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ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

SE Turkey 7.-25.5. 2022 (1 Viewer)


rabid twitcher
Czech Republic
The trip is not yet over, but as we are now sitting on the shore of Kadıncık Barajı waiting for the Brown Fish Owl to come get her some fish, it's a good time to do some reporting.

So far we have recorded 191 species, which is only 2 shy of our best ever WP trip to Georgia and Armenia 3 years ago. It's even more surprising considering that we are now mostly mammalwatchers and thus spend most mornings sleeping, because we stayed up late at night for mammals. It's either because this area is really good, we are getting better or that the trip is simply long.

For this trip we basically had 11 targets and the only thing remaining is the owl.To see 7 of the birds we needed just 2 birding days - birding is somehow really easy here!

We already drove almost 5000 kms, the reason for that will ve soon obvious. The car from Cizgi has a problematic tire that sometimes slowly loses pressure, but other than that it has held up nicely. Sleeping outside has been mostly fine, but we have been twice asked to leave by Jandarma, once in Hatay province and once in Van province, both somewhat problematic areas. When I asked in Van what the danger was, the policeman told me, using google translate (the standard way to talk here) that it's "smuggling and terrorism" which has become the tagline of the trip and I have been saying mostly that ever since. We had also one non-camping problem, surprisingly near Silifke, far from any trouble, when the Jandarma called the rental company because "the car was parked in a deserted place at night". No shit Sherlocks, that's where we go look for the mammals ...
I will only note target species and things I find really cool. Common stuff is common Sightings with pictures will be on my iNaturalist soon, that will give exact location.

We first went to Samandag near Hatay, where Emin Yogurth...something (sorry mate) has been finding a mega after mega, but our visit was mostly uneventful. A random place north along the coast and up into the hills had Ruppell's Warbler. Theb we started the search for Brown Fish Owl around Kadıncık Barajı and the general river valley, not sure about exact spots. An evening walk up and night walk down the valley above the dam brought just some White-throated Kingfishers, and no other searching helped.

The next day we hiked up the mountains above the owl valley to look for Woolly Dormouse in the evening (which we indeed found), the forest on the way up had a lot of Kruper's Nuthatches.
After some mostly mammal adventures (with maybe Sombre Tit of note around Uzuncaburc, where we went for Persian Squirrel), we quickly drove all the way to Demirkazik when we became aware that weather will be good now and bad later. We packed our things and hiked up to the classic snowcock lookout in the evening and camped. We got up at 5 and heard immediately several Caspian Snowcocks (target) but couldn't find any despite having dragged also a spotter scope and a tripod in my backpack. Maybe I saw briefly two on flight. Then we slept until 9:30, at which point one was still calling and this one could be found easily as it was against the sky. Waking up early is overrated. The were also  Snowfinches, Alpine Accentor, Horned Larks, Alpine Chough, Red-billed Chough, and i think Finsch's Wheatear, but I'd like to double check later from photos. Directly at the snowcock site, there were Asia Minor Sousliks and we could see Bezoar Ibex in the scope.The gorge had Blue Rock Thrush and Western Rock Nuthatch.

I should have noted earlier that this is all from memory, without much thought, so some species are surely forgotten.
We visited Sultan Marshes somewhat randomly, mainly because we were nearby in the morning and saw the landscape and immediately decided to check it in the evening for mammals, so we had a day to kill (which was an excellent idea as the evening brought Marbled Polecat, Tristram's Jird and William's Jerboa). We completely avoided the "tourist entrance" (we have never been there at all) and instead drove some tracks that skirt the area. Some channels had water with plenty of egrets and herons of all sorts and similar birds - nothing groundbreaking, but a lot of birds, a lot of species - and also European Pond Turtles, a species we looked so much for in Poland to no avail, here in plain sight next to a village. But the main highlight was when we found Turkestan Short-toed Larks in the sparse grasslands - this species we were somewhat hesitant to target around Birecik, as also the "original" Mediterranean species occirs there and we were not sure how to separate them reliably - but here, there was no confusion. Also the song sounded good.

