3 Months in Cyprus – Summary and Highlights

I spent from 12 December 2017 to 12 March 2018 doing Workaway volunteering on the island nation of Cyprus. As someone still not acclimated to actual cold weather after having lived in Thailand for 9 years, it seemed a good place to pass winter in a mild climate.

Unfortunately, for the purposes of this blog, I did not find myself very inspired to write and post while I was there. Instead, apart from doing the Workaway work, I spent my time reading, watching movies, catching a lot of Pokémon, and basically doing everything except posting here. As a start to remedying my lack of blogging situation, here are some highlights and a selection of 20 photos exemplifying my time in Cyprus.

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Sunset of my first evening in Cyprus, with my fellow Workawayers in silhouette

While my main purpose for being in Cyprus was to pass winter in a mild climate, my means of doing that was through Workaway volunteering. This Workaway was mainly DIY stuff, general building and maintenance, a bit of gardening type stuff, and a big job of helping my hosts move their significant amount of stuff to their new location. It wasn’t particularly exciting or inspiring work, but I was glad to help take some of the load for some good but very busy people. I came to Cyprus to pass the time, but my Workaway hosts made it feel like a home. And the cooking was wonderful. I am quite the carnivore, but my hosts were vegetarian, and I must say that I didn’t even miss meat while there because the food was so varied and wonderful. Although doing the Workaway is what occupied most of my time in Cyprus, it is also the thing I have the fewest (really no) pictures of. 😅

Occasionally, while doing my work, I’d come across something worth grabbing my camera for. Like this little fellow:

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I found this interesting mantis, perhaps some species of Empusa, in a shipping container at my Workaway

When not doing Workaway work, I spent a lot of my time, especially near the start, being lazy:

  • reading a lot of books, including a re-read of the entire Honor Harrington series by David Weber, a re-read of the entire Inheritance series by Christopher Paolini, and a few other books both new and re-reads.
  • Watching a lot of movies, including getting to see both Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Black Panther in the theater, because for the first time in this set of travels I was conveniently near a movie theater
  • Catching up on YouTube videos and doing my video-gaming vicariously through the likes of Outside XBox, Outside Xtra, and Many A True Nerd

When not being entirely lazy, I did my customary wandering about with my camera, looking for interesting wildlife to photograph. As usual, that was mainly birds.

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I got to see a lot of Common Kestrels during my time; this is one of the first I was able to photograph

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European Stonechat males are quite handsome

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White Wagtails could be found foraging near roads, in fields, and along the shore.

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Ah, my old friends the hooded crows were, unsurprisingly, everywhere.

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A common buzzard getting harassed by a pair of hooded crows.

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This common kestrel was around quite often during my last few weeks, often flying low overhead whenever I did not have my camera handy.

As I took to walking around with my camera, I also got on with playing Pokémon GO, and I am not at all ashamed of this.😜 In fact, it helped me meet a few locals, as I ran into some other players who introduced me to the local Legendary Raids community, with whom I did my first gym raids for legendary Pokémon.

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I’m not addicted. I can quit any time. 😜

Some of you are probably thinking “People still play that?” (yes, quite a lot of people, actually) and are maybe scoffing at the notion playing such a kids’ game, but hey, at least it gets people out and about. Because of playing this game, I’d often walk 25,000-35,000 steps per day to hatch eggs, catch various Pokémon, participate in raids, and so on. And since I had my camera with me, quite a few of the pictures I have are from these long walks.

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Eels in the Baths of Aphrodite were put there to discourage people from entering the water

While I can’t say that I really explored a lot of Cyprus while I was there, I did take a couple of small trips. The best of these was a day trip up to Polis and the Akamas Peninsula. There’s some really nice, fairly easy hiking up there around the Baths of Aphrodite and onto the peninsula.

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The Akamas Peninsula is a beautiful place to hike.

I also took a trip to Lefkosia and another up into the mountains to Treis Elies, though the weather on those trips was not very good for photography. And there was one little day trip to Aphrodite’s Rock, where legend has it that the Greek goddess of beauty was born.

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According to legend, Aphrodite was born on that rock on the middle left.

