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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk
TURKEY May 13th - May 20th 2001,
We flew to Antalya and worked the known sites east to Birecik. The total driving distance was just short of 3000km for the trip, considerably more than we expected.
A brief summary of the sites visited during the week :
Day One : Monday 14th May : Arrived Antalya
0400, drove to Akseki, then late afternoon drive to Eregli.
Day Two : Tuesday 15th May :Eregli area a.m., Demerkazik p.m.
Day Three : Wednesday 16th May : Demerkazik a.m., Sultan Marshes p.m, overnight drive to Isikli / Durnalik area.
Day Four : Thursday 17th May : Durnalik a.m., Birecik p.m.
Day Five : Friday 18th May :Birecik a.m., Tarsus Delta p.m., overnight drive to Goksu Delta.
Day Six : Saturday 19th May :Goksu Delta all day, overnight drive to Akseki.
Day Seven : Sunday 20th May : Akseki area all day, then Antalya for early Monday morning flight back to Gatwick.
The week was generally very relaxing, with the exception of the punishing driving schedule. Turkish roads do leave a lot to be desired, although most of the main truck routes are OK, and in particular the new six-lane motorway between Gaziantep and Mersin on the south coast saw us eating up the kilometres at a very satisfying rate.
The three worst roads we found were :
1) The road east from Develi (Sultan Marshes) to its junction with the main Kayseri - Gaziantep road. Although marked as a yellow road on the map, do not be fooled! Many unmade stretches and potholes here kept the average speed down to about 25km/h. There is no obvious alternative from Sultan to Isikli / Durnalik, just leave plenty of time and do not attempt the drive at night, as we did!
2) E90 Gaziantep to Birecik. Unavoidable, extremely dangerous highway. Lots of very slow trucks and tankers, and ludicrously fast coaches and Mercedes trying to overtake them at any inopportune moment. Terrible road surface, the heavy tankers have scored great ridges down some sections which can make you feel like you are driving on rails. My advice would be not to drive this road while tired, it requires full concentration.
3) The 400 coast road from the Goksu Delta east to Alanya. Scenically stunning but very long, slow and winding, and unfortunately most direct route for this journey. Allow plenty of time and beware of trucks in the middle of the road on bends.
Other general motoring hazards were frequently encountered. There are pedestrians wandering in the road everywhere you go, even on the motorway and far from any town. Cycles and mopeds are often ridden without lights after dark. Potholes and unmade stretches of road can catch you unawares at any time. Road markings are often few and far between, which is very tricky especially after dark. Three times we encountered cars driving the wrong way down a dual carriageway (must be fun at night!). Finally, large and sometimes ferocious looking dogs will wander out on to the road at any time. One of those struck head-on by a truck makes for a particularly gruesome road-kill spectacle, and would certainly do some serious damage to your car.
We hired a car through Holiday Autos, a Ford Escort saloon. It already had a few dents and scratches which was useful because by the end of the week it had a few more! Holiday Autos do not have an insurance excess on their hire cars which is certainly something I would recommend, especially seeing as we managed to break the suspension on our one. Their supplier in Antalya is Europcar, and the guy there spent a long time trying to sell us extra insurance which you will not need if booked through Holiday Autos.
At the start of our trip £1 = 1,600,000 Turkish Lira (approx.). Doubtless this had inflated still further by the end of the week. You will be amazed how far your money will go. Hotel rooms cost us between 7,000,000 and 16,000,000 TL for two. A decent meal for two with beer averaged around 8,000,000 TL. The main expense was fuel, which at 1,015,000 TL a litre for unleaded was not far off UK prices.
We found the Turkish people to be among the most friendly either of us had ever encountered. Frequently we were offered cups of tea, and occasionally invited to join people at their table in a restaurant or invited to their house for a meal. The lack of a common language did not seem to be a problem. If you know anything about football it is to your advantage here, since it seems to be the national obsession, and you can easily make conversation on this topic.
The police, and the army, maintain a high profile in Turkey and unlike other countries I have visited (e.g. Eastern Europe) they never appeared threatening or corrupt. We were stopped three times while driving and each time politely requested to show our documents and allowed to continue our journey. Although we ventured no further east than Birecik, we heard that problems in the south east which had made travelling there difficult had largely abated.
Most importantly of all, the birding was spectacular. Some may disapprove of the predominantly "quick-tick" nature of our visit. I would have loved to have had an extra week or two to work the sites in more detail and discover new ones, but unfortunately neither of us could spare that amount of time. Although we did manage to get most of the stuff in a week, it was fairly exhausting and on three occasions we ended up driving at night to reach the next site and grabbing a couple of hours sleep in the car.
Many birders seem to rely on tape recordings to see some of the more difficult species i.e. White-backed woodpecker, Wallcreeper and Olive-tree warbler. We managed excellent views of the first two species and scored with the third without resorting to a tape. With so many birders visiting the White-backed site in particular, I felt slightly concerned that repeated use of tapes puts even greater pressure on the birds than that already felt through habitat loss etc.
The week went as follows...
