Turkey 17th-27th May 2007

Published by Peter Stronach (peterstronach AT gmail.com)

Participants: Peter Stronach, Andrew Seth


Photos with this report (click to enlarge)

Iraq Babbler
Iraq Babbler
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
Collared Pratincole
Collared Pratincole
Western Rock Nuthatch
Western Rock Nuthatch

This trip report details a 10-day trip that we undertook in the spring of 2007. The trip was a great success, with 242 species seen, not including the free-flying Bald Ibis, Green Warbler, Armenian Gull or Caucasian Chiffchaff. The highlights were Iraq Babbler and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, along with the other Turkish specialities.

Our itinerary was as follows:

17th May 2007: Flight from London Luton to Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen, drive to Ankara, birding Kulu Golu in the evening, overnight stay at Aksaray near Ankara.
18th May 2007: Early morning drive to Dortyol, birding Col Golu and Soysali road junction, drive to Demirkazik, birding gorge and other areas, camp overnight on “jeep road”/sleep in car!.
19th May 2007: Early morning birding “jeep road” and chromium mine area, drive to Adana, birding canal south of Adana, drive to Osmaniye, birding road between Carnak and Yarpuz, drive to Gaziantep, overnight in Gaziantep.
20th May 2007: Early morning birding in Isikli and Durnalik, drive to Birecik, birding Birecik in the evening and overnight stay in Birecik.
21st May 2007: Birding Birecik early morning, drive to Cizre, birding briefly in Cizre, drive to and overnight stay in Sirnak.
22nd May 2007: Drive to Van, birding Van hills in the evening, overnight stay in Van.
23rd May 2007: Birding Van marshes, Caldiran lavafields, Tendurek Gecidi and Aktas, drive to and overnight stay in Erzurum.
24th May 2007: Birding Sivrikaya area, Overnight stay in Sivrikaya.
25th May 2007: Drive to and overnight stay in Cerkes, Ankara.
26th May 2007: Early morning bird Isik Dagi Gecidi and Soguksu National Park, drive to and overnight stay in Gemlik.
27th May 2007: Drive to Sabiha Gokcen Airport, Flight from Sabiha Gokcen to London Luton.

The report is split in two, the first part details the specific sites that we visited detailing precise locations and additional information that we would have found useful during our trip, the second gives details of the those species that birders specifically visit Turkey for. If you would like any further information please do contact us, peterstronachATgmail.com and andrewsethAThotmail.com.

Useful Sources of Information

We found the following invaluable during the trip:

· Svensson, L., Grant, P.J., Mullarney, K and Zetterstrom, D. (1999)Collins Bird Guide. Collins, London.

· Gosney, D(1991a) Finding Birds in Turkey: Ankara to Birecik. Birdguides Limited, Sheffield.

· Gosney, D (1991b) Finding Birds in Eastern Turkey. Birdguides Limited, Sheffield.

· Roselaar, C.S. (2000) Songbirds of Turkey. Christopher Helm, London.

· Porter, R.F., Christensen, S., Schiermacker-Hansen, P. (1996) Birds of the Middle East. Christopher Helm, London.

· Euromap: Turkey 1:750000

· Trip Report: Chris Batty 23rd-29th June 2003, www.surfbirds.com.

· Trip Report: Thomas Lindblad 19th-29th May 2006, www.travellingbirder.com.

· Trip Report: Ady and Keren Gancz 13th August-17th September 2000, www.osme.org.

· Trip Report: Katharine and Robert Higbie June 2006 www.birdtours.co.uk.

General Tips

We recommend the following:

· Bird at dusk and dawn, travel during the day, the heat and humidity in the southeast during the day makes birding uncomfortable, also many birds are practically impossible to see or hear during the middle of the day. Very early morning many areas are quiet with few people about.

· The roads in the western part of Turkey are large and relatively empty and you can cover ground very quickly, not so in the east where the roads are potholed and usually only single carriageway. Allow more time for journeys in the east.

· Always have your passport, driving licence and vehicle documents to hand for checkpoints in the southeast. The route we took from Cizre to Van, via Hakkari and Baskale took forever, due to poor roads and approximately 15 checkpoints where the car was searched, questions asked and documents checked. We would recommend the route north from Cizre through Sirnak, Siirt and Bitlis ending in Tatvan.

