Trip to SE Turkey
The following is a report of a trip in May/June 1995 to three locations in South East Turkey on a tour run by Greentours, a natural history tour company located in Norwich, England. I met the owner, Ian Green, in 1992 when he led a birding trip I was on to the Spanish Pyrenees for a now defunct company. Ian was lyrical about birding in Turkey and when he formed his own company, I signed up for a trip in August, 1994 to the Kackar mountains in North Eastern Turkey. I have never gotten around to writing that one up but if anyone is interested, I can send Ian's report by snail mail. Ian and Nigel Moorhouse have written a book, "A Birdwatchers' Guide to Turkey" in the Birdwatchers' Guides series published by Prion, Ltd and distributed by Natural History Book Service. In fact, it has been *about to be published* since I met him in 1992. Just the other day, Ian sent me a copy so it is finally available. The book was in the ABA catalog a while ago so it may be available there now that it has actually been published.
Note on Turkish Orthography
It is not possible to produce certain letters used in the Turkish alphabet with conventional typefaces, so I will use the closest equivalent.
May 25-26: Getting There
I flew from New York to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines - an almost 10 hour flight. Turkish Airlines international flights have a GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) display of the location of the plane in a series of maps with increasingly large scale. It also displays the altitude, speed, distance to destination, etc. As a map enthusiast, I really liked that - much better than trying to figure out where you are on the map in the in-flight magazine.
My final destination was the city of Adana, south east of Istanbul but the flight did not leave for five hours. I went through customs, schlepped my luggage half a mile to the domestic airport and changed some money. The Turkish Lira (TL) at that time was trading at 42,000 to the US dollar. It is very difficult to get used to prices in TL. The cab ride into Istanbul cost 500,000 TL which is about 12 US dollars! I went to the Topkapi palace and wandered around. I took the tour of the harem which was very int eresting: lots of beautiful tiles. The only birds were some very loud but invisible Chaffinches Fringilla coelebs singing inside large evergreens (illustrated right).
I got my flight to Adana without any difficulty and Ian met me at the airport with Mustafa who would drive the van. We went to the hotel and had dinner. Then it was back to the airport to get the rest of the group who were coming in from London at about 11pm. We were a group of six of which I was the only American. It was an extremely interesting and congenial group: Mervyn, a botanist whose specialty is Umbellifers (a group of plants of which dill is an example); Nigel, whose interest is chiefly in butterf lies, Anne and Margaret, sisters in Law who were extremely well travelled and who booked the tour at the last moment when a plant-oriented trip to China was cancelled because the tour company went bankrupt. The final member of the group was Mary.
I mentioned before that Greentours runs what it calls "natural history" tours - not limited to birds. This could (and did) result in Ian being called upon to idenfify a bird, a butterfly and a plant all at the same time. Fortunately, his priority, based upon the speed with which the item could disappear was: bird; butterfly; plant.
May 27: Adana to Silifke
The hotel in Adana was luxurious, at least by the standard of Turkish hotels I have been in. It was air-conditioned, had TV's in the rooms and en-suite bathrooms with hot water. The group gathered the next morning for breakfast. A typical Turkish breakfast consists of goat cheese, olives, bread, butter and jam or honey and sometimes a hot hard-boiled egg and tea or coffee. Perhaps under the influence of the nearby American airbase at Incirlik, breakfast at this hotel also featured cold cereal and fruit juic e. I like a hearty breakfast and with the experience of my previous visit to Turkey, I had brought a small jar of peanut butter with which I made open face peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast much to the amusement of the rest of the group who had a proper British disgust for peanut butter.
After breakfast, we loaded up the van and set off south-west towards Silifke. We stopped just outside Tarsus at a grove of Eucalyptus trees where White-breasted Kingfishers Halcyon smyrnensis had been seen. We did not see the Kingfisher but walking along the irrigation ditches produced Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica, Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis and great looks at Masked Shrike Lanius nubicus. We also heard a Nightingale Luscini a megarhynchos. A highlight was a Scops Owl Otus scops roosting in a tree. We also saw a large agama lizard, some frogs and lots of beautiful dragonflies. We continued south towards Silifke passing through Mersin, an interminable city with horrible traffic. Once through Mersin, we were at the Mediterranean. We stopped for lunch at a seafood restaurant right on the beach (rocks). The Med is not very birdy. During the whole of lunch, each dish of which was served garnished with fresh flowers , we saw 2 Herring Gulls Larus argentatus and 2 extremely distant specks that appeared to be Pomarine Jaegers Stercorarius pomarinus. There were not many land birds either, although we did see a Yellow-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus xanthopygos perched on a wire across the road from the restaurant.
