Turkey – April 2011

31 12 2011


We planned the trip following the reports around the first week of may, when there is more information. April seemed to be a good month for migrants but not for the Turkish specialities, since there are many that arrived later. However, our hopeness was to found them out of their breeding grounds, even we already knew it would be hard in some cases. We didn’t expected to manage to find neither Pale rock nor Chestnut-sided sparrows and our luck with Upcher’s warbler was not insured. The informations we handled exclude also the Green warbler from our targets.
Weather predictions indicate it would be a lot of snow in the mountains and we didn’t know it it would be possible to reach the areas where the Snowcocks breed.
Nevertheless, the migration must be in its peak and we rely on that to make the trip successful.

The initial route was to land in Adana and go east to Birecik the same night, to start birding the gravel early in the morning and go to Halfeti in the afternoon and sleep in the tend in the way to Nemrut Dagi. Birding here all the day after and cross the stony plateaux to Van area. This place must be one of the highlights of the trip since our purpose was to enjoy eastern migration.
From Van, directly to Serpmetas, Dogubayazit and the northeastern wetlands. Then, a long drive to Erzurum to try to go up the Pontic Alps and make an attempt to the Caucasian black grousse and the Caspian snowcock. From here, go to Sumela monastery, the most famouse place for Green warbler (too close to resign just because of the dates) and then cross the Capadoccia to reach the southern mediterranean mountains and the Deltas of the Goksu and the Tarsus, with a day-stop in Sultan Marshes and Göreme National Park.
Finally, we had an extra day to cover some gaps in our list or to enjoy raptor migration at Toprakkale.

Our idea was to alternate the tend (in warm areas) and hostels (in the cold ones).

Day 1 – April 15th

We arrived at Birecik late at night, around 4 AM and we went to the Tea Gardens to see the Pallid scops owl hunting below the lampposts. We were looking for the famous blue fountain when Xavi spotted a Scops owl sat on a sheap statue. The light was enough to identify it as a Pallid scops owl! 10 minutes later, we were enjoying a couple of them feeding on moths. We get close views and we even heard a male calling. The bad new was that we only had half an hour to sleep in the car. We went to the gravel and tried to have a rest.
As soon as we woke up, we started making lifers. The first one was the Black francolin. There were plenty of them singing. A Pied Kingfisher flew over and there were lots of Pigmy cormorants flying northwards. The lagoons were apparently empty of birds, but we managed to see a Little crake and a Bittern.

The pistacho fields around the gravel were plenty of Dead sea Sparrows, Menetries’s warblers and Syrian woodpecker. There we found also the first migrants: some Wood and an Eastern bonelli’s warbler. A chanel in the west of the river loop produced Savi’s warbler, a Spotted crake and large amounts of migrants such as Bluethroat, Sedge warbler, Lesser whitetroat and an Olivaceus warbler seen only by Albert.
Late in the morning, we explored the Pistacho fields in the north of Birecik, where the sparrows are suposed to be in late may. No signs of them but more migrants, specially Eastern bonelli’s warblers. The first surprise there was a 2 cy female Pallid harrier soaring up close to us. The best was a couple of See-see partridge that Marcel flushed in a little gully while pursuing lizzards and butterflies.

Then, we decided to go to the main wadi to see the partridges (Marcel was the only that had seen them) and the Eastern rock nuthatch. It was already too hot and there was not much activity in the wadi. A big walk along produced the chicken-like Bald ibis, a Long-legged buzzard and some Yellow-vented bulbuls. We decided to go up to the plateaux and there Xavi flushed 2 more See-see. We got poor views since we were not able to locate them in the ground. A flock of Ortolan buntings and the first Eastern black-eared wheatears complete the list for the moment.

Our next stop was Halfeti, where we had the coordinates of a watering hole where the Desert finches come to drink (N370 10’ 14.9”, E0370 57’ 51.7”). We saw at least 2 in the surrounding hills, together with the first Isabelline wheatears and some Lesser kestrels. With the last light, in the stony hills close to Halfeti, we found a couple of Eastern rock nuthatch just before a long drive in the way to Adiyaman.

Day 2 – April 16th

We had slept near a reservoir 30 km south of Adiyaman. It was not a good place for birds, but we saw a Pied kingfisher, some Bee-eaters and more Eastern rock nuthatch.
We arrived to Nemrut Dagi in the afternoon and we went directly to the top of the mountain. In the way up, we saw Eastern rock nuthach (higher than expected), Blue rock thrush, Shore lark and a male Kurdish wheatear. In the top, around the heads, there were Snow finches making display and Xavi found a flock of Crimson-winged finches. We saw also a couple of distant Golden eagles. No signs of Finch’s wheatear there. In the way down, another male Kurdish wheatear and a male Finch’s wheatear. Finally, we arrived at Arsemia, where it’s possible to sleep for a good price and a friendly treatement.

