17 June to 2 July 2001

Sunday 17th June
Long stay airport car parking booth, Manchester, late afternoon. ‘Any damage to your car, Sir?’ ‘No thank you.’ The old trout behind the counter doesn’t even crack a smile. Have they had their sense of humour removed in these northern parts?!

Change a few quid into Turkish Lira in the terminal and are delighted to find that we receive 1,700,000 Lira to the Pound. Maybe I should have brought a larger wallet? Uneventful 4-hour charter flight to Antalya. It is quite noticeable that Mr Kennewell and myself are the only people on the aeroplane sporting walking boots. Beachwear predominates!

Monday 18th June
Finding the cleverly concealed Budget Car Rental office at Antalya airport and sorting out the paperwork takes 1½ hours, but does include our first lesson in Turkish.’Merhaba’ is ‘Hello’. It’s about 04.00 before we hit the road in our trusty ‘Tofas Sahin 1.6ie’. This is in fact a Turkish version of a Fiat 121, a bit of a tank, but ideal for covering great distances on uneven roads and also driving up rocky mountain sides (as we later prove). The map is unfurled and we head east, away from the commercialised hellhole of Antalya and into real Turkey. The glow of the sun is apparent above the coastal hills as we make the first of many, many petrol stops. Surprisingly, bearing in mind the close proximity to vast Middle Eastern oil fields, petrol costs about the same as in the UK.

Two hours later we’re winding our way north, away from the coast, through the Oroslar Mountain Range. Our first destination is the small town of Akseki. The graveyard to be precise! This overgrown area is a well-known birding site and produces Masked Shrike as well as a pair of Olive-tree Warbers, our target here. A good start. A short drive to some nearby coniferous

Saturday 23rd June
Dawn at Ishakpasa Palace, on the mountainside, overlooking Dogubayazit. This site is the Mongolian Finch Stakeout’. Not a Mongolian Finch to be seen, though we do eventually find Grey-necked Bunting and a huge hamster (exact species yet to be determined!). Heading south, parallel with the Iranian border, there is a noticeable military presence. Numerous checkpoints, passport examinations and checks in the car boot. At one point we pass within 1 km of Iran!

After a little searching we find the tiny Kurdish village of Serpmetas, a new site given to us by the Germans. We are greeted by a man carrying a machine gun, but he is smiling so presumably all is OK?! Barren lunar-landscape of dark lava, cutting through the surrounding cultivated fields. Within minutes we’ve seen Crimson-winged Finch and the distinctive brevirostris race of Twite. A few hundred yards further down the lava flow we find an excellent pair of Mongolian Finches. The surrounding fields are full of Short-toed and Bimaculated Larks. Pretty good site!

The Turks are probably as friendly and hospitable a race as I’ve ever come across. An invitation to go to someone’s house for tea seems to be made as a matter of course. In fact if we’d taken up every offer of tea we’d had to date we’d still have been in Akseki! So we finally succumb and follow a local villager back to his house for a cuppa. The house is a very meagre low, stone, whitewashed building but is refreshingly cool inside. The living area contains no furnishings, just a number of rugs and cushions covering the floor. Our host carefully rearranges these, with our comfort in mind, and sends his wife off to make the tea. The whitewashed walls of the room are bare, save for a clock and a Kalashnikov assault rifle hanging in the corner. This was obviously a bit over-the-top for bagging the odd pigeon and we can only imagine what role our host had played in the troubles which have plagued this region for countless years. Again the language barrier is insurmountable and very frustrating. We all have so much to talk about but can merely sit and sip tea. Nevertheless a memorable and very humbling experience. We thank our new friends (now being fluent in Turkish we know that “Tesekkur ederim” means “Thank you very much”) and head south, giving one of their number a ride to the next town.

