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A Report from

A weekend birding around Adana 2nd - 3rd April 2005,

Michael Grunwell

A trip report by an English birder currently living and working in Istanbul.

I flew to Adana for the weekend of 2/3 April 2005, I birded the coastal areas near Karatas and Tuzla and explored the coast SW of Iskenderun plus looked for raptor passage across Nur Dağlari


Saturday 2nd April 2005

I flew with Turkish airlines from Istanbul to Adana, arriving on time at 8:20.  I had pre-booked an Avis rental car and was on the road by 08:50.

There are lots of flights to Adana from Istanbul and both Turkish and Onur Air fly the route.  Onur Air is a little cheaper but I was happy to stick with Turkish at YTL 258 return as they have more modern aircraft and a greater chance of some decent leg room.  It is also more difficult to find agents for Onur Air.

My usual agent could not get me a good deal on hire car so I booked with Avis over the internet and paid YTL 85 per day which is expensive for Turkey.

The usual cheapest hire car in Turkey is the 1.4 Renault Clio saloon but Avis work with Fiat and gave me a 1.2 Fiat Palio which is a small hatchback.  If there are one or two of you it shouldn't make much difference but if there are more than two of you travelling with luggage get a Renault Clio as the boot space is much bigger than the Fiat. Interestingly, in Turkey almost all cars, even small cheap ones are four door, Turks are too sensible to want two-door cars especially when they often have 5 or 6 people in one car.

As I landed at Adana it was raining steadily.  There was a lot of standing water and it had obviously been raining heavily.  A flag in Adana showed a northerly wind and with the rain starting to cease I decided to head south to the coast to look for freshly-grounded migrants.  The previous weekend around Istanbul I had had the first white storks and alpine swifts through and was hopeful of getting at least some migrants even though it was still early.

Heading east from the airport you pass through the centre of Adana and then cross the Seyhan river.  Immediately after crossing the river turn right signed to Karatas.  This road is rough and lined with small shops and workshops but after a few km you pass out of Adana and the road is straight and of good quality all of the 50km to Karatas.  The rain had stopped, the sky was clearing and swallows were around in good numbers.  It felt like I had finally met spring, an impression strengthened when my first stop was for a gorgeous male lesser kestrel on wires.  After several brief stops including finding 4 white-breasted kingfishers at the side of the road I drove into the sleepy coastal resort of Karatas. (see map 1)  I checked out the gulls on the offshore island and then drove west a few km to try to approach Lake Akyatan but I could get no closer than 2km.  I found a small vegetated gully alive with migrants and within 30 minutes had seen nightingale, northern and black-eared wheatears, lesser whitethroat, male Rüppell's warbler, redstart and some gripping views of red-rumped swallows coming to mud.

Map1 - Rough map of Karatus:

I then drove north and cut across to Tuzla (see map 2). There is an amazing amount of poly-tunnel agriculture in the area, I do not mean the large poly-tunnels you can walk in but small tunnels put over raised furrows.  This is labour-intensive work and many of the roads are lined by vast encampments of itinerant workers living in small straw and plastic shacks.

Map2 - Coast South of Adana:

At Tuzla I was pleased to find the best wader site I have come across anywhere in Turkey (see map 3).  Tuzla Gulu is a first-rate site and should not be missed from your Turkish trip.  When I was there on Saturday there was a strong heat haze and most birds were distant.  However I did get my target species; Pallas's Gull; an immature stood on a distant island with other gulls. 

Map3 - Tuzla Gulu:

I left Tuzla around 4pm and headed back to Adana to pick up the motorway east and south to Hatay, still known on road signs as Antakya (the ancient city of Antioch).  A Birdwatchers' guide to Turkey by Green & Moorhouse briefly mentions the Nur Dağlari mountain range and I wanted to check out spring raptor passage through the passes (see map 4).  By the time I had driven passed Iskenderun and climbed up the long hill at Belen the sun was low, the clouds getting very heavy and the wind picking up.  There were going to be no raptors that evening so I continued on to Antakya and finally found a decent hotel for the night in Harbiye. I was suffering from a heavy cold and needed a good night's sleep, as I arrived at the hotel it started raining heavily and continued on and off through to the morning.

Map4 - Iskenderun and Nur Daglari:

Sunday 3rd April 2005

Dawn broke with overcast skies and heavy rain.  I judged any raptor passage a washout so decided to drive north to Iskenderun (one of the many Alexandrias in the world) and to explore the coast SW of there down to and beyond Uluçinar (see map 4).  I soon discovered that the name Uluçinar used on the Ryborsch maps is now Arsuz.  Follow the motorway south past Iskenderun and then leave at the junction marked Arsuz.  The road tracks close to the sea and at times runs right along the beach.  I was hoping for some sandy shoreline with some resting gulls but discovered nothing but rocky shoreline all the way, devoid of birds.  Both the OtoAtlas and the Ryborsch show a road continuing SW round the headland.  I followed the road past Arsuz which then climbed into the hills and fizzled out in a small village.  I didn't see many birds but the scenery with the blue sea and forested mountains is great.

