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Turkey, with a bit of Causacus on the side, 2nd to 23rd May 2011 (1 Viewer)


Bah humbug
Having read of some of the avian delights of the Caucasian region sometime last year here on BF, and a mate saying he intended to visit the region this May, it came about that I booked a cheap flight to the region back in November 2010. As it was, I ended up going alone, rather cleverly*, I thought, having booked my flight to Turkey with one of the budget airlines. The intention then to travel overland to the Caucasus, quite possibly knocking some hundreds of pounds off the standard airline price. Of course I paid for it elsewhere somewhat in terms of damage to the nerve endings in my backside and legs …

*(And I think I thought of the idea independently to others, at least I booked my flights before I really became aware of a recent trip report detailing a similar money-saving ploy).

So, 3 weeks what to do in it? Bird of course! I had visited Turkey before, back in September 1997, but was even more of a dude back then (!), and lots of the good birds had already left for the south, so still had almost all the classic specialities of the region to catch up with. So the plan - spend the first week or so in travelling to, and birding in, Georgia and Armenia, followed by the remaining 2 weeks in Turkey. As usual, I left all the actual planning, once I’d sussed it was basically do-able, to the last minute. I left it too late to get a map of the relevant countries (I had one of Western Turkey already, which was some use), and of course I was up the night before I had to travel, frantically printing out trip reports, packing and attempting to sort my life out. At 5:30am I felt I was doing ok. By 7:30am all was panic, but somehow it came together, and I seemingly left the house safely by about half eight in good time for the girlfriend to walk me down to Falmouth High Street to catch the bus to Luton airport, where I was to spend the night before my flight early the next morning. Got to the top of the hill and thought I’d check the time properly … aaahh, my mobile was still plugged in, charging in the hallway, run back and grab it.

Made it to the bus, and successfully arrived in Istanbul as planned a day or two later ...

Three weeks is of course quite a long time. I hoped that, given that I would be using public transport/hitching, I could compensate for the reduced mobility in not having a hire car and put me on a par with the more conventional method of getting to and within sites, and getting a good species list/potentially cleaning up. Reports have stated that at least 2 weeks are required to do the region any justice at all. As it was, a couple of extra days, or at least better planning on my behalf, would have been of benefit. But I think it went well enough overall. Certainly enjoyed the experience, and at no point (other than the long, arduous journey home itself) wished myself back home. Some great days birding and top birds and other wildlife. Highlights and birds recorded to follow …

(I plan to post a more complete trip report up elsewhere on the net later, with full species lists and other useful information, but for now, and hopefully with photos, this is it … )
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Bah humbug
List of birds seen, in order of occurrence, tending to follow Dutch Birding taxonomy. Lifers in Blue

2/5/11 Istanbul

1. Yellow-legged Gull
2. Kestrel
3. Hooded Crow
4. Jackdaw
5. Feral Pigeon
6. Magpie
7. Great Cormorant
8. Shag
9. Coot
10. Willow Warbler 2
11. Collared Flycatcher m and f
12. Whinchat 6
13. Red-breasted Flycatcher m
14. Pied Flycatcher f
15. House sparrow
16. Ruppell’s Warbler f
17. Blackcap m
18. Laughing Dove
19. Eurasian Starling
20. Wood Warbler 1
21. Alexandrine Parakeet 1
22. Eurasian Robin (only one of the entire trip)
23. Yelkouan Shearwater 100's (Not quite a 'lifer' as seen a couple of contenders in Cornwall - but certainly the first proper and 'confirmed' ... ;) )
.....Dark-mantled Gull sp. (Seen whilst walking around, not seen again when I had my bins to hand)
24. Grey Heron
25. Black-headed Gull

Flight got in just after midday. After sussing out local buses the hard way, ended up in the city by mid-afternoon, at Kadikoy, large minibus terminal/ferry/train station. A few tiny patches of trees and a small concrete enclosed reedbed near the train station gave an excellent start to the trip - 4 flycatchers of 3 species and a couple of other good birds. A 1.75TL (about 70p) return ferry crossing to the European side (if you stay put no-one comes to make you pay for the return crossing) afforded good if brief views of the Shearwaters. A bus to Harem, to get my connection east involved a 2 hour wait, so along the shoreline I went. Yelkouan's passing in large flocks almost continously. c. 700 N in 10 minutes, views would've been excellent if I hadn't left my tripod at the station in my main rucksack.