We got to Silifke about 3pm. Silifke is the ancient Seleucia ad Calycadnum founded by Seleucus I (321-280 B.C) Very little of its ancient buildings remain and it is dominated by a huge Crusader castle dating from the 12th Century on a hill overlooking the town. The Goksu River runs through the town and our hotel rooms had balconies overlooking the river. There were two active White Stork Ciconia ciconia nests visible from my room on a building and a TV tower across the river. From the castle, we later saw five nests in the colony, each with one or two big baby storks panting in the heat. The adults were frequently to be seen flying up and down the river hunting. Some of the balconies in the hotel also hosted House Martin Delichon urbica nests.
We rested for an hour or so and then went to the Goksu Delta which is the main attraction of this area. The delta is large flat area where the Goksu river enters the Mediterranean. It includes two lakes: Akgol and Paradeniz. A long sandspit reaches out into the sea south of the lakes. The delta is now a protected area for wildlife. We went to the low sand dunes bordering the western edge of Akgol. There were Snowy (Kentish) Plovers Charadius alexandrinus scurrying along the road. Crested La rks Galerida cristata were the most common birds. I spotted a Peregrine Falco peregrinus sitting on a nearby hummock. We walked across some thorny vegetation to higher dunes that bordered the lake. In very beautiful evening light, we saw Spur-winged Plovers Hoplopterus spinosus, Black-winged Stilts Himanoptus himanoptus, Common Terns Sterna hirundo, Little Terns Sterna albifrons, Great Crested Grebes, Podiceps crista tus and Coot Fulica atra on and above the lake. In the reeds Graceful Warblers Prinia gracilis gave their rattling, insect-like call.
There were also 2 Purple Gallinules Porphyrio porphyrio, 6 Marbled Duck Marmaronetta angustrostris and 2 Ferruginous Ducks Aythya nyroca on the lake. There were distant White-winged Black Terns Childonias leucopterus, Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea and Purple Heron Ardea purpurea. We got a quick look at a small flock of Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea and Little Stint Calidris minuta befor e they disappeared into the reeds. We also saw a Moustached Warbler Acrocephalus melanopogon and got a very distant view of a Black Francolin Francolinus francolinus.
We returned to the hotel for dinner which was served outside along the river bank. The staff went all out on the meal which was delicious and included a dessert plate of fruit with oranges cut out like jack-o-lanterns over candles. A Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax flew over just at dusk.
May 28 - Silifke
We went back to the Goksu delta in the morning. Along the drainage ditches just inside the reserve, we got great looks at Great Reed Warblers Acrocephalus arundinaceous. There was also a Raven Corvus corax sitting on a pole. In the delta proper, we went to the southern part of the Akgol. Walking along the shore of the lake, the sky was filled with agitated Spur-winged Plovers and that most elegant looking bird, the Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola. Calandra Larks Melanocorypha calandra and Lesser Short-toed Larks Calandrella brachydactyla were also present. An uncooperative warbler that kept hiding in tamarisk bushes was eventually identified as a Savi's Warbler Locustella luscinoides.
It was very difficult to see onto the lake because of the reeds. We flushed more Marbled Ducks, Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, Grey Heron Ardea cinerea and Purple Heron. A treat was a small flock of Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia flying over. By this time, it was getting extremely hot in the shadeless delta. We headed over to the nearby beach on the Med. side of the delta and swam or waded. We were in the van and on the way out of the area when anothe r male Black Francolin was spotted sitting on what appeared to be a pillar. This bird was close enough to hear its call and we could get good looks scoping from the van.
