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Migration!

October 18, 2007

Recently we had a few days in the north of Cyprus on a sort-of walking trip with a group of friends. Putting aside the politics of living on a divided island it was, as always, fascinating to compare and contrast the two ‘halves’ of Cyprus.

As we crossed the border all signage switched to Turkish, place names changed to their local equivalents (which can make for interesting map reading), the main religion became Muslim rather than Orthodox Christian (with all the associated differences that brings) and the culture altered distinctly.

To some extent the cultural differences are always going to be there on moving from one country to another but here it is so stark because of the hard division of the two areas and the deliberate separation of the two cultures. Of course we use the word country with reservation. Still, the only people who recognise the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) as a country are Turkey themselves and North Korea.

That aside, it was our first time in the far north-east end of the island. Officially it is known as the Karpas peninsula, colloquially it is known as the Panhandle due to its shape. The area boasts some of the best beaches on the island, many of which are completely undeveloped. Turtles nest on a number of them and other wildlife is abundant.

Just how abundant that wildlife is became fantastically clear while we were there. The group had just set out on a walk up into the hills when we became aware of a bird migration event taking place above us. The sky on the horizon was suddenly full of moving black dots and they were coming our way.

Within a few minutes it became apparent these were flocks of birds – coming in from north of Cyprus, and heading pretty much directly south. Over the next two hours we saw countless V formations of birds flying overhead. A simple count put about 40 to 60 birds in each V , and dozens of V formations. A calculated guess put the count at over 2,000 birds.

Some basic bird-watching skills and knowledge within the group identified the birds to be Demoiselle Cranes. If so they would have been en-route from their northern summer location somewhere around the Black Sea to their wintering area in the midst of Africa. Demoiselle Cranes are the long legged, long necked, smallest members of the Crane family, weighing in at about 4 to 7 pounds.

During their passage overhead we were all in awe – there wasn’t a member of the group who wasn’t moved by this sight. As each new wave appeared the walk was forgotten and people stood and watched and marvelled. This was nature in action – forget us humans – ‘we are programmed to move from North to South, and we are on our way.’

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Once they had passed there was a noticeable drop in conversation as we all pondered on what we had seen. From the things we just don’t understand – just how do the cranes know to do this? – through to the overwhelming majesty and how lucky we were to be in place to see part of this annual event – followed by a worrying wonder what man might be doing to destroy the habitats these beautiful creatures seek to use…….

The Saving Cranes website has some good photos (some of which are reproduced here) although sadly not of the V formations in flight. A couple of people in the group had cameras so we may be able to get copies of their photos in due course.

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