A little further on and Lake Van comes into view. It covers a huge area looking more like a vast, turquoise blue, inland-sea. Brief stops on the shoreline produce Armenian and Slender-billed Gulls, plus various waders and an out-of-place looking Velvet Scoter. The latter species actually breeds nearby, in a water-filled volcano crater, at a peculiar outpost in its range. Black-headed Wagtails are common in all the hand-cultivated fields surrounding the lake and the rasping notes of Great Reed Warbler ring out from every reedbed. Our afternoon goal is Golduzu Golu, a smaller lake (‘Golu’ meaning ‘Lake’ in Turkish) on the northwestern shore of Lake Van. Waterbirds abound, with 58 White-headed Ducks being counted along with numerous Glossy Ibis, Ruddy Shelducks etc. Unfortunately this site also plays host to the most annoying children of the trip!

A spur-of-the-moment change of plan leaves us driving west towards Bulanik, a site that, in years gone by, was the spot for Demoiselle Crane. The cultivated valley of the Murat Nehri River, above which Bulanik stands, seems to be one of the most bird-rich areas in Turkey. Rose-coloured Starlings wheel above the crops in their thousands. Montagu’s Harriers and Gull-billed Terns are constantly in view and Calandra Lark song fills the air. The telephone wires barely have the strength to support the huge numbers of Black-headed and Corn Buntings, Bee-eaters and Rollers. A truly stunning area. Following what scant directions we have, we follow a series of dirt tracks down to the notoriously difficult-to-find Murat Nehri. Squacco and Night Herons, Little Egrets, Pygmy Cormorants, Spoonbills, White Storks, Stone Curlews. Birds everywhere! Surely if there were any Demoiselles in Turkey they’d be here?

Tent pitched at the waters edge and sunset savoured over bread and cheese supper. We ask a shepherd if he’d like to share our food. He declines (fears of food poisoning?!), but is delighted at the views of the new Moon through Martin’s scope. Fall to sleep to the sound of running water, goat bells and music drifting down from the distant village.

Wake up to light on the tent and the sound of “What are you doing here?” It’s the middle of the night and a bit scary at first, but then we realise that the locals are merely curious and not hostile. They’ve brought a lad of about ten years old to translate for them (presumably the only English speaker in the village?) so we do our best to explain that we’re looking for cranes!

Sunday 24th June
We awake to a chorus of Quail calling all around the tent. Walk east, following the river. There are birds everywhere, though the river islands that were once said to host the cranes are now cultivated and there is much disturbance through agriculture and gravel collecting activities. Lesser Short-toed Lark is the only new bird during our three-hour walk, though terns, herons and waders abound. We turn back east, rather disappointed. It’s three years since anyone has visited this site and it seems apparent that the habitat may have become less “crane-friendly” in the intervening period.

Martin scans ahead, actually looking for the car. ‘I’ve got two Demoiselle Cranes’. ‘Piss-off!’ But there they are, a couple of hundred yards away, feeding on grassland beside the river. We can’t believe our eleventh-hour luck. They are truly stunning creatures, perfectly proportioned. Long sweeping tertials, piercing red eyes and an amazing bush of white nape feathering. We watch them feed for a short while but they are very easily spooked and soon fly off upstream and into the distance.

We still can’t believe we’ve seen them, as we finish our walk with a spring in our step. Some good damselflies and Stripe-necked Terrapin seen en route. Tent is packed and we drive up to Yoncali village for a drink, where we get caught up in some local wedding celebrations. Apparently it is Turkish tradition for the wedding party to tear around the village, at high speed, in a motor cavalcade. Looks very dangerous!

Retrace yesterday’s steps around Lake Van and carry on to Van itself, a pleasantly clean and modern city. Sort out hotel, have a dabble in an Internet café, and then head a little further east to Ercek Golu. Another great wetland site. More White-headed Ducks plus large numbers of Greater Flamingos, Ruddy Shelducks and White-winged Black Terns. A small reedbed supports

breeding Moustached Warbler and Citrine Wagtail. Back to Van for bread and cheese…

Monday 25th June
South Van marshes at dawn. Numerous Marsh, Sedge and Great Reed Warblers, but Paddyfield keeps its head down. The local caspia race of Reed Bunting is interesting, displaying a distinctive thick bill. Slender-billed Gulls, Kentish Plovers etc on the Lake’s shore. Nice views of Bee-eaters, Alpine Swifts and Lesser Kestrels around Van Castle. Bags packed early and off on a long drive east. We briefly consider a detour down to Cizre on the Syrian border, the only site in the Western Palearctic for Red-wattled Lapwing. Numerous military checkpoints and time consuming roadwork hold ups make the idea less appealing and we decide to head straight to Birecik. We later find that our Finnish friends score with the Plover, but at the expense of an 400 km detour and military arrest! We’ll stick with our memories from further east!