Monday 14th May : Two hours late arriving in Antalya, which meant that we didn't get on the road until 0530 after picking up the hire car. At the airport, the car hire companies are situated in the domestic terminal about five minutes walk from the international terminal building (turn right). It was already getting light and by the time we had completed the 140km drive to Akseki it was about 0745.
We headed straight for the lay-by 7.9km north of town as described by Gosney et al. It took about three minutes to score Kruper's in trees by the layby. Other birds here included Rock Bunting, Black-eared wheatear and abundant Serins. The weather was pretty bad, cold with frequent heavy rain showers, which added to the fact that we had missed first light meant that we dipped White-backed woodpecker on this occasion.
The open rocky areas just north of Akseki were more productive, and in between the showers we saw Ruppell's warbler and good numbers of Cretzschmar's buntings, as well as Rock nuthatch and Blue rock thrush.
Next stop was the famous cemetery in Akseki village mentioned in all the gen. Despite the wet conditions it was quite good, and we heard 2-3 singing Olive-tree warblers without any difficulty. They were virtually impossible to see well due to their infuriating habit of flying some distance away as soon as we got anywhere near. Also there were our first (of many) Syrian woodpeckers and Masked shrikes of the trip.
After a quick pause for crisps, biscuits and Coke in the village it was on to the walled plantation south of Akseki. Again, the plantation is easy to find : it is clearly visible from the main road on the right as you head towards Manavgat. Other have had mixed fortunes here but we found it a superb place with pale-phase Booted Eagle, a male Red-footed falcon and a Griffon vulture overhead, and a pair of Lesser spotted woodpeckers at their nest at the edge of the plantation itself.
Final port of call in the Akseki area was the "middle-spotted" site on the Konya road north of town. Follow the by-pass and fork left opposite a water tap, stopping about 3km further on at a clearing (precise details of how to find the site are in the gen). Plenty of Kruper's nuthatches here, also a few "samamisicus" Redstarts for all you splitters out there! Also Woodlark and Sombre tit. Again, we did much better on our second visit to this site when the weather was warmer and drier.
The rest of the day was spent driving to Eregli via Konya. The first part of the journey was on very slow roads, and beyond Konya the rain was torrential, the journey not helped by large numbers of trucks and tankers trundling along. We did stop occasionally at likely-looking spots and saw some birds, especially on the first part of the route. Highlights included Hobby, Red-footed falcon, an adult Golden Eagle about 30km west of Konya, Steppe buzzard, Roller, Hoopoe, Tree pipit, White stork, Red-rumped swallow, Chukar, and Masked and Red-backed Shrikes.
Arrived at Eregli at about 2100, staying in a hotel in the centre of town. The manager of the hotel led us down some back streets to an excellent restaurant, certainly the best chicken shish kebab I have ever tasted, before or after the pub!
Tuesday 15th May : Up at dawn and drove the relatively short distance to Eregli marshes. We approached the marshes from the south, through the village of Bogecik, as mentioned in the gen. We were very disappointed but not altogether surprised to discover the marshes had been completely drained ( as noted by Kristensen et al. (1989)). Frankly it is not really worth visiting this site now although we did see Calandra and Short-toed larks, Rock sparrow, Hobby, Red-footed falcon, Little owl and good numbers of Isabelline wheatears and Black-headed buntings where the marshes should have been.
We followed the track west to Anbar, then managed to get lost somewhere around Karaagac, and ended up in Akcasehir. The birding was rather good around here however. About 500m NW of Karaagac, on the road to Akcasehir, the road passes through an area of open country with occasional plantations of trees, and we had excellent views of Great Spotted Cuckoo around the road here, both on the way to and back from Akcasehir. This is a very good bird for Turkey and although it is possible that it was on passage, the habitat is very similar to known breeding areas in Extremadura, Spain, where we scored in 2000, and also areas around La Crau in southern France. Other species we saw in this area included 3 Long-legged buzzards, Steppe buzzard, Roller, about 6 Lesser Grey Shrikes, and a healthy scattering of Spanish sparrows, Bee-eaters and Hoopoes. One Hoopoe was very tame, feeding unperturbed in the centre of Karaagac surrounded by villagers, cats and dogs!
Using a compass, we eventually relocated the main 350 Karaman - Eregli road, and headed East towards Demerkazik. The weather was still cool and overcast, much as it had been all morning, and we were a little concerned that the mountains would be a bit of a washout. By Turkish standards this was a relatively short journey and we arrived at the Demerkazik mountain lodge early afternoon.
Still cloudy and cold here but adequate for birding. We turned left at the front of the lodge and drove slowly west along the road, stopping for birds all along here, as far as a small village with a walled cemetery on the right hand side of the road. We then took the track past the left hand wall of the cemetery for about 2.5km. This was the best area for Finsch's Wheatear, we saw at least 6 males, which were very conspicuous, and aggressive towards the local Northern Wheatears. A few Isabellines completed the wheatear trio.
Despite the weather there were plenty of birds around here. Snow finches, "Hume's" Lesser Whitethroats, Shore larks and Red-billed choughs were all common. We also saw an adult Golden Eagle, Chukar 1, Alpine swift, Crag Martin, Woodlark 1, Tawny Pipit 1, Black Redstart 2-3, Blue Rock Thrush 5, Rock Nuthatch 2, Raven 4 and a few Alpine choughs (less common than the Red-billed).
