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Cypriot spring – part 2

Last week I started to tell you about the joys of a Cypriot spring and some of the wonderful wildflowers and other wildlife that calls this magical Mediterranean island home. I realised that there was far too much to share in a single post and so I invite you to join me now for the second half of my trip. You will recall that I mentioned we were getting ready to move to our next hotel. We had already packed up but before breakfast I joined a couple of others on another early morning ramble where we saw Sardinian Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Common Whitethroat and a flock of Corn Buntings. We came across a lovely patch of Gladiolus italics and watched a Violet Carpenter Bee feeding on some Prasium which prompted us to think of our own stomachs and return to the hotel for some breakfast of our own.

Having loaded up the vehicles we took a leisurely hour or two enjoying a nearby botanical garden and a coastal walk taking in swathes of Cyclamen among the Asparagus Peas and Turban Buttercups on the grassy banks beneath the trees. I also had a wonderful close encounter with another Sardinian Warbler in a bush beside the path.

 

Sardinian Warbler

Sardinian Warbler

 

Having enjoyed the gentle walk we were soon on our way to our next destination. We stopped on the way for some lunch and I came across a wonderful Black Morrel mushroom at our picnic site. Having eaten we also made a couple more stops, the first of which was at an enclosure where we could see some of the endemic Cyprus Mouflon. I can’t say I was pleased to see them in captivity, it would have been far more exciting to see them in the wild, but with so few remaining I was happy to see any at all and their enclosure was very natural so I didn’t feel too bad. An added bonus was finding the endemic Butterfly Orchid just outside the fence although it was in tight bud.

The next stop wasn’t far away in Cedar Valley which was completely different to what we had seen so far and very beautiful. As the name suggests the valley was lined with towering Cyprus Cedars, another endemic species, and it was wonderfully peaceful with no sound apart from birdsong. There were a few Prunus trees blossoming among the Cedars and we found two more endemic plants, a little white flowered cress (Thlaspi cyprium) and a pretty yellow Star of Bethlehem (Gagea juliae). In places the latter formed a delicate yellow carpet under the trees.

We were soon back in the cars for the last leg of our journey to our hotel in the village of Platres high in the mountains. We finally found it nestled between pine trees with Pallid Swifts screaming high above.

The following morning we made a couple of very local stops, the first of which was to learn about the geology of the island. It was fascinating to understand that it is unlike any other Mediterranean island and that this is one of the major contributing factors in the number of endemic plant species that occur here. The second stop was at a local visitor centre. The first thing we saw was a Cyprus Pied Wheatear and shortly afterward we caught sight of the endemic Short Toed Tree Creeper. We also found an endemic Spurge (Euphorbia veneris) which was being pollinated by tiny bees. I would have liked to investigate further but time was of the essence!

 

Euphorbia veneers

Euphorbia veneris

 

We continued uphill to the summit of Mount Olympus where we found a different Yellow Star of Bethlehem (Gagea villosa) which had soft downy hairs up the stem. There were also patches of an endemic Buttercup and endemic Crocuses among the pine cones under the trees.

 

Crocus cyprius

Crocus cyprius and Ranunculus cadmicus var. cyprius

 

Along with the flowers we came across a Violet Oil Beetle which had extraordinary colouring like the sheen of a petrol spill, the endemic subspecies of Coal Tit feeding in the Black Pines above our heads, more Cyprus Pied Wheatears and a Large White butterfly making the most of every available nectar source in the cool mountain air.

In the afternoon we moved down the mountain to find stunning blue Scillas which had the most wonderful common name – Lady Loch’s Glory of the Snows (Chionodoxa lochiae). Despite my best efforts it was a struggle to photograph these little gems well, they were tucked in amongst the pine needles and other forest floor debris and in deep shade beneath the trees. Nevertheless it was lovely to find them and they were accompanied by budding wild Peonies and breathtaking views down the valley over the tree tops.

Our last stop of the day was further down the mountain again. It was fascinating to see how the flora changed with the altitude. There were a few plants which we had seen before but which were better specimens here, these included two that I particularly enjoyed; the endemic Thymus integer which had very long flowers, and the pretty candy-striped Vicia lunata.