En route we discover an exciting new addition to our very tedious diet: watermelon! Available at numerous roadside stalls, huge juicy watermelons were to complement our bread and cheese for the rest of the trip! Arrive at Birecik early evening. Probably one of the most well known birding areas in the Western Palearctic, Birecik is a hot, smelly shit-hole of a town!

We go straight to the Bald Ibis Programme compound, situated at the entrance to a steep wadi cut into the high sandstone cliffs, which border the Euphrates River. Birecik in Turkey and the southern Atlantic coast of Morocco are the only two places in the World where Bald Ibis now occurs. The Moroccan birds are resident and, after a period of decline, seem to be doing quite well. In 1954 there were 600-800 pairs of Bald Ibis at Birecik. By 1980 the population had fallen catastrophically to just 6 pairs. These eastern birds were migratory, travelling south to wintering grounds in Ethiopia. The exact cause of the decline is uncertain, but the rigours of a hazardous migration route seemed to be a major contributory factor. There is now an intensive research programme underway to spotlight the causes of the decline and improve the population’s chances of survival.

We spend some time talk-ing to a young Turkish stu-dent who is working on the project. The remaining birds are prevented from undertaking their risky mig-ration by being placed in cages for the winter. This is a drastic measure and, of course, means that they are only ‘partially wild’. It does, however, seem to be bear-ing fruit and this year the remaining 41 adults raised a fantastic 19 young. The staff remain hopeful of success and we wish them luck, coming away with an obligatory souvenir Bald Ibis mug or two.

Other than stunning views of the Ibises, which are totally free flying and remain a magnificent sight in their own right, the highlight of our visit is an Ottoman Viper consuming two large Collared Dove chicks! This remarkable incident occurs right above our heads in the ibis compound. The snake (identified later from our field guide and deadly to man) flushes the adult bird and proceeds to constrict one of the almost full-grown young. We watch in amazement as it dislocates it’s jaw and swallows the bird headfirst! This is just the entrée and it repeats the exercise on the unfortunate sibling of the first bird for the main course. After half an hour just two bulges in the slim body of a rather satisfied looking viper remain!

Final stop of the day is at the ‘Owl Café’ in Birecik town. This surely is the most famous birding site in the Western Palearctic? Until winter roosting sites for Striated Scops Owl were recently discovered in Israel, the tiny park was the only place in the World where this enigmatic species could be found. By chance we bump into the Finns in the café and exchange stories from the east, while we sip Coke and wait for an owl to appear. Totally bizarre birding experience. We stand beside bemused locals who sit eating their dinner and watch an outdoor television set blaring out Turkish MTV! Before long an owl flys through the low branches and lands next to one of the conveniently place fluorescent tubes. Unfortunately this is a Eurasian Scops Owl, but the views are fantastic and it’s a good comparison for our target. Another owl soon appears and again lands amongst the floodlights. This looks better. Pale sandy brown. No horizontal streaking on the breast. Primary projection beyond tail. Tick! Striated Scops Owl. Stunning views then a few celebratory beers.

forest reveals that the excellent little Kruper’s Nuthatch is common in this habitat. It’s starting to warm up by now and we are amazed at the profusion of butterflies which are skipping over the swathes of wildflowers in the woodland glades. Queen of Spain Fritillary, Cardinal and Southern Swallowtail are easy to sort out, but some of the blues and graylings have us scratching our heads. Persian Squirrel (like a Red Squirrel, minus the ear tufts) is an excellent opener for the mammal list.

