Western Turkey – April 2011
Rik Addison and Dr Mark Baynes BSc(Hons) PhD
View looking north over the Dardanelles from the Kumkale watch point
The idea of a foreign spring mission was first formulated by Baynes earlier in the year as a method to escape from a thesis-writing related nightmare, and delay the inevitable start of a post-doctoral job stacking shelves at Sainsbury’s. Apparently that requires a PhD level education these depression-era days (evidently knowledge of sperm competition in chickens is particularly advantageous). The idea was standard stuff: get away somewhere sunny, preferably a ‘migration’ island requiring little driving and loads of cool colourful stuff like Bee-eaters, Rollers and Bikinis.The dates were 19th to 26th of April, pretty good timing for migrating stuff in SE Europe and just about in the window for Balkan breeding stuff. As it turned out, organizing the logistics ended up being unbelievably tricky. We ran the numbers for Cyprus, Crete, Rhodes, Chios and Lesvos and could not make any of them work (Lesvos was immediately binned due to the ‘Mini-Scilly’ style log in the evening and potential birder saturation levels).
So at length we decided to sack the easy life and try some
semi-pioneering work off the beaten track, away from other birders and the
Gosney guides. As you might expect with this novel/foolish approach, the plans ended
up changing direction more often than a dodgy kebab navigating its way through a small intestine, but we finally managed to
secure a decent migration point,and fit in some breeding stuff in mainland Turkey…
In true “semi-pioneering-but-a--more professional-Belgian-team-have-done-it-already” style, we picked a relatively little known but good looking migration spot in NW Turkey: the Dardanelles. I won’t bother listing the exact locations and gen as it is all covered in the report below, which is so professional I could not even finish reading it:
Below is a map stolen from that trip report outlying the idea behind the Dardanelles.
After enjoying the migrant spectacle, the rest of our time was spent trying to hoover up as much of the interesting breeding stuff as we could. We were aware that some of the later arrivers such as Olive-tree Warbler and Rufous Bushchat might not be in by these dates, HOWEVER, we did not consider for a second that half the other migratory stuff would not be in either! It turns out that Bee-eaters, Roller, Black-headed Bunting, Olive-tree, Bushchat, Olivaceous amongst others had just not arrived by the time we left. Bugger. Bloody Bee-eaters were turning ten-a-penny in the UK in mid April, but the bastard Turkish breeders were apparently still soaking up the sun in Eritreia… It didn’t even cross out minds that they wouldn’t be back on the breeding ground in Turkey by 26th April!!!
Logistics in Turkey
First thing of note is the seemingly lawless nature of the Turkish roads. White lines on the roads are clearly a waste of perfectly good paint. The number of lanes on a particular stretch is seemingly decided on a whim by individual driver, and the key strategy for turning corners is to pull out and THEN look if anything is coming. Thankfully Mark dealt with this admirably in the big cities, and I just drove the easy bits!
Also, we had not booked ANY accommodation so would completely wing it throughout the week. This allowed super flexibility but did provide a challenge in the evenings. Mark did a sterling job of searching out and negotiating a price for our beds! (although he did try and sack off really nice hotels over a £3 saving per night!)
Tuesday 19th April
Our flight to Antalya arrived at 2pm local time.
Picked up the Symbol (nope, I don’t
know either) and started heading for the hills.
With Mark at the helm we blasted west in the general direction of Korkuteli. As with most occasions on this trip, the plan was to drive and find sites on the random rather than follow the existing gen (can’t remember why, seems daft in hindsight!)
After some indecision, we piled out of the car at a
scrubby area near Calinar, SW of Korkuteli, taking care to dodge the rabid
mongrels sniffing around the wheels. Local dross was soon apparent: Serins, Lesser Whitethoats, Nightingale,
Woodchats and Crested Larks. A group of four distant Hoopoes added some colour and I spent a bit of time duding around trying
to photograph Cirl Buntings. A single Calandra
Lark appeared around the car, but was over shadowed by a corking male Black-eared Wheatear and a pair of Isabelline Wheatears
which were my first tick of the trip.
