Seven UK ringers, accompanied by three partners, comprised the group of us which assembled in Girne in mid-April for a two-week stay on the island. While four of us were from the Wicken Fen Group in Cambridgeshire, the whole group didn’t all know each other at the outset; but the team quickly gelled and a great time was had by all. I was the only one of the party who had visited the North before, and the only one who had ringed on Cyprus, so the trip proved an exciting learning curve for the others. We enjoyed some great birding, and some memorable ringing moments.
We had planned on having two days at the beginning to recce likely sites, then twelve days’ ringing, but we only managed ten in the end; we gave ourselves one rest day, and we lost another to gale-force winds. We started out basing ourselves in Girne for four days. As it turned out, our very first ringing day at the Balıkesir Pools would prove to be our busiest, with 115 birds, featuring an obvious fall of 51 Sedge Warblers; it had been very wet and windy for the previous few days. Single Nightingales, Savi’s Warblers and Wood Sandpipers that day would also be the only ones we were to catch on the trip. With so much water everywhere we passed on the Sadrazmköy water tank and we next tried a hedge-line further west at Koruçam, which brought us a catch of 43, including our first Wood, Eastern Orphean, and Sardinian Warblers and single Pied Flycatcher, Whinchat, Spanish Sparrow, Tree Pipit and Ortolan. Two Great Spotted Cuckoos bouncing out of a net seemed a necessary rite of passage. Our third day, at the Haspolat WTF, provided less variety, with mainly Reed, Sedge, Great Reed, and Cetti’s Warblers, plus the usual ubiquitous Blackcaps. But a single Wryneck was a nice touch.
After a day off, we moved over to the Blue Sea Hotel on the Karpaz. An early morning session at the Zafer Burnu tip provided excellent visible migration, including raptors, but was difficult to work even in a light breeze and yielded just sixteen birds, albeit with a Common Redstart and four Whinchats. It was still windy the next day, so we sought the shelter of the small wetland at Golden Beach – for our only Eastern Olivaceous Warblers and our first endemics: two Cyprus Warblers and a Cyprus Pied Wheatear. Our final two Karpaz days were spent with the donkeys in scrub just inland from the point, where a steady flow of migrants gave it very much a bird observatory feel. Twenty-two different species provided lots of photo opportunities, including fourteen warblers; among them Eastern Bonelli’s, Willow (a cold-looking possible acredula), Barred, Garden – and Orphean and Cyprus again. A Spotted Crake was a surprise for this bone-dry garrigue habitat and it was good to see our first Masked Shrike in the hand and to confirm a Collared Flycatcher.
For our final leg, we returned to Girne. Day 8 dawned almost impossibly windy, but we persevered in the relative shelter of the far-west Koruçam hedge-line with another 14 Blackcaps our only modest reward. The next day took us full-circle back to the Balıkesir Pools, which seemed very quiet, mainly hosting resident Cetti’s and Reeds. The one moment of excitement was to be a random Little Bittern. Our final morning found an advance early duo setting wader nets in the dark at Haspolat, where Spur-wings, Ruff, Stilts and a lone Pratincole had been loitering on one of the bunds between the pools – but without success. The remainder of the team arrived later for a rather dreary repeat short catch of Blackcaps, Cetti’s and Reed Warblers.
Overall, we ringed on ten days, of which three were affected by wind. But we were delighted to have processed 556 birds of 38 species. We were not surprised to have caught no controls – birds ringed elsewhere; but at Balıkesir we did catch a handful of Kuskor-ringed Reed and Cetti’s Warblers from previous years.
The trip provided lots of new experiences: some cracking life birds for some of us, in spanking spring plumages; and lots of challenges – some great debates on ageing and sexing, and some training time – particularly on positioning nets and working different and unfamiliar sites every day.
Above all, our warmest thanks go to Damla, for sorting out all the necessary applications and permit paperwork, for showing us around possible sites, for advice and encouragement – and for reminding us why were there. We hope very much that we will have made a small contribution to our knowledge of Cyprus migration, and to bird conservation on this critically important flyway.
I think that all of us will hope to return.