When it gets really hot we set off on the long drive east, first calling back at Akseki for ‘breakfast’. Food in Turkey can often present a few problems. First of all there is very, very little English spoken. Having neglected to bring a phrase book, café menus are next to impossible to read. The other, more important factor is, however, that if you do eat the local cuisine you are doomed to spend a week running for the toilet. This is no exaggeration! In the course of planning this trip we had studied many reports compiled by other birders touring the country. Without exception they make reference to various bouts of chronic, food poisoning induced, illness which played havoc with their plans. It’s no fun walking up a mountain, or driving for eight hours, when you’re shitting for England! Therefore we make the conscious decision to eat nothing but bread and processed food (essentially cheese ‘triangles’!) for the entire trip. Not particularly exciting (and a little insulting to what, on the face of it, appeared to be some fine Turkish delicacies displayed in many a shop window), but damned safe! So it’s bread and cheese for breakfast…

After three hours of driving along winding dirt roads it becomes apparent that the map isn’t as detailed as we thought. We haven’t got a bloody clue where we are! Black-headed Buntings, Isabelline Wheatears, Ibex and European Sousliks (resembling miniature Prairie Dogs) at the roadside keep the spirits up, but we’ve got a long drive ahead and need all the daylight we can get. Eventually we find a main road and re-orientate ourselves. Money. We have no cash so call at a bank in a convenient large town. Problem. We try three banks and none of them are interested in our traveller’s cheques. Seems like there isn’t a sodding bank this side of Istanbul which knows what a traveller’s cheque is! In desperation Martin sticks his Visa Card in a cash machine and types in a figure followed by about twenty zeros. Bingo. We’re multi-millionaires!

The sun is setting by the time we reach the Ala Daglar Mountains. Stunning scenery. Steep, snow capped, rocky crags rise above the flat Central Plateau. The magnificent Mount Demirkazik crowns the range at 3756 metres. We book into the Skiing Lodge (out of season as the snow has retreated way up the mountain by late June) for the princely sum of £5.00 a night and run off up the hillside for a quick recce before dark. Bread and cheese for supper!

Tuesday 19th June
Alarm goes off at 3.00 am. No accident. We’ve got a mountain to climb! Now I’ve done some fairly ridiculous things in pursuit of birds in my time, but this one really rates up there near the top of the list. So there we are, in the dark, scrambling up the side of a mountain! There isn’t a path, just scree slopes and big rocks. For the first half-hour it’s quite pleasant. The night sky is phenomenal, with Mars and The Milky Way clearly visible. Fatigue soon sets in however, in the thin air, and it starts to become a test of stamina. Higher up the scree becomes a real obstacle. Imagine the walk to Blakeney Point (a very long shingle bank, in Norfolk, for anyone who doesn’t know), at 45 degrees, 10,000 feet up!

Onward we trudge, eventually the sun comes up, and the view is amazing. As we approach the crags and snowfields of Mount Demirkazik the first Caspian Snowcocks begin to call. The call resembles a plaintive Curlew and, amongst the setting of breathtaking jagged peaks, has to be one of the most atmospheric sounds in the world. Only problem is that we can’t see the birds that are making all the noise! After a frustrating hour of scanning the crags we head downhill to the next site.

A stream of good birds soon raises spirits. Snowfinches are breeding all around. Stunning Crimson-winged Finches, Red-fronted Serins and Rock Thrushes hop over the boulders. We watch a Least Weasel hunting Sousliks before a superb Radde’s Accentor appears singing from the top of a Juniper bush. Ring Ouzels, Alpine Choughs, Alpine Swifts, Rock Buntings. And then the walk back down the ‘Gorge to Hell’! It takes us two hours to walk/scramble/climb down the spectacular, but treacherous, route back to the lodge. A couple of hour’s well-deserved sleep are followed by our only cooked meal of the entire trip. A fine plate of trout and chips at the fish farm in the next valley, with views of Dipper from our table. And then it’s off for Caspian Snowcock, part two!