We back-tracked to a small side road which headed to some higher altitude scrubby stuff. A few Nightingales and more Crested Larks were obvious but with the light fading and the need to find a hotel we headed back to the car. An odd call got us chasing what turned out to be a Blue Rock Thrush but while searching I booted a large chat out of a seemingly innocuous piece of scrub… WHITE- THROATED ROBIN! This was one (if not the…) main target for the trip, we were pretty chuffed to fluke one in a random location on the first afternoon... After a flight view the bird went to ground, but eventually the bird came out of the dense stuff and showed brilliantly, if a bit distant, for several minutes. Minty start!
Unfortunately it was so dark by this point my camera was tucked away in bed, so no record shots. We pointed the car towards the alpine areas around Egirdir, making decent headway and finally throwing in the towel at Isparta. Mark found us a hotel and then proceeded to brush his teeth with the water from a toilet which had clearly not been flushed by the guests before us (no joke!). You can get away with that type of thing when you’re highly educated. We hit downtown Isparta for a meal – would love to tell you what it was but we honestly couldn’t identify any of it. Got to bed much later than planned.
Wednesday 20th AprilOut early and drove east towards Aksu for a bit of semi-pioneering. The first good birds were a pair of Black-eared Wheatears (at this point still worth looking at) which showed really well as we turned off the main road and onto a mountainous track and into the unknown.
Male Black-eared Wheatear near Yilanli
Mark’s pro-skills with the clutch became apparent as we headed up the steep, rutted track, not really knowing what lie ahead. There was plenty to keep us occupied, with a brief Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler, pair of Rock Buntings, a single female Masked Shrike and out first Sombre Tits. Unfortunately the weather then took a turn for the shit, with heavy rain dampening our confidence and prospects.
Sombre Tit, near Aksu
After a 45 minute ‘interesting’ drive up the track the terrain opened out to a grassy plateau surrounded by steep rocky slopes and mountains. A quick scan revealed many Black-eared and Northern Wheatears, tons of Black Redstarts and a liberal scattering of Water Pipits. The whole area was a bird-filled picturesque alpine scene, miles from anywhere: perfect!
After a few minutes scanning and some strung Finch’s Wheatears, a lazy raising of the bins by me focused on a red and blue thing sat on the grass at around 100m range. ROCK THRUSH! This, again, was a main target species and one we thought we might struggle with. Fantastic, what a bird!
No annotation needed!
We spent the next 2 hours working this area which was
only about 1km long by 200m wide but it was well worth it, a perfect alpine
setting. Searching revealed 3+ Rock
Thrush, 4 Blue Rock Thrush, 3 Horned Lark (penicillata), 4 Rock Sparrow,
5 Rock Nuthatch, and tons of BE and
Northern Wheatear, Black Reds, Water Pipits etc.
Wet Blue Rock Thrush
Horned Lark, there were much better ones than this but they were not very photogenic
Next step was to push on up the mountain road in an
attempt to find Red-fronted Serin and Snowcock. To cut a long story short, we thrashed
a good few miles up this un-drivable track, but eventually had to admit defeat
and head back down the mountain. A few Hoopoes, Rock Bunting
and other bits and pieces were our only reward, but I bet NO ONE had ever been
up here looking for birds…who knows….
We headed back down the mountain and had to stop in Egirdir to fill up the car (again!). After purchasing some biscuits I happened to poke my head over the wall at the end of the forecourt, inadvertently flushing a black and white bird out across the tree belt: Collard Flycatcher! In a completely random patch of crap at the back of a petrol station. We were actually worried that this species would be tricky; we shouldn’t have. A quick look around the surrounding area got us good view of the Fly, a bonus Wood Warbler and a small group of Crag Martins heading out across the lake.