We had again a lot of driving as we wanted to meet a group of birder friends at Durnalik the next day. There the weather was not great, but the rain stopped as we arrived - and as we were driving a track towards the aforementioned friends, we found, on the track, our main target for the area - Cinereous Bunting. There were also White-throated Robins - at that point a pretty cool bird, but later we saw almost too many of them! And Eastern Rock Nuthatch and Cretzschmar's Bu tings.

The search for Kurdish Wheatear near Isikli was cut short by a hailstorm and we continued on to Birecik, settling for two nights into a hotel for easier logistics (as our friends were not gonna camp). Interestingly, Birecik seemed completely fine despite being as close to Syria as we wanted to go, but there was a slight issue - most hotels were closer, only one was found to be open, but that sufficed.
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The next day, we painfully switched from mammalwatchers to birders and got up at 5 as we had a lot to do on Birecik.First we wentstraight to the vadi behind the Ibis center. There the early start proved essential as we found a See-see Partridge calling high on a pile of stones above the vadi pretty deep in - at that point our friends were just starting and the partridge did not wait for them - leading to them spending the better part of two days looking for this species.

Our benefit from their lateness was even increased because as we met them on our way down, they alerted us to the presence of Yellow-throated Sparrows close to the start of the vadi, which we would otherwise have overlooked. A recent eBird record then motivated us to drive to Yeniakpinar where we got a Pale Rockfinch within a minute of our arrival to the site a kilometer past the village - unaware that in two days there will be one calling directly above our tent. We then spent most of the midday in the marshes/gravel-pits on the western bank upriver of the city looking for Iraq Babblers. Hearing them was easy, but it took us hours to find one that was not deep in the reeds, but on solid ground, so the song could be followed. A group of four more was nearby. Finally, we needed to see the Little Swifts. We sat down on the eastern bank just on the northern edge of town - I was optimistically just looking around, thinking that all-sky view is better, but my wife's strategy of looking through binoculars directly around the cliffs early was much better - the swifts kept far and high and I wouldn't have found them my way.

Five for five in one day, what a day! I think this was also my last day in life to get 5 WP ticks on a day, my list is just too fat now. Additionally, we saw more interesting birds: a flock of Rosy starlings flew above the car or the road to Akpinar, Black Francolin called and then showed in the gravel pits and there was a Desert Finch in a nearby orchard. Finally, we visited the park south of town center, where many Pallid Scops Owls are reported on eBird and found there to be even information signs about the owls. The locals were adamant that owls are seen only at night, but we searched the trees anyway, to no avail. Then we reunited with our friends and they found two roosting owls pretty quickly. In the evening, a night drive around brought some Long-eared Hedgehogs.
Next day we went looking for Sand Gazelles on the steppes around Kizilkuyu, near Urfa. That has proven problematic due to the large amount of released gazelles from the breeding center, but we found many, many Pale Rockfinches, some Black-bellied Sandgrouse and some more See-see Paetridge, including a pair inside the gazelle breeding enclosure. During observation of one Partridge my wife is retrospectively quite sure she saw ... a Red-wattled Lapwing. Sadly, she was unaware of that species being possibility here at that point and did not pay enough attention to it, so we did not follow the bird and I haven't seen it. This is now a really common vagrant in the region and shame on us that we didn't know it ... The area is brilliant overall, but we were later told it's "prohibited" by being a "national park", and told to leave. Whatever .... Our wild campsite north of Halfeti had a Pale Rockfinch singing in the morning, not bad either.

On Mt. Nemrut, we really wanted to get Kurdish Wheatear - and we eventually did, but only a few-second glimpse (but a good photo). We looked for it with our friends, as we reunited with them once again, but couldn't find it. Then we split to cover a larger area, they found one close to the "heads", called us, but the bird didn't wait - we waited a long time for it, but it only came back for a few moments. The mountain, while lacking the alpine setting of Demirkazik, also had Snowfinches and Horned Larks and on the drive down, we saw a Cinereous Bunting. White-throated Robins were abundant in the lower altitudes.
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At this point, the last regular bird in Turkey that we were missing, besides the eternal Fish Owl, was Mongolian Finch. We knew about it but were generally convinced that the sites are too far and that we won't go there. Then two sightings happened on eBird and we said what the hell and turned east. It took us some 7 hours of driving to get from Nemrut to the SE corner of the Van lake - that's not yet the finch site, but a Red-wattled Lapwing was reported there and I wanted to see it, without success (but the delta there is reasonably nice). We then drove to Hosab (Guzelsu) and found a nice camping place near a very deserted back road.