We follow a barely driveable, steep, dirt track up the side of another range of peaks to the north of Demirkazik. This is a new site, only discovered last year by some Israelis, but our map is very accurate and we soon come to the spot where we leave the car. The half-hour walk to the chosen viewpoint is a mere stroll after the morning’s four-hour nightmare. Again the scenery is truly stunning and looks ideal Snowcock habitat. After about an hour of scanning the pinnacles and snowfields Martin comes up with the goods. ‘I’ve got three Snowcocks!’ Spectacular birds in a suitably spectacular setting, we watch them scramble over the scree and feed on the sparse grass. Oh, how you appreciate things so much more when you have to work for them! Their mournful calls echo down the valley as we walk back to the car. What a day!

Wednesday 20th June
Both fairly crippled after yesterday’s exertions, we concentrate on the lower slopes of the area we birded the evening before. Finsch’s Wheatear, White-throated Robin, Barred Warbler and a surprise Pale Rock Sparrow are the highlights of an excellent morning. Ortolan Bunting and Red-backed Shrike are common! Now for some proper driving. It takes from 10.00 until 20.00 to drive up to Erzincan, far to the north-east, and situated just south of the Pontic Mountains. The odd Long-legged Buzzard and Egyptian Vulture prevent us from falling asleep at the wheel, but there’s no time for any real birding stops. The Pontics are an extension of the Caucasus and run parallel to the Black Sea coast. They contain some fantastic alpine habitat and are the sole site in the Western Palearctic for a number of highly sought-after species. Night in half-decent hotel in Erzincan.

Thursday 21st June
Early start and a 3½ hours drive, winding our way through the foothills, to Sumela Monastery. Having made our way up through cultivation and then pine forest we find ourselves amongst lush deciduous woodland when we reach the monastery. A national tourist attraction in its own right, the ancient monastery clings to a precipitous cliff face about a steep-sided valley, and makes a stunning sight. We park up and almost immediately the distinctive song of a Green Warbler can be heard. They are in fact quite common, but getting a good view of one in the dense foliage is another matter. Patience, over breakfast bread and cheese, pays off and after grilling the warblers we head north.

Trabzon provides our first sight of the Black Sea and we admire the Caspian Gulls before travelling east along the over-developed and otherwise birdless shoreline. After a short while we turn south, again winding our way through foothills to reach the 3000 m high backbone of the Pontic Mountains. Sivrikaya is a tiny village set amidst green, flower-filled, alpine meadows with a backdrop of rugged snow-capped peaks. All of the specialities occur nearby so we based ourselves in this fantastically picturesque area for the next few days.

First on the itinerary is Mountain Chiffchaff. Unfortunately the ‘Chiffchaff Wood’ doesn’t live up to its reputation and all we hear and see are more Green Warblers. The commonest bird in the area is Scarlet Rosefinch and stunning red males sing from every bush and telephone wire. On our travels around the village we meet up first with a group of German birders and then three Finns. The Germans are extremely helpful and, having already done the south-eastern sites, are able to give us some invaluable information. The Finns have just arrived in Sivrikaya too, so we take the opportunity of booking a joint ‘Blackcock Hunt’ for the next morning with Mustapha Sari, the famous local guide. Final birding of the day around the summit of the pass produces Snowfinches and an Alpine Accentor on the road. Treat ourselves to a beer with the Finns.

Friday 22nd June
04.00 meet with Mustapha in the village. He unlocks his strategically placed chain to allow us access to the dirt road winding up through the dwarf rhododendron. After about 5 km we stop and Mustapha scans the steep hillside. Nonchalantly he points out four male Caucasian Black Grouse! The birds are simply wandering about the grassy slopes, right out in the open. This isn’t right. It’s far too easy! They’re absolute stunners with amazing long, bowed, tails and bright crimson eyelids. We pay him £3 each for his troubles and thank him warmly!