After lunch and a rest during the midday heat, we returned to the delta in the late afternoon, this time to the spit of land that sticks out into the Mediterranean. We walked out towards this spit past a fishery where the lines for the traps were covered with Swallows and martins. The path ran along the top of a bank that was a Bank Swallow (Sand Martin) Riparia riparia colony. Out on the spit proper were more Little and Common Terns and 1 Ringed Plover Charadri us hiaticula. We also could see the tracks of a Loggerhead Sea Turtle that had come up on the beach and gone back into the sea. It was a little early for turtles to be laying eggs but both Loggerhead and Green Turtles lay eggs in the delta. As we were walking back to the van, 6 Squacco Herons Ardeola ralloides flew in.
Then it was back to the hotel. For dinner, we had dish of eggplant stuffed with onions and pine-nuts. The translation of the Turkish name for this dish is, 'the Imam swooned with delight'! It was good too.
May 29 - Silifke
The early risers in the group: myself, Anne and Ian, went out before breakfast to the delta in the hopes of seeing a Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus or perhaps a rail. In this we were to be disappointed but there were many small flocks of herons including over 80 Black-crowned Night Herons, 7 Spoonbills and 8 Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus. There were also many Purple, Grey and Squacco Herons, Little Egrets and surprisingly, about 6 Cattl e Egrets Bulbulcus ibis which are rather rare in Turkey. There seemed to be one Cattle Egret following each flock of Night Herons as if to find the good places to feed. Marsh Harriers Circus aeruginosis are very common (illustrated left) in the delta and we saw an aerial food pass between two birds.
After breakfast, we left Silifke and the delta and headed up into the hills to Uzuncaburc. Along the way, we saw some raptors: Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus, Egyptian Vulture Neophron perncopterus, Buzzard Buteo buteo and passerines: Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica, Black-headed Buntings Emberiza melanocephala and Rock Nuthatch Sitta neumayer. In a pine forest we got a fair look at a group of Krüper's Nuthatches Sitta krueperi. We also saw a Little Owl Athene noctua on a wire. I adore Little Owls and fortunately for me they turned up frequently during the whole trip.
Uzuncaburc means "fairly high tower" in Turkish. In ancient times, the place was known as Olba and then Diocaesarea in the reign of Vespasian. According to the guidebooks, the Roman ruins here are especially well preserved. The Turkish name comes from a tower of the Hellinistic period. The place is a national park, which in Turkey means you pay to get in and there is a little tea house. Cattle from a nearby farm roam among the ruins and the place is full of wildflowers. It was not very birdy but we did see a Hoopoe Upupa epops, a Syrian Woodpecker Dendrocopus syriacus and an Olivaceous Warbler Hippolais pallida. I learned the song of the Black-headed Bunting and this handsome bird was one of the most common of our trip.
After our afternoon rest, we returned to the same part of the delta where we had been in the early morning. There weren't many new birds except some Fan-tailed Warblers Cisticola juncidis who have an undulating flight giving a dry "ziiip" at each peak. We also saw a fencewire decorated with the handsome feldegg race of the Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava and their young, which look quite different. We did get nice looks at some Stripe-necked Terrapins in the dikes an d a young Tree Frog very far from any tree.
May 30 - Silifke
We once again headed inland, this time along the specacular valley of the Goksu river. We stopped briefly at the marker for the place where the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, drowned in the Goksu River on his way to the holy land for the Third Crusade in 1190. We stopped further along by a cliff face to watch a Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarious and some Ravens. On the slope below us were a Rufous Bush Robin Cercotrichas galactotes. A Nightingale was singing and ocasionally a Scops Owl could be heard. Farther north, the river valley opened out. We stopped at a bridge across the Goksu. There was a Bee-eater Merops apiaster and a pair of Rollers Coracias garrulus on an island in the river. A flock of Alpine Swifts Apus melba came down to the river to drink providing excellent views of this usually distant bird. A very distant raptor was identified as an Eleanora's Falcon Falco eleanorae, an un usual inland record, but it was too far away for really good looks.
We headed up into the mountains towards Gulnar and stopped at a sheltered valley at an altitude of 850m. A pair of Cretzschmar's Buntings Emberiza caesia were building a nest in tussock of grass right next to the road. Otherwise, the place was not especially birdy although the plant and butterfly people found a lot to interest them.