Typical Collard Flycatcher habitat at the back of a petrol station at Egridir
The final act of the day was to check some scrubby habitat in the hills around Egirdir. We picked our spot, about 5 miles west and piled out the car. Thankfully, Mark’s choice of spot was pretty inspired: 3 male Ruppell’s Warblers, 1 Sardinian, a couple of pairs of Cretzschmar’s Buntings and another minty Black-eared Wheatear. The Ruppell’s were absolute bastards however and refused to show properly.
By this point we were feeling the itch to get to a
migration point (turned out to be a blood sucking tick), so we decided that an overnight
drive was in order. Food was grabbed in Egirdir and the Symbol was pointed NW.
This turned out to be a real marathon, roads much worse than expected and by early
morning we were swapping driving every 20 minutes with the intense fatigue…
Thursday 21st April
Eventually we hit Babakale with the intent of birding the coastline directly north of Lesvos. All that stuff on the island must go somewhere right? Most of the day was spent alone the stretch from Babakale and about 5 miles east. Amazingly, the most obvious migrants were Collard Flycatchers! They were simply everywhere, along with a good supporting cast. Great day birding! The haul:Collard Flycatcher – 100+, most were males
Pied Flycatcher – 12, again, mostly males
Spotted Flycatcher – 10
Wood Warbler – 5
Olivaceous Warbler – 8, maybe breeding birds
Chiffchaff – 1!
Ortolan Bunting – 15+ including 6 together in one bush
Golden Oriole – a single male flew across the road in front of the car
Subalpine Warbler – 2 males
Eleonora’s Falcon – one over the road to Babakale
Nightingale – loads
Long-legged Buzzard – one tarting around, seen a few times
Short-toed Eagle – 2 appeared to be in-off the sea at Babakale but might breeding in the area
Marsh Harrier – 1 male
Wryneck – Single bird in the Olive groves
Turtle Dove – 5+
Cretzschmar’s Buntings – 3, one pair and a female breeding
Whinchat – 30+ in the area were presumably migrants
Orphean Warbler – 1 male
Sedge Warbler – a single bird skulking in bushes on the coast!
Tree Pipit – plenty booted out of the fields and going over
Redstart – single
Rock Nuthatch – Pair
Yelkouan Shearwater – loads offshore
Next we drove north up the coast stopping off when
ever we fancied. We had more of the same, plus a couple of Black Storks, whilst the wetland near Geykili held 9 Flamingos, 4 Glossy Ibis, a single Wood Sandpiper, a few Black-headed Wagtails and the odd Spanish Sparrow.
The final birding of the day was near the Kumkale watch point, where we made an attempt to ‘suss’ it out ahead of an early start tomorrow. A single Whiskered Tern on the river was over shadowed (maybe??) by our first Pygmy Cormorant at Pinarbazi, and a ringtail Hen Harrier quartering the fields at dusk.
We then drove to Canakkale, where it took Mark a full hour to find us some digs but he really pulled through with a nice hotel in the center of town for £20 each per night. A proper kebab and a couple of beers later in the student bar and it was time for some sleep due to the mega excitement of the migration watch tomorrow…
Friday 22nd April
Up out of bed early for the 30 minute drive to the
migration point at Kumkale. Really excited. We were not disappointed. Getting
out of the car it was obvious birds were moving through in big numbers. Much
bigger numbers than we were expecting. After setting down on top of the
concrete watch tower, we starting to count…below are the totals for 6.30am – midday.
It was awesome.
Red-footed Falcon – 5: 3 males, 2 females
Montagu’s Harrier – 3 males
Golden Oriole – 5 males
Lesser Kestrel – 2 males
Hen Harrier – 10, all ringtails
Yellow Wagtail – c3,000 per hour!!! Mix of mostly Feldeggs, standard yellow and the odd Blue-headed. Unbelievable sight, just a constant flow of birds heading north
Hoopoe – 1!
