Thursday 13 June 2024

TURKEY DAY 8: GAZIANTEP - ADANA

Drove down to a lake some 30 minutes from our hotel, set amidst a flat landscape of arable fields. I didn’t really know what to expect but needn’t have worried as the site was full of birds. Indeed on every site visited throughout the tour, including random roadside stops, we’ve always found plenty of birds. 




Along the way I heard a Black Francolin calling and we hopped out and had our first brief view of this species running along the top of a ridge, but further on a francolin was on the road in front of us and we got incredibly close as it hunkered down in a roadside ditch. A pair of Black-shouldered Kites were also seen nearby. Once at the lake, we had a fine time notching up several new species for the trip. 








On the right-hand side of the road, a large muddy area hosted 30+ Little Stints, 2 Ruff, 12 Common Ringed Plovers, 3 Wood SandpipersKentish Plover, 6 Black-winged Stilts and, best of all, a Broad-billed Sandpiperagain expertly spotted by Vince. We also scoped a singing Great Reed Warbler, had a few views of Little Bittern, and there was also Great EgretLittle EgretWestern Cattle EgretPurple & Grey Herons, and 8+ Black-crowned Night Herons. A feldegg Western Yellow Wagtail posed nicely, a pair of Little Terns flew around, and a Calandra Lark was scoped. It was all very leisurely but thoroughly enjoyable.


Not bad for a phone scope is it? Yet another Little Bittern...


 After having our last field breakfast, we drove back up the country lane a short distance before stopping to check a nice spot with some reeds and tall trees. I’d spotted a Dead Sea Sparrows nest on the way in earlier this morning and the male was in full song. Strangely, we found a family group of Iraq Babblers here – slightly out of range but nor surprising I suppose as it’s only an hour away from Birecik. 


Iraq Babbler

Anyway, a flyby Gull-billed Tern was new for the trip, a pair of Sardinian Warblers were the first of the trip, a Cetti’s Warbler gave glimpses in the rank vegetation, and Syrian Woodpecker & Eurasian Hoopoe appeared before we had to leave and head back to the hotel to pack. 

 

A 2 hour drive to our lunch spot followed, where White-throated Kingfisher was the last new addition to the trip list and from here all we had to do was drive 50 minutes to Adana airport and fly to Istanbul where we were overnighting. Some of us were returning to the UK whilst a few of us were heading off to Mongolia and another new adventure in the morning.

What a superb trip this was, with a great group, much banter and fun along the way. Thanks to everyone for making this so pleasurable and we hope to see you all again in the future.



Wednesday 12 June 2024

TURKEY DAY 7: NEMRUT DAGI - GAZIANTEP

So this was it, off on a wing and a prayer to Nemrut Dagi about 3 hours away in the hope of finding the elusive Kurdish Wheatear. We arrived on site at 8.45am after a relatively straightforward 3 hour drive, at 2034m, in the most spectacular scenery of the tour. 


There's Kurdish Wheatear up there.....

And on this, our 3rd attempt at this species, we nailed it within 10 minutes of arrival…! Oh yes baby!  A pair were present on the rocky mountainside opposite exactly where we were parked and were on view for the next hour and we even ate our breakfast and enjoyed a cup of coffee with the pair on show the whole time. 










The one and only Kurdish Wheatear

Once we were done here, we drove lower down and pretty quickly found a Sombre Tit beside the road that also gave cracking views and White-throated Robin was also extremely obliging and sang from several different spots right in front of us at the same location. What a bird! 




White-throated Robin

And also an Upcher’s Warbler showed quite well here too and a Woodchat Shrike was sat on a nest. We drove a little lower again, just a few minutes drive down the road and found another pair of Kurdish Wheatears another yet another Upcher’s Warbler

The gang in action

With our main targets under the belt we decided to head on up to the summit where the temperature was much cooler. And I mean, much cooler, with a strong wind blowing! We bought tickets at the Visitor Centre before driving to the summit car park where a singing Cinereous Bunting simply ignored us, and Horned Lark and Northern Wheatear were also present. It looked like quite a hike up to the very top where the archaeological site is located and the prospect of a lung-busting walk in the cold wind to view some stone heads wasn’t too appealing to me. And fortunately the same was felt by everyone else!! I am culturally shallow and it must have rubbed off on everyone else!!