More Alpine Accentors and lots of Water Pipits on the drive back down to the ‘Chiffchaff Wood’. Mountain Chffchaff still proving ridiculously difficult, so we move down the valley to another area where we find a bird singing from a telegraph pole! Another clean up allows an early start for the next long haul east. Again a superbly scenic route through the mountains, punctuated by Rollers, Bee-eaters, White Storks etc. Following tar-spraying road repairs our nice white car takes on a black-spotted appearance! When we reach the main E80 we turn east, along the main road to Iran! The lowland scenery is very bland and agricultural but our first flocks of Rose-coloured Starlings, some numbering hundreds strong, brighten up the drive.

Eventually we arrive at a real dump-of-a-town called Agri, where the Germans had seen Demoiselle Crane a few days earlier. A two-hour search is fruitless, so we carry on driving east. Suddenly the huge, conical, snow-capped peak of Mount Ararat appears above the horizon. The sun is setting behind us and washes the snowy summit in a peachy light. Incredibly atmospheric as we drive towards Iran with this scene ahead of us and BB King on the radio! Our destination for the night is Dogubayazit, a rough frontier-town, just 35 km from the Iranian border. We seem to be the only guests in our huge, dilapidated, hotel where we dine on a fine meal of bread and cheese!

Tuesday 26th June
Dawn at the wadi with the Finns. Numerous Menetries’s Warblers plus various frogs, toads, butterflies and dragonflies. Another Ottoman Viper is located due to the noisy mobbing activities of a flock of small birds. Olivaceous and Upcher’s warblers provide a nice comparison, and a couple of superb Dead Sea Sparrows join the action. An area of orchards a little way upstream proves to be an excellent area. Dead Sea Sparrows and Rufous Bushchats occupy every bush and Desert Finch, Graceful Warbler and Yellow-throated Sparrow all put in an appearance.

Unfortunately a minor disaster strikes at this point. I hear a sudden ferocious snarling and look round to see Martin sprinting down the road with a huge Anatolian Shepherd Dog at his heels. He manages to outrun the dog but in the process stumbles and ends up leaving half the skin from his back on the rough road surface. Ouch! (Or words to that effect!) Worse still, when he next picks up his bins he finds them knocked out of alignment. One-eyed birding for the rest of the trip! It’s far too hot for birding by now, so we return to the hotel for medical attention, watermelon and a siesta.

Late afternoon finds us back at the Owl Café for some daylight viewing. With the Finns directions we soon find a roosting Striated Scops Owl, right above the ladies toilets! The views are absolutely stunning and we spend some time taking photos and savouring every detail of this once-in-a-lifetime bird. Before long we’ve also picked out three recently fledged juvenile birds. These boys are fascinating. First we watch them preen themselves and each other. Next they start to pluck leaves from the tree and play with them in their talons and bills!

The evening has been set aside for another crack at See-see Partridge back at the wadi, again in the company of Markuu and Co. Not a good start when we arrive at the same time as a hunter with a shotgun. It’s very depressing to follow him up the wadi, almost racing to keep ahead. Predictably, we only get the brief views of flushed See-sees. Little Swifts do their best to restore spirits, but it’s still a sad end to the day.

Wednesday 27th June
As usual, the alarm goes off at first light. We troop downstairs with the Finns. The main hotel door is locked, so we politely knock on the door of the hotel proprietor’s room, where we can see him sleeping. No response. We knock again. Then again, more loudly. Juha says a quiet ‘Hello’ round the door. Then a slightly louder ‘Hello’. Soon he’s shouting in his ear. What’s going on?! I tap his foot. No response. Is he alive? I tap a bit harder. Soon I’m virtually shaking him out of his bed! At this point the bloody idiot feigns waking up. Clearly the tosser is just being awkward, and he reluctantly gets up and opens the door. Never use the Baraj Hotel in Birecik!

Dawn finds us all back at the wadi. Again the See-see search is fruitless. It seems like hunting is making this species difficult to locate at this site. We return to the hotel for a siesta and when we re-emerge find that the Finns have departed without so much as a ‘Goodbye’! Was it something we said? (Later we discover that the mysterious departure is attributable to a little ‘tiff’ in their ranks!) A short drive east brings us to the huge city of Gaziantep, where we had intended to spend the night. It’s far too big and bustling for our liking so, after stocking up on provisions (tinned tuna having now become a staple part of our diet), in a huge supermarket, we carry on to Isikli.

