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Birding Tuzla Gulu, Demirkazik, Birecik and Işikli, May 2005 ,
A trip report by Michael Grunwell, an English birder currently living and working in Istanbul.
I flew to Adana for three days, hired a car and spent probably the best three days birding I can remember in the western Palaearctic.
Thursday 19th May 2005
I flew with Onur Air on the 06:30 flight from Istanbul to Adana; the flight was packed as it was the start of a long weekend holiday. Onur Air are usually the only competitor to Turkish on domestic routes. I usually fly with Turkish but they were booked solid so it was with a little apprehension that I paid YTL 178 (a little less than it would have been with Turkish) for the return to Adana. Onur Air have a large modern fleet and have moved into the domestic Turkish market during the last few years after establishing themselves as a Turkish-based holiday charter company. The flight was a little late and there was hardly a spare seat on the Airbus A300. One of the reasons they are cheaper than Turkish is they offer no food on board and they are not too bothered about the appearance of their aircraft; the tail fin clearly showed the previous owner’s faded logo; Saudi airlines.
I got excellent leg room and saved on the ticket so I cannot grumble and would certainly consider flying with them again.
As with my last visit to Adana at the beginning of April I struggled to get cheap car hire and ended up booking with Avis on the net. I paid YTL 85 per day for the cheapest car but got a free upgrade to a Ford Focus Estate. The Focus was a little underpowered but was spacious with the usual excellent ride and handling. On the down side some of the electrics were dodgy and the lack of a boot release button drove me crazy.
After the spectacle of Tuzla Gulu in early April I was keen to check it out for better waders so I drove straight to the lake (see my April report). What a difference 7 weeks make! The water level had dropped about half a metre and most of the extensive mud had dried up. There was now a driveable track part way round the southern edge of the east pool. It was already pushing 30 degrees with a strong heat haze and the number of birds was a fraction of my earlier visit. By 10.30 am I had decided to leave and head north towards Çamardi.
Birds seen at Tuzla Gulu on 19th May
Greater Flamingo 70 birds, less than half the number in April.
Little stint 20+
Kentish plover 30+
Several distant avocet, stilts and assorted unidentified waders.
Nothing much else of note except for a single little tern, some very distant gulls with a Caspian tern, hundreds of resting swallow and several rufous scrub robin.
I would suggest a dawn or dusk visit to avoid the heat haze and you will no doubt want to explore the shoreline on foot (unlike me).
I drove back through Adana, got onto the motorway and headed west, then north, to Pozanti. The motorway is wide and the long uphill climb to Pozanti is quite spectacular; the road climbs almost continuously for 30km. It takes just over an hour to get to Pozanti from joining the motorway at Adana. From here to Çamardi most birders drive direct on the road that goes north east from Pozanti. I wanted to drive the Kaynarca-Çamardi road which I had found the previous November and felt would be good in summer.
From Pozanti I continued on the busy, narrow, dangerous main E-90 towards Ankara. It took over 40 minutes to get to the main junction just before Ulukişla. I followed this good road north towards Niğde. There are two roads to the left towards Bor. About 1 km further on after the second turn to Bor there is a Sunpet filling station on the right and 300m after this is the right turn signposted to lots of villages including Kilavuz. This is the western end of what I call the Kaynarca- Çamardi road and is certainly the best road for birding I have encountered away from South America.
It is less than 40km from one end to the other and could be driven flat-out in under forty five minutes. I spent 3 hours on Thursday afternoon and a further 3 hours the next afternoon birding the length of the road.
A good birding road should have the following qualities:
The time of year was just perfect with all species expected arrived and singing continuously. I would suggest that even two weeks later the birds would be past their best.
Please see the attached map and the full bird list later in this report.
I arrived at the far end of the road in Çamardi around 5:30 and then made my way towards Çukurbağ. Just before the right turn to Çukurbağ there is an obvious red “Osak Petrol” filling station, just beyond are two pensions owned by the Safak brothers. I had pre-booked to stay at the one called “Oz Safak”. Having met Ali and his brother I set off to try the road behind the Demirkazik ski centre football field. The road seemed improved from the previous November and I had no problem driving to just beyond the fork (see map of Demirkazik). I had brief views of Chukar and excellent views of a pair of red-fronted serin. I then drove back to Çamardi where I bought food and drink for the next day’s mountain excursion.