Ortolan Bunting – 7
Marsh Harrier – 14
Turtle Dove – 31
Tree Pipit – ‘Hundreds’ per hour going through
Spanish Sparrow – c2,000 per hour moving north with multiple flocks of 50+ per minute at times
Alpine Swift – 1
Sparrowhawk – 23
Buzzard – 10
Kestrel – 21
Hobby – 7
Calandra Lark – 3
Cuckoo – 2
Chiffchaff – 2
Collard Flycatcher – 1
Tawny Pipit – 1
Corn Bunting – a few dozen
Short-toed Lark – 6
The spectacle was brilliant, with thousands of birds
migrating per hour but mostly just 3 species. A pointy blue winged hawk with
dark primaries seen at mega distance would have helped if it had been a bit
In the afternoon we headed south to Yenikoy, picking up more Collard Fly, a female Masked Shrike, Tawny Pipit, another Wood Warbler and some cool tortoise.
The final site of the day was Pinabarzi for better
views as yesterday’s micro Cormorant. This turned out to be a good move with
loads of birds about (although Mark spent 95% of the time asleep in the car).
Highlights included 2 Purple Herons, a flyover Black Stork, 3 Whiskered Terns, a couple of Pygmy Cormorants, 4 Wood Sands, 2 Penduline Tits, a very showy Little Crake, 2 Great Reed Monsters, a couple of Squaccos, and a single Sardinian Warbler. Good stuff. We stayed at the same hotel in Canakkale and feasted on Pizzas and beers in the evening.
Female Red-footed Falcon past the watch point
Little Crake and Micro Cormorant
Saturday 23th AprilAnother early morning at the watch point and even more excitement due to the heavy skor yesterday. Numbers of commoner migrants were obviously lower than previously, but the raptors made up for it… Still can’t believe we didn’t get a Levant... Totals from 6.30am to midday:
Yellow Wagtail – c1,200 per hour, mostly Black-heads
Spanish Sparrow – c1,000 per hour
Tree Pipit – fewer than yesterday but still hundreds per hour moving through
Corn Bunting – much more numerous than yesterday. c150 per hour
Montagu’s Harrier – 9, all males
Sparrowhawk – 40
Kestrel – 33
Hen Harrier – 11, all ringtails
Red-footed Falcon – 10, 5 males
White Wagtail – loads
Marsh Harrier – 26
Common Buzzard – 15
Woodpigeon – 1!
Short-toed Lark – 9
Hoopoe – 1
Sardinian Warbler - 1 male
Skylark – 1
White Stork – 12
Black Stork - 1
Turtle Dove – 17
Bee-eater – 2 heard only
Serin – 2
Ortolan Bunting – 26
Collard Flycatcher – 4
Alpine Swift – 9
Wood Warbler – 4
Golden Oriole – 2 males
Hobby – 7
Pallid Swift – 2
Meadow Pipit – 2
Red-rumped Swallow – 28
Other Hirundines – many hundreds of Swallows and House martins per hour
So another excellent morning with loads of overhead action and plenty of cool Monties / Red-feet etc to get to grips with. Still, we were confused by the lack of certain species, especially Bee-eaters and Rollers amongst others. Those dips aside, we made do with large numbers of Yelkouan Shearwaters, Great Egrets and Med Gulls out over the sea along with the local stuff like Cetti’s Warblers, Nightingales, Serins etc.
In hindsight, we probably should have spent another day up in the NW. The migration spectacle would have been top value for another day and we felt little justice was done to this NW area as a whole. We had to drive past numerous good looking spots around the coastline including one river valley which was the spitting image of Cot in Cornwall and undoubtedly would hold migrants. Both of us agreed that spending a week here doing the vizmig’ing in the mornings and then exploring the coastline would be a great shout for a future mission.But for the time being the lure of the breeding stuff in the SW resulted in a big drive in the afternoon. We wanted to be birding around the Dalyan area by morning, so started heading south a midday. After some harrowing driving situations through Izmir, an aborted free-style attempt at Cinereous Bunting, a few Flamingos and some Alpine Swifts later we threw in the towel at Mugla, about 70km NW of Dalaman. Mark once again found us a nice hotel for 45 TL per night, and we even lucked out on a takeaway Pida bread which was eagerly devoured along with a few beers.