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Sunset at Aphrodite’s Rock, where the goddess was born

However, I mostly spent my time wandering around the Paphos area. If I’m going to be in the Mediterranean Sea, I prefer to be by the sea. And, as Paphos is on the west coast of Cyprus, it was a good place to get pictures of the sunset over the sea.

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Catching the sunset sky reflected in a tide-pool near Paphos

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One thing the Paphos are did particularly well was dramatic sunset skies

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Catching a the Paphos Lighthouse against a sunset

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The sun heads below the horizon behind Paphos Lighthouse

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Offshore storms make for dramatic skies off Paphos

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Catching the sun between stormclouds and the horizon

Of course, Cyprus has a pretty rich history, and the island is full of ruins and archaeological sites of past civilizations and empires. Some of these sites were open and free to explore, like the catacombs in the middle of Paphos. Others, like the Paphos Archaeological Park cost a bit (4.50€ in that case) to enter and so I didn’t visit them much. I did however, go to the Archaeological Park on my last day in Cyprus, and it was a pretty impressive place. I should have gone sooner and more often to really explore and photograph it.

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Finally, on my last day in Cyprus, I visited the Paphos Archaeological Park. Should’ve gone sooner and more often.

So, that was the gist of my time in Cyprus. Apart from working hard on my Workaway volunteering, it was a lot of just passing the time, being lazy, a lot of catching Pokémon, and not enough of keeping this blog up to date. But it was a good place to pass the winter with some very nice people. Perhaps I shall return and explore it more properly some day.

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Dusk of my final day in Cyprus, 3 months after that first sunset

 


Postscript: I don’t know how regular, or more likely irregular, posts will be going forward. I have a lot of backlogged content that I want to post, and as I’m about to embark on an even bigger adventure than what I have been doing so far I expect I’ll have a lot of new stuff to post about, too. I expect the order I put things up in will be a little erratic, and the content style may vary as well while I experiment with various things. However it all turns out, I intend to keep trying to make my posts interesting and informative for you, or at least full of photos I like. Cheers.😎

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This Blog Doesn’t Want to Go on the Cart

It is a little intimidating to try to resuscitate this blog after not having posted for so long. It has been over two months!😓 I have so many potential posts I want to make and photos that I need to process and put up as parts of those posts and it’s all too easy to look at the volume of work to do and put it off. I could probably have a Ph.D. in Procrastination if I could just stop putting it off, eh!😅

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Judgmental Giraffe is judging me harshly for my lack of content.

My last several posts were still from the South Africa portions of my travels (with still a lot of stuff from South Africa yet to post), and I’ve since spent 3 months doing Workaway in Paphos, Cyprus, and I’m currently in Athens, Greece looking for a bicycle and getting ready to set out on a Grand European Bicycle Tour (which will make any sort of posting schedule going forward rather a train wreck). So, yeah, I have a lot of catching up to do.

 

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Judgmental Elephant is similarly unimpressed with my excuses

Trying to post about things in chronological order didn’t work well; I’d keep having new experiences and taking more pictures and so on and so forth and the amount of potential content just kept building, and I found myself getting stuck when trying to go back to stuff that happened quite awhile before. Chronologically, my last few posts were from things happening last October 2017 and here I am in March 2018 with a ton of experiences and photos to go with them that I haven’t put online yet.

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Yawning Hippo also shows a lack of being impressed by my excuses.

I’m going to try to remedy that, but I don’t know if there will be much rhyme or reason to how those posts go up from here on out. I’ll try to post at least once a week, and more often as I can, but I don’t expect there to be any kind of regularity to my posts going forward. At least, not until I get caught up a bit, organized a bit, and into some sort of groove.

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Dung Beetle rolls my excuses into a ball and prepares to push them away.

So, the blog is not quite dead yet. It’s getting better. It thinks it’ll go for a walk.

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Baby Zebra says, “Get on with it already! Come on! Let’s go!”