I returned to the pension where I had a basic meal and met up with several German and French birders who were to go up the mountain in the morning. Having been up since 3am I had no problem getting to sleep early and was awake fresh and ready at 4am the next morning.
Friday 20th May 2005
4.30 am saw a total of 10 birders set off in trailers behind two ancient tractors. We reached the ski centre at 4:45 and started up the track behind the football field. At the fork we went right onto a slightly poorer track which dropped a little then followed the floor of the valley for several km. The track then got very steep and wound its way up and up until we reached a flat area which was acting as an encampment for a horse-trekking expedition. Beyond this plateau the track again climbed higher and eventually, more than an hour after passing the ski centre we ended up on a large flat grassy plateau right below the high crags.
There was then a 300m walk up to a position on a shoulder just below the crags.
It was now well light and at about 6:45 we had the briefest flight view of a Snowcock across the top of the crags. Shortly after this a male Snowcock appeared right on the skyline at the top of the crags. The bird was at least 600m away but gave adequate scope views, it threw its head back and called but was so distant I could hardly hear the call.
The bird remained on show for over twenty minutes; we did not see any more, apparently the numbers seen vary much from day to day, our bird had appeared in an identical position the day before.
I had arranged for a tractor up and was expecting a tractor ride back down, however this was not part of the tour. Ali Safak guided us down towards the top of a truly spectacular gorge and then left us with no option but to climb down the most ludicrously steep path for the next three hours!
None of the party saw anything of particular note on the walk down the gorge and if I had known the hassle involved I would not have bothered with going for Snowcock. Eventually at around noon we all gathered at the bottom of the gorge which comes out about 600m north of the ski centre and got refugee-status transport back to the pension.
If you are desperate to see Snowcock at Demirkazik then going up with the Safak clan may be the only viable option but consider this.
Firstly there are now plenty of places to stay around Çamardi; in the shop I was offered a room in a local pension for just YTL 10. This should be the going rate for a basic room. Living in Turkey I refused to pay more than YTL 30 for a night but most people were paying 30 euros or more and one couple were paying YTL 80 to share a room at the pension.
The next night I spent at the motel in Birecik which is representative of typical provincial mid-range accommodation, I offer the following comparison and you can make your own judgement.
Motel at Birecik
Safak Pension, Çukurbağ
En suite with shower and western toilet
Communal bathroom with hole in floor*, primitive shower
Large and comfy with fresh sheets
Bed too short, no sheets just covers.
Provided, clean and plentiful
Provided, with remote control
None, though probably not req.
None but plenty of shops next door.
YTL 20 single, YTL 25 double
YTL 30 –50 per person
*Some guests did have access to a western toilet, but not me as I was put in the economy section.
So, what about the transportation up the mountain?
I was first quoted YTL 110 for a tractor trip up the mountain. On the basis that this was for me alone I still thought this steep and offered YTL 80. I was told that it was 40 for the guiding(!) plus 70 for the tractor and was given the usual hogwash about the price of benzene (petrol). Eventually we agreed on YTL 80 on the basis that there would be a group going.
As it turned out there were 10 people going up in total with two tractors. Everyone else was paying well over YTL 100 for the trip so altogether the party was paying over YTL 1000 for a 15 km trip on two trailers pulled by ancient tractors (with drivers) followed by a three hour walk followed by a simple 8km road journey back from the ski centre.
Before you call me a mean, tight-fisted so and so (guilty as charged) consider these typical Turkish transportation costs:
A 2 hour flight from Istanbul to Van: YTL 130 single
A trip with a homicidal Istanbul taxi driver at over 100mph on a 30km trip across the city at 3 o’clock in the morning: YTL 35
Typical unlimited mileage small car hire: YTL 70 per 24 hours
Charter of a Van taxi, with driver, all day, covering 400 km carrying 4 passengers: YTL 120 total
Now consider this:
Average weekly income for an unskilled worker such as a cleaner or agricultural labourer: YTL 100
A good monthly salary for a skilled technical worker in a big company in Istanbul: YTL 1200
Revenue from a party of birders for a 15 km tractor trip up a mountain followed by a “guided” walk down death gulch: YTL 1000+
The best that can be said is that it represents extremely poor value for money. Frankly for that sort of money you should be driven up in a Toyota Land Cruiser and then driven back down, not expected to play Russian roulette with your expensive optics clambering down rocky paths. (An American couple were driven up in a Lada 4x4 by Ali’s brother. It is probably safe to assume they paid a premium for the privilege).