In the morning, we went to the more western site reported on eBird, above the main road at the upper end of a big reservoir, west from Hosab. We found Gray-necked Buntings there and some pinkish finches who flew away too fast. After a long and grueling search, we found those to br Crimson-winged Finches and saw them building a nest. On the second side, directly north of Hosab on a gravel road, we were luckier - a distant call brought us a bit uphill and there was a mini-flock of four Mongolian Finches, interestingly accompanied by two Crimson-winged!
We have already been to the Van lake in 2007 - we "climbed" Suphan Dagi, the closest 4000+ peak to Europe which you can just walk up to and our first 4000er. I was still taken aback by the sheer beauty of the landscape - and further east at Hosab, it's even more stunning, so we just drove around and enjoyed it. We also noticed the Transcaucasian Mole-vole colony upon which we accidentally set up out camp at night and we managed to see one animal. In the evening, we mammalwatched north of Hosab, then set camp there, but were evicted by polic because of the absurd smuggling and terrorism thing. They told us to go "to the center of Van" - which, at 2 am, is surely far more dangerous than our deserted spot, so we just simply drove to the Mole-vole camp spot and stayed there without further hassle.

Next day, we visited Ercek lake, which had White-headed Ducks and huge numbers and variety of birds altogether, including passage Red-necked Phalaropes. Then the long drive back west commenced, with some not very successful mammal stops and an extremely successful herping stop near Malatya where we very easily found the super-range-restricted barani species of spotted newt. And now we are here again, still waiting for the owl.
Now I am looking through the bird list and seeing what I should have mentioned:

  • Fire-fronted Serins at Demirkazik
  • Pied Kingfisher at Birecik Babbler site
  • Delicate Prinia at Birecik and numerous at Samandag
  • Upcher's Warbler at Isikli
  • Masked Shrike near the owl dam a few hours ago
  • Dead Sea Sparrows, many, at Birecik Babbler site
  • Moustached Warbler at Sultan Marshes
  • Great Snipe - a real surprise to me at the SE corner delta of Van lake
If you are missing Bald Ibis from the list - or worse, if you have ticked one in Birecik, then shame on you - they don't count as wild.
Final tally is 197 species (after adding some wetland birds in Tusla), so best WP trip ever! Our friends who were there only for 10 days and met with us occasionally saw 185, but at least 17 of this aren't on our list so someone who would combine our length of stay and coverage of area (we again drove 5000 kms) with their ability to actually find the birds could aim far above 200. Turkey really is a superb birding destination!
Seems like a good trip. Red-wattled Lapwing isn't a "common vagrant" though, it's a common breeder from Urfa eastwards. Also breeding Bar-tailed and Greater Hoopoe Larks were found last weekend, not sure if you'd heard of those.
For the snowcocks we walked from the village, even though it would probably be possible to drive a bit up even on a normal car. Our friends got themselves driven up in a jeep which, in my humble opinion, is pretty dumb service and should be forbidden in a national park, which this area supposedly is.

The Lapwings BREED? How did we miss that? It's not in Collins! :) The new influx of the desert species is indeed interesting, but we have seen endless hordes of those before elsewhere.
Hi Jan,
I am interested in mammals even more - Marbled Polecat is a nice find! And, of course, any problems which you might have encountered in Turkey. Do you plan to write a report to mammalwatching.com?
The report is already in progress, should be done in a few days, even though I still have some ID issues. It's probably the most interesting mammal trip we ever did, considering how few reports from Turkey are available so far.
The report is already in progress, should be done in a few days, even though I still have some ID issues. It's probably the most interesting mammal trip we ever did, considering how few reports from Turkey are available so far.
I'm heading there next week. Was there much snow still on the Aludaglar Mountains? I'm thinking of going higher than the traditional snowcock site. Also, did you get Radde's Accentor?
Snow cover started about 2500 asl. We haven't found Radde's, but didn't look for it terribly much. Our friends got it.
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