 

Thymus integer

Thymus integer

Vicia-lunata

Vicia lunata

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were orchids too including Dense Flowered Orchid, Yellow Roman Marsh Orchid, Giant Orchid, and a different subspecies, Ophrys alasiatica. Many of these were going over but there were lots of other lovely things to look at such as Tassel Hyacinths and yet another endemic Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum chionophilum). Of course we weren’t just after the wildflowers either, a Hummingbird Hawkmoth caught my attention feeding on the Thyme and we spent an enjoyable few minutes watching a Masked Shrike atop a nearby pine tree. The wildlife watching didn’t stop there either as we went out after dinner to see a Scops Owl in the car park of the hotel!

Our early morning walk the next day took in endemic subspecies of Jay and more Coal Tits as well as some lovely views of mist in the valleys below. The day began properly after breakfast as we set out down the mountain. We paused on the way to take in a wonderful close view of a beautiful male Masked Shrike just beside the road.

 

Masked Shrike

Masked Shrike

 

Our first proper stop was a flower-rich roadside track which yielded some incredible plants. I hardly know where to start but I will name a few to set the scene; Rough Poppies (Papaver hybridum) which have bright blue stamens, Ground Pine (Ajuga chamaepitys var. cypria) which is actually a rather pretty low-growing yellow Bugle, Squirting Cucumber (Ecballium elaterium) and a beautiful rare Vetch (Lathyrus clymenum) which has quite a large pink and purple flower. The star find though was a stunning Purple Horned Poppy (Roemeria hybrida) which is also very rare and caused quite a bit of excitement among our little group!

 

Purple Horned Poppy (Roemeria hybrida)

Purple Horned Poppy (Roemeria hybrida)

 

The number of orchid species there was also quite amazing – we found at least 8 different species on a small bank! There were three which we hadn’t seen before, Ophrys tricolour, the Four-Spotted Orchid (Orchis sezikiana) and the Monkey Orchid (Orchis simia), along with several others which we had seen elsewhere but were delighted to find again.

 

Monkey Orchid (Orchis simia)

Monkey Orchid (Orchis simia)

Ophrys lapethica

Ophrys lapethica

Four-spotted Orchid (Orchis sezikiana)

Four-spotted Orchid (Orchis sezikiana)

 

After a lovely lunch in a local cafe we found a spot for a gentle walk near a monastery. Once again we found ourselves in a flowery haven with orchids and other lovely plants galore. There were lots of lizards around too and we seemed to be noticing more insect life such as White Spotted Rose Beetles which had a tendency to look as though they had fallen asleep in their dinner while face down feeding in the daisies! A particularly special find was Europe’s smallest butterfly, the Grass Jewel, which has a wingspan of just over 1cm!

 

Grass Jewel Butterfly

Grass Jewel Butterfly

 

Our final stop was at an unusual watermill where an aqueduct ran into a tower with a funnel inside directing the water onto a horizontal wheel. It was a lovely area with a few nice flowers but the highlight apart from the architecture was finding Cyprus Marsh Frogs amongst the reeds.

The next morning was our last on the island and I took the opportunity before we left to have a quick walk along the road from our hotel in the opposite direction to normal. I was most glad that I had as I came across the best specimens yet of Giant Orchids (Himantoglossum robertianum) which stand over a foot tall.

We made two stops on the way back to the airport, the first at a beautiful traditional village called Omodos where we stocked up on delicious treats from a local bakery. The second was more of a chance to stretch our legs beside the road. It was well worth it as we found swathes of Naked Man Orchids interspersed with Orchis syriaca and a superb specimen of Ophrys alasiatica. There were Cleopatra and Brown Argus butterflies flitting around in the sunshine as well as Snake-Eyed and Troodos Lizards chasing each other between sun-bathing spots on the bare rocks. The real treat came in seeing a Hoopoe and 2 Great Spotted Cuckoos competing for territory in a field by the road though. What a way to end a wonderful trip!

 

Ophrys alasiatica

Ophrys alasiatica

 

I hope that you’ve enjoyed my account of a wonderful trip taking in the Cypriot spring. I will summarise by saying that while Orchids were not the sole focus of this tour they certainly made up a large proportion of it – we found a whopping 31 species in 9 days which is fairly astonishing in itself. As for all the other wonderful flowers, I couldn’t possibly begin to count! This beautiful mediterranean island is a holiday destination for many but the diversity of its flora and fauna in the spring time is under-rated or indeed missed almost entirely by most. Perhaps I’ve inspired you to take a trip and experience it for yourself – get in touch and let me know what wild wonders you discovered out there!

 

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