We went back down to Silifke for lunch eating at the restaurant in the castle that overlooks the city. It has great views of the city, the river and the delta. From there, you could see that there is really a large White Stork colony in the town, only some of which was visible from our hotel. While we ate, a Peregrine, a Kestrel, 2 Egyptian Vultures and 7 Ravens flew by. After lunch, the adventurous ladies of the group decided to investigate the ruins of the castle. As wit h othe medieval ruins I have seen in Turkey, the government makes no effort to maintain the site. The entrance to the castle through the wall is blocked off and the only way in is to climb along a narrow path and clamber over a breach in the walls themselves. Inside the imposing curtain wall, very little remains, just a jumble of stone and a few vaulted arches. It is, however, a riot of wildflowers.
After an afternoon rest, we made our last visit to the delta, going to the same dunes overlooking the Akgol where we had gone on our first day there. Nigel was off photographing butterflies and Ian and I were on the dune when he heard a Little Bittern call from the reed beds that bordered the lake. We decided to try for this elusive bird. We went out into the reed bed, which was extremely muddy. It was necessary to balance on reed roots to avoid sinking up to the knees in mud. We managed to get withi n view of the lake itself, which provided marvellous view of Black-winged Stilts, Marbled Duck and Bearded Tits Panurus biarmicus, but no Little Bittern. I was photographing the Black-winged Stilts and was actually changing film when Ian spotted a Little Bittern on an island in the lake. By the time I had juggled all my stuff, the bird had disappeared into the reeds. Arrgh! We squelched back and headed for the van, finding the nest of a Crested Lark en route. There were 5 eggs in a shallow depression next to a plant.
We had our last dinner at the hotel. A Scops Owl was calling in a tree near the hotel.
31 May - Silifke to Demirkazik
We left the delta heading east towards Adana and then north into the heart of the Taurus Mountains. We stopped briefly at Cennet ve Cehennem, which means Heaven and Hell, and is a tourist trap cave. It was very hot and the caves were not very interesting so we didn't stay long. I did get some nice photos of a Rock Nuthatch. Unfortunately, we had to go through the city of Mersin again but shortly after that we turned north into the mountains. We stopped for tea at a roadhouse and saw a Coal Tit Parus ater. We got on a big motorway for while and stopped for lunch at the equivalent of a highway rest stop. As with virtually all the restaurants in which I have eaten in Turkey, there is no menu. You go, sometimes into the kitchen, and look at what they have. At this place, we all had a chicken and vegetable dish that *looked* quite good. All except Nigel, that is, who was already feeling ill.
After lunch, we turned off the motorway and went up into the mountains. We made one stop where there were 8 Griffon Vultures Gyps fulvus flying around. Four of them subsequently perched in one pine tree - quite an amazing sight! Nigel was now quite ill. We stopped once more where the road reaches an altitude of 1600m under the craggy peaks of the Aladag. It was very windy and seemed totally barren until you noticed the rocky ground was covered with very low plants. The plant people got rather excited here but birdwise there was nothing but Rock Sparrows Petronia pertronia.
Then it was on to the Mountain Lodge at Demirkazik. This is a government run facility that hosts mostly groups of Turkish students learning to rock climb in the summer and ski in the winter. There had been a screw up in the reservations and they insisted we were all to share one dormitory room with bunk beds. It took two hours of begging, shouting, telephoning and general discussion by Ian to convince them to give two of the staff rooms with beds and en suite bathrooms to the female part of the group. Marga ret, Anne and I shared a triple while Mary had a room to herself. The men had to make do in a dormitory room, which the management promised would not also host Turkish students.
Nigel went right to bed and the rest of us took a walk after settling in. Half a mile down the road from the lodge, an amazing, narrow gorge runs up into the mountains. The gorge brings alpine species to a lower altitude than one would otherwise expect to see them. We saw Snow Finches Montifringilla nivalis and Horned (Shore) Larks Eremophila alpestris at 1450m, the altitude of the lodge. Also in and around the gorge were Northern Wheatear, Red-backed Shrike Lani us collurio, Black-headed Bunting, Red-fronted Serin Serinus pusillus, another of my favorite birds, Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochrurus and Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris. Mervyn was ecstatic with the array of Umbellifers in the gorge and was scrambling up the sides of the gorge to get at more.
As the light faded, we returned to the lodge for dinner - a very delicious grilled trout. About 1am however, the chicken we had had for lunch came back to haunt everyone (except Nigel of course) and there were mad rushes for the bathrooms.