Key Sites

We have assumed that anybody going to Turkey has the sources of information detailed above and therefore the text below just adds to the information found within these. The locations are arranged in the rough loop that we followed, starting and finishing in Istanbul, ideally if we had had more time available we would have spent at least 14 days doing this 5450km circuit!. For purposes of brevity we have not listed all the sites we visited and have merely written about those that harboured the more interesting species, a lot of additional species were seen as we drove through the countryside.

Kulu Golu (Gosney (1991a) page 4-5)
We made a brief evening visit to this lake, follow the directions in Gosney, note that North on his map faces down. There is a small waterbody to the southwest of the main lake, which is much more approachable than the main lake itself which during our visit had dried substantially. During our visit the smaller lake was heaving with waders, including Dunlin, Little Stint, Black-winged Stilt, Curlew Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope, Kentish Plover, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover and other waterbirds such as Greater Flamingo, Gull-billed Tern, Slender-billed Gulls, Black-headed Gull, Black-necked Grebe. On the far northwestern shore of the main lake we found 2 pairs of Spur-winged Plover, these were present on the short grazed turf on the lake edge, above the “e” on “village” on Gosney’s map. Drive through the village avoiding the cows in the middle of the road and park after the single house on it’s own by the lake shore.

Col Golu (Gosney 1991a, page 35, Col Golu called Dortyol on the map!)
We visited this lake, which we found to be completely dry in search of Greater Sandplover, we had no luck with this species. The irrigation canal leading from the lake however held large numbers of Moustached Warblers, which you could get very close too. Take the road southeast from the Dortyol junction on the 805 and before you cross the second canal (Kanal 2 sign) there is a track running along the western bank, we drove up this stopping where the canal held water.

Soysali Road Junction (Gosney 1991a page 35)
At the end of the “Finsch’s Wheatear arrow” on Gosney’s map is a pair of Finsch’s Wheatear!!. At the road junction there is a track heading up the hillside to the north, park carefully along the road or near the junction as lorries use the track going to and from a quarry. We found a pair of the wheatears above the track, along with two families of Western Rock Nuthatch.

Demirkazik (Trip Report: Ady and Keren Gancz 2000)
The map in Ady and Keren Gancz’s report details the areas in this section. Where the track leaves the main tarmac road to the north of the mountain centre and gorge, there is firstly a cemetery on your right then secondly a water trough also on the right hand side. The area around the water trough attracted many birds including a large flock of Red-fronted Serin.

We continued up this very rough track to the saddle shown on the map. We then drove up the “jeep road” which leaves the main track 300m on the right hand side after this obvious saddle. This track is very rough and not recommended for a road car, we parked at 2400m, this year there seems to have been a lot of snowfall and the road had only just become accessible and there were many fallen rocks.

In the evening we walked up the slope to the snowline. On the way up we took a wrong turn taking a right at a fork just after the flat section of track, this led us to a abandoned camp, luckily on the way we flushed a Caspian Snowcock where the track passes through some crags before going downhill. We had brief views of it below us as it disappeared into the mist. We saw possibly the same bird the next day in the same area with another bird calling nearby.

We retraced our steps and took the left turn at the fork, walking up the hair pinned track and pitched our tent at the point where the track runs closest and below huge cliffs, unfortunately the weather was very bad in the night and we were forced back down the hill to the car. We dried out our clothes and sleeping bags slept for a couple of hours and then set off back up the mountain at 3am. Luckily the weather had cleared overnight and we reached the point where we had camped relatively quickly, We then walked up to where the track reaches another saddle with a large drop to the left, we negotiated two snowfields which had completely covered the track, at this point the Snowcocks began to call. We carried on for a further 100m and setup our scope behind cover. In front of us lay a large corrie with huge scree slopes, the track winding its way up in the distance ending in the Chromium Mine. We eventually located two Snowcocks as they crossed a snowfield, there was at least five calling in the area.

Other birds in the area included Radde’s Accentors on the right-hand side in a small valley near the first flat section of track area on the jeep road, further up the track we saw Alpine Accentor, Wallcreeper, Alpine Chough, Kestrel, Snowfinch and Northern Wheatear.