After Birecik, the picturesque village of Isikle, surrounded by sprawling orchards and with a backdrop of craggy peaks, is a haven of tranquillity. The locals are tremendously friendly and, judging by the stream of children queuing to look through our optics, rarely see a western tourist. We head straight off up the magnificent, rugged, valley that dominates the horizon above the village. We realise that our luck is in, when almost the first bird we see is an obliging juvenile Red-tailed Wheatear. This is a bit of a ‘Holy Grail’ for me and it completes our Western Palearctic wheatear list, one of the most impressive bird families going. Immediately after, a pair of Eastern Rock Nuthatches appears. Stunning things, these huge nuthatches have a head like a bloody badger!

We follow the valley upwards and are greeted by a stream of good birds amongst stunning scenery. Numerous rock nuthatches of both species, Black-eared Wheatears, Upcher’s and Olivaceous Warblers with an odd Pale Rock Sparrow and White-throated Robin thrown in. A couple of Spur-thighed Tortoises are stars of a reptile list that includes numerous lizards. Upon descending, as the light fades, we are subjected to an amazing welcome at the village. Hordes of local children have gathered to greet us, practising their well-rehearsed ‘Hello’s’ in unison. We are even given a gift of some local bitter-pea vegetable-type things! I can never help but find such experiences immensely humbling, as we stand there with umpteen hundred quid’s worth of optical kit round our necks, while these kids are dressed in rags. We drive just outside the village and pitch the tent beside the quiet road. Bread, cheese, tuna and bed!

Thursday 28th June
Drop the tent and drive a few kilometres to Durnalik, another village surrounded by very similar habitat of rocky hillsides and orchards. Excellent early-morning birding. Cinereous Bunting is a tick, and we also enjoy great views of Orphean and Upcher’s Warblers, Cretzschmar’s Bunting, Sombre Tit and loads of White-throated Robins. Great butterflies including Scarce Swallowtails and Southern White Admiral, and stunning Cordulegaster princeps dragonfly (even more impressive than Golden-ringed but sorry, no English name!).

Having again cleaned up at a site in record time we head east, on a totally out-of-place four-lane toll road! We spend an hour or so driving around Adana looking for the turning to the Tarsus Delta, but we simply get hot, pissed off, and lost! Idea abandoned, we carry on as far as Tasucu and book into an excellent hotel with a sea view and air conditioning for £4 a night. Showered and refreshed, we head for the Goksu Delta. The open water takes some finding along a maze of tracks, but we see some good dragonflies en route. Birding highlights include Yellow-vented Bulbul, Spur-winged Lapwing and Cory’s Shearwater.

Friday 29th June
After yesterday’s reconnaissance we are at the best area of the Goksu Delta for dawn and are rewarded with Black Francolins and Purple Gallinules of the grey-headed caspia race. Birding is, however, very hard work and judging by the numerous cartridge cases hunting is, sadly, a big problem. Having made up so much time earlier in the itinerary the plan is to head inland to some of the famed wetland sites. We set off early and enjoy a very scenic drive through the Orta Toroslar Mountains to Eregli.

We follow our map towards Eregli Marshes, asking directions in a nearby village. Still hopeful of finding water in what is at best a seasonal lake, we round a corner to be greeted by a dry dustbowl stretching for miles across the valley floor. Not a bird in sight. The irrigation ditches and rusting pipework indicate that man has influenced the tragic death of this once great site. It seems that Eregli has now gone the way of the area’s other great marshes and been drained to support man’s agricultural greed. The nearby Hotamis Marsh (now deceased) was, as recently as 1985, described as ‘the best wetland in the Western Palearctic’. In 1991 a visit to Eregli recorded 12 Dalmatian Pelicans and 35 Demoiselle Cranes amongst thousands of other birds.