Before I leave the topic just a few words on the transport itself. Agricultural trailers are towed behind the tractors, it is very uncomfortable with some padding in the form of a pillow or blanket provided, again, if it was me charging that sort of money I would try to provide proper seating or at least weld handrails at the front and back so you can safely stand up for the roughest bits.
OK, so what about the guiding (for which Ali says he charges YTL 40 per person)?
Again I offer you a comparison, this time between Ali Safak and a top quality birding guide.
|Top notch professional bird guide||Ali Safak|
|Optics used by guide||Top of the range room prism bins, probably decent scope plus digital camera.||None, though did he did briefly borrow bins from his brother. They appear to have been captured from a U-boat captain.|
|Optics provided for use by the group||Questar scope with sturdy tripod||None|
|Bird finding||Birds located and identified. Care taken to ensure all participants get put onto the bird.||Jumps up and down shouting “Look! Look! Small bird!”|
|Commentary||Field marks pointed out to group, in depth knowledge of latest advances in identification, including knowledge of subtleties of racial and aging variation.||Waves hands wildly shouting “Look! Look! Wild goat!”|
|Guidance over rough terrain||Care taken to ensure all participants comfortable with terrain, all given choice of not participating in strenuous or dangerous physical exertion.||Transport drives off, given no choice but to walk for three hours down a track suitable only for experienced rock climbers and the ultra-fit. Ali did carry my tripod so that I could use all four limbs to negotiate the most hazardous stretches.|
So what are the alternatives for viewing Snowcock at Demirkazik?
Firstly, a 4x4 with high clearance is essential to get up to the crags. The track is steep and the surface very loose in places. You can easily drive in a rental car the first mile of the football field track up to the fork. From there it would be a reasonable three hour hike up the track. I would suggest only the dedicated and ultra-fit should consider walking up death gorge. The problem is you will need to take scopes and tripods to get decent views and no-one likes hiking with optics. You will also need to get up to the crags fairly soon after dawn which would mean setting off in the pitch dark.
The solution is obviously to get vehicular transportation up the track. I find it hard to believe that you could not charter a tractor and trailer plus driver for half a day for YTL 100. Alternatively ask around Çamardi for someone with a 4x4 willing to take you up. I reckon YTL 120 in total should be more than enough for a group of four, including 2-3 hours wait at the top and a drive back down.
You could of course go elsewhere in Turkey for Snowcock; the web has several reports suggesting various sites and transport methods. The best I have seen involves looking down onto Snowcock from a 4x4; much more my scene!
I left Çukurbag after 1:00pm and spent until 4:30 slowly driving back to Kaynarca. It was clouding up and by the time I had reached the western end and the main road south it was quite blustery with spots of rain.
I drove almost non-stop from Kaynarca back past Adana and onto Gaziantep and Birecik. I had to drive the truly dreadful road to Birecik in the dark and didn’t check into the reasonable but cheap motel by the bridge until nearly 10pm.
Saturday 21st May 2005
I was last at Birecik in December (see my December report for full details). This visit I wanted to see summer birds which I had not seen since 1987. I was up at first light and spent the first hour looking at warblers and dead sea sparrows along the river, past the Ibis site. It was pleasing to see several free flying Ibis along the cliffs and at least one nesting pair. The highlight was checking the small gulley on the road towards the dam, about 1km north of the turn to Halfeti, in an adjacent cereal field, right by the road was an amazing call that was new to me. Whatever was making the strident blaring was very close and I could see the crop swaying as an unseen bird moved away from me. After checking the books (and subsequently hearing tapes) I realised I had heard Black Francolin. I have had good views in the past in Pakistan and was not too bothered about the lack of views because of the great call.
I then drove up to Halfeti where I had spent some time in December. I got great views of male blue rock thrush displaying and several red-rumped swallows but not much else.
I checked out the low hills at the reputed courser site but was it practically bird-less. Back at Birecik I met up with some Danish birders who were busy on a massive drive’n’tick operation around the whole of Turkey. With their help I had brief views of yellow-throated sparrow near the famous sub station. The electricity sub-station is a large yellow building surrounded by trees, on the right, about a mile north of the garage junction, on the road towards Halfeti.
I then led the Danes up to the dam compound where I had seen desert finch in December, I was impressed by their use of walkie-talkie technology to spread out and find birds. I didn’t see anything of note on my brief stop at the dam but Roller were numerous on the road up.