If you want a short walk, then a good area is "Gorge Three". Heading west from the Mountain Lodge, you pass first of all the mouth of the main gorge right next to the road. Next there is a more distant gorge, then, on a downhill S Bend in the road with the village visible not far ahead, is a gully leading to Gorge Three. This gorge can be easily identified because there is a large number of scattered loose boulders here.
We walked up the right hand side of the gully here, as far as the mouth of the gorge itself. Apart from the usual species mentioned above, we saw male Rock Bunting in the gully, Rock Thrush 2 (female in the gully, male singing from the ridge to the right of the gorge), and 2 Red-fronted Serin at the gorge mouth. The best bird here was a strong contender for bird of the trip. We had spent an hour or so at the mouth of the gorge scanning the cliffs opposite (looking towards the west side of the gorge), and had just begun the climb down when I spotted a movement on the low cliffs opposite, just where the ridge gives way to the boulders of the gully. A male Wallcreeper was feeding on the cliff below us, and it provided us with superb views for 20 minutes before it disappeared around the corner to the west.
Just as we arrived back at the car it started to rain. We decided to call it a day birding-wise, and we headed back to check in at the Mountain Lodge. We were charged 8,000,000TL per person to sleep in a dormitory-style room with 12 beds (we were the only occupants of the room). Best pay on arrival because you will be wanting to make an early start next day! It was comfortable enough but the lodge is a bit gloomy and with hindsight we would probably have stayed in Hasan's guest house (mentioned in more recent gen. The guest house is on the left near a garage shortly before the right turn towards the village of Demerkazik. You can't miss it - English language signs advertise it).
We ate in the trout restaurant 3km west of the Mountain Lodge. It is fine to eat here as long as you like trout, which was delicious. We had two fish each, with chunky bread, salad and beer, for about 7,000,000TL for two. Then it was back to the lodge in the rain, pausing briefly outside to watch two Nightjars hawking insects around the lights, and providing us with excellent perched views on the wall and telephone wires.
Wednesday 16th May : 3am : The first of three alarms sound so we can be at the Snowcock site by first light.
5.10am : We wake up and it is already getting light, having somehow managed to sleep through the alarms. In a panic, we throw on all our warm clothes and run out of the lodge. Near the start of the track up the mountain a man jumps out in front of us shouting "I have tractor!", and runs back towards the village, returning moments later with an ancient tractor with a makeshift platform on the back. We climb on and 40 bonecrunching minutes later we arrive at the edge of the fabled "cup-shaped hollow". Several times en route we had to shout at the driver to stop because the platform was about to fall off. However despite the bruises it was definitely worth taking the tractor, since it is a very long climb up the mountain, and the driver took us directly to the right spot for the Snowcocks, accentors etc.
On arrival at the top, the guest-house proprietor Hasan and his tractor were already there along with three birders from Wales. A Snowcock was sitting out in the open on a ridge and we quickly borrowed their scopes for tickable views of the perched bird. All around the scree slopes and ridges above us the Snowcocks were calling but were all but impossible to pick up.
The birding in this area was quite simply fantastic. Apart from the perched bird, we saw three more Snowcocks at very close range at about 0830 when they flew past us and landed on the scree just west of the cup-shaped hollow. It took about three hours to score all the specialities in a relatively small area around the hollow and along the ridge just to the north. Highlights were : Lammergeier 1 sub-adult lingered overhead about 0700, excellent views of a pair of Rock Thrush, Ring Ouzel 2, Red-fronted Serin 2 around the hollow, Crimson-winged finch 3+ (mobile but we had good views of birds perched on the ridge), Alpine Accentor 3 on the ridge, Radde's accentor 2-3 around the hollow and particularly in low scrub at the base of the cliffs. The latter bird was the toughest, we did eventually get crippling views at about 0900 but they are unobtrusive and not active until the sun starts to warm the area. Also around here were Tawny and Water pipit, plus good numbers of Snow finch, Shore Lark and both choughs.
The weather was extremely cold, but we were lucky in that it was calm and clear apart from occasional dense mist patches. It must be all but impossible to see all the birds up here if it is snowing or windy.
Our tractor driver wanted 35,000,000TL for taking us up the mountain. This sounds steep but believe me, we gratefully paid up having seen all the special birds here. If you are feeling thrifty you might try to negotiate a price before climbing on to the tractor.
We opted to join the Welsh birders and climb down by way of the gorge at the bottom of the cup-shaped hollow. Be warned, the descent takes about 2.5 hours at a moderate pace and should not be attempted by the faint-hearted. You need to be sure-footed as well, because in several places there are some quite tricky scrambles down. Try not to bash your scope on the rocks! Having said all that, this route is perfectly OK for the physically fit, and on the way down we saw Lammergeier, Golden Eagle, Chukar, Crag Martin, Blue rock thrush, Ring ouzel, "Hume's" Lesser Whitethroat, Rock nuthatch, Red-billed chough, Snow finch and Red-fronted serin. We heard Wallcreeper, and a couple of the Welsh guys hung back and managed to see the bird.