Bah humbug
3/5/11 Istanbul (Turkey) to Tiblisi (Georgia)

26. Swallow
27. Red-rumped Swallow (1 at a breakfast stop)
28. White Wagtail
29. Chaffinch
30. Purple Heron
31. House Martin
32. Little Egret
..... Pratincole sp., 1 flew over
33. Great White Egret
34. Caspian Tern 2
35. Squacco Heron
36. Raven
37. Steppe Buzzard
38. Levant Sparrowhawk 1
39. Jay
40. Grey Wagtail
(Georgia - )
41. Little Bittern (1 in a roadside ditch as seen from the coach just after the border!)
42. Marsh Harrier f
...... Yellow Wagtail sp.
43. Common Swift
44. Alpine Swift
45. Moorhen
46. Blackbird

A long day and a bit of travel. Most birds seen from the coach. The Levant Sparrowhawk was in far NE Turkey, circling the woods above the road. Shape and dark wingtips noted. Not particuraly satisfactory views to confirm a lifer, but better views of birds in subsequent days. Additionally, many (100+) Harbour Porpoises in the Black Sea at the border point.


Bah humbug
4/5/11 Tiblisi - Kazbegi

47. Common Redstart 4 (never any obvious white-panelled samamiscus)
48. Greenfinch
49. Goldfinch
50. Black Redstart (At least 2 races)
51. Water Pipit 100+
52. Rock Thrush m
53. Northern Wheatear
54. Shore Lark 7
55. Alpine Chough 16
56. Ring Ouzel 3+
57. Griffon Vulture 2
58. Mistle thrush
59. Coal Tit
60. Bullfinch
61. Treecreeper
62. Rock Bunting 5
63. Dunnock
64. Red-fronted Serin 3
65. Mountain Chiffchaff 1 initially
66. Great Spotted Woodpecker
67. Great Tit
68. Caucasian Blackcock 2m 1f
69. Great Rosefinch 11

70. Green Warbler 1 silent bird
71. Quail 1 flushed from meadows
72. Meadow Pipit 2 in woods
73. Long-tailed Tit 2 distinctive 'grey-headed'
74. Linnet
75. Little Ringed Plover

To the mountains! After sleeping overnight above the bus station on a filthy floor, took the dolmus (shared minibus) north towards the main Georgian location near the Russian border. Crammed into the back, very poor views, but did get some birds on the way. Arrived by early afternoon, took a room in the village, and set off up the mountainside. Managed some great birds, albeit not the cracking views I was hoping for in the main. Reached almost as far as the glacier before the weather turned, and I had to turn back too (in my haste I'd left my waterproofs in the room). Major disaster just before the rain set - sat down to scan the opposite mountainside, one of the tripod legs sheared clean off. Had to use a 2-legged tripod for the rest of the trip (Bipod??)
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Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
The Collared Flycatchers in Istanbul immediately caught my attention - birds in pokey little corners of huge cities always feel a bit special to me. Looking forward to hearing more.


Jon Turner

Well-known member
Hey Dan never mind the Caucasus, what's on in Falmouth? I might just be down for a few days next week!

ps sounds like the sort of madcap trip that Jos might do, well done!!!


Bah humbug
Hey Dan never mind the Caucasus, what's on in Falmouth? I might just be down for a few days next week!

Falmouth area certainly is one of the most far-flung corners of the WP. Unfortunately it's got no birds.

But I'll check out Pendennis tomorrow for you anyway ... (And I'm pretty sure Jos would've been a bit more organized, generally speaking ... ;) )
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Bah humbug
The Collared Flycatchers in Istanbul immediately caught my attention - birds in pokey little corners of huge cities always feel a bit special to me. Looking forward to hearing more.

Thanks. Was certainly my flycatcher experience of the decade so far. So thrilled was I that I looked back in on my way out, and saw virtually nothing at the same spot (apart from a Red-backed Shrike, of which I'd seen hunderds at that point), admittedly it was a hot mid-afternoon in late May.
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Bah humbug

76. Wren
77. Dipper
78. Cuckoo
79. Yellow Wagtail (feldegg)
80. Yellow Wagtail (beema)
(Both new subspecies for me I believe)