I then went back to the Ibis site and took the track just to the left of the centre that leads into the famous wadi. By now it was 11am and very hot, the Danes had had singing Upcher’s and Pale Rock sparrow, I saw a few olivaceous and one probable Upcher’s but I find them very hard. Other than Ibis at a nest just as you go into the wadi the only other bird of note was the briefest view of a see-see scuttling away.
I then decided to check out the flooded valley above Gürçay where I had spent an afternoon the previous December. On my last visit I could not find the road south just west of the river, but this time I found it easily; it is not far west of the motel, opposite a BP filling station, signed to Karkamış. Just keep following the road signs towards Karkamış and you eventually end up close to the water. Almost all of the ducks had gone and the coot numbers were much reduced. Pygmy cormorant were common, possibly more than in winter but there was little else to detain me except for amazingly close views of a pair of Squacco heron by the car.
It was now 1.30 and I had to be back at Adana airport for 9.00pm, I still had not had views of Cretzschmar’s bunting or cinereous so I decided to head west to an area I had not visited before: the area called Yesilce by Gosney (Finding Birds in Turkey, Ankara to Birecik, by Dave Gosney), but which I will refer to as Işikli
I set off from Gürçay, drove past Karkamiş and took the road back to Nizip. These side roads are of good quality and traffic is very light, I strongly suggest you try to use these roads in preference to the current E90 road; use of which will shorten your life expectancy.
To get to Işikli from the east I recommend the following route:
Drive west towards Gaziantep, at the junction for the motorway take the motorway, do not try driving through the city. Drive to junction K12, leave the motorway following signs back to Gaziantep, the road is wide but being rebuilt. After about 6km you get down to a major junction, a roundabout is being built here, follow the road marked D835 to Nurdaği, this is the old main road. The road is wide and relatively quiet, the gen is now precisely as Gosney states: Just after Yesilce is the left turn towards Işikli and beyond this is the limestone quarry on the right (highly active, with blasting heard) with crushers and hoppers in front. I couldn’t see a lime kiln but then again I’m not sure what one looks like. The turn to Durnalik is just opposite the quarry.
To reach here from the west it would be a shorter drive to leave the motorway near Nurdaği and head east, however it might be easier to just keep going on the motorway to K12 and follow the directions above.
I first visited Durnalik, a km after the main road just before the village is a driveable track off to the right. You can easily drive up for about 600m. The road is bordered by large boulders and the end of the driveable stretch is by a tiny quarry face where you can turn round and park. Perhaps it was me, perhaps it was the surreal combination of boulders and bushes but I had a really strange feeling about the place. I may have been here 18 years ago, or it may have been the dreamlike feel to the place but I felt uneasy about walking far.
I saw very few birds other than some black-eared wheatears and a white-throated robin and so drove back to the drinking trough mentioned by Gosney, which had a nice bench seat. I gave it 15 minutes but found the close attention of two young men a little disconcerting so chucked it in to try Işikli.
My feeling of unease was still with me so I decided to stick to strict road-side birding for the rest of the afternoon. The drive up the hill to Işikli produced another white-throated robin, I drove through the village and on up the hill. Just after leaving the village an enormous rocky slope dominates the view to your left, I stopped and used the scope to carefully scan the scree and bushes. It was now after 5.00pm and I was aware that I was more than two hours from Adana airport. The sun was behind me and over about an hour I had a great time scoping birds on the slope and listening to the FA cup final on my trusty Roberts SW radio. I finally got decent views of Cretzschmar’s singing and a brief but nice view of a male red-tailed wheatear high up on the slope.
I spent the last half hour packing everything up for the flight and changing out of shorts, I left at 6.30 and with a stop for fuel arrived back at the Avis desk at Adana airport just on 9pm. The 22.30 flight back to Istanbul was a little late and the airport busy, it was also amazingly humid. It was quite nice to get back to a cool and damp Istanbul and was back safely to my flat before 1am.
Birds seen along the Kaynarca- Çamardi road on the afternoons of 19th and 20th May 2005
List in Collins Bird Guide order
Please see the map for details.
At least one bird around the high point near Cellaler.
Several birds, usually in pairs on the higher slopes. Some very close views, but annoyingly I did not concentrate on the key identification features around the bill base. However the dangly gold tuft behind the eye was striking. The distribution map of Chukar has been swapped with Rock Partridge in the Collins creating some initial confusion.