June 1 - Demirkazik
Everybody, including Nigel, was more or less ok the next morning. We took the van up a dirt track to the Emli Bogazi, a valley which penetrates into the heart of the Aladag range. On the way, we saw our first Susliks, small ground squirrel-like animals. In the valley itself were nomad camps with flocks of sheep. Mustafa drove the van as far up the valley as seemed prudent and we continued on foot. Red-fronted Serins were abundant as were Lesser Whitethroats Sylvia curruca. Nigel and Mervyn went back after a little while while the rest of us ambled up the path that ran along a dwarf pine forest set against craggy snow-capped peaks. We heard a probable Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus but could not see it.
As we stopped for lunch, clouds suddenly rolled in from both sides of the valley followed by rain, thunder and then hail. Our concern was that the track on which the van had entered the valley would become impassible if it got too wet. Rain had not seemed very likely and I had only brought an umbrella. I stowed all the optics: the Kowa, the cameras and my bins as best I could and we went down the valley as quickly as possible, getting completely soaked, of course. We reached the van only to find that some o f the sheep had taken refuge under it. Ian and Mustafa had to dislodge them using the legs of a tripod. We all cheered as Mustafa negotiated lake-sized puddles and the slippery mud track with great skill and got us out of the valley.
Back at the lodge, Margeret, Anne and I combined our closelines into one giant line that zig-zagged around the room and was laden with wet clothes. Fortunately, none of the optics took any harm. It continued to rain and I took a nap. In the late afternoon, the rain ended and we took another walk up to the gorge. You could see that there was fresh snow on some of the mountain peaks. Just inside the entrance to the gorge, a pair of Snow Finches were busily carrying food into their nest in a crevice in the rock. At the top of the cliffs, several Golden Eagles Aquila chrysaestos were soaring. One of the eagles was harassed by the resident pair of Kestrels Falco tinnuculus. The Kestrel was tiny in comparison with the Golden Eagle.
June 2 - Demirkazik
After breakfast, we left the Aladag for something completely different. About an hour north of Demirkazik on the edge of the Anatolian plateau is the huge Sultan Marshes dominated by the 3916m volcanic cone of Erciyes Dagi. The marshes contain both salt and freshwater lakes, mud and salt flats, reedbeds and canals. On the way there, we saw numerous Long-legged Buzzards Buteo rufinus on the steppe. The first stop at the marsh is a road that runs along a drainage canal to a pumping station. Ther e were Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus in and along the canal and many herons including a Great White Egret Egretta alba. Marsh Harriers were plentiful and we saw Red-crested Pochards Netta rufina on a distant lake (illustrated right). At the pumping station were a flock of Slender-billed Gulls Larus geneii and Black-headed Gulls Larus ridibundus.
We went for lunch to the village of Ovaciftlik in a different part of the marsh for lunch at a tea house. At a gas station on the way, we got a nice look at a Whiskered Tern Chilidonias hybridus. The village, which advertises itself as Kus Cenneti (Bird Paradise) offers boat trips into the marsh. The concern was the weather. Thunderstorms were moving around the depression where the marsh is. Finally, we decided to take a chance. We were poled out by our boatman, Hussein who drove Ian crazy by his incessant repetitive chatter, in a punt through the reed beds. We saw Reed Buntings Emberiza shoeniclus, Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis and a nice look at a Common Pochard Aythya ferina. A flock of about 80 White Pelicans Pelecanus onocrotalus circled very far away. It was possible to see them when their wings caught the sunlight. Ian got a glimpse of a Little Bittern but it disappeared before anyone else could see it. Arrgh Arrgh! We l ost our gamble with the storm and it began to rain lightly. Hussein poled us as fast as he could back to shore and we didn't get too wet.
Our final stop at the marsh was the huge shallow salt lake, Col Golu. There were close to 1000 Greater Flamingos Phoenicopterus ruber there doing their graceful, rhythmic feeding dance. There were also a pair of Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta swishing their curved bills back and forth at a faster pace than the flamingos. The mirror-like lake covered with Greater Flamingos against the backdrop of the towering volcano was extraordinarily beautiful.