Went back up the mountain, but with waterproofs this time. Determined to get Glacier on my Western Palearctic Geological Features list. Defeated by deep snow (up to thigh deep on the odd occasion), and the rain in the valley becoming heavy snowfall by the top - everything was whited-out and there may well have been an entire football stadium and aztec city under there for all I knew, let alone a glacier. Turned back, thoroughly soaked (my waterproofs weren't, as I discovered). Enjoyed further views of the Rosefinches - the males really are Giant Purple Strawberries (not Raspberries - the pips are on the outside), the females a smart-suited grey, attractive in their own way. Tried exploring the stream valley, and came across a cool flock of 40 or more Yellow Wagtails just outside my accomodation. Oh, and I could hear Caucasian Snowcock somewhere below me too whilst I was up there, eerie Curlew like calls. No chance of seeing them though ...
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Bah humbug

81. Bearded Vulture 1+ (no Lammergeier, in deference to our European friends ... ;) )
82. Steppe Eagle 1 imm
83. Caucasian Snowcock 4 seen
84. Siskin 2
85. Golden Oriole 6 flew over
.... Rock Dove 8+ (Appeared as such, as opposed to the feral ones already mentioned)

Again failed to make an early start as planned (lack of sleep prior to trip catching up with me) - out by 9am, and realising I'd not read the trip reports properly, went to the east side of the village and the 'grassy knoll' adjacent to the scree slopes. Not long before I heard, and then eventually saw the main target species - cracking birds. Views ok but distant. Male in 'display walk' across a snow slope - really looked like he was going to tip over any moment ... The early raptors were good, feeding on some unfortunate thing (presumably a birder from the previous year?) on the scree slopes. Mid-morning and went back the other way, to below the glacier again, to scan the slopes there for the remaining speciality of the region - Guldenstat's Redstart. Unfortunately it was not to be, the snow was high, presumably the birds were too ...

7/5/11 Kasbegi - Tiblisi

86. Black-headed Bunting 2
87. Bee-eater 8
88. Green Sandpiper 1
89. Wood Sandpiper 1
90. Barred Warbler 1
91. Turtle Dove
92. Common Sandpiper 5+
93. Chough
94. Snow Finch 2
95. Honey Buzzard 1203 ish
96. Wallcreeper 2
97. Twite 72+
98. Sand Martin
99. Golden Eagle

Time was slipping away, so today was going to be a travel day. Did make a better start, and investigated the scrubby area to the south of the villages on the road out for the first time. Should have done so earlier on in my stay - fairly packed with migrants and residents. In addition to the above, 2 Purple Heron, 3+ Red-breasted Flycatchers, and a range of commoner passerines. Hitched south (hadn't drawn out enough money for the minibus anyway), and upon reaching the first tunnel near the pass, disembarked as I had planned - an interesting bird precipitating the event - a smart songflighting Snowfinch! The walk through the tunnels and over the pass really rather productive, with the Wallcreepers performing well at close range by a bridge over the snowy swollen stream. Kettles of 300 and 900 (with 3 singletons) of Honey Buzzard trying to find a way through the cloud banks and northward over the mountains were excellent, with 3 and 15 Levant Sparrowhawks respectively, Marsh Harrier and Golden Eagle too. 300+ Swallows and Shore Lark 24+, Red-fronted Serins etc. Weather really rather bad over the top. Made it to Tibllisi by dark were I stayed in the 10 Lari bus station hotel (dorm) prior to my travel the following day.
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Bah humbug
8/5/11 Tiblisi - (Yerevan) - Armash Fishponds

100. Corn Bunting
101. Crested Lark
102. Cetti’s Warbler
103. Lesser Grey Shrike
104. White Stork 5
105. Paddyfield Warbler 1, further birds singing
106. Great Crested Grebe
107. Gadwall
108. Mallard
109. White-winged Black Tern - thousands
110. Great Reed Warbler
111. Sedge Warbler
112. Bearded Tit
113. Glossy Ibis 22+ over
114. Night Heron
115. Red Crested Pochard
116. Pochard
117. Black-winged Stilt
118. Tufted duck
119. Reed Warbler
120. Black-winged Pratincole 1 over
121. Kingfisher 2
122. Menetries Warbler 10+
123. Rose-coloured Starling 150

Armenia! Caught the 8am bus to Yerevan, the capital city. Nice colony of Bee-eaters at the border crossing, would've loved to take a few pics, but not really a good idea for security reasons. Once there I had the problem of finding the Armash Fishponds. All I knew from a brief call to the girlfriend from the airport was that Armash was southeast of the capital on the A-something. Not that useful without a map. However, some locals did know of Armash, and a ripoff taxi ride, bargain bus ride, and hitching between thunderous downpours (one lift in an ancient car which actually broke down en route) later, and I was at the village of Armash by early evening. Bought some food supplies and set out. Unfortunately the security guard on the barrier over the track (there wasn't a barrier at the side bridge) called me back and indicated I couldn't go in. After much pleading (mostly in sign language) that I had come a very long way etc, the head shaking subtly turned to a nod, and I was in. Don't think I looked like I was going to steal any fish ... but you never know with these tourists.
Anyway, excellent birding, if a little brief, and in terms of birding style a little cramped, as I was closely accompanied most of the time by a hunter employed to shoot the wildfowl ... He indicated the Glossy Ibises were fine, but the Pygmy Cormorants were not ... and tried (unsuccessfully) to shoot a pair of Pochard a short way out. The White-headed Ducks might have a chance ...