Sunday 24th April
Up bright and early to dispatch the 70km SE to Dalyan.
We spent all day in this general area and racked up a large dose of frustration
due to the very ‘touristy’ nature of the town. Getting to the decent sites
meant being shafted by the boatmen or some impossible networking down some back
roads. I’m sure this would be a great place to stay for a week with the wife
and kids, but for birders trying to hoover up breeding stuff, there are better
areas to try.
We eventually found our way to the beech away from the town and picked out a good looking bit of forest. I didn’t take long for Mark to locate a pair of Kruper’s Nuthach about 200 yards from the car park. We spend quite a bit of time watching these birds feeding, calling, generally tarting around, brilliant!
Male Kruper’s Nuthatch, Dalyan
A smart Rock Nuthatch and some dross woodpeckers were the only other birds
of note in this area, so we were soon heading back towards the town. We quickly
abandoned the idea of getting to the ruins on the other side of the river due
to the fleecing b*****ds who run the boats, so relocated to the other side of
the lake to look for Kingfishers and other bits and pieces.
All afternoon birding between Hamitkoy and Candir was reasonably productive. Highlight, in theory at least, was a split second Rufous Bushchat seen only by me in the back of a hedge before flying across the road and disappearing despite a reasonably intensive 30 minute search. When perched up only its head was in view so although it’s a tick, we’ll need to see another one!
Other goodies recorded during the afternoon along the river and in the woodland on the north side of Koycegiz Golu included 4 Glossy Ibis, 7 Squacco Herons, Penduline Tit, a male Little Bittern, 4 Great Reed Warblers, a smart Little Crake, a single Masked Shrike along with numerous White-winged and Whiskered Terns on the lake itself. Headed back NW to the same hotel in Mugla for the night ahead of another exciting day tomorrow looking for more alpine stuff.
Rock Nuthatch at Dalyan and a Great Reed monster post bath time
Monday 25th April
So, last full day, and we still need to rack up a few key species and get more views of Robins and Bushchats. First stop was a hilly area off the D350 around Caltilar. Although we failed to find any White-throated Robins there were loads of birds in the area. A 1.5 hour search yielded 4+ Ruppell’s Warblers (which were much more showy than the buggers earlier in the week), 3 Orpheans, 2 pairs of Isabelline Wheatear, a couple of Ortolans and 4 Cretzschmar's Bunting, along with the usual Nightingales and Lesser Whitethroats. A good couple of hours birding.
The first obstacle to overcome was the heard of goats, including a particularly spirited individual intent on eating most of our stuff. Despite making a bee-line for my fleece and a pack of Imodium (not sure it knew what it was in for there!) it was beaten back by Mark and eventually reclaimed by the local shepherd, even though it still had most of its body in the boot of the car at the time!
The whole area was crammed with birds. Ruppell’s Warblers, Orpheans, Ortolan and Cretzschmar's Buntings were numerous as were Northern, Black-eared and Isabelline Wheatears. The latter Wheatear was very entertaining giving some brilliant flight displays and making some very odd noises…
While chasing down another Orphean Warbler we flushed a large grey bird out of a small bush which was considerate enough to flutter past the both of us. WHITE-THROATED ROBIN! We spent the next hour sitting quietly in this fantastic place watching the very showy Robin perform superbly. Our robin-stroking was briefly interrupted by the appearance of 5 Red-fronted Serins which showed well on the slopes. A Long-legged Buzzard circling low over the car as we left was the final good bird for this excellent site.
Next up we came across an extensive area of flooded fields just NW of Elmali. This was a very nice surprise and provided some good birding for the next hour or two. Squacco Herons were everywhere, 40+ along with a single Great Egret, 32 Black-winged Stilts, 6 Ruddy Shelduck and a flock of 27 White-winged Black Terns. 4 drake Gargany were also of note.
