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Cyprus’ iconic winter visitors January 28, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Nature.
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It isn’t difficult to identify flamingos. Their legs and necks are considerably larger than any similar sized water birds, such as herons or cranes. This is especially obvious in flight, when they have been likened to flying sticks. Their pinkish colour is often cited as an identification aid, but they are not necessarily always as pink as we have been led to believe. The greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) which breeds in Europe and is probably Cyprus’ best known wintering visitor is grey-brown as a juvenile. As it gets older, this turns to a dirty white until as a fully mature bird it obtains the pinkish hue that we all expect. It is only really the wing coverts that are a striking pink, almost crimson, and contrast with the black flight feathers.

A flamingo’s feathers obtain their rosy-pink tinge due to the coloured materials, carotenoids, in the tiny shrimps and algae on which they feed. This pigment colours their bare skin parts as well as their feathers. The absence of food with such pigments will cause the pink tinge to fade and their feathers to turn pale. For this reason, flamingos kept in captivity are fed special food containing these natural pigments.

Flamingos are ‘filter’ feeders. They feed by placing their bill in the water upside down between their legs. They then walk backwards, stirring up the bottom of the lake and a mixture of sand and plankton is collected in their bill. This ‘soup’ is strained with the aid of their fleshy tongue and they swallow the edible material. Some years, the pools in which they feed will be teeming with life and so they have plenty of food on which to feed themselves and their young. In years when there is a shortage of food they do not breed. They will only do so if the conditions are just right.

Likewise, it is the condition of the Salt Lakes here in Cyprus that determines how many birds will over winter here and whether they will favour the Larnaca or the Akrotiri Salt Lake. The numbers of wintering birds, the composition of the flocks (as per number of adult and/or immature birds), the timing of their arrival or departure and the duration of their stay are all exclusively interwoven with the hydrology of these bodies of water. Some years, large flocks of over 10,000 individuals are present.

This winter, the flock at Akrotiri reached it maximum in November with around 2,000, with much smaller numbers at the Larnaca Salt Lake. It is possible that this winter’s smaller numbers are due to the mild conditions that have prevailed throughout Europe, meaning that the birds have not moved south in large numbers, as well as to the lack of water in the Salt Lakes. It could be assumed that a very high water level in the lakes would attract larger flocks. However, if the water is too deep this causes problems for those birds that get their food from the bottom of the lake like flamingos. So smaller numbers will be here during very rainy winters feeding around the shallow margins.

The ecology of our two Salt Lakes is different. Larnaca is a brine lake with a high salt content. Flamingos here will feed on the brine shrimp Artemsia tunisiana. Akrotiri Salt Lake is more brackish with a lower salt content. Here the fairy shrimp Branchinella spinosa and other plankton suited by to conditions make up the diet of the visiting flamingos. Observations have shown that flamingos from Larnaca may visit Akrotiri overnight to obtain fresh drinking water.

There have recently been unsuccessful breeding attempts at both lakes. It appears that flocks of greater flamingos always contain a number of individuals that display and show a readiness to breed at almost any time of the year. This is so as to be able to take advantage of favourable water conditions as they occur and then likewise to abandon nests, eggs or young when conditions change for the worse, as appears to occur in Cyprus once the long, hot summer sets in.

The greater flamingos breed in brine, alkaline and brackish lakes across the Mediterranean, south-west Asia and Africa. It appears from ringing recoveries that the birds that winter in Cyprus come predominantly from two Turkish lakes and Iran. Occasionally, birds from France and Spain occur in small numbers. The sites used by our winter visitors are threatened by development of different kinds. Hopefully their recent designation as Natura 2000 sites will ensure that the correct programmes for the protection and monitoring of such important natural areas are implemented so that we can enjoy the sight of large flocks of these interesting visitors for many years to come.

If you want to know more about Cyprus’ birds or are interested in joining BirdLife Cyprus please contact P.O. Box 28076, 2090 Nicosia, telephone 22-455072 or e-mail birdlifecy@cytanet.com.cy On Sunday February 11, join BirdLife Cyprus at the Akrotiri Environmental Education and Information Centre to learn more about our visiting flamingos. Or join us at Oroklini Marsh, Larnaca for a walk on Sunday, February 18 to look at the birds wintering there. Call 99-059541 for details.

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Battle for Cyprus halloumi continues January 28, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Cyprus.
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The matter of protecting halloumi’s Cypriot status was at the forefront of discussions during a meeting on Friday between Agriculture Minister Photis Photiou and representatives of the island’s agricultural organisations.

According to an official announcement issued afterwards, the minister analysed the historical developments of the traditional cheese’s consolidation so far, stressing that procedures had been speeded up over the past eight months, the law had been amended, a committee had been appointed for the evaluation of applications and currently the island’s relevant file was being promoted to the EU.

Photiou stressed the need for consent and unanimity, adding that the Cypriot side’s choice was to promote an application based on the prototype.

He explained, “The battle in the EU over halloumi will take place in accordance to the prototype, clarifying that when the battle is won we will implement the details of the prototype, giving emphasis to the immediate creation of a prototype control mechanism.”

At the same time, the Agriculture Minister expressed his willingness to discuss any problems that may arise with the agricultural sectors, on the basis of a continuous and constructive dialogue, which will begin immediately.

300 > Spartan epic January 28, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies Life.
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300 > Spartan epic is last hope for sword and sandal movies
Can a British-led cast hope Thermopylae battle film save a historical genre?