On the road back down from “the saddle” to the water trough we passed a small valley on the left hand side with more bushes and shrubs than the surrounding hillside, here we found a singing male White-throated Robin and Ortolan Bunting. We also saw 5 Chukars from the track on the way down.

Canal, South of Adana (Trip Report: Chris Batty 2003)
As described in the trip report head south from Adana on the 815 road, after you leave the built-up area you cross a large canal, take an immediate right after this onto a tarmac road running parallel with the canal. Then after about 50m where the original track turns away from the canal, take a right onto a track that again runs parallel to the canal, park here at the entrance, it is no longer possible to drive any further as the track is gated and padlocked. Along the canalside there are various areas where the vegetation is low and it is just possible to see the water, there is also a few places to walk down through the prickly vegetation to the water’s edge. We managed to see several White-breasted Kingfishers here hunting and flying whilst we were wiping sweat from our brows and avoiding unfeasibly large snakes. Also saw Night Heron, many vocal Spectacled Bulbul, Penduline Tit nesting in the canalside willows and many Eastern Olivaceous Warblers.

Road from Cardak to Yarpuz, near Osmaniye
We saw the distribution of Kruper’s Nuthatch and Ruppell’s Warblers in Roselaar, C.S. 2000 and decided to drive up into the pine-clad hills to the east of Osmaniye to try and find them. We took the 400 road north of Osmaniye and took the first right after the river into the village of Cardak, we followed the road over the bridge and parallel with the hills, there us then an indistinct left turn which is the road leading up into the mountains. We stopped at a place where the pines were mature and there was a good ground flora, several Ruppell’s Warblers were singing and one male was seen, unfortunately we visited the site at dusk and it was really too late for Kruper’s Nuthatch which must surely be present. There was a flock of around 200 Alpine Swifts circling the gorge to the north.

Isikli (Gosney 1991a page 18)
We birded this area at dawn and I would recommend this as everything went quiet during the heat of the day including us. On the road to the village we stopped by some ploughed fields when 2 Desert Finch landed in front of the car (the only ones we recorded on the trip!), this area was busy with several Rufous Bush Robins and White-throated Robins singing away from wires and prominent rocks.

We continued up the road and parked on a track leading to a house, on the left hand side after you pass through the village. From here we traversed across to the “orchard” which is really a loose group of olive trees. In here we had several Black-eared Wheatear and a single Olive Tree Warbler which appeared to be on territory. We only recorded Western Rock Nuthatch on the cliffs no Eastern as Gosney suggests.

We scrambled up to the pass and cut left through the gaps in the rocks, this leads through to another small valley which then walked up. Here we recorded several singing male Cinereous Buntings, a large flock of Hill Sparrows, further up there is more scrub and small cultivated areas in here we recorded many Upscher’s Warblers. Also present were Woodchat Shrikes, White-throated Robins and Orphean Warblers.

Durnalik (Gosney 1991a page 17)
The area mapped has changed slightly with a large quarry development at the top of the valley Gosney has drawn. This has meant the site is accessible by vehicle with the track leaving at the same point as the track marked on the Gosney map. We followed this up, stopping when the cliffs stop on the left hand side, at this point we recorded a pair of Eastern Rock Nuthatch nesting on the cliff, and recorded a flyover juvenile Short-toed Eagle.

We then followed the road around to the right, as we passed a very small quarry on the left we took a track up the hill to the right and followed this up until we reached some small cultivated fields. Just before this point we saw a female Red-tailed Wheatear, which was flying back and forward with food to the scree slope above us to the left.

Birecik (Gosney 1991b page 21)
We birded the gravel pit area in the evening and morning and found this area to be one of the best at Birecik. Follow the directions in Gosney for access, the road passes through the middle of a gravel workings, through some buildings and parallel to a wall with telegraph wires on the otherside, the lines were packed with Bee-eaters and Rollers when we were here. After this the track forks, taking the left fork there is a series of small pools and reedbeds to the right of the track, these had many Graceful Warblers and Menetrie’s Warblers. We also saw Black Francolin here to the left of the road on a field margin, the males are easier to see at dawn when they are singing from prominent positions. In the evening 3 Pied Kingfishers flew over us whilst we were watching thousands of hirundines swarm and head off south. There have been recent reports of Iraq Babbler from the area described (www.netfugl.dk).