A few around villages
A few seen
A few over
A few seen
Regularly seen and heard along the road
A flock calling flying over
Several around the orchards near Kilavuz
Fairly common in grassy or cereal fields
Common around the fields near Kaynarca. Some superb views of singing males including an amazing courtship display (followed by mating) with a noticeably duller female.
* Bimaculated Lark
Definitely the bird of the road. Common in long grass by the road towards Cellaler, some prolonged views of singing males down to 3m. On careful study there is not much difference in face pattern from Calandra but the lack of a pale trailing edge and the short tail (giving the bird a bigger-headed look) make identification easy. I cannot remember seeing Bimaculated in 1987 and I doubt if you can getter better views than along this road.
Some splendid full-breeding penicillata on the higher slopes.
A few seen
A common bird
One seen on the higher slopes.
Reasonably common around woodland
Often heard singing from moist woodland.
Rufous bush robin
At least three males seen in orchards near Kilavuz.
Common but not as common as Isabelline
A very common bird, males often singing, tend to perch on bushes more than northern and longer legs then noticeable.
A few nice males on the highest, most arid slopes.
Fairly common in woodland
A few seen
One of the commoner warblers along the road.
Fairly common, this, lesser whitethroat and blackcap were the only Sylvia warblers seen.
One definite pair in dry thorny hedges near Halaç with several more birds along the road probably this species.
By far the commonest singing warbler along the road, having seen many birds it is obvious that not only do individual birds vary in terms of general colouration, apparent size, darkness of upperparts etc. but, more importantly the same bird can look like a small pale reed warbler one moment and a huge-billed, long-tailed, dark-winged hippolais the next.
Few heard singing
A few birds seen.
a few of each in woodland.
Often seen along the whole length.
Lesser grey shrike
At least 4 birds between Kaynarca and Halaç.
Solitary breeding birds near grassier slopes
Singing and crossing road east of Kilavuz
Common, may have been some Spanish as well.
A woodland bird
A few heard singing
Two singing birds along the road. I really struggled to identify singing males because the head appeared slightly bluer than green and the throat and sub-moustachial stripe were off-white rather than yellow. I also only had the illustrations to go by as my baby son had eaten the text page!
The most obvious singing bird with a male every 100m on the lower parts, thinning out but always around as the road climbed. Only one female seen; either they had not yet arrived or were keeping out of sight.
Better birds seen at Demirkazik on 19th and 20th May 2005
One sub-adult over death gorge.
* Caspian Snowcock
Two birds seen, one flying along crag tops, a male on view right on the skyline.
Plenty around but difficult to get close views, best views were from the car on the football field track.
Very common breeder in death gorge.
Fairly common around the crags
One near the Snowcock site
At least two birds seen near the Snowcock site
A pair near the road at the foot of the gorge.
Blue rock thrush
A bird near the top of death gorge
Several birds around the crags
Several around the watch-point.
A few birds around the Snowcock watch-point
Some red-billed plus others very high. I just can’t do chough without seeing bill colour!
A few birds including handsome males giving good views near the watch-point.
Not seen on the mountain trek but I had great views of a pair about 1km up the football field track on the Thursday evening.
A male at the top of death gorge.
Better birds seen at Işikli on 21st May 2005
One male in bushes half way up to Işikli, another male at Durnalik.
Several at Durnalik and Işikli. All were pale throated form of melanoleuca. I was surprised by the paleness of the bird around the head and also by the lack of black-throated birds. In early April all the coastal migrants south of Adana were dark-throated.
A spanking male scoped on the slope above Işikli.
One singing male near the road above Işikli
In summary, a very satisfying list of birds seen but most importantly I had good views of almost all species.
I did not see several species I saw in winter such as great rock nuthatch, desert finch and sombre tit.
I missed out on seeing masked shrike, cinereous bunting, pale rock sparrow and olive tree warbler.
I think olive tree warbler is the hardest of these to see and I feel I may now have blown my chance.
I am hoping to return to Van at the end of June to clean up on the last remaining Turkish specialities I need: Cinereous and grey-necked bunting, Mongolian finch and pale rock sparrow.
Looks like I will have to leave Lammergeier and Wallcreeper for another time.
I hope you found this report useful, you can contact me at email@example.com
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:
Demirkazik, Birecik and Işikli May 2005 by MJ Grunwell.