Tuesday, 13 December 2016

A visit to the Avakas Gorge

For many years wallcreeper was a major bogey bird for me, despite several visits to the Pyrenees, the Alps and various other suitable mountain ranges, e.g. Greece, I had failed to see one. That was until our last visit to Cyprus in December 2014. Although they don't breed in Cyprus, they do regularly winter in the Avakas Gorge just 15 miles or so north of Paphos. On that first occasion it was raining while we were in the gorge, the rocks were slippy and treacherous and rocks were falling from above, and we were keen to get out alive. By the skin of my teeth I saw a wallcreeper on the cliffs high above just as we were about to leave. It was one of the highlights of the last holiday, albeit a little distant.

Today I went back for another look, hoping to get a closer view on a mild sunny day. There are also other reasons for visiting the gorge, in particular the impressive array of rare flora which occur there. One species in particular, Akamas knapweed Centurea akamantis named after the Akamas penninsular in which the gorge is situated, grows at nowhere else in the World. It's a purple flower not unlike a thistle flower, but this plant like it's common British relative Centurea nigra doesn't have thorns. Having built it up, now I have to confess that its flowering season is over by December and all that remains are its leaves and seed heads. However there are other species which do flower in December, including the endemic Cyprus cyclamen Cyclamen cyprium the national flower of Cyprus. 

Of course the gorge is impressive enough in its own right, unlike any gorge I've been to before, in places the cliffs come so close you could touch both sides at the same time. It's not a huge gorge and the cliffs are white making any dark bird stand out, so there's always a decent chance of seeing an active wallcreeper, but it's still only one bird you are looking for in half a mile of cliff (on both sides), so not particularly easy.

Today though I got lucky, and just before I got to the narrow part of the gorge, I spotted a wallcreeper fluttering around the cliff face like a giant butterfly in its search for food. This was a much better and closer view, perhaps only 10 - 15m away.

It was very active and in the shadow of the cliff photography was difficult, but who cares when you get such good close views of a wallcreeper? However I did have to remind myself to enjoy watching the bird rather than try to get yet another rubbish photo, but it's a compromise and the photos are a nice momento.

There are warnings not to go into the gorge in rainy conditions, due to the risk of falling rocks and flash floods. You can see why.

Cyprus cyclamen.

When we first arrived in Cyprus 10 days ago everywhere was very dry and dusty, much more parched than when we were last here in 2014. However it had rained the week before we arrived, and it's rained since occasionally overnight, and the place has started to green up. These narcissus have started to appear in lots of places, including around the gorge. They really are a beautiful plant, sometimes they just seem to spring out of an ant hole, often singularly, but also in groups, and on such occasions I couldn't say if its one plant or several, or if it's coincidence that they're in an ant hole or if it's planned in some way, a kind of ecological interaction with the ant. Somebody will know no doubt, I just appreciate it's beauty.

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