Along the sandy shore of the lake, Ian spotted several pair of Greater Sand Plover Charadrius leschenaultii, a very rare breeding species in Turkey. Then we had to hurry back to the lodge. This did not mean that we didn't stop several times to look at flowers on the steppe. Ian saw one Rose-colored Starling Sturnus roseus and hoped that more of this irruptive species would appear but alas, none did.
Back at the lodge, Mervyn, who had stayed behind to explore the gorge for Umbellifers, had found a Great Tit Parus major nest in a hole in a wall at the lodge. There was also a Little Owl sitting on a pole right behind the lodge. I took photos of this cooperative bird.
June 3 - Demirkazik
On our last day here, we assaulted the Aladag. A taxi took us up the mountain road as far as it could, which was about halfway to the "alpine bench" at 2100m below the craggy peak of Demirkazik itself. We labored up the rest of the way on a tractor track. I soon fell way behind everyone else because I am terrible going up hills. Why do I keep taking trips to mountains? My unfitness was rewarded by getting excellent views of a Chukar Alectoris chukar calling away from a big rock that resembled a ship's prow. Eventually, I climbed about 1000 feet. The usual alpine birds were present and the spectacle of the mountain peaks on this beautiful, clear day used up quite a lot of film. We saw an extremely distant male Ibex, silhouetted against the snow. Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax and Alpine Chough Pyrrhocorax graculus were common. Some of the more fit members of the group climbed still higher to the snow line. There were no raptors at all, which was surprising.
Back to the lodge for lunch and then it was out to the gorge again. I clambered about 20 feet up the side of the gorge to photograph the Snow Finches carrying food to their nest. Nothing of the nest could be seen looking into the crevice where the birds disappeared. Still tired from the morning's exertions, I didn't go too far up the gorge. Fortunately, I had nearly killed myself seeing a Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria the previous year in the Kackar Mtns so I didn't feel it was necessa ry to find one in this gorge.
Rain threatened once again and we hurried back to the lodge. The rain held off and I photographed the Great Tit carrying food to its nest.
June 5 - Demirkazik to Birecik
We loaded up the van after breakfast and went down from the mountains and turned east on a new highway. Just past the turnoff for Antakya (Antioch), I spotted several raptors circling over a river. We stopped to investigate and they turned out to be 6 Eleanora's Falcons, both dark and light phase birds. Eleanora's Falcons breed on islands in the Mediterranean but they don't start breeding until the fall passerine migration is under way. Until then, they wander around, often in small groups. It was a bird I never expected to see on this trip.
We stopped for lunch at another motorway rest stop restaurant in a place called Bahce, which means "garden". The bathrooms were in a separate building that was white with a crenelated roof, like a White Castle restaurant. Of course, inside were the same old Turkish toilets (a hole in the floor). Shortly beyond Bahce, we stopped on the edge of a cliff overlooking a narrow valley. This was the northern tip of the Great Rift that goes down through Africa. We then passed through the Kartal Dagi, which means Eag le Mountains, an area of arid, rocky hilltops and fertile red-soiled valleys. Past the large city of Gaziantep, the land begins a gentle incline past endless pistachio orchards towards the Euphrates River. A thunderstorm was making a spectacular show as it moved towards Birecik and it broke right after we got to the hotel.
The town of Birecik is on the eastern bank of the Euphrates. Our hotel was on the west side of the river above a gas station. It was, in fact, the bus station where the big intercity buses that are Turkey's most important form of public transportation stop to let passengers eat or relax. All the places where we had stayed until now were within earshot of a mosque and we were used to hearing the amplified call to prayer five times a day (including dusk and dawn). In Birecik, the call to prayer was replaced b y the loudspeaker making bus announcements at any time of the day or night. The hotel was very comfortable and modern for eastern Turkey and the rooms even had ceiling fans.
The thunderstorm made an evening walk impossible so we just went up the road to a restaurant and had dinner. After dinner, Ian, Nigel and I went to a tea garden along the river in Birecik. This particular tea garden is known for sometimes having Striated Scops Owl Scops brucei sitting on the backs of chairs. Other owls, including Long-eared Owl Asio otus and Scops Owl are also found in the trees of this establishment. We were not rewarded with any owls this evening but the proprietor promised that if we returned during the day, he would show us the owls. We walked back to the hotel over the bridge across the Euphrates.
