This trip was conceived when Kevin Austin sent me a copy of the 2008 catalogue of the Carabidae of Cyprus. John Walters and I have been trying to compile a collection of clean, neatly-carded specimens of all the British and Irish carabids for some years. Cyprus looked like it might be a good place to find some of the species which are now ‘missing presumed extinct’ in Britain and thus to fill some of the gaps in that collection. Kevin advised March and April to be the best months for carabids on the island so it looked like an ideal holiday before my UK field season gets into full swing.
Unfortunately, Jo was taken ill and spent two nights in hospital the week before we were due to leave. It was great news that she recovered fast and received doctor’s approval to travel on Friday 26th March but we were both exhausted by the time we disembarked at Pafos airport. And so our trip began slowly with both of us needing a good rest rather than dawn-till-dusk nat hist.
Sat 27th: A slow start to the holiday with a migrating Glossy Ibis over our apartment, and 7 species of carabids found in trashy habitat around Pafos. All the carabids were of genera that occur in Britain, and including a Platyderus that I presume to be the undescribed species numbered 214 in the Austin et al. (2008) catalogue.
Sun 28th: Pallid Swifts amongst the Common Swifts over the apartment and a Nightingale seen well nearby. We set off east to Fassouri reedbeds and Akrotiri Salt Lake in search of Acupalpus elegans. This small carabid was last seen in Britain on the Isle of Grain, north Kent in 1952. In the British literature it is reportedly confined to saline habitats, and found in saltmarshes, and in wet flushes on coastal cliffs and undercliffs. This had seemed to be the most guaranteed of my target species: “Really quite common in spring amongst damp reed litter in saline areas. Also found under stones, rubbish, etc in the same areas but normally in proximity to reeds”. Well I never did find it! In fact, carabids in general were really hard to find and this day yielded 15 species, mostly as single specimens though one or two species (Agonum nigrum and Tachys scutellaris/ centromaculatus) approaching double figures. Quite frustrating to see so many tiger-beetle larval burrows in the salt-flats with no adults around. Bumped into Black Francolin and Spectacled Warbler during the day. No new birds for me on this trip but Black Francolin is one of several species that I have not seen since I did my 6-week birding trip round Turkey and northern Cyprus in 1988.
Mon 29th: So far, we’ve been nowhere that you could actually describe as nice habitat, let alone pristine. Everywhere seems to be affected by development, hunting, tipping, and general abuse of the environment. So we strike out north towards the Akamas Peninsula where the battle against coastal development has not yet been lost. I am astounded by the dearth of carabids – just a single Carabus anatolicus despite rolling over a fair tonnage of boulders! Some good birding though with Cyprus Wheatears showing well, plus Cretzschmar’s Bunting, male Collared Flycatcher and an all-too-brief possible Goshawk.
Tues 30th: I’d had to shoulder the apartment door open on Friday evening as the latch had stuck, so spent the morning repairing the door frame. We spent the rest of the day admiring the archaeological sites of Pafos, including some superb mosaics. Added Short-toed Lark, Spanish Sparrow and Black Redstart to the bird list, and Swallowtail and Small Copper to the butterfly list.
Wed 31st: Feeling more rested and decide to set the alarm and do some proper birding in the morning, back on Pafos headland. About 60 Black-headed Wagtails going over SE in just 5 minutes standing outside the door at first light – so I reckoned straight away that it was going to be an interesting morning for migrants.
And so it was, with 45 Slender-billed Gulls NW, 1 Great Cormorant over, 2 Spur-winged Plover briefly at the point before flying off, 1 ‘dombrowskii’ Wagtail amongst the Black- and Blue-headeds, 1 Kingfisher, 1 Wryneck and 5 Cretzschmar’s Buntings.
Also great views of 4 Red-throated Pipits within about 100m of a flock of 4 Tree Pipits.
We plan a day in the Troodos mountains where I could potentially hope to find 3 of my target carabids. Two of them are alien species probably never established in Britain: Elaphropus quadrisignatus (a.k.a. Tachyura quadrisignata) and Porotachys bisulcatus. The other is a vagrant to Britain and a long shot on Cyprus: Calosoma sycophanta.