The final act of the day was some random wandering off the beaten track near Imecik. We had originally hoped to spend a whole day exploring the rocky slopes and mountains in this area but time was against us and we could only manage a few hours. This paid off however with the first bird seen out the car a stonking Finch’s Wheatear! This was without a doubt the most skittish bird I have seen in a long time, it would flush from miles away and ranged over a huge distance. It was fine through the scope though.
3 Little Owls and a group of a dozen Rock Sparrows were the only other birds we could find as the light drew in, and we failed on Snowcocks despite a dedicated effort. The views would probably have been c18 miles distant anyway, if they even existed in this area….
With only the last morning to play with, we decided to
throw caution to the wind and drove east of Anatalya with the hope of picking
up a few more breeding species, specifically Olive-tree Warbler which Mark had
a site for.
Tuesday 26th April
Final effort, first up an attempt at Olive-tree
Warbler at Akseki approximately 50 miles east of Antalya. Either the birds had
not arrived yet, we were too crap, or Marks memory was a bit wayward, but we
dipped. Never mind. A smart pair of Krupers,
2 drake Orphean Warblers, a pair of Syrian Woodpeckers and yet more Wood Warblers and Collard Flycatchers were some reward.
A 20 minute drive north followed to another site which only existed in Marks distant memory. The wooded areas near Cevizili were a fine choice though. Krupers Nuthatch’s were calling everywhere, we had at least 4 pairs in a 45 minute search along with a few Rock Nuthatches, Black-eared Wheatears, Serins, a single Orphean Warbler, two pair of Eastern Bonelli’s Warblers and, most importantly, a cracking pair of Middle-spotted Woodies which we eventually tracked down to a group of pines near the road.
Payday finally came as we were leaving the village and heading for the airport. A suspicious falcon glimpsed over a field at the side of the road had us doing a u-turn and going to investigate. It turned out to be a stunning male Red-footed Falcon hawking over some cultivated land just north of the main Antalya road. Turned out that this bird was actually part of a flock of 16, 11 males! We left the airport drive for as long as possible but eventually had to leave this brilliant sight and go get the car washed! A great end to the trip.
Ruddy Shelduck (uh, actually that’s not interesting at all)
European White Stork
Western Marsh Harrier
White-winged Black Tern
European Turtle Dove
Eurasian Scops Owl
Middle Spotted Woodpecker
Eurasian Golden Oriole
Eurasian Crag Martin
Greater Short-toed Lark
Great Reed Warbler
Eastern Bonelli's Warbler
Western Rock Nuthatch
Rufous Scrub Robin
Common Rock Thrush
Blue Rock Thrush
Western Rock Bunting
Chukar Partridge, Greylag Goose, Mute Swan, Common Shelduck, Mallard, Garganey (4 drakes on the floods near Elmali), Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Grey Heron, Great Egret, Little Egret, Great Cormorant, Common Kestrel, Common Moorhen, Common Coot, Northern Lapwing, Little Ringed Plover, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Great Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Common Black-headed Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Common Tern, Rock Dove, Woodpigeon (single bird over the Kumkale watch point!), Eurasian Collared Dove, Common Swift, Common Kingfisher, Barn Swallow, Northern House Martin, Eurasian Jay, Common Magpie, Red-billed Chough, Eurasian Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Common Raven, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Woodlark (quite a few breeding pairs in the alpine areas), Eurasian Skylark, Graceful Warbler, White-spectacled Bulbul (mega dross), Cetti's Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Eurasian Reed Warbler, Willow Warbler, Common Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat (VERY Common everywhere), Whitethroat, European Starling, Eurasian Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, European Robin, Common Nightingale, Black Redstart, Common Redstart, Whinchat (loads on migration), Common Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Spotted Flycatcher (single figures seen near Babakale),Pied Flycatcher (small numbers around the NW coastline near Babakale but massively out numbered by Collard Fly), House Sparrow, Dunnock, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Water Pipit (plenty breeding in the mountains near Aksu) , Chaffinch, European Serin (common everywhere), European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Common Linnet, Cirl Bunting, Reed Bunting