June 5 - Birecik
Birding in Birecik has to be done in the early morning or late evening. In the middle of the day, it is much too hot. On this morning, we went to a large wadi on the eastern bank of the Euphrates. There is a gas station at the entrance with a captive Eagle Owl Bubo bubo. The gas station owner had found it with an injured wing that was subsequently amputated. We started to walk up the wadi. It has sheer sides and a smooth, slippery bottom of some soft stone that is very light colored. A small s tream ran along the bottom. The streams were home to many loud Marsh Frogs. The sides of the wadi hosted House Martin nests illustrating where these birds nested before man-made buildings. Some of these nests had been broken open and now hosted Rock Sparrow nests as well. It became apparent that the holes in the nests were not accidental when a pair of Rollers could be seen attacking the mud constructions with their large strong bills. Other birds in the wadi were Short-toed L ark Calandrella brachydactyla and Finsch's Wheatear Oenanthe finshcii.
A possible Eagle Owl nest was indicated by the presence on the ground of about 30 dead hedgehogs. The insides were gone and just the spiny outer covering was discarded. On the cliff above was a large crevice from one side of which a regular rubbish tip of feathers, pellets and other remains spilled down the slope. There was no sign of any owls. We climbed a path to the top of the north side of the wadi to get a better look at the crevice but nothing more could be seen. What could be seen on the dry r olling hillsides above the wadi was a See-See Partridge Ammoperdix griseogularis.
We came back out of the wadi and went up the river a little way to some almond orchards. In their shade, we found Ménétries Warbler Sylvia mystacea and Üpcher's Warbler Hippolais languida. We got our first look at the gorgeous Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis.
We returned to the western side of the river and ate lunch in a restaurant along the river. All during the meal, a blizzard of aspen blossoms came down like snow. Bee-eaters and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters Merops superciliosus swooped around above us.
After a rest during the midday heat, we went out again to the western side of the river. A sand-pit gave us close looks at both kind of Bee-eaters. They are such sharp birds! Up from the sandpit was a series of artificially made fish ponds fed with water from the river. The ponds were fringed with large reed beds and there, finally, the quest for the elusive Little Bittern ended. A female appeared first, clambering deliberately through the reeds. A male appeared later for a shorter period but we got great looks with the scope at both birds.
After dinner, we went to the tea garden again but no owls.
June 6 - Birecik
Today we went west past Gaziantep into the Kartal Dagi. Near the village of Yesilce, we turned off the main road, parked the van and began walking up the valley. A birdwatcher several years ago discovered the amazingly rich birdlife of these intensively cultivated valleys. Local women and children worked in small patches of vegetables scatted among orchards. We were offerred some of the beautiful cherries that could be seen on the trees. Among the birds that are found in the valley were Üpcher's War bler, Cretzschmar's Bunting, Orphean Warbler Sylvia hortensis, Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana, lots and lots of Woodchat Shrikes Lanius senator, Sombre Tits Parus lugubris, Long-tailed Tit, Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica, Finsch's Wheatear, Rufous Bush Robin, Rock Nuthatch and the ever present Black-headed Bunting. One of the target species was White-throated Robin Irani a gutteralis. We got fleeting glimpses of several pairs. Then the drab female stayed in view and finally I got a look at a male. Another target species was easy to find. The Great Rock Nuthatch Sitta tephronota makes its presence known with its very loud call. These birds favored the barren upper parts of the valley and we could see a pair bringing food to a nest. Cinereous Bunting Emberiza cineracea was the other goal of the trip and Ian eventually spotted one quite distant sitting on a rock. We got decent looks at it.
On the way back to Birecik, our driver, Mustafa, took us to lunch at a restaurant in a swank area of Gaziantep. The food was quite good. I had the Turkish equivalent of pizza but one serving would have fed our entire group!
Back to the hotel during the midday heat. Our evening trip was made as another thunderstorm threatened Birecik. We went to an area of pistachio groves north of the city in search of sparrows. Unfortunately, there was a strong wind and intermittent rain and the sparrows were sheltering in the trees. We saw lots of the more common Passer species but Ian had to work quite hard to find one Yellow-throated Sparrow Passer xanthocollis. We did get to see a spectacular rainbow arching up from t he pistachio orchards into the leaden sky.