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2018 is off to a weak blogging start, so here are some parakeets in Athens

Hey folks! After successfully getting a post out on New Year’s Day, I missed a post this past Friday and haven’t even put together a substantial post for today. Needless to say, I have not been off to a very successful start to 2018 as far as maintaining this blog is concerned. 😦

My explanation, which is no real excuse, is that I’ve been re-reading the Honor Harrington series by David Weber, and those books really suck me in. Most of my off hours from my Workaway I’m currently doing in Cyprus have been filled with reading that. 😅

I do resolve to do better. This Friday I’ll post the final post in my series about the birds and other organisms I saw during my off-grid weekend in the Overstrand region of Western Cape, South Africa, and follow that up next week and beyond with posts continuing my adventures, observations, and photographs in South Africa. Who knows, I may even get my posts caught up to the present while I’m still here in Cyprus before moving on to mainland Europe come March. 😉

Anyway, while I don’t have much for this post as I have not taken the time to put together anything really substantial, here are a few pictures of feral Rose-Ringed Parakeets (Psittacula krameri) I saw in front of the Zappeion in the National Gardens in Athens, Greece this past September 2017.

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A male (left) and female (right). The spikes on the building for keeping pigeons off are not effective for parakeets, apparently.

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A female taking flight.

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This female is coming in for a landing while two others look on.

The males are easily distinguished by the black or dark red ring around the neck, while females (and juveniles) lack this ring. There does seem to be quite the population of them around the gardens in Athens. The Rose-Ringed Parakeet is native to south Asia and a band across central Africa. However, they are popular as pets, and apparently escaped pets have managed to colonize many cities around the world. It is likely the population in Athens started this way.

Alright. Again, my apologies both for the lack of substance in this post and the missed post this past Friday. I will get this back on track this week, so look forward to a full post this coming Friday. Cheers. 🙂

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Southern Right Whales to Bring in 2018

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2018. This post is a continuation of my series of posts about my off-grid AirBnB weekend with friends in the Overstrand region of Western Cape, South Africa this past October. In a bit of a change from the various birds I’ve been posting about, I thought I’d bring in the new year by sharing the most impressive thing I saw that weekend: Eubalaena australis, the Southern Right Whale.

The Southern Right Whale is one of three species of Right Whale (the others being E. glacialis, the North Atlantic Right Whale, and E. japonica, the North Pacific Right Whale). It is a baleen whale that lives all around the southern oceans around Antarctica and ranging north along the coasts of South America, southern Africa up to Namibia on the Atlantic side and Mozambique on the Indian Ocean side, and Australia and New Zealand.

A mother Southern Right Whale with her calf from the shore in Hermanus

A mother Southern Right Whale with her calf from the shore in Hermanus

Hermanus, Western Cape, South Africa is one of the world centers for whale watching thanks to the Southern Right Whale migrating through the area in the southern winter months from June to October. The whales can be seen even from the shore (which is where I had to take all of my pictures from 😉 ) with over 100 of them known to frequent the area in Walker Bay from Hermanus to De Kelders.

During our time there, we must have just been catching the tail end of the migration season before the whales moved further south towards Antarctica to feed and grow through the southern summer. On our first day we watched from the shore in Hermanus. Relatively near the shore, we were able to see some mother/calf pairs as they hung out in the shallows.

Adult female Southern Right Whales are typically about 15m long and weigh around 45 tonnes. They give birth to one calf once every three years between June and August after a gestation period of 11 to 12 months. They then spend the next few months with their calves in the shallows nurturing them and teaching them the skills they will need to survive when they migrate towards Antarctica in the southern spring.

On our second day, we went down to De Kelders, where not only were there a few mother/calf pairs in the shallows, but there were several males off shore and they were occasionally breaching!

Southern Right Whales engage in a wide variety of surface behavior, some of which I’ve managed to capture in my pictures. This illustration courtesy of Wikipedia shows the typical surface behaviors.

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Courtesy of Wikipedia user Chriscaptivate under Creative Commons License CC-BY-SA-4.0

Breaches are probably the most spectacular surface behavior. It’s quite amazing to see such a massive creature propel itself so strongly as to send it’s body out of the water. This sequence is the second whale breach I’ve ever seen in my life. 🙂

And a few more surface behaviors, including the end of another breach, a body roll, possible lobtailing, a blow, and sailing…

It’s estimated that there was a global population of ~100,000 Southern Right Whales before commercial whaling severely reduced their numbers. Whaling of Right Whales was banned in 1939, and though there has been some illegal whaling since the ban, the population has been recovering. The current estimated population is about 12,000 individuals world-wide, and while that number is small compared to the original pre-whaling population, it’s rate of increase has been sufficient for the IUCN Red List to list the Southern Right Whale’s status as “Least Concern”, though in some localities such as off Chile and Peru the local populations are considered “Endangered”.

