Separated by both politics and religion from the south of ‘Aphrodite’s island’, North Cyprus has always retained a distinctive identity, its economy supported by the production of cereals, grapes, citrus fruits and potatoes on the fertile Mesaoria Plain. The Mediterranean charm of the region is epitomised by a sprinkling of little villages which seem barely to have been changed by the passage of time. However, inevitably, as in so many other parts of the Mediterranean, the last few years have seen an increase in tourism to the island and plenty of development, although there are still many areas of outstanding natural beauty to be found here, such as the dramatic scenery and forests surrounding the Crusader castles and the stretches of pristine coastline at Silver Beach. In addition, this is an island that has witnessed over 8,000 years of civilisation and its history can be traced through the many Roman and other monuments and ruins still evident in the countryside.
North Cyprus is renowned in the botanical world for the astonishing diversity of its flora. Over 1,250 plant species have been identified, a number of which are endemic to the country. From February to May the land is ablaze with colour, the components of this floral mosaic changing in tone and form as the season advances. The 30 or so species of wild orchid are particularly coveted by botanists and representatives of this exotic family include the stunning endemic Cyprus Bee Orchid (Ophrys kotschyi). The avifauna is also of great interest, the north of the island sharing with the south the presence of two endemic birds, the Cyprus Warbler and the Cyprus Wheatear. During the extended period of spring migration huge numbers of birds pass through Cyprus heading to northern breeding areas. At such times the interesting selection of resident species is augmented by an ever-changing variety of migrants, adding an exciting unpredictability to every excursion.
This is a 2-centre holiday and our first base for this exploration of North Cyprus is near the delightful seaside town of Girne, formerly known as Kyrenia. A lively fishing harbour, around which are scattered numerous inviting tavernas, and a network of cobbled medieval streets, lend a timeless attraction to Girne, and these picturesque qualities are enhanced by the peaks of the Besparmak Mountains which rise inland from the town. Our field activities will focus initially on the abundant flora of the foothills and wooded slopes of these mountains, but during our stay we will also be looking for migrant birds at various coastal locations and wetlands.
A wealth of historical sites provides diversions from the natural history and our programme will be flexible in order to accommodate a little of the history of the region alongside our botanical and ornithological activities. Towering Crusader forts and ancient monasteries compete for our attention with reminders of the Roman era, such as the ruins of Salamis city near Famagusta, which many historians regard as the best preserved examples of Roman architecture in the eastern Mediterranean. Flowers thrive here amid the ruins and we should find such orchids as Serapias parviflora, S. orientalis, S. vomeracae, Orchis simia and many Ophrys species amongst the colourful profusion of poppies, Crown Daisies (Chrysanthemum coronarium), endemic Gladiolus triphyllos and handsome spikes of Giant Fennel (Ferula communis).
During the second part of the tour we will search for migrants on the eastern peninsula, near Cape Andreas. Falls can be spectacular and we will watch out for possible Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers, Short-toed Larks, Tawny Pipits, warblers, chats, wagtails and perhaps Wrynecks and flycatchers too. On other days we will wander in the Kyrenia Mountains, a stretch of cliffs and pinnacles of hard limestone, dolomite and marble which forms a dramatic spine-like formation. On the peaks Calabrian Pine and Italian Cypress forests are interspersed with valleys of typical maquis scrub consisting of Arbutus, Myrtus, Laurus and Quercus coccifera. Between the mountains and the rich alluvial central plain lies a hilly area containing reservoirs which are often very productive for birdwatching and aquatic plants. Here we should find Little Crake, Water Rail, Little Bittern, Purple and Squacco Heron, Garganey and possible migrants among the reeds.
Early April is one of the best periods to botanise in North Cyprus and among the species we will be expecting to find will be carpets of Anemone coronaria, Cyclamen persicum, Crown Daisy, and many orchids that are typical of the eastern Mediterranean, such as the yellow Orchis morio ssp. syriaca, Ophrys scolopax ssp. lapethica, O. bornmulleri, O. levantina and of course the endemic Ophrys kotschyi. At this season it seems as if every available space is occupied by a profusion of wild flowers providing both a wonderful spectacle and a delight for botanists. Whilst the myriad of blooms are unfurling to welcome a new spring, it is also a period of transition for birds as wintering species are replaced by the newly arrived migrants from Africa.
Tour leaders were outstanding, knowledgeable naturalists, patient and willing to share and explain things. Very impressed. The holiday was well paced. Time to enjoy things and reflect and we still saw lots of stuff - properly, not tick and rush! Local agent was very good, everything ran smoothly.
Andy and Alan - very knowledgeable and made sure everyone saw most things. Weather - good most of the time which helps for butterflies. Plenty of migrating birds plus lots of alternative flora and fauna.
Leaders were friendly, expert and professional, made sure everyone saw as much as they wanted to, and stayed happy. They worked very hard to achieve this. Great to have information (and visits) on historical sites and the history of the island and its culture.
Small group, got to know everybody well. Large bus for trips - we could spread out and all have a window seat if required. Bottled water on tap! Always appreciated. Huge knowledge of Andy and Alan, good mix of birds, flowers and culture. Overall content, company and attention and care from leaders made the trip a great success.
The flora was novel to me and was extremely varied. The plant leader was very knowledgeable and demonstrated the finer distinction very ably. Both contributed to presentation of Amphibia, reptiles and insects.
Altogether a superb trip with plenty of good humour as well as serious iteration of species identification. Thank you!
Both leaders were outstanding for their knowledge, enthusiasm and communication skills.
Both Andy and Alan were first class, good humoured, patient and absolutely on top of their subjects.
Both the trip leaders, Alan and Andy, were exceptional, both with their knowledge and leadership. Nothing was too much trouble.
Jenny, John and Gulay all did excellent jobs.
The knowledge, commitment, good humour and helpfulness of Jenny and John Willsher were outstanding - faultless.
Trip leaders: both outstandingly helpful, patient and skilled in their profession. They made the holiday.
Gulay was truly superb - she thought of everything and drove superbly.
This was my first led wildlife holiday. It exceeded my high expectations. Jenny is an expert, enthusiastic and diligent botanist - a delight to be with. Gulay was keen to deliver the best possible experiences to the group. Her driving was remarkable and she set up a meal with her family's restaurant, contriving to have the traditional bread being taken out of the traditional oven just as our group arrived - splendid!