We went in the evening to Café Gulhane on the east bank of the Euphrates. We saw two owls in the dark, one Eurasian Scops Owl hunting in the play area to the south and a Scops sp. flying over the road towards the river. The following morning we found a Striated Scops Owl roosting in a tree, the tree was on the raised stone fountain platform in amongst the tables of the café, it was the tree at a steep angle and at the river/road side of the platform. Please buy drinks or food at the café, “byekush” is Turkish for Owl.

We also birded the west bank of the river to the south of the main through road, as you drive over the bridge westbound you pass the Hotel Mirkalem on the right, then just after this before the petrol station (Shell, I think) take a left onto a dirt track. This turning is opposite the one you take for the gravel pits. As you drive down the track take a left after 20m follow the road down, it turns to the right, drive down the straight follow the road around to the left, always turning towards the river. The road should finally arrive at a reedbed on the left hand side, active gravel workings straight ahead and a field on the right. At the first open area of reeds on the left hand side we saw 2 Iraq Babblers, with a supporting cast of Great Reed Warblers, Reed Warblers and Little Bittern.

We had difficulty locating the substation for Chestnut-shouldered Sparrow suggested by in Gosney 1991a, but in the area where it was supposed to be we birded a pistachio orchard and found 2 Chestnut-shouldered Sparrows as well as several Menetrie’s Warblers.

In the wadi behind the Bald Ibis centre we flushed 2 See-See Partridge just after dawn and saw a Barn Owl nesting in a cliff hole.

We saw 2 Red-wattled Lapwing distantly from the area next to the garage, go east over the bridge past the junction with the road heading north to Sirnak, immediately after the garage on the right hand side is a flat area that you can drive up onto. Scan south from here to the gravel islands in the river. We also recorded Spur-winged Plover, and Little Ringed Plover at this site.

Van Hills (Gosney 1991b page 14-15)
We eventually recorded a pair of Grey-necked Buntings at this site after some serious searching in the fading evening light. They were located on spoil heaps on top of the railway tunnel at the end closest to Van. Park on the roadside east of the quarry and walk towards the cutting made in the hillside to accommodate the railway, there is a small path running on top of the tunnel.

Van Marshes (Gosney 1991b page 12-13)
At dawn this site was a pleasant birding experience and alive with birds, follow the directions in Gosney taking the left turn next to the blue fence and follow the small drainage channel down on the dirt track, park at the bottom and explore the reedbeds. We recorded at least 6 Citrine Wagtails and several singing male Paddyfield Warblers. Also present were many Armenian Gulls and waders.

Lavafields at Caldiran (Trip Report: Katharine and Robert Higbie)
As you pass north out of Caldiran the road forks before the large government building on the left, take a left turn here, on the map this road goes to Yukariyaiktas, continue through the buildings and keep right at the fork, the road should pass through fields heading towards the lava field visible in the distance. We birded here searching unsuccessfully for Mongolian Finch, we did however see 2 Crimson-winged Finch, many Snowfinch, Twite, Linnet, Northern Wheatear and Shorelarks.

Tendurek Gecidi
We spent a lot of time in the lavafields at this pass south of Dogubayazit searching again unsuccessfully for Mongolian Finch. We did however find a migrant Caucasian Chiffchaff, Crimson-winged Finch, Radde’s Accentors, Snowfinch and Shorelark.

Aktas, Igdir (Trip Report: Katharine and Robert Higbie)
From Igdir take the 080 road east, after 14km turn right at the fork towards Azarbaycan, after another 8km take a right towards Aktas. At the first village we found a pair of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters amongst many Bee-eaters, check the telegraph lines near the village.

Sivrikaya (Gosney 1991b page 4-7)
After driving over the Ovitdagi Gecidi the road continues straight downhill before bearing left following the valley down. We stopped at the turn and had a single Lammergeier over the peaks to the south. We tried driving various roads but because of the flooding and heavy snowfalls over winter all were impassable, we therefore birded from the tarmac road. We scanned the hillsides from the area suggested by Gosney where the road passes underneath a large set of crags. From here and various points further down the road we got distant views of around 7 males lekking and 1 pestered female Caucasian Black Grouse. Scan the grassy slopes between the dwarf Rhododendron at dusk or dawn.