Day 3 – April 17th

We had planned to bird Nemrut Dagi all the morning and the place actually deserves more time. From the hostel we heard an aproachable male Cinereous bunting and Albert found a male Collared flycatcher. The oaks around Arsemia were plenty of Eastern bonelli’s and Wood warblers and the Chukars were singing from the top of a nearby hill.

Going down the mountain again we came across a couple of Semi-collared flycatchers together with 2 Eastern rock nuthatch feeding on a crop surrounded by a wall. The next stop at an even lower altitude produced a couple Eastern orphean warbler and another male Collared flycatcher.
Nemrut Dagi was the place we had to see the White-throated robin but maybe it was too early for that species in that place, so in that moment we decided to spend the last day of the trip in Durnalik.
We started going eastwards, taking the ferry that crosses the Attaturk reservoir. There were at least 3 Armenian gulls in the reservoir, but nothing else.
Later on, an extremely long drive to Tatvan were we had to sleap.

Day 4 – April 18th

The day after, we tried to see the Nemrut Gölu, but the road was penty of snow and we were not able to reach the top of the volcano. In the way up, plenty of both Isabelline and Eastern black-eared wheatears. We decided to start birding the wetlands south of the lake, starting near Görundu. Before reaching that place, there were lots of Armenian gulls feeding on the rubbish dumps together with Rooks and a group of Siberian stonechats feeding on a little reedbed near the main road. In that place, a probable Grey-necked bunting pass throw but we were not able to confirm the identification.
The wetlands near Görundu were not as good as we had expected and if you have not a lot of time, it’s worth to skip that area and dedicate more time in the eastern part of the lake. Even though, there were at least 4 Citrine wagtails, some Bearded tits and more or less a hundred of Red-throated pipits. We also flushed a Jack snipe while trying to find a great one. In the shores there were some Marsh sandpipers and our first Spur-winged lapwing. Returning to the car, a Greater sppotted eagle flew over at a high altitude.
We set the afternoon to the Erçek Gölu marshes, maybe the first stunning eastern wetland. The best here was a group of 96 Red-necked phalaropes near the observation towers and another female Pallid harrier. There were a lot of Marsh sandpipers and it was nice to see the Redshanks and the Lapwings doing display. Here also another Spur-winged lapwing, a Rook colony which is nice for southern birders and a Montagu’s harrier rooster.
We slept at Muradiye, were is possible to sleep in a teacher’s residence if you ask for in the Jandarma.

Day 5 – April 19th

First of all, we went to the Selale waterfalls, where theorycally is possible to see the White-throated robin. No signs of it but at least 5 Semi-collared flycatchers around the parksite. In the poplars of the valley it was nice to see an Eastern redstar with a prominent white wing panel. In the dry slopes there were also some interesting birds such as Rock nuthatch, a male Finch’s wheatear, our first Bimaculated lark and another Pallid harrier. Take care of the dogs if you are planning to visit that place!
When going back to the car, we detect some raptor migration and we decided to take a breakfast in the lockanta close to the waterfalls. There were lots of Steppe buzzards going northwards and here we saw our first Lesser sppotted eagle and yet another Pallid harrier.
From here, we went to Bendimahi marshes where we expected large amounts of wetland birds and at least the first Rose-coloured starling. No signs of the Starlings but very nice place, with hundreds of White-winged terns, at least 26 Little crakes, at least 14 Citrine wagtails (mainly males), hundreds of Bearded tits, 26 Caspian terns, 3 Collared pratincoles, around 20 White-headed ducks and lots of Bluethroats and Moustached warblers.
Saciated with wetland birds, we went to Serpmetas lava fields, the first place known to see the Mongolian finch. As soon as we arrived, we saw a bird sat on the grass around the lava, but the observation was too short. Walking around the lava fields seemed a good way to detect the finches, but it only produced 2 Bimaculated larks, some flocks of Twite (nice to see how different is the brevirostris race!) and lots of Isabelline wheatears. In a string in the way to Serpmetas village we saw 2 more Citrine wagtails, some Ortolan buntings and a Lesser sppotted eagle that flew close to the road.
the village seemed good for migrants and here we saw the only Red-breasted flycatcher of the trip.
The only contact with the Mongolian finch apart from the first one was a group of 4 birds flying to the lava fields… too poor for such a myth!
It only rest for us quite a short drive to Dogubayazit, crossing the impressive mountains and wetlands near Çaldiran.