We get good views of the distinctive Cypriot races of Coal Tit and Jay, as well as a lovely pair of Masked Shrikes and then actually find Elaphropus quadrisignatus, amongst stream-side pebbles intermixed with Oriental Plane leaf-litter, 2 specimens. A quick stop by the River Diarizos on the way back to Pafos yields a range of wetland carabids including two familiar British species: Chlaenius vestitus and Anchomenus dorsalis.
Thurs 1st April: Jo joins me for another dawn round of Pafos headland. Fewer migrants then yesterday but we get cracking views of a male Pallid Harrier as well as our only Hoopoe sightings of the trip.
Decide to have one last-ditch attempt to find some of the target carabids, starting with Ophonus subquadratus at Asprokremmos Dam. After what seems like about an hour I find my first carabid of the day (Broscus nobilis) and after more unrewarding hard slog, I give up. Jo shows me a Long-eared Hedgehog – a charming creature but this one a road casualty. We move on to Zakaki reedbed. This is an appallingly degraded brackish, reed-fringed lagoon, remnant of a once much larger site now under a port development. Acupalus elegans was the target again but I still couldn’t find it. Did turn up a reasonable selection of carabids though including a single Daptus vittatus and a single adult Megacephala euphratica – the most superb carabid of the trip! Other compensation in the form of another male Pallid Harrier and a mole-cricket.
Fri 2nd: Back to culture today. We make an early start and arrive at Ancient Kourion for opening at 08:00 to make the most of the cooler part of the day. This must be the best place to go to see both Cyprus’ endemic birds (Cyprus Wheatear and Cyprus Warbler) easily and in the most spectacular of settings. I spend the heat of the day chasing around vainly with my net after what can only have been a Vagrant Emperor Hemianax ephippiger. It was unwise and most of the afternoon is spent resting in a shady beach restaurant at Avdimou, where an Audouin’s Gull flies past us.
Back into the field in the late afternoon and I indulge in one of my favourite ways of finding carabids – rolling over roller-bales in weedy arable fields. Sometimes you need at least four hands to grab all the beetles as they dash for cover but sadly not here. Thin pickings and just four species of carabid, though one of them (Orthomus berytensis) is a new one for the trip. It becomes apparent that not only has the sun driven all the carabids into deep cover but it has also given me sunstroke.
Sat 3rd: After throwing up yesterday evening and then sleeping for 15 hours, I still feel terrible. What a great holiday this is! In the evening, we gently stroll down to the seafront, and find a female Desert Wheatear. I’ve twitched 3 in Britain but this is the first I’ve seen abroad and the first I’ve found for myself.
Sun 4th: We’ve a few hours spare on our last morning to bird the Pafos headland before going to the airport. It gets quite a turn-over of birds and we add Black-eared Wheatear, Tawny Pipit and Skylark to our trip list, as well as seeing a flyover Purple Heron and getting more good views of Nightingales and Red-throated Pipits.
Not a very inspiring trip report I know! Obviously this reflects the fact that Jo and I were both knackered at the start of the trip and never got into our usual hard-core natural history stride. Part of the reason we didn’t was that we found many of the sites we visited to be degraded and abused and it was pretty dispiriting to see what Cyprus’ prosperity has done to the environment. Part of the reason too was that carabids were so unexpectedly difficult to find. I’m really basing this on experience in Britain but I have also done some carabid-hunting in Portugal, Spain, Turkey, Poland, Denmark, Finland, Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands. Only on Ibiza in high summer have I ever before felt that it was so unproductive as to be a waste of time. Seems like this spring has been a dry one for Cyprus and in a different year with different weather it might have been better.
95 species of birds seen without trying very hard. Annotated list here.
Beetle list to follow, eventually! Only collected Carabidae, Tenebrionidae, Elateroidea, Cerambycidae and Pselaphinae. Getting a collecting permit was simple thanks to this advice on Eddie John’s site and only took a couple of weeks to come through.