The view from Nemrut Dagi

So it was late morning by now and we headed to another special site that took a further2 hours to reach in the lowlands. Further wonderful scenery ensued and we ended up amidst a rolling landscape of arable fields and where the roadside verges were full of wild flowers. It was a little bit like stepping back in time into an England from the 1950’s, with large fields full of crops and birds singing erywhere – as opposed to the sterile agricultural landscape we see today. As we approached the site Black-winged Kite and Corn Buntings were seen, several European Rollers were on the wires, and then we spotted two species of bee-eater as well…... And then on to the main event and one of the top highlights of the tour – a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater colony on the side of an isolated small hillock. 





The bee-eater colony was on this small hill

A close flyover










Some phonescoped images....

And what an awesome experience seeing the comings & goings of 100-150 bee-eaters at their nesting site on this small hill. The noise and spectacle of seeing these beautiful birds was unbelievable, and there was even a couple pairs of European Bee-eaters present too. We marvelled at them through the scope and many, many photos and videos were taken, as you can imagine in the stunningly crisp late afternoon sunshine. We had to literally drag ourselves away from this mouth-watering avian feast to drive the 2 hours to our next hotel in Gaziantep, near the old town. 

Tuesday 11 June 2024

TURKEY DAY 6: BIRECIK & MORE!

A nice morning around the various sites of Birecik gave us our first of many Dead Sea Sparrows at our first stop just 10 minutes up the road from the hotel. A Syrian Woodpecker was rather confiding and a drake Red-crested Pochard was on the Euphrates close to us. 


Red-crested Pochard

Syrian Woodpecker

Then we drove around to the opposite bank of the river where we were thrilled to get the views of Iraq Babbler we all craved, with a small group hanging around the reeds right in front of us.




Iraq Babbler is pretty common along the Euphrates River near Birecik

We notched up some other great sightings with our only sighting of Black-bellied Sandgrouse, with a  group of 10 flying over, along with a flock of Armenian Gulls, Pygmy Cormorants, European Roller, 5 European Turtle Doves were perched on wires, Alpine Swift, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Delicate Prinia, Moustached Warbler for some of the group, 11 Rose-coloured Starlings flew over in a tight formation, and we had 4 more Dead Sea Sparrows. A flock of 88 Northern Bald Ibis fed on the riverbank, and it was a shame the calling Black Francolin couldn’t be seen.

 

After another fine field breakfast we drove downriver and scoped a few Armenian Gulls loafing on the river before checking out another site south of the bridge, where Eastern olivaceous Warbler posed nicely, and Cetti’s Warbler and Common Nightingale were seen, along with another pair of Dead Sea Sparrows



Little (Lillith's) Owl

This area was Lark Central..!

So with most of the local specialities seen well we drove north and amidst splendid scenery of rolling, rocky hills we found a pair of European Rollers, Little Owl (Lillith’s), both Greater and Mediterranean Short-toed Larks, Calandra Lark, a pair of Short-toed Eagles and a cracking Bimaculated Lark


Bimaculated Lark - look at that bill...!





Mediterranean Short-toed Lark

After passing through a military checkpoint, we were given a stern warning about only having an hour in the area due to potential unrest from Kurdish rebels, so that put us under a bit of pressure.



This Short-toed Eagle flew low over the road

Then we twitched a sighting of Kurdish Wheatear from a site 3 hours away which was a lifer for all of us – but again it proved to be, how should I say…? Rubbish!!. The site was very good for sightings of See-See Partridge, and other species seen included Chukar, 10 White Storks, Eurasian Jackdaw, 3 Pale Rockfinch and Corn Bunting. Finsch’s Wheatear was by far the most numerous species here and we estimated at least 20 pairs in the area.

 

On the drive back to Birecik we made a short diversion to look for Red-wattled Lapwing without any success and ended up having an 8pm dinner at the same great restaurant as last night on the banks of the Euphrates Cheers!.


Monday 10 June 2024

TURKEY DAY 5: YESILCE – DURNALIK - BIRECIK

Early this morning we headed to an area about 40 minutes drive north-west of Gaziantep, which has traditionally been a regular area for Kurdish Wheatear. The names of Yesilce and Durnalik have long held a fascination for me over the years, as they are home to some of the best birding in Turkey. We pulled off the narrow country lane onto a dirt track and walked maybe a couple of hundred metres to an overlook where we spent the next hour or two. Immediately it was apparent this wasn’t a good enough spot for the wheatear, despite a recent report of one from this exact spot. 