Back at the lodge, we felt completely knackered but had a couple of cokes, got in the car and drove out of Demerkazik. On the way out of town we had a surprise bonus of a Black Stork gliding along the river valley, also crippling views of a male Crimson-winged finch right by the road. We drove up the road opposite Hasan's guest house for a few km in the hope of catching up with my all-time bogey bird, Ortolan bunting, but to no avail. Other than this, we had seen all the other special birds of the area in less than 24 hours, and overall Demerkazik was probably the best site of the trip in terms of quality of birding.
From Demerkazik we headed north towards Sultan Marshes. At Kavlaktepe we turned right on to minor roads to take a short-cut to Ovaciflik and the southern edge of the marshes. Without a compass we would have got comprehensively lost here. Somewhere north of Dikilitas was an excellent stony field where we saw our first Bimaculated Larks of the trip, also Crested, Calandra and Short-toed around the same area. Eventually we found Ovaciflik but the roads marked on the map seemed to be little more than guesswork.
Head north of the main road at Ovacilflik and at the edge of the marshes you will find a guest house and signs in English advertising boat trips. Do not attempt to drive on to the marshes here - you will get stuck, as we did, and have to return to the guest house to get someone with a 4x4 to tow you out. The guy running the guest house speaks some English and is apparently a friend of Demerkazik Hasan. He will try to sell you a boat trip. This did sound appealing but we didn't have the time. If you do want to do this, I would recommend staying in the guest house overnight and taking the first boat in the morning (before subsequent trips have flushed the birds). We did spend a little time on the roof of the guest house here, with distant views of the marshes and reedbeds (scopes required), and we managed to pick out Pygmy cormorant, Great white egret, Purple and Squacco herons, Greater flamingo, Wood sandpiper and Marsh harrier. From the guest house you can walk on to the marshes, but we couldn't get far due to high water levels, and the only bird of note here was a fly-over Red-throated pipit.
Back in the car, we skirted the area to the east via Develi, and continued along the northern edge of the marshes. There was no water anywhere near the road until we had almost arrived at the junction with the main 805 road at Dortyol, where there was a wide drainage canal running south to north. In the dried-out areas there was very little of note apart from the odd Kentish plover, a Long-legged buzzard, and three Egyptian vultures right next to the road at Cayirozu.
The drainage canal seemed to have a few more birds, so we walked north along it for about 1.5km. It wasn't long before we picked up Great Reed and Moustached warblers (abundant). Also here were Squacco and Purple herons, Ruddy shelduck, Red-crested pochard, Marsh harrier, Common sandpiper and Little and Gull-billed terns. We could see large numbers of Flamingoes and other birds a long way to the north on the lake bed, and we managed to identify the larger birds including Great white egret, Spoonbill and Slender-billed and Black-headed gulls.
We decided to call it a day at Sultan and returned to the car. The overriding impression is that the marshes are well worth a visit, especially if you can spend more time here than we did! Four hours is hardly long enough to even scratch the surface of this vast area.
We headed east towards Develi at about 1930, as it was getting dark. The road east of here was one of the worst of the trip (see introduction). Eventually we joined the 815 and headed south towards Kahraman Maras and Gaziantep, arriving somewhere near Yesilice village (or so we thought) at about 0300. At this point we realised that we had eaten only a few crisps and biscuits all day! Exhausted, we grabbed a couple of hours sleep in the car before we awoke at first light with the prospect of another excellent days birding ahead of us.
Thursday 17th May : We had somehow managed to "camp out" only about 1km from Yesilice! Took the road to Isikli and it was soon clear that the birds were starting to get quite seriously "eastern". We added Great rock nuthatch and White-throated robin to the list inside the first 15 minutes, shortly followed by Upcher's warbler and Cinereous bunting. Also seen along this short stretch of road to Isikli : Bimaculated Lark 1, Orphean warbler 1 male, Lesser Whitethroat, Sombre tit, Black-eared wheatear, Woodchat shrike 1, Black-headed bunting, Rufous bushchat 3. At Isikli village itself we had crippling views of a Pallid swift among about 150 Commons. We couldn't really find anywhere suitable to leave the car here, and the route up the valley to the high tops was far from obvious, so we decided to head for Durnalik instead.
At Durnalik we left the car beside the road just before the village and headed west up the valley as described in the gen. Upcher's warblers were abundant, much more so than some previous reports had suggested. As the path climbed up and away from the trees of the valley we scored our first Pale Rock sparrow. They proved to be easy to locate by their distinctive buzzing song. We saw at least eight singing birds at Durnalik.
The big disappointment here was the lack of Red-tailed Wheatears. Kristensen et al. had failed to find any in 1999, and after several hours careful searching of the areas mentioned in the gen we concluded that they must have deserted this particular breeding site. It was the familiar conundrum again : unexplored areas of similiar habitat nearby may well continue to hold breeding birds, but lack of time meant that we were unable to find any "new" breeding sites for ourselves. It was not a total waste of time exploring the high crags, since there were plenty of Pale Rock sparrows and Cinereous buntings on show.