It was now noon and I decided to head back and finish the day back at Tuzla.  I drove back towards Adana but instead of going into Adana and heading south I left the motorway at junction 3 (K-3) and headed to the coastal town of Yumurtalik getting more white-breasted kingfishers on the way.  I probably had a distant young Pallas's gull fly past over the sea but the view was too brief to claim.  I then tried to drive from Yumurtalik to Karatas.  There only ever seemed one road to choose from and after several stops in villages I was getting somewhat lost.  Eventually after nearly three hours I finally got to Karatas.  I had great views of slender-billed gull in the harbour and then returned to the migrant gully.  Amazingly the first bird to pop out was the nightingale but the number of birds had decreased though I did have good views of a female Rüppell's before leaving for Tuzla.

I decided not to take the previous day's short cut past all the encampments but to take the longer main road route.  On the road to Tuzla I had a very close encounter with a lunatic transit minibus; we very nearly hit head-on but by some miracle he managed to pass on the wrong side.  Driving in Turkey is not for the faint hearted!

I finished the day at Tuzla Gulu.  The sky was rapidly filling with storm clouds and the wind was cold and strong.  The good news was there was little haze and scoping conditions were good.  As it got nearer to dusk more and more waders, terns and gulls appeared and by 18:45 there were too many birds to check properly in the failing light.  Almost the last bird I had was an immature (presumed same as previous day's) Pallas's gull flying straight into my scope view and over my head.

I packed up and left Tuzla at 19:00.  I was back at the airport in an hour and left on the 21:50 flight back to Istanbul, I was back home by just after midnight.  A wonderful, if tiring birding weekend.

Systematic list of birds seen on Saturday 2nd April and Sunday 3rd April 2005 in Collins Bird Guide Order

TG   = Tuzla Gulu (see map 3) maximum counts are for Sunday 3rd April unless stated.

Great cormorant
Few on the coast at Karatas, few at TG

Little egret
Few distant birds at TG

Great white egret
Few widely scattered birds

Grey heron         
6+ at TG

White stork        
Several seen, a few already sitting on nests.

Glossy Ibis         
A great surprise, flocks of 95 and 11 flew over TG without stopping on Sunday evening.

3 distant birds at TG

Greater Flamingo 170 at TG.  Of these less than 20 were full adults, most were youngsters and some seemed very small; just when do these birds breed?

8 at TG

5+ at TG

5+ at TG

100+ at TG

Marsh Harrier     
Male near Karatas, Female hunting over TG.

Steppe Buzzard   One soaring near Karatas on 3rd

Few seen

Lesser Kestrel    
One male on road to Karatas about 15km south of Adana on 2nd.

Several calling from fields.  One bird at the migrant gully, Karatas was giving a strong snarling-frog call before the usual call.  The books mention another call but I have never heard a quail give such a strong partridge-like intro.

One seen.

100+ at TG

Common Crane  
Flock of 29 got up from the back of TG and flew off.

30+ at TG

Black-winged Stilt   
40+ at TG

Kentish Plover    
80+ at TG

Little stint 
50+ at TG

5 at TG

Black-tailed Godwit 
400+ at TG

300+ at TG

Black-headed gull    
Few at Karatas, 20+ at TG

Slender-billed gull    
5+ at Karatas harbour, 60+ at TG

Yellow-legged/Caspian gull      
Several grotty immatures along coast and at TG

Lesser black-backed gull         
Few offshore Karatas, 4 very smart fuscus adults at TG

* Pallas's gull      
Great black-headed gull has been my most-wanted gull for 20 years.  I thought I would have a reasonable chance on the med. coast in early April.  One first-year bird at TG on afternoon of 2nd, presumed same at 18:45 on 3rd. Pleased to score but would have liked an adult as well.

Little gull   
11+ at TG

Little tern  
1 at TG on 2nd

Sandwich tern     
A few at Karatas, difficult to separate from Gull-billed at long range at TG, probably 20+.

Gull-billed tern
40+ at TG

Caspian tern       
5 at TG

Collared dove     
A common bird in villages.

Senegalese/laughing/palm dove 
Incredibly, my first birds in 6 months in Turkey! 2 by the road in Adana.

Great spotted cuckoo 
1 first-summer bird giving flighty views by the road about 15 km west of Yumurtalik on 3rd

Alpine swift        
Flocks over the sea at Yumurtalik

Common swift    
Hundreds seen. Very common in Antakya town in the evening.

One near Karatas on 2nd

Common kingfisher  
One in a dyke near Karatas.

White-breasted kingfisher        
Since when has it been called White-throated? Where did the Collins name come from?  Perhaps I was lucky, perhaps it's a good time of the year but I had birds at three different sites. (see map 2).