Scanning from the viewpoint

A fine Eastern Black-eared Wheatear posed beautifully on some rocks, and as we scanned around the area we picked up Woodchat Shrike & Black-headed Bunting, but more impressive was our first sighting of the much-wanted Upcher’sWarbler singing away from an orchard next to the track we were parked on. It took a while to get decent views, but we needn’t have worried as this species proved to be reasonably common over the coming days. 





Eastern Black-eared Wheatear

As we walked back to the minibus, a White-throated Robin was spotted and eventually a female showed very well down to a few metres away.

 

It was cold and overcast today and activity was pretty slow, so we drove to another area just a few minutes way. This proved to be a really good move as we found a number of desirable species as we hiked up a rocky track on the edge of a small village. A Long-legged Buzzard flew over as soon as we arrived but what was truly amazing was seeing a pair of superb Upcher’s Warblers feeding on the rocky slope beside the trail. 


Upcher's Warbler

They gave repeated views on the ground, then singing from some small bushes. Wow! Further up the track, a pair of White-throated Robins showed well as they chased each other around the branches of a small tree below us. 


White-throated Robin

The weather was slowly improving and we finally had blue skies and sunshine and more and more birdsong filled the air. Our first Cinereous Bunting posed nicely nearby, uttering its typical bunting-like song, and just then an Eastern Rock Nuthatch called from the cliffs higher up the slope. 








Cinereous Bunting




Eastern Rock Nuthatch

After a few minutes we had a pair teed up in the Swarovski and what great characters these birds are. Walking higher up the stony track we had a Cretzschmar’s Bunting, a fine male Common Rock Thrush and after hanging around on the stony plateau for a while, a Pale Rockfinch suddenly flew in and began feeding on some tall seed heads right in front of us. This was a lifer for me and in my excitement at finally getting this species I totally fumbled any attempts at getting a photo. I was possibly overexcited at seeing my bogey bird and what a tart’s tick it is! Elated with seeing this species (well I was anyway) we began walking back down towards the minibus for a late breakfast, when a pair of Desert Finchesappeared and slowed our return even more. But what a morning it had been and well worth the effort to hike up onto the plateau. 


Our first view of the Euphrates River

A short hour’s drive got us to Birecik and we headed immediately headed north of the town to a bend in the Euphrates river dominated by reeds. We drove along dirt tracks and crossed a weedy field where a pair of Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robins posed, European Bee-eaters flew over and a Delicate Prinia sang from a fence. At the end of the field we stumbled upon a flock of Glossy Ibis with a fine Northern Bald Ibis, complete with leg bling, feeding amongst them. 



Northern Bald Ibis with 'bling'


Just around the corner we found ourselves overlooking the Euphrates river, so we stopped here and had a cup of coffee. From our vantage point we found several Iraq Babblers almost immediately. What a result! A Grey-headed Swamphenwas seen by a few of the group, and there was a constant procession of Pygmy Cormorants flying along the river. A few Spur-winged Lapwings were present, a Purple Heron stood at the edge of the reedbed and plenty of common birds were around as well. By now it was early afternoon so we drove into the town to have another great picnic lunch in the famous town park where we failed miserably to find a day-roosting Pallid Scops Owl! After a quick check-in at the not-so-glamorous hotel and with not too much to entice us to linger, we headed out into the hills behind Birecik to check out a few sites for See-See Partridge



See-See Partridge - phonescoped from a distance!!

A long rough track took us to another viewpoint overlooking a narrow valley, with some scrubby fields and a hillside opposite us. Well, Vince came up trumps again as he spotted a partridge on the opposite hillside and after some hasty directions and much panic everyone managed to see what turned out to be a pair of partridges feeding and calling back at my iPhone. The views were really good in the big Swarovski scope and even allowed for a few dodgy phonescoped images.


This narrow valley held Menetries's Warbler

It turned out that we watched these birds for a good hour and during this time we found a family of Menetries’s Warblers below us and there was also another pair of Upcher’s Warblers as well. And we ended the day with a spotlit Pallid Scops Owl visiting its nest hole in the park and a fantastic dinner overlooking the Euphrates river complete with wine and beer!


A great way to end a fabulous day...