The spectacle of WWB Terns was amazing though, hundreds hunting over each large water body, with even more Sand Martins and other birds filling the sky, various herons etc. Menetries Warblers, the Paddyfield perched up and singing away, top stuff, with Rose-coloured Starlings flying into roost before dark.
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Bah humbug
9/5/11 Armash Fishponds - back to Georgia

124. Tree Sparrow
125. Woodchat Shrike
126. Hoopoe
127. Roller 2
128. Little Grebe
129. Pygmy Cormorant
130. Ruff 100+
131. Little Stint 1000's
132. Black-tailed Godwit 100's
133. Shoveler
134. Ringed Plover
135. Avocet
136. Rook
137. Armenian Gull
138. Red-backed Shrike
139. Red Footed Falcon 1m

Camped overnight under an Apricot tree in a nearby orchard, went to sleep to the musical orchestrations of the local Golden Jackals and a possible Nightjar. Then treated to early morning Cuckoos calling loudly nearby. Tree Sparrows nesting in the concrete posts holding up the power lines for the nearby railway line. The guard was shaking his head again, so walked alongside the fishponds, cheery nods to local people in their fields until I found some more interesting looking water bodies further along the way. Unfortunately, as I later found out, the whole area is private - had just found an excellent partially dried out area with hundreds of waders when I was accosted. Allowed to stay briefly, then a change of heart and I was escorted off, through some impressive gates and back to the main road. Mostly politely enough though, the old geezer driving me off shaking hands and a grin full of gold fillings. A furtive looking and heavily pregnant Golden Jackal the mammalian highlight, with a smart Red-footed Falcon on wires shortly before regaining the Georgian capital. Rollers bird of the day - so much bigger than I'd expected them to be for some reason, a multicoloured cross between a crow and a kingfisher, even plover-like in flight.
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Bah humbug
10/5/11 Sarp - Dogubayazit

140. Black Kite 1
141. Spotted Flycatcher
142. Whiskered Tern 1
143. Lapwing
144. Booted Eagle 1 white phase
145. Montagu’s Harrier 1
146. Hobby 6
147. Saker 1
148. Long-legged Buzzard 1

In and out of Armenia in something less than 36 hours, but it was worth it, if just for the experience. And some nice birds ;)

Next - to Turkey. Caught the overnight sleeper train from Tiblisi to Batumi near the Turkish border. Minibus to the border, where I managed to get on a bus to Hopa (which then promptly broke down). Replacement bus and onwards to Trabzon. In discussion with the driver's assistant (in extremely minimal english/turkish of course), I discovered I could have taken the bus directly south to the city of Erzurum. However, as a result of the discussion I was given a map of western Turkey (a little old), which was obviously pretty useful, and a rather nice lifer. The Saker was on a small hummock/rock at the side of the road alongside the railway line. Views good at a maybe a hundred feet and more, but brief of course. Better than that of a distant speck in the scope at any rate - distinctive head colour and pattern and mantle pattern made it interesting and instantly recognisable. First Long-legged Buzzard of the trip nearby, and a high concentration of other good birds in the same area of Steppe - a couple of Roller, 3 Red-footed Falcons and lots of Shrikes. Probably worth the extra £10 or so fare and 5 hours travelling in doing 2 sides of the triangle ... A whole day travelling, but some good birds.
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Bah humbug
(It was at Trabzon that the second disaster of the trip occurred (if you ignore my pen leaking, losing the second, but managing to make my 3rd back-up biro last the remainder of the trip) - my camera managed to fall out of my fleece pocket when I got off the bus at Trabzon. Hopefully I'll be able to retrieve the pics on the memory card at some point, so reduced to using my camera phone from then on. Hopefully will be able to post some pics up soon though). Another disaster narrowly averted was slipping in the shower at my Kazbegi homestay - managed not to crack my head open, instead an impressive black and purple bruise on my upper arm the result. Somewhat of an ironic injury considering I'd been boulder-hopping across streams and traversing dangerous scree slopes and mountainsides all day - the home really is the most dangerous place to be.
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Bah humbug
11/5/11 Eastern Turkey; Isak Pasa - Caldiran Ovasi - Caldiran - Serpemetas