Site1    4 birds on wires on the main Adana-Karatas road, just by the Adana 30 sign (going north).  The birds were very flighty but calling often and after 5 minutes were gone, I never saw them again here.

Site2    Presumed pair in reed-filled dyke, just outside village on main Adana-Karatas road which holds the junction to Tuzla.  The junction has a Shell garage nearby, follow the road towards Tuzla and just after the buildings end are some large dykes and plenty of trees.

Site3    Possibly the most promising site. Driving south towards Yumurtalik from the motorway, I had just passed through the village of Demirtaş, I stopped to check out a bird on a wire (just a corn bunting) and heard birds constantly calling from a large area of trees and reeds about 500 m west of the road.  I saw one bird perched but it was not the one calling so I suggest at least a pair in the area. This site has the advantage that it is well away from the road and is probably a settled breeding area.  I suggest visiting birders scan from the road and do not attempt to approach the area.

I had forgotten just what great looking birds WB kings are, well worth spending time over!

Few birds seen and heard.

Crested lark       
The common bird of cereal fields and roadsides.

Short-toed lark            
One along the shortcut route to Tuzla.

Calandra lark      
My first Calandra in Turkey and the first for many years.  One bird in a bare field just north of Tuzla on 2nd

Barn swallow      
Thousands seen over the weekend.

Red-rumped swallow  
A few seen, best were 4+ birds coming down to mud at the migrant gully, Karatas, on 2nd.

House martin      
Just one identified.

White wagtail      
Regularly encountered.

Spectacled bulbul    
Easy to see, usually in pairs. 20+ seen over the weekend.

A showy bird at the migrant gully, Karatas on both days.

At least one female at the migrant gully on 2nd

Northern wheatear   
Several migrants near the coast.

Black-eared wheatear 
At least 10 birds seen, some males gave fantastic views.

Few seen

Few seen

Lesser whitethroat   
Reasonably common near the coast.

Common whitethroat  
One in the middle of nowhere on the great trek from Yumurtalik to Karatas.

Rüppell's warbler    
Seen very well at the migrant gully, at least one male on 2nd and a female on 3rd; a nice bird but over-rated.

Graceful prinia
At least the Collins doesn't call it graceful warbler; it's a prinia! Fairly common around Karatas/Tuzla. Song slightly reminiscent of river warbler.

Reed warbler      
3 birds seen and heard at various wet places.

Hooded crow     
Not as common as elsewhere in Turkey, just a few seen.

Just a few seen

House sparrow            
More widespread than Spanish but I probably saw more Spanish than house.

Spanish sparrow 
A real treat, at least 20 tight flocks of Spanish close to the road.  West of Yumurtalik the noise coming from a big flock in a single olive tree was amazing.  What a great bird the male is!

Several seen

A few small flocks

Not that common though widespread sightings.

A few in firs along the road near Arsuz.

Corn bunting       
A very common bird of fields and scrub, difficult not to hear at least one singing.

As it was early April I was not surprised by the lack of certain groups: no shrikes, very few warblers, no flycatchers and none of the better waders (marsh, broad-billed, greater sand-plover or pratincoles).

The highlights for me were: Pallas's gull, w-b kingfisher, great spotted cuckoo, lesser kestrel, Spanish sparrow and male black-eared wheatear.

I drove nearly 900km in the two days, I keep saying this about Turkey but my advice is to fly domestically and not to drive from one end of the country to the other.

Most birders fly to Antalya which has no domestic connections other than with Istanbul or Ankara.

For a more pleasant two-week birding trip I would recommend:

Last two weeks of May or slightly later

Day1   Fly into Istanbul, do some culture, get Levant shearwater.

Day1-7   Fly to Gaziantep or Adana, get 1 way car hire to Ankara.

Visit Birecik, Halfeti, Euphrates valley, Tuzla Gulu, explore coast perhaps take boat daytrip to northern Cyprus. Get trip up Toros mountains sorted for Snowcock. Visit Cappadocia, explore lakes, perhaps do Sogusku NP. Finish at Ankara airport for flight to Van.

Day 7-14         Hire one-way rental Van to Trabzon or Erzurum. Work Nemrut Dağ, Lake Van, explore to SE border with Iran, do Doğubayazit, explore NE corner up to border with Georgia and Armenia, get Black grouse, finish at Trabzon or Erzurum, fly back to Istanbul from where you fly home.

You should be able to get good deals on flights to Istanbul. The domestic flights are no more than GBP50 single, so you would spend an extra GBP150 on flights but save well over 3,000km of driving which equates to at least three extra days relaxed birding.  Currently petrol is a little over a pound a litre so you would save well over GBP200 in fuel.

I hope you found this report useful, you can contact me at

Copying/usage restrictions.

I am happy for anyone to use this report to help them travel and bird watch in Turkey.  However if you quote directly or incorporate my maps into other reports you should give due credit:

Adana and surrounds trip report 2/3 April 2005 by MJ Grunwell.


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