A German birder was staying at our hotel and Ian and I took him to the tea garden in Birecik. No Scops Owls showed themselves but we heard a young Long-eared Owl calling.
June 7 - Birecik
This morning we went up the semi-desert east side of the Euphrates to the small village of Halfeti. Enroute, we stopped on one arid hillside and saw a number of Lesser Kestrels Falco naumanni and some Little Owls (illustrated left). Closer to the river, we climbed up a rocky outcrop that provided beautiful views of the river gorge below. In addition to a cricket that was all of six inches long, I g ot a nice photo of a Great Rock Nuthatch and we saw another Cinereous Bunting.
Halfeti is a charming old town perched on the steep slope of the riverbank. A cafe on the riverbank was not open but we saw someone being rowed across the river in an ancient-looking ferry. It was no small task because the river is wide and the current very strong. Little Swifts Apus affinis and Red-rumped Swallows could be seen over the river and we saw another Pied Kingfisher. We walked on a shady path up the riverbank. A shepherd with a small flock of sheep and goats and a fie rce sheepdog with a spiked collar overtook us. Of interest on the walk was an Olivaceous Warbler on the nest shading its young with its wings. We also saw a pair of Dead Sea Sparrows Passer moabiticus feeding young in their giant ball nest. This is a very handsome bird for a Passer species.
We went back to Birecik for lunch stopping briefly at the Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita sanctuary enroute. Technically, this bird is extinct since the remaining wild birds were taken into captivity some years ago. They have been bred sucessfully but unfortunately the captive bred birds no longer migrate. A small flock lives year round along the river above Birecik. We had lunch at the tea garden of the owls. The proprietor was able to show us two Striated Scops Owls high in a tree and a baby Long-eared Owl, low in a tree near his kitchen.
In the afternoon, instead of being sensible and resting, I went to the sand pit where we had seen the Bee-eaters. It was a short walk from the hotel. Fending off the attentions of curious Turkish people, I hunkered down near a tree and was able to get some great photos of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters who were nesting or attempting to nest in the sand.
In the evening, the group went back to the wadi and staked out the Eagle Owl nest at dusk in hopes of seeing one of the owls fly out. Fresh feathers could be seen outside the crevice. Nigel was ill again and I was not feeling very well myself. No owls showed up but we did see another See-See Partridge.
June 8 - Birecik to Adana
I felt really lousy this morning. We went up along the east bank of the river past an enormous weekly livestock market in Birecik with police checkpoints on the road. The objective was to see the Sandgrouse come down to the river to drink and collect water in their feathers for their young. There are gravel islands in the river that the birds traditionally come to. However, the construction of the Ataturk Dam has created huge changes in the level of the river each day from high flood levels in the morning to almost drought conditions in the evening. These changes apparently have altered the drinking habits of the sandgrouse. Although the numbers were down from Ian's previous experience, we eventually saw 50 Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis and 2 Pin-t ailed Sandgrouse Pterocles alchata. They are gorgeous birds. Their camoflage is perfect, for once they land, they are almost invisible on the gravel bank. We saw 3 Pied Kingfishers perched in a tree and a Peregrine Falcon on the cliffs over the river.
We left Birecik mid-morning for the long drive back to Adana. We stopped briefly at the great Crusader castle of Topprakale at the strategic crossroads of the routes south to the Holy Land, east to Persia and west to Europe. We stayed the night in Adana.
June 9 - Adana/Istanbul/New York
Our flight from Adana to Istanbul left at 5am. In Istanbul, I said goodbye to the rest of the group who were flying to London. Because of runway construction, big jets could not use the airport at Istanbul and my flight to NY had to refuel in Brussels which meant we sat on the plane on the ground for two hours in addition to the flight time. I spent 14 hours on that plane with Turkish tummy and the less said about that the better.
All in all, it was a great trip. Turkey is a very interesting country. I regret that I could not devote more time to the butterflies. I am just getting interested in butterflies here in US but I don't have enough basic knowledge even to identify the main groups so I just concentrated on the birds. I do have the butterfly (and plant) lists compiled by Ian if anyone is interested - send an email to me now if you want any more information.
Greentours are run by Ian Green and their address is:
The Lodge, Cragate Lane, Saxlingham, Thorpe, Norwich NR15 1TU, UK
Tel - 01508471353 Fax - 01508471353