One word of warning : around the "Red-tailed wheatear" areas in particular there were several herds of livestock accompanied by very large and fierce Anatolian sheepdogs. We tried to steer well clear of them but on one occasion we found ourselves "boxed in" by sheep flocks and one of the dogs showed more than a passing interest in savaging us before being calmed by the shepherd. We heard several tales of just how nasty these dogs can be so I would suggest you keep away if at all possible!
Overall, Durnalik was a very productive area and we were surprised at how numerous most of the special birds were. Highlights of the valley and high crags : Steppe buzzard 1, Syrian woodpecker 2, Bimaculated lark 1, Tawny pipit 5, White-throated robin 5 males, Black-eared wheatear 20+, Blue rock thrush 3, Lesser whitethroat 30+, Upcher's warbler 25+, Willow warbler 1 singing male (very surprising here), Sombre tit 7, Great rock nuthatch 4, Woodchat shrike 1, Pale rock sparrow 8+, Cretzschmar's bunting 3 males, Cinereous bunting 20+, Black-headed bunting 10.
Back at the car we began to feel knackered but a can of coke soon boosted the caffeine levels again, and we headed east again towards Birecik.
The drive took about an hour and was fairly hair-raising due to the appalling road. The journey time included hunting in vain for the McDonalds in Gaziantep. It is there (we found it the following day) but you have to head a little further than the 3km it indicates on the sign from the main road! On arrival in Birecik it was getting hot but instead of putting our feet up and having a nap we decided to start seeing some of the special birds we had read so much about!
First we took the track on the west bank of the river towards the "blue-cheeked bee-eater colony" as mentioned in the gen. We saw no Blue-cheeked bee-eaters here and the area seemed very heavily disturbed by trucks and overrun with gangs of children. There was a lone European bee-eater on wires here and another two pairs at a gravel pit a little further along this track.
Persevere with driving along this track and, beyond the gravel workings, you will come to a better area with pools on the left and right, 50 yards short of a gate which marks the limit to how far you can drive along here. We had two new birds in the same split second as Tim spotted a Pied Kingfisher flying overhead, and I had 3 Desert Finches on the fence beside the track. I was relieved at this, having failed to see the latter species at Durnalik, and none of the other birders we spoke to during the week had managed to connect with this species at all.
We spent half an hour here and saw : Squacco heron 1, Little ringed plover 2, Hoopoe 1, Roller 4, Pied kingfisher 1-2, Crested lark, Black-headed wagtail, Rufous bushchat 4, Menetries warbler 3-4 (very common around Birecik), Cetti's warbler 2, Reed warbler, Great reed warbler, Olivaceous warbler 3-4, Desert Finch 3.
The gate blocked our way so we turned back, and on arrival at the main road turned east and checked into the motel situated just west of the Euphrates, beside a petrol station and just next door to a large "transport cafe". It was a case of dumping our bags, paying for the room, and heading towards the legendary "Striated scops owl" cafe.
On arrival, we were confused by the sheer number of "tea-gardens" in the area, all called by the same name! Anyone wielding binoculars will be pounced upon and enticed to pay for a drink by people who claim to know where the owls can be seen. We fell for this scam once, but soon realised that the cafe we were in did not match the descriptions in the gen.
The truth is that, although the Striated Scops owls are certainly present, no-one knows where they can be seen at their daytime roost. The cafe-owner who used to be able to point them out in trees in his tea-garden was apparently murdered in 2000 by his brother, and the "owl cafe" subsequently closed down.
Armed with this information, we found the right cafe. For what it is worth, it is in the second row of cafes away from the river. The bright blue fountain mentioned in the gen is obvious in the south-west corner of the garden nearest the road, and there are still plenty of tall, dense trees where small owls could very easily roost unnoticed. We had heard that the "original" roost tree 10m SW of the fountain had been cut down, and there were signs that a tree had been fairly recently removed from there.
We spent some time wandering around the derelict garden peering upwards into the trees but the odds of actually finding anything while doing this are tiny. The whole area is well-wooded and the birds really could be anywhere. It was frankly quite depressing anyway, so we decided to come back when it got dark in the hope of a fluked view under a street light. Meanwhile we got in the car and drove slowly south out of town, parallel with the east bank of the river, having heard there was a chance of Blue-cheeked bee-eater along here. There were a lot of houses and people along here and we saw nothing new, but true to the gen there were plenty of Menetries warblers.
We were a bit disappointed at this stage that two target birds were shaping up to be major dips, so we consoled ourselves by heading north out of town to see some Bald Ibis. The warden at the WWF Station speaks no English, but will happily show you the birds in their cages on the cliff and sell you a very expensive postcard.
There were some young birds in the "colony" which bodes well for the future survival of the species in captivity at least. Whilst watching some of the ibises walking around under the pine trees, we were distracted by our first Dead Sea sparrow. There seemed to be plenty of them around the WWF Station and at the entrance to the adjacent wadi, and we saw several domed nests in the pine trees.