Day 6 – April 20th

Wake up extemely early to visit Ishak Pasa area. We took first the track not to the palace but to the right. There were a few birds… just some Crimson-winged finches, a couple of Golden eagles, Chukars… the typical staff. Also the firsts Asia minor ground squirrel of the trip. Higher in the plateaux, more Crimson-winged and a single Bimaculated lark. As always in the northeastern high altitudes, lots of Shore larks (here more conspicous penicillata), Snow finch and Twite. In the way back to the palace, Albert and Manolo heard a putative Grey-necked bunting but only once and too distant to make sure.
Around the palace, more Chukars, a Tawny pipit and the first tourists of our trip. Anyway, it’s nice to see the building and I think it deserves a visit even if you have a few extra time.
After a morning without birds and lifers, we needed an afternoon plenty of them, so we went to Saz Gölu, in the side of the Ararat mount, 10 km north of Dogubayazit. That wetland is extremely nice. A vast wet plain surrounded by snowed mountains. Firstly we saw some waders such as Temminck’s stint, thousands of Ruffs (for sure the commonest wader that days in Turkey), Marsh sandpiper, Black-tailed godwit and the omnipresent White-winged tern. We had took the track that surrounds the lake by the east side when it started raining hard. It seemed a good idea to do 500 m. stops and check the marshes with the only scope that fit in our van. In one of that stops, Marcel spotted one of the highlights of the trip: a male Caspian plover. After all of us had seen the bird, we decided to aproach it and try to take pictures. We managed to do it and while we were lied in the ground only 3 m. from the plover, 2 Pallid harriers (a 2cy female and a 2cy male) were hunting above us and a Bittern was singing from the nearby lagoon. Maybe the most magical moment of the trip!

We had just 30 more minutes of light and 300 km to drive in the way to Erzurum, so the most sensible thing was to go away. However, our excitement forced us to make the last stop in a wet grassland area, were Albert spotted another dream bird: Demoseille crane! There was one feeding on the grass, too furaway from us to enjoy it actually.
We went to Erzurum with a smile in our face and a lot of incredible pictures in our memory cards.

Day 7 – April 21st

That day was signaled in our agendas as the “Snowcock day” but weather conditions didn’t let us achieve our targets. The day started superb. Our first stop at Gelinkaya produced quite a lot singing males Caucasian mountain chiffchaff. We kept on going up until Ispir, where we knew about a Levant sparrowhawk nest. No signs of it and no signs of winged life actually. It was the hour of the grousse…
We tried to reach Ovitdagi Gecidi, but there was a metre of snow above the road and we had to admit it was not possible to see the grousses. Not happy with that, we decided to explore the Ovitdagi area looking for some other birds. The biggest surprise was a Bittern flushed from the side of the mountain. It flew above us and, after considering the options, it decided to land in the other side of the mountain. The place was plenty of migrants: Red-throated pipit, Common redstart, Black-headed wagtails, etc… but the best for us were the Radde’s accentor. There were at least 6 birds in that area. Other interesting birds include both Chukar and Grey partridge and 2 Ring ouzels (the beautyful amicorum race).
Already in the bottom of the valley, we detected raptor migration and we decided to take profit of it. We saw more than 200 Steppe buzzards in less than an hour, together with at least 3 Levant sparrowhawk, 2 Lesser sppoted eagles and the rest of commoner species.
The end of the day brought us another surprise, althought it was not good enough. We kept on looking at raptor migration in the lower part of the turkish side of the Çoruh Valley, from the …………. Gecidi. The flux of rators had already stopped since it was too late but Manolo and Marcel heard a Caspian snowcock from the top of the mountain pass. Too late to go for it…
A long drive to Zara, sleeping at Demiryurt Gölu.

Day 8 – April 22nd

It’s always nice to wake up in the place where you are going to bird, even if it’s not the best place in the world. We saw just some Citrine wagtails, lots of Ruddy shelducks, Glossy ibises and the abundant Ruffs and Marsh sandpipers just before a long drive (again!) to Göreme National Park.
We dedicate the first half of the afternoon to the Capadoccia, a crowded place and maybe overrated… Talking about birds, a Rock nuthacht nest was the best of that spot.
The last lights took us to the Sultan Marshes, where we started seing a group of Black Storks just before it started raining again.
We slept at Sultan Pension. Nice to talk about birds with a local and accomodation for a reasonable price.