Hopefully populations will continue to recover and future generations will have more and more opportunities to see such spectacles in the southern oceans.

References and Further Reading

As always, any errors are mine, and I welcome any corrections, clarifications, and further information. Happy New Year, and welcome to 2018! Cheers! 🙂

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The Perpetually Surprised Looking Cape Bulbul

Next up in my series of birds and other organisms I saw during my stay with good friends at an off-grid AirBnB in the fynbos of Overstrand, South Africa is a rather common bird in the area that always struck my as having a look of perpetual surprise thanks to the white rings around its eyes. This is Pycnonotus capensis, the Cape Bulbul.

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These birds are endemic to the coastal areas of South Africa, mainly in Western Cape but ranging into the western part of Eastern Cape. They live in the fynbos, coastal bush, forests, parks, and gardens. They mainly feed on fruits such as various berries, but will supplement their diet with seeds, nectars, and even insects for protein.

They are not particularly colorful birds, mainly dull dark brown with black legs and feet. They have a patch of yellow under their tails. Their most distinguishing features are the white rings around their eyes and the crest on their heads, which together make them appear, to me at least, as if they are perpetually surprised or startled.

Still, they are rather handsome birds and a pleasure to see (and hear) in the coastal regions of Western Cape. 🙂

References and Further Reading

As usual, any errors are my own, and I welcome correction, clarification, and further information. Cheers. 🙂

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Christmas Colors with Orchids, Lichens, Sunbirds, and Waxbills

Continuing my series of posts about what I saw during my off-grid weekend in the fynbos of Overstrand, Western Cape, South Africa, I thought I’d inject a bit of festive color for the holiday season. So, here is an orchid, some lichens, sunbirds, and waxbills to give us some red and green Christmas colors. Have a Merry Christmas, everyone. 🙂

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The fynbos of Overstrand

I went for a bit of a walk with Nyala into the wilds, and apart from picking up what seemed like all of the ticks in South Africa, we saw quite a few beautiful flowers including this rather stunning orchid.

This is a Waxy Satyr Orchid (Satyrium carneum). It is one of Africa’s largest orchids, growing up to a meter in height. It is one of the few African orchids to be pollinated by birds such as sunbirds like those later in this post. They are found only in the fynbos of the Cape Floral Region along South Africa’s southern coast.

To add a bit of green to the post, I came across a tree whose lower branches and trunk were completely encrusted with these amazing lichens.

I know very little about lichens apart from them being a mutual symbiosis of fungi and green algae, with the general idea being that the fungi break down rocks, tough plants materials, etc. to produce nutrients for themselves and the algae, and the algae produce sugars by photosynthesis for food for themselves and the fungi. Beyond that, I wouldn’t even know where to begin to try to classify these, so if anyone has any good advice or pointers to a good primer on lichen identification, it would be most welcome.

To give us just a hint of red and green, here is a Southern Double-Collared Sunbird (Cinnyris chalybeus) that was in the area.

Typically a male such as this has a much more brilliant green head and bright red collar across his chest, so I believe this one is immature. These birds are fairly common in gardens, fynbos, and forests across South Africa, and I saw them in Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and even up into KwaZulu-Natal in the northeast. They feed mainly on nectar and are pollinators of many plants including the Waxy Satyr Orchid above.

This one that I saw a couple of weeks before in Constantia, near Cape Town, is a more clear example of their vivid coloration.

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To give us much more than simply a hint of green, this Malechite Sunbird (Nectrinia famosa) was a real stunner.

He is a male, with a metallic green body, blackish-green wings, and elongated tail feathers. Like other sunbirds, these feed mainly on nectar. They feed on several Aloe species as well as other bird pollinated plants, including the Waxy Satyr Orchid.