‘Go tell the Spartans, passer-by, That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.’
So reads the epigram carved into a commemorative stone, appropriately Spartan, on a Greek hill. The tale behind it thrilled generations of schoolchildren educated in the classics. Hollywood is now praying it can breathe new life into the genre of the ancient historical epic with the help of a British-led cast.

The Battle of Thermopylae is regarded as one of history’s pivotal moments, a doomed yet heroic last stand in 480BC with nothing less than Western civilisation at stake. Led by King Leonidas, an elite force of 300 Spartans, backed by around 7,000 Greeks, was vastly outnumbered by King Xerxes’ invading Persian army, which has been estimated at between 80,000 and more than a million. For three days the Spartans stood firm at Thermopylae, the main pass into central Greece, and inflicted appalling losses before being outflanked and killed. The sacrifice inspired all of Greece to unite and drive out the Persians and is therefore seen as enabling the seeds of Western democracy to flourish.

The story has faded from the school curriculum along with Greek and Latin, but a dark and violent £30m film dramatisation, named 300, receives its world premiere next month at the Berlin Film Festival. British actors take leading parts, with Gerard Butler, who played the title role in the film version of The Phantom of the Opera, as Leonidas, rising star Lena Headey as his wife, Queen Gorgo, and Dominic West as the warrior Theron. But cinema-goers will also be assailed by computer-generated special effects featuring monsters, battlefield carnage and superhuman acrobatics, this is no literal interpretation.

Hollywood is pinning hopes on 300 to rediscover the kind of success enjoyed by Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning Gladiator in 2000. Since then the ancient epic has suffered setbacks with Troy, starring Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom, which was derided by critics as a travesty of Homer, and Alexander, with a bleached-blond Colin Farrell, which flopped at the box office and earned director Oliver Stone some of his worst reviews. Both films were made by Warner Brothers, as is 300. Another turkey could destroy studios’ willingness to invest in the genre, just as in 1963 when the Richard Burton-Elizabeth Taylor version of Cleopatra killed such productions for decades.

‘Gladiator was such a huge success in 2000 that a lot of people jumped on the bandwagon,’ said historian Paul Cartledge, a Sparta expert who advised the makers of 300 on ancient Greek pronunciations. ‘I thought Troy was quite good but my colleagues did not agree. Alexander was a lumbering, shapeless failure, historically and artistically. It’s put the notion of making ancient movies back, so there is a lot riding on 300.’

300 is based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller and uses the same technology that brought his comic book Sin City to the big screen. Miller was inspired by Thermopylae when, aged six, he saw the film The 300 Spartans, starring Ralph Richardson. ‘It was a shocker, because the heroes died,’ Miller recalled. ‘I was used to seeing Superman punch out planets. It was an epiphany to realise that the hero wasn’t necessarily the guy who won.’ Miller researched the battle, interviewed academics and visited the site in Greece but has admitted that he occasionally used artistic licence at the expense of accuracy.

300 has been described as ‘the goriest ever film’ and its director, Zack Snyder, says it possesses a ‘hysterical weirdness’. He reportedly enlisted an extreme fitness trainer and sent the actors and stuntmen to a ‘boot camp’ for two-and-a-half months, forcing them to endure punishing workouts and live off meat, leaves and berries. Snyder said: ‘I told everyone, “You guys have got to be in crazy shape, in superhero shape.”‘ He issued them with T-shirts that read, ‘I died at Thermopylae’.

The film recreates the moment when the Spartans were warned that enemy arrows would darken the sun and one soldier replied, ‘Then we will fight them in the shade.’ Cartledge, author of Thermopylae: The Battle that Changed the World, said he was not surprised the battle retains its fascination. ‘It’s one of those iconic moments, like Dunkirk, a defeat but a glorious defeat that marked the turning point towards victory. All 300 Spartans took part on the basis that they had sons so they knew their bloodline would not die out. They had about 7,000 Greek allies, and I think it’s reasonable to estimate they were up against 200,000 Persians. Had the Persians won the overall war, where would we be? We can’t say democracy in the Athenian manner would have happened in the way it did.’

Winners and losers in ancient tussle >

Gladiator (2000) > Based on ancient Rome under emperor Marcus Aurelius
Director Ridley Scott, Stars Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix
Budget $103m (£53m) Worldwide box office $456m

Troy (2004) > Based on Homer’s account of the assault on the city by the Greeks
Director Wolfgang Petersen, Stars Eric Bana, Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom
Budget: $175m, Box office: $481m

Alexander (2004) > Based on the life of Alexander the Great
Director Oliver Stone, Stars Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins
Budget $155m, Box office $167m

Ready to cruise the land of Gods? January 28, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in News Cruises.
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Although the Internet is a great way to find tours and deals, it can often be confusing to consumers simply because there is so much to absorb.

Some travelers like the challenge of combing through pages of information before deciding which tour operator or online agency to choose; others would rather leave the work to a specialist. A good place to start > The official site of the Greek National Tourism Organization, www.visitgreece.gr.

You’ll find plenty of information about regions, museums, spas, lodging and dining.

Travel agents can also take some of the confusion out of finding the right tour. They can offer tours, cruises or a combination of the two. If you’re intent on finding your own, make sure that any tour includes the requisite stops: the Acropolis, the Peloponnese, the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, Olympia and Delphi.

Greek Islands cruises are also popular and offer a nice complement to ground tours. 

And in any case, browse through our Archive Travel Greece categories or simply ask us for any information, details, help and assistance you may wish. As we are locals, we know best!