird has been here for about six weeks, but can be very elusive, partly because it's such a tiny heron, but also because it often disappears into a pipe for long periods.

I have seen green heron twice in the UK, and also in Florida, but striated heron is a new bird for me, my 7th new bird of the holiday.

Nice hairdo!

You can really see how small it is in this photo. Behind it is one of the pipes it flies down when it gets disturbed!

Humming Bird Hawkmoth, Nata Village

Monday, 15 December 2014

Narcissus at the Baths of Aphrodite

We spent the day on the Akamas Peninsular just north of Paphos, and took one of the nature trails at the Baths of Aphrodite. Birds were pretty thin on the ground, with just a few Sardinian warblers, chiffchaffs and a single chukar. There were a few nice plants in flower, especially the bunch-flowered daffodil (Narcissus tazetta) and Persian cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum). 

Narcissus tazetta.

Cyclamen persicum. I've finally solved my cyclamen problem! This is the same species I saw at the Tombs of the Kings.


Adult Yellow-legged gull. Worth comparing this photo with those of the Armenian and Caspian gulls.

Phlomis cypria - var. occidentalis (Western or Cyprus Jerusalem sage). Endemic to Cyprus, it grows only on the Akamas Peninsular and even here is so rare that it was surrounded by an impressive looking cage, presumably to protect it from goats, but perhaps also plant collectors.

Don't know what this is. Some type of hyacinth I think. It looks like a dwarf bluebell.

The Akamas Peninsular looking towards the Blue Lagoon and the Baths of Aphrodite.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Bits and pieces

Our trip up to the Troodos mountains today ended in disappointment as there was dense low cloud and periods of heavy rain near the top. However, on the way up we came across a ringtail hen harrier being mobbed by a kestrel, whilst in one of the villages just before Troodos we found a flock of about 15 hawfinches. Hawfinches seem pretty common in Cyprus this winter, I'm not sure if this is a regular occurrence or a one off, but I think that we've seen more of them than chaffinches!

Star of the day though goes to a diminutive coal tit. The Cyprus race Periparus ater cypriotes is a potential future split and armchair tick!

We abandoned the Troodos without even walking 100m, it was too bad. We headed back to the coast, to Petra tou Romiou, where the weather was much better and we had spectacular views over Cape Aspro. There were lots of Sardinian warblers here, but not a sniff of a Cyprus warbler. However, calling in one of the bushes was a chiffchaff of the race brevirostris, with a "peep" call rather than the "huweet" of the British collybita. I've seen and heard lots of these chiffchaffs while I've been in Cyprus and it is deserving of it's own blog entry. See the blog entry dated 19th December for a full write up of this.

Whilst walking the dog this morning I could hear a black francolin calling not too far from the house. Hopefully I'll catch up with it before the end of the holiday (and before the hunters get it).

Another Armenian Gull

This photo, from the same set as yesterday from Lady's Mile, shows another adult Armenian gull. Compare this photo with the one of the 3cy flapping its wings in the first photo from yesterday.The bill has the same black band, the head looks like it's the same shape and the wing tips look the same(almost completely black and triangular with very small mirrors) but this bird has a slightly larger mirror on P9.

Normally when I'm abroad I dismiss the larger gulls  as irrelevant but with so many splits these days I've paid more attention this time, and it's paid dividends with two new species for me.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Lady's Mile gull fest

This morning the rain was torrential so we hung around the house for a few hours. When it cleared we headed off to the Akrotiri Peninsular, starting at the huge salt lake. This is one of the best birding sites in Cyprus, but I've never done particularly well here. Even so, today there was an impressive flock of about 1600 greater flamingos, but they were a long way out on the lake.

Next we headed to Zakaki Marsh. There's been a striated heron here, as recently as yesterday, but there was no sign of it today, making it the first major dip of the holiday. I wasn't too worried about it though, I didn't actually think I'd even get the opportunity to try for it. There were a few water pipits here, a marsh harrier, kingfisher, water rail and two little egrets.

Then we continued onto Lady's Mile and here amongst the gull flock I was delighted to find my first ever Caspian gull. I took a few photos, and when I looked at them later I realised that there was also a Armenian gull alongside the Caspian! Another new bird for me!

I've spoken via email with the BirdLife Cyprus Bird Recorder, and she has taken a look at these photos and confirmed that I have got my id's correct, they do show Caspian and Armenian gulls.

There has also been a discussion about these birds here on Bird Forums, where the identity of each has been confirmed.

Nice to find them and identify them for myself, and even better to have them confirmed. I don't pretend to be a gull expert!

To put this into context, yesterday there were 20 Caspian gulls and 10 Armenian gulls reported from Lady's Mile.

I've never seen one before, but this is a classic Caspian gull, probably 2nd calander year. Note the ridiculously long bill and pear shaped head. This bird is on all of the following gull photos.

The top right bird is a third winter Armenian gull.

The top left bird is an adult Armenian gull. No sure what the bird on the right is, it looks too small to be Armenian to me. Possibly 2nd cy yellow legged gull?

Now the adult Armenian and 2cy Caspian gulls are in the middle, but what's the bird in the foreground? My best bet is a first winter Armenian gull.

Here's a close up of the Armenian gull. Notice the flat looking head, the stubby looking parallel sided bill with a black band near the tip. Also the dark eye. Compare this quite friendly looking profile with that of the vicious looking Caspian gull in the first photo.

These are the same three birds as in the previous photo.

Water pipit.

Limassol harbour.

Akrotiri salt lake with Limassol behind.