Bird Watching in Cyprus
By: Richard Bowles
Northern Cyprus is one of the most unspoiled of all the Mediterranean resorts and as a result, is a wonderful place for bird watchers. Excellent opportunities for photography and watching can be found throughout the island and although a superb range of species can be seen year-round, the spring and autumn migrations provide incredible sights, with millions of birds passing through the area.
The early season migrations begin with the arrival of hirundines from around the middle of February. Later in the month wheatears and cuckoos can be seen. As well as these visitors, many familiar birds (and some less so) such as robins, thrushes, redstarts, wagtails and many varieties of finch. By the beginning of March, further arrivals should include swifts and by the middle of the month, larks, warblers and nightingales can be seen in significant numbers. Of all the spring months, April is probably the most fruitful, with huge flocks of birds arriving. Harriers and bee-eaters are quite common, but it is possible to see almost anything in April!
The arid summer months see sightings diminish, but there are many species endemic to north Cyprus. These include varieties of wheatears and warblers as well as others too numerous to list in a short article. In the summer, head for the mountains and the Karpas peninsula for the best sightings. The autumn migration period is the longest and can start as early as summer for some birds. A wonderful variety of migrants visit during the autumn months and common sightings of hunting birds include buzzards, falcons, kites and eagles. Other notable species are wide ranging, with massive numbers of Cranes being a notable feature on occasion.
As well as familiar southern-European species, winter time in Northern Cyprus is still a fascinating part of the year. grebes, wheaters, wallcreepers, woodlarks and unusual varieties of tits and finches are plentiful. The winter is also an excellent time for waders and other water birds, with grebes, wigeons, pintails, plovers and redshanks all being common.
There are superb bird-watching sites throughout the countryside, but possible the best known, and almost certainly the most fruitful of these is the Karpas peninsula. The Karpas (or Karpaz) is known colloquially as the 'Pan Handle' and covers the north-east of Cyprus, stretching from near Famagusta to the tip of the island. An area of outstanding natural beauty, it covers a substantial part of Northern Cyprus and extends to 80 kilometres in length and up to 20 in width. The Karpas is rich in underground water so crops grow in abundance and farming is a mainstay. In many of the small villages dotted around the region though, a tractor is still a novelty and many farmers still rely on traditional horse-drawn tools. Today, the Karpas region is almost totally free from industry and people, and is one of the least polluted places in the Mediterranean, though not for birds, as each year approximately 300 species use this route in spring. The last colony of European Audouin seagulls nest on the small Klidhes isles at the tip of the Karpas Peninsula.
Nearly all of the Karpas region is accessible, and although you really do need at least a full day (with an early start!) to carry out any serious exploration. For parts of the year, some beaches on the north coast of the Karpas are closed to visitors during marine turtle nesting and hatching.
Heading in the opposite direction, towards the west of Cyprus, there are reservoirs in the mountain regions located at Gonyeli and Kanlikoy. With the exception of the hottest summer months, these reservoirs offer truly excellent, year round watching sites and significantly over a hundred species have been sighted. Kanlikoy is notably quiet, although Gonyeli can be busier at weekends as it is used by families and fishing enthusiasts. If water is still plentiful into early autumn, Kanilikoy is superb for migrating waders and herons. A further reservoir can be found close to the village of Gecitkoy. Located by the Kyrenia coastal road, it is not that easily accessible by car, but tends to hold water throughout the year so attracts a wide variety of species, including herons, warblers, bitterns and crakes. A little searching on the internet will reveal a host of other suitable sites, but all will have in common, superb watching and a vast variety.
There is an incredibly wide choice of places to stay in Northern Cyprus, but obviously if you want to take your hobby with you, a quiet, countryside location is going to be the best proposition. Bird watching is little known generally in the Mediterranean region and you are unlikely to find specialist supplies locally. There are some decent camera shops, but hardware tends to be very pricey, so don't expect to find binoculars at duty-free prices! Maps too tend to be hard to come by, though there is an English bookshop in Kyrenia, which usually has excellent walking guides. It is certainly advisable to pick up a good guidebook before you go. Wherever you end up though, you will find the locals friendly and helpful. Every part of north Cyprus is bound to delight everyone; from the casual watcher to the serious professional wildlife photographer. As long as Northern Cyprus remains relatively under-developed, it will stay an excellent bird-watching resort, so now is the time to go, before everyone else discovers it!