We did take a short walk up the wadi, and saw nothing new, but there was a "wilder" Bald Ibis on its nest on a ledge. Still not tickable I suppose but at least it was away from a cage.
It was by now late afternoon and our spirits had been lifted somewhat. Returning to the car we headed north again along the main road to the Ataturk dam, then turned right next to a petrol station and into the pistachio orchards. The road here was narrow with fast-moving traffic but we did manage to stop several times and had excellent views of about 8 Yellow-throated sparrows on the overhead wires, practically the only species we saw in the orchards. The birds occurred in pairs, called frequently and were very easy to locate. Clearly they have increased in numbers here because earlier trip reports considered them very hard to find.
Dusk was fast approaching, and from here we returned to the main road and headed north for a few km. At one point we stopped in a lay-by above the Euphrates and spent quite a productive 15 minutes, with the highlight being about 130 Rose-coloured Starlings heading west in three large flocks, presumably to a roost site. Also here was a singing Nightingale, plus a juvenile Night Heron heading north and 3 Gull-billed terns heading south along the river.
We returned to Birecik and parked the car near the motel. Three locals approached as if to tell us we couldn't park outside their workshop, but relented on seeing we were tourists, and we ended up drinking a cup of herb-flavoured tea with them and letting them try out our scopes. They were very friendly but eventually we dragged ourselves away and ate in the cafe adjacent to the motel. The food was perfectly adequate for us, seeing as we had not eaten for two days, but it was hardly special, and I did feel a little concerned that come the next morning we might regret our decision to eat here! Thankfully we were OK, and despite the tales of other unfortunate birders, neither of us experienced any symptoms of Turkish tummy during the week.
At about 9pm we were in the car again and heading for the Striated scops owl cafe. Not wanting to linger on the streets at night with our optics, we strategically positioned ourselves outside the cafe near a street light, and watched and listened from the car with the windows wound down. One Eurasian scops owl was calling some distance away and, apart from equally distant "squeaky" calls which were probably young Long-eared owls, we saw and heard nothing. The next morning in the Wadi a Dutch birder played us a recording of a Striated scops calling in the same area at about 11.30 that night, after we had left, so they are certainly still around. No-one we met all week had had a definite sighting, apart from tantalising glimpses of "Scops owl sp" briefly illuminated by the street lights.
By about 10pm we were feeling the effects of the day's sun and a severe lack of sleep, so it was back to the motel for a night's rest.
Friday 18th May : We rose shortly after dawn and drove to the entrance of the "main wadi". About 100 yards into the wadi we met a Swedish birder who had seen two Blue-cheeked bee-eaters flying past our motel early that morning in the direction of the former breeding site we had visited yesterday without success. Joining forces with him, we walked along the wadi and after about 1km or so climbed up the left hand side and onto the plateau, meeting the Dutch birder en route who had tape-recorded the Striated scops owl.
At about 0715 we were in position on the plateau in the hope of seeing sandgrouse heading over the area on their way to the Euphrates to drink. The "large flocks" mentioned in the gen as drinking from the river every morning on the shingle banks outside the WWF centre have gone, largely because the rising water levels from the Ataturk dam project have submerged most of the shingle. Our Swedish friend had however seen two Black-bellied the previous morning over the plateau. Despite spending well over an hour there we failed to score, however there was plenty to keep us occupied including Long-legged buzzard 1, Roller, Bimaculated lark 2, Pale rock sparrow 1 and a flock of 30-40 Rose-coloured starlings.
By about 0900 it was already starting to get hot, and we walked slowly back along the plateau towards the Euphrates, carefully scrutinising every "LBJ" we flushed en route. Most were Crested larks, with a scattering of Short-toed larks and the odd Pale rock sparrow. It took about an hour to find what we were looking for. We had several "probables" in flight around the wadi slopes, and eventually good but brief views on the ground of one or two Desert larks. We eventually saw them on at least four occasions but they proved to be very mobile, difficult to see on the ground and flying a long way off when flushed. If you "need" this bird, they are here, but they are tough!
If you decide to take the plateau route back, you will have to cross several secondary wadis on the way. It is not always easy to find a route down, and eventually we had to climb down and return via the wadi system because our route was blocked by an enormous chasm. We had a particularly tough scramble through a secondary wadi that was flooded in places and overrun with vegetation before we rejoined the main wadi. Taking this route was not short of birds however. On the plateau before our descent we saw Egyptian vulture 1, See-see partridge 2 (we flushed them on the edge of the plateau and they flew down into the wadi, where we saw them again 20 minutes later), Little swift 1, Lesser grey shrike 1, Short-toed lark, Spanish sparrow 2-3, Pale rock sparrow 1.
In the main wadi we rejoined the Swedish birder but he had seen nothing that we had not also connected with. It was starting to get seriously hot by now and back at the car we took a breather and had a can of coke before deciding on one last ditch attempt to see Blue-cheeked bee-eater at the "breeding site".