Hotel North of Sivrikaya
We stayed at the first large hotel on the right 5km north of the Sivrikaya minaret, this has forest directly behind in which we saw 3 and heard many Green Warblers, Goldcrest, and Firecrest.

Isik Dagi Gecidi, pass north of Kizilcahamam, Ankara.
We decided to search the area of mature pines northeast of the summit of this pass for Kruper’s Nuthatch, from the summit drive down until there is an open grass area to your right followed by a disused building and a track on the right, with a track going into the forest opposite with a green sign with white lettering “ormanlar…”. Next to the disused building and in the clearing up the track going into the forest we heard and saw many Kruper’s Nuthatch, as well as Common Rosefinch, Woodlark, Tree Pipit, Crossbill, Black Woodpecker, Treecreeper, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush and Robin. In the area of grassland with isolated shrubs and bushes at the pass we recorded our only Barred Warblers of the trip.

Sogoksu National Park
We had one last desperate attempt for Levant Sparrowhawk at this site following no sign of them at Sivrikaya despite much searching. The track up to the right after the entrance and carparks for the national park is very driveable and gives fantastic vantage points over the forest, there were plenty of raptors including Lammergeier and a Golden Eagle that flew over our heads at 10m range, but no hawks of any kind!

Species Lists

During the entire trip we saw 242 species of bird, not including the free flying population of Bald Ibis, Caucasian Chiffchaff, Armenian Gull or Green Warbler. This included 24 species of warbler!. A selection of the more popular species shown below with details of where we recorded them.

Armenian Gull – present at Van marshes and various other roadside locations.
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater – a pair at Aktas, Igdir.
Caspian Snowcock – 3 seen, at least four more heard.
Caucasian Black Grouse – 7 males lekking and flutterjumping plus 1 unimpressed female from the road north of Sivrikaya.
Caucasian Chiffchaff – One at Tendurek Gecidi.
Chestnut-shouldered Sparrow – 2 at Birecik.
Cinereous Bunting – numerous above “the pass” at Isikli.
Citrine Wagtail – At least 6 at Van Marshes, Van, including 5 males and one female.
Crimson-winged Finch – 2 at the Lavafields at Caldiran and several at Tendurek Gecidi.
Desert Finch – two on the road to Isikli.
Eastern Rock Nuthatch – one pair recorded at Durnalik.
Finsch’s Wheatear – 1 pair at Soysali Road Junction, see description above.
Graceful Warbler – Many at the gravel pits north of the Hotel Mirkelam, Birecik.
Green Warbler – 3 seen and many heard behind the hotel north of Sivrikaya, listen for the Cetti’s-esque call.
Grey-necked Bunting – a pair at Van Hills, Van.
Hill Sparrows – a flock above “the pass” at Isikli.
Iraq Babbler – 2 at the gravel pits south of the Hotel Mirkelam, Birecik.
Kruper’s Nuthatch – Many at Isik Dagi Gecidi near Ankara.
Menetrie’s Warbler – Many in the riverine habitat at Birecik
Moustached Warbler – large numbers, easily accessible, Col Golu/ Dortyol, see description above.
Olive Tree Warbler – one in the “orchard” at Isikli.
Paddyfield Warbler – several singing males at Van Marshes, Van.
Pied Kingfisher – 3 flew over the gravel pits at Birecik.
Radde’s Accentor – 2 singing males at Demirkazik, several at Tendurek Gecidi.
Red-tailed Wheatear – one female at Durnalik.
Red-wattled Lapwing – a pair at Cizre.
Ruppell’s Warbler – Several heard and one male seen on the road from Carnak to Yarpuz, Osmaniye.
See-See Partridge – 2 flushed in the wadi at Birecik.
Spur-winged Plover – 2 pairs at Kulu Golu, see description above and a single at Cizre.
Upscher’s Warbler – numerous in the scrub above “the pass” at Isikli.
Western Rock Nuthatch – common in any suitable habitat, accessible at Soysali road junction.
White-breasted Kingfisher – several seen on the canal south of Adana

We found out after we had returned about the Plain Leaf Warbler site 1 km south of the Bahcessary road junction on the minor road between Donemec and Catak ( www.osme.org).