Very depressed by our findings we decide to bite the bullet and carry on north to Kulu Golu, in the hope that there may still be some birds left here. It’s along drive and the sun is getting low as we near the lake. It is immediately apparent that things are better at this site, as a stream of Gull-billed Terns feeding above the arable fields greets us. A pink hue around the lake’s margins materialises into thousands of Greater Flamingos, in a scene reminiscent of one of Africa’s Rift Valley lakes. Although we have little time for real birding, it is obvious that our risky decision has paid off and we celebrate with a fine meal of bread and cheese in our cheap, grotty, hotel!

Saturday 30th June
Dawn at Kulu Golu, and we realise just what an awesome place this really is. A count reveals 8,000 Greater Flamingos feeding at the water’s edge with a single, lonely looking, White Pelican. Ruddy Shelducks number 1600. We walk the shore and come across a low, grassy, island joined to the lake edge by a sandbar. Its area is not much larger than a football pitch. The breeding birds present on this and one other small adjoining island have to be seen to be believed. We count 100 pairs of Mediterranean Gulls, 400 pairs of Slender-billed Gulls and 600 pairs of Gull-billed Terns. Most have large chicks and the scene is chaotic with birds constantly coming and going with food. A Marsh Harrier flies over and all Hell breaks loose as it’s mobbed by hundreds of nesting birds. In the confusion we witness the amazing sight of a Gull-billed Tern predating a Black-headed Gull chick! Collared Pratincoles and White-winged Black Terns are also present and as we walk back to the car two Black-bellied Sandgrouse fly over.

The day’s tick comes in the form of Asian Short-toed Lark, which is the common lark at the site, but it is totally eclipsed by the spectacle of the waterbirds. At a smaller, adjoining, lake we count 117 White-headed Ducks, together with two Marbled Ducks and a pink-billed rubrirostris Greylag Goose. This is truly a phenomenal birding site and must rate as one of the best in the Western Palearctic. Let’s just hope that it will remain so. When it gets too hot for birding we commence the long drive south to Akseki. All goes well until the final mountain stage. This seems to be the only place in Turkey that lacks a huge surplus of petrol stations. After a while we are running on fumes and rolling down all the hills! As if by magic a petrol station appears and we breathe a huge sigh of relief. Running out of petrol would have been just too embarrassing!

We book into a nice cheap hotel in Akseki and manage a quick look in the forest before dark. Woodlark is the only bird of note. We get back to the town and find it devoid of ekmek! (Showing off now – our vocabulary has extended as far as ‘bread’) It’s looking dire, but we eventually procure some pitta breads from a restaurant. Could have been a disaster. Imagine the last night of the trip without bread and cheese?! We even succumb to a beer or two on the hotel balcony, as the Muslim call to prayer echoes down the valley. A perfect setting to end the last full day.

Sunday 1st July
Dawn finds us at our usual spot in the coniferous forest on the old Akseki road. Kruper’s Nuthatches abound and a Middle-spotted Woodpecker provides a welcome tick on our final day. Short-toed Treecreeper and Common Crossbill also seen. The butterfly numbers have reduced over the last fortnight, but a few different species are flying and we add Eastern Brown Argus and Marbled Fritillary to the list. ‘Insect of the Day’ is undoubtedly a huge Palpares libelluloides ant-lion, which at one point perches on my knee!

We head to the coast as the day warms up and call in at a number of likely looking spots where we find a single, stunning, Small Tiger-Blue butterfly. The last few hours of the day are spent in the vicinity of the holiday resort of Antalya. One Turk had described Antalya as the ‘most beautiful town in Turkey’. What a load of bollocks! It’s a touristy shit hole! All we see are Yellow-legged Gull, desmarestii Shag and 50,000 sun-tanned Germans. We drop off our trusty Tofas at 20.00, with 5521 more kilometres (that’s 3451 miles!) on the clock then when we started.

It has been a phenomenally successful trip. Turkey is a stunningly diverse and beautiful country. Its people are as welcoming and friendly as in any nation on the planet. Despite an almost total absence of any form of conservation structure, the country sports a wealth of wildlife unparalleled in the Western Palearctic. It is a great shame to end on a sad note, but one can only wonder for how long will this remain the case?

Ian Merrill July 2001