At the site we parked the car and walked in among the trees, only to be immediately surrounded by about 20 children who, although friendly and not intent on robbing us, did succeed in making birding impossible! We decided to cut our losses here and sought refuge in the car. A quick drive to the end of the track was rewarded with absolutely crippling views of a male Desert Finch in exactly the same place as yesterday, but again no luck with Blue-cheeked bee-eater.
The time was now about 1230, and having accepted that there were a few species in Birecik we were destined to miss out on, we headed west again towards Gaziantep. We found the McDonalds and spent an hour or so in the shade there gathering our strength for the drive to the Tarsus Delta. The motorway heading west from Gaziantep is superb, with very little traffic (but watch out for occasional pedestrians!) and it didn't take long to reach Adana. We headed for the centre of town and somehow managed to find the Karatas road. Look for a major river bridge and an enormous mosque, and the road is on the east side of the river near here. Traffic is very heavy in Adana and the standard of driving appalling, and certain junctions were chaotic with cars all over the place and much blaring of horns.
We followed the directions in "Where to watch birds in Turkey, Greece and Cyprus" (Hamlyn) for the "central" delta and connected with White-breasted kingfisher without difficulty. As mentioned in the gen, turn right along a dyke 3.6km after leaving Adana, and follow a tarmac road alongside the canal heading south-west. We followed the road for 19km and saw White-breasted kingfishers along the canal in two places, at approx km 9 (on telephone wire across canal) and km 12. We only had brief perched views as the birds were very wary, but some excellent flight views. Also along this road we saw several Yellow- vented bulbuls.
There was still some daylight left so we returned to the main road and turned right towards Karatas, then right again after a few km towards Tuzla. Follow this road to the end and about 1km from the sea you will find several large shallow lagoons good for waders and terns. We remained here until dusk, seeing plenty of birds including Greater Flamingo, Spoonbill, Black-winged stilt, Little stint, Curlew sandpiper, Dunlin, Ruff, Slender-billed, Yellow-legged and Mediterranean gulls and good numbers of terns of four species (Little, Common, Sandwich and Gull-billed).
As darkness fell it was back toward Adana, where we stopped briefly for food in a Burger King, then onward to the Goksu Delta. We arrived at Denizkent village, at the edge of the delta, sometime in the middle of the night, parked the car and had a few hours sleep.
Saturday 19th May : Rose at dawn intending to drive along the old airfield to the edge of Lake Akgol as mentioned in the gen, but ended up having to do a number of back-doubles in Denizkent in order to find it. Persevere, you will eventually find the right place. At the edge of Akgol we easily connected with Black Francolin, but it took a little while to get good views. Later in the day when they had stopped calling we saw none.
Skirting Akgol, you will find several signposted hides offering limited views of the lake. The first one we visited ("hide two"), near the south-eastern corner, was quite productive in the early morning but much quieter later. From here we saw Great Crested grebe, White Pelican 2 (distant from here), Little and Great White egrets, Grey and Purple herons, Greater Flamingo, Marbled duck 4 (close to the hide), Red-crested pochard, Purple gallinule 1 (distantly in flight), Marsh harrier, Whiskered tern 1, and Little tern. Around the hide and reedbeds were Spur-winged plover, Crested and Short-toed larks, Black-headed wagtail, Rufous Bushchat 1, Graceful warbler 6-7, Moustached warbler, Reed warbler, Great reed warbler, and a singing (but not seen) Savi's warbler.
A better vantage point is the roof of the fisherman's hut (as per the gen), which marks the limit of how far you can skirt the south-east shore of the lake by car. We saw many of the above species here also, plus a flock of 20 Collared Pratincole and a few scarce passage waders - Redshank 2, Curlew 1 and Grey plover 1. Back at the main track we drove towards the lighthouse, seeing Little stints and Curlew sandpipers at a small pool, and Tawny pipit beside the track, but the route soon became incredibly rough and stony so we turned around and headed back to Denizkent.
We went back as far as Silifke where we stocked up on provisions in a supermarket before driving south-east towards Kurtulus to explore the eastern part of the delta. Beyond Kurtulus we drove as far as possible before leaving the car in a farmyard and walking the remaining 50 yards or so to the beach.
Just after leaving the car we had good views of an Eleonora's falcon as it sped past. It was about 09.45 by now and starting to get very hot. Along the beach towards the mouth of the Goksu river there were very few birds, but we had a frustrating experience when a large falcon flew past. The size of a small Peregrine, with a brown back, shortish tail and whitish underwing, it disappeared inland before a positive identification could be made but we both strongly suspected it was a Lanner. A process of elimination using the field guides later supported this theory, but since neither of us had any previous experience of this species it had to remain unidentified.
Nearer the river mouth there were a few waders, consisting mainly of Kentish plovers but also Turnstone 2 and one or two Sanderling in full summer plumage. The river mouth itself was rather disappointingly short of birds but close scrutiny of a group of 40 Yellow-legged gulls on a sandbar revealed 5 adult Slender-billeds, an adult summer Mediterranean and a third-summer Audouins among their number. Bizarrely there was also a dead cow lying slumped on a sandbar in the river mouth.