Day 9 – April 23rd

It had been all the night raining and that fact forced us to look for migrants. In the tamariks near the pension, a stunning male White-throated robin, some Ortolan buntings and lots of isabelline wheatears. In the orchards and poplars around the pension, a Long-eared owl trying to sleap even the noise of the cameras, lots of Wood warblers and a nice male Collared flycatcher. We went to the observation tower (see map) where is possible to see the Greater sand plover, but no luck with it. Just more Citrine wagtail (several), a bird always nice to see, and some singing Moustached warbler.
We realized we had all the afternoon free, so we decided to go to Demirkazik area. Even if the road would be plenty of snow and the snowcocks would be impossible, there were still some species we needed to see, such as Red-fronted serin.
That place deserves a whole day even if you had gone to the Pontic Alps. Is the easiest place to see the serin by fur and some other interesting species such as Radde’s accentor and Finch’s wheatear can be easyly found there. We saw a flock of Red-fronted serins just 1 km up, near the track. There were also at least 2 Radde’s accentor in the bushes around and the highest density of wheatears is a bit upper.
Albert and David decided to so some trekking, trying to reach the snowcock level, while the others went to the southern plateaux to have better views of the until that moment elusive Bimaculated lark.
Albert and David managed to hear a snowcok below them, but again it was too late to localize the bird. The other group found the larks feeding on the few cropps present in the plateaux. Also a Tawny pipit and a Brown hare.
In the cliffs around the snowcock area, it’s easy to see some Wild goats and lots of Asia minor ground squirrel around the road.
After another dose of mountain, we faced south to complete the mediterranean targets.

Day 10 – April 24th

The mediterranean place selected was Demircili, just 20 km north of Adana. As soon as the sun goes up, we found the first Masked shrikes, Cretzschmar’s buntings and Rueppel’s warbler. Also Eastern orphean warbler, lots of Olivaceus warblers and a single Barred warbler. In the pine forest around the oak area, we saw 2 Krüper’s nuthatch and a group of alpinus Long-tailed tit. We guess all of that birds are common in most of the southern mountains, but maybe Demircili is a good spot to find them since it is close to the Göksu Delta, a place visited by most birders, and that was just the place we had in mind to the afternoon.

The marshes seemed empty of neither waders nor wildfowl, so we focused our energy on passerines. There were lots of Ortolan buntings everywhere and also some Masked shrikes, Barred warblers, Collared flycatchers, Lesser whitethroats and Olivaceus warblers in the bushy vegetation. Also Black francolins singing.
In the marshes, just some Spur-winged lapwing and Temminck’s stints. Maybe the best here was a group of more than 200 White pelicans resting in a lagoon until a childs shoot one down…. That must be a common practice in the country, but still denounceable.
Fortunately, the last image of the day was more than 300 Red-footed falcons feeding above the Göksu river, near Kurtulus.

Day 11 – April 25th

Wake up near Tarsus, in a place good for White-breasted kingfisher. Easy bird in all the channels surrounded by Eucaliptus, where there was nothing else except for a Golden oriol.
In the way from Tarsus to Karatas, we got one of the most stunning images of the trip: a flock of thousands of pelicans in active migration. They flew just over us and we were able to heard their wings soaring in the air, impressive! It’s nice to take the road that follows the river Tarsus. There is a heron colony in the poplars of the river, with lots of Glossy ibises, Purple herons and Cattle egrets.
There were more waders in that Delta than in the Göksu, but again nothing interesting. Just more Spur-winged lapwing and some Collared pratincoles. We looked for passerines again: more Barred warblers, Masked shrikes and the firsts Black-headed buntings of the trip.
A heavy storm forced us to stop in Karatas (a good excuse to take a beer in a nice pub above the harbour) and we took profit to do some seawatching. The best was an unexpected Great skua and a single Scopoli’s shearwater.

In the hills near Karatas, Albert flushed a Corn crake but noone else was able to see it. More singing Black francolines, Masked shrikes, Black-headed buntings, a female Collared flycatcher and a Marsh warbler.
We slept in Osmaniye in a nice and cheap hostel.

Day 12 – April 26th

We had that extra day to have a rest after 11 days of intensive birding. We were all the morning in the castle of Toprakkale, seeing raptor migration. Good numbers but not much diverse, the best being 31 Lesser-spotted eagles, a Pallid harrier, 2 Levant sparrowhawks and 12 Black storks. Also 2 flocks of migrant Glossy ibises.
In the afternoon, we visited the Aslandag national park, were there we saw Eastern orphean warbler, Masked shrike, Black francolin, Spur-tighed tortoise and some interesting orchids such as ………

Flight from Adana to Istambul.

Day 13 – April 27th

Just 3 hours in Istambul, before taking the flight to Barcelona. We weren’t lucky with the weather but the city still looked nice. From the ferry that crosses the Bosphorus, large amounts of Mediterranean shearwaters, some Common tern, a single Little gull and some Caspian gulls. Also nice to see the Shag’s nest in the breakwater!
In the gardens around Topkapi palace, there was a female Manolo found a female Collared flycatcher and a few more migrants such as Wood warbler and Lesser whitethroat. The place didn’t seem good for Olive-tree warbler, as said in some guides.



One response

23 08 2012
Dave Barnes

Very interesting report, thanks very much, great information!

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