And finally, to give us a final bit of red for our Christmas Colors, here is the Common Waxbill (Estrilda astrild). These are quite common all across sub-Saharan Africa, easily identified by their waxy orange-red bills and the red stripe across their eyes. They are mainly seed eaters, though they may also eat insects for more protein during their breeding season. As mentioned previously, they can be brood parasite hosts for the Pin-Tailed Whydah, with the whydah hatchlings impressively mimicking the waxbill hatchlings.

While they are common, they are, to me, always a pleasant sight to see, injecting a bit of color into the day as they forage for seeds.

And that, is about as “Christmas”-y as I tend to get. I hope you all enjoyed this injection of Christmas colors using some birds and plants of South Africa. Have a safe and merry Christmas and holiday season in general, and look forward to seeing a bunch of perpetually surprised looking Cape Bulbuls in the next post of this series. 😉

As always, any errors are mine, and correction, clarification, and further information are always welcome. Cheers. 🙂

References and Further Reading

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He’s a handsome fellow…for a parasite.

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On the weekend of 21-22 October, 2017, I and my good friends Jill and Warren spent a weekend at an off-grid AirBnB near Stanford (between Hermanus and De Kelders) in the Overstrand region of South Africa. This area is prime Fynbos ecoregion, and apart from the many amazing plants of this ecosystem, there were a lot of different birds around to catch my camera’s attention (we also saw whales off the coast; more on that in another post).

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I’m going to do a number of posts about the different birds and other organisms I saw and photographed that weekend, and this is the first of those.

Allow me to introduce Vidua macroura, the Pin-Tailed Whydah. Specifically a male in his breeding plumage.

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Pin-Tailed Whydahs are typically found in most of Africa south of the Sahara desert (though they have been introduced to the United States and Puerto Rico). They are finch-like birds typically about 12cm in length. Females and non-breeding males are brownish in color and streaked, while males in their breeding plumage are more black and white, with the long plume almost twice as long as his body. Males and females both have orange to red bills, while juveniles typically have a more grey-ish bill.

The males are territorial, aggressively defending their territories from other males. The main purpose of the territory is for potential mates, with a single male having several females visit his territory. As a good territory should have sufficient food, it is likely that the bird feeder at the place we were staying was a key point to this male’s territory. They typically feed on seeds and grains, but will eat insects as well.

Pin-Tailed Whydahs are members of the family Viduidae, which includes other whydahs, indigobirds, and cuckoo-finches. These birds are all natives to Africa and they are all brood parasites. Brood Parasites are organisms which lay their eggs in the nests, hives, or other egg laying locations of other species, generally in order for those offspring to then be cared for by the adults of the host species. This kind of reproductive strategy appears in birds such as cuckoos, cowbirds, and of course this Viduidae family, as well as insects (some species of bees and wasps) and some fish. This is a rather clever strategy, as it saves the parasite the energy cost of raising its own offspring. Assuming the parasites are successful at not being detected by the host. There is some interesting co-evolution between brood parasites and their hosts; both are under complementary selection pressures, the parasites to avoid detection and the hosts to be able to detect. This can lead to some impressive mimicry by parasites either as eggs or as hatchlings, as well as other ways of subverting host defenses (for example, cuckoo hatchlings often look nothing like their host “parents” and may even be bigger than them, but the bright red of their open mouths basically overloads the parental instinct to feed hatchlings, so they get fed anyway).

Many members of Viduidae are very specific with their hosts, usually only having a single host species. Pin-Tailed Whydahs, however, are more generalist, able to parasitize several species of waxbills. There were Common Waxbills (Estrilida astrild) in the area and these are very likely hosts for this male’s offspring.

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For all I know, I might be raising that guy’s kids. :/

Pin-Tailed Whydah hatchlings very closely mimic Common Waxbill hatchlings, and this New York Times article from this past June has an outstanding picture of this mimicry.

Anyway, this handsome fellow spent a good bit of the morning eating from the bird feeder and keeping other birds away before disappearing for most of the rest of the day. Perhaps he went off to try to find a female to impress.

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References and Further Reading

As always, any errors are mine, and I welcome any corrections, clarifications, and further information. 🙂

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