It was around 12.30 when we returned to the car. Tim's eyes were stinging uncontrollably from a combination of glare from the white sand, tiredness and misapplied suncream so for the rest of the afternoon I was doing the driving and birding. The drive back to Denizkent was uneventful birdwise apart from two Egyptian vultures on the outskirts of Kurtulus. At the bridge just north-west of Denizkent we turned left to follow the track running north-east, inland from the village, with the intention of viewing the paddyfields mentioned in the gen.
The track had been recently resurfaced with very large stones with the result that it was virtually undrivable in an ordinary car without causing damage. We ploughed on for a couple of km but there was no sign of any birdy areas and much of the land looked drained. We returned to within 1km of the Denizkent bridge and took the track along the back of the village, where we did eventually find a damp paddyfield. Birds here included Squacco heron 15+, White stork 2, Little ringed plover 1, Spur-winged plover, Wood sandpiper 1, Red- throated pipit 1 calling but not seen, and a total of about 50 Rose-coloured starlings in the general area. It was quite good habitat and I am sure that an early morning visit could well produce crakes and rails in and around the stands of rushes.
We navigated Denizkent once again and headed south-east along the old airstrip, turning left towards "Hide One" about halfway along the south-west shore. The lake fringes in front of this hide were dry but limited views of the main lake could be had over the tops of the reeds. The two White Pelicans were much closer here, we also added Glossy ibis (1 bird) and Ferruginous duck (2) to the list. Other than that the species were much the same. Tim was still having a lot of trouble with his eyes, and as it was by now late afternoon we decided to head out of the delta with a long drive to Akseki in prospect.
The route to Akseki was mostly awful (see introduction) and because of Tim's eyes I did all the driving. By about 0130 I could not drive any further, so we grabbed a couple of hours sleep before completing the drive to Akseki, arriving as dawn broke at 0530.
Sunday 19th May : We started off at the clearing 7.9km north of Akseki, as before. No sign of any woodpeckers so we walked north to the next corner and turned left along a track into the forest.
Shortly after entering the forest, at the second left-hand bend beside a hollow on the right, we heard the distinctive "thick" sounding "tchuck" call, and saw a male White-backed woodpecker as it flew up from a dead stump in the base of the hollow. Careful stalking resulted in crippling but brief views of the bird on a low tree branch and further flight views, before we realised that the bird's calls were being answered by a female nearby, which we also glimpsed in flight. Happy at having scored with this species on our second attempt here, we continued along the path as far as the next clearing, hearing a White-backed calling again along the ridge to the left.
We returned to the car and drove slowly back towards Akseki village, seeing Ruppell's warbler, Rock nuthatch, Cretzschmar's bunting and male White-throated robin in the scrub near the rubbish tip. At Akseki we decided to give the cemetery a miss and headed directly for the walled plantation south of the town. Dedicated searching around the plantation failed to reveal any of the Middle spotted woodpeckers we had been told were here, but at least one Scops owl called intermittently from its daytime roost, defying all attempts to see it.
The best bird here was our second Great spotted cuckoo of the trip, which was very noisy and conspicuous in the scrub 100 metres south-west of the plantation. Again, the habitat would appear to be very suitable for this species and I would not be at all surprised if they nested around here.
We had lunch in an excellent roadside cafe just south of where the minor road to the plantation meets the main road. Highly recommended, and very cheap too. From here we headed north again, along the Akseki by-pass to the Middle spotted woodpecker site north of town.
We spent a couple of hours here at what proved to be an excellent site. Several Middle spotted woodpeckers were very obliging in oak trees by the road, one bird in particular providing superb views right next to the car. Also here were two Wrynecks (not in their normal range according to the field guides, but in very suitable breeding habitat), a pale phase Booted eagle, 1-2 "samamisicus" Redstarts, a male Orphean warbler and good numbers of Sombre tit, Kruper's nuthatch and Masked shrike.
The police set up a road block while we were here, but didn't seem at all interested in us and waved us through when we left the site. We headed north for a km or so to the next road on the right, then along this road in a quest for Eastern bonelli's warbler. We scored a singing bird about 2km along here, but it was surprisingly elusive and it took about 20 minutes to get decent views. Further on we heard a second bird, and there were several Green woodpeckers around, bringing thoughts of Grey-headed to mind, but we saw none.
Late afternoon and we started to slowly head back towards Akseki. South of the town we turned left and headed through the pine woods as mentioned in some of the gen, before parking up and spending a couple of hours relaxing and writing up bird sightings. There were no new birds here but we did enjoy excellent views of a pair of Rollers, also Woodlark and Black-eared wheatear. At 1930 we started the drive back to Antalya, where our flight departed at 0300, arriving at Gatwick early on Monday morning.
Systematic List : (Full details of more interesting sightings in the report above. Highlights/ specialities in bold type)
Great crested grebe
Great white egret
Little ringed plover
Lesser black-backed gull
Great spotted cuckoo
Middle spotted woodpecker
Lesser spotted woodpecker
Blue rock thrush
Hume's lesser whitethroat
Great reed warbler
Eastern bonelli's warbler
Great rock nuthatch
Lesser grey shrike
Dead sea sparrow
Pale rock sparrow
TOTAL SPECIES : 202