149. Rock Sparrow 5+
150. Ruddy Shelduck 2 on ruins near palace
151. Rock Nuthatch
152. Tawny Pipit
153. Skylark
154. Ortolan Bunting 2 (Many others in song)
155. Isabelline Wheatear
156. Chukar 2
157. Woodlark
158. Mongolian Finch 1
159. Grey-necked Bunting 2

160. Syrian Woodpecker
161. Little Owl 1 (pale bird - subspecies??)
162. Crane 5
163. Common Redshank
164. Citrine Wagtail 1m
165. Pintail 1m
166. Gull-billed Tern 5
167. Slender-billed Gull 3
168. Temminck’s Stint 2
169. Great Snipe 1
170. Masked Shrike 1
171. Short-toed Lark

Stayed in a cheap hotel overnight in Dogubeyazit aka 'Dogbiscuit', or you can even remove the middle syllable if you want to ... a little unfairly perhaps? (but see photo below), making my way to the traditional Mongolian Finch site early morning. Unfortunately only had brief flight views of one bird feeding in the grass with a flock of Twite. Heard Caspian Snowcock somewhere above, Golden Eagle flying around with male and female Levant Sparrowhawk in area too. Hadn't connected with the bunting, thought I'd better look at some of the notes in a trip report again ... 'Song harsher than Ortolan Bunting ...' Hang on that's what I'm hearing now... Shortly after located a singing male on the 45 degree lightly vegetated slopes above. Hitched out by late morning south towards another site for the finch. From the cab of the lorry as we were passing a large area of wet grassland suddenly noticed a couple of Cranes in the distance, then a Black-winged Stilt nearby. Rapidly disembarked at this excellent wetland area, later noticed it was a named site in the 'Birdwatcher's Guide to Turkey' (which I did have, perhaps the Gosney might have been useful too). The Snipe was instantly interesting, dumpy and almost Woodcock like (Common Snipe a rare migrant in the region by May, not breeding in the country), took a while to go through features and confirm I wasn't hallucinating. It even went and spread it's tail feathers for me ... along with the Saker certainly one of the birds of the trip (unexpected bonus features).

Wasted a few hours getting lost in the village of Caldiran (ironically pronounced 'Children') looking for a way out to the lava fields of Serpematas. Didn't do my blisters any good. Encountered the only real negative stone-throwing incident from a group of youths who wanted money to buy cigarettes. Bit of a fall of Spotted Flycatchers in the area.

Made it to the edge of the lava fields by sundown, where I set up camp for the night.


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Bah humbug
12/5/11 Serpemetas - Selale waterfall - Bendimahi marshes

... I awoke with a start in the night to a sound like a heavy piston engine breathing, loudly and with huge effort. What? As my eyes opened, my heart beating quite a bit faster than it should have, I became aware that I was not alone ...

Something, things were looking down at me from the jagged ridge of tortured lava 20 feet away from my head ... A creature appearing something like a cross between a huge dog and a bear was standing silhouetted in the moonlight, the heads and shoulders of 2 more just behind. Rounded ears, large heads, shaggy and strongly built and rather too evil-looking for my liking. Jackals? Hyenas? Feral dogs? .. Or something just a little bit worse? I sat up and the two behind moved back a little. The one in front didn't ... hmmm that's not good I thought. But then they did leave, slinking away into the night, leaving a somewhat uncomfortable silence behind ...

172. Bimaculated Lark
173. Crimson-winged Finch 4
174. Woodpigeon 3
175. Common Whitethroat 1
176. Eastern Black-eared Wheatear 8
177. Crag Martin 1
178. Water Rail (11+ heard, 1 seen)
179. Teal 2
180. Moustached Warbler
181. Chiffchaff (probably overlooked prior to this?)
182. Black-necked Grebe 1
183. Little Crake 1f
184. Reed Bunting 2
185. Savi’s Warbler (heard only)
186. Calandra Lark 2
187. Red-throated Pipit 8+
188. Thrush Nightingale 9

The day dawned eventually, as per normal, and daylight revealed the world was still the tangible one of grass and rock and stuff I was hoping for. Songflighting Bimaculated Larks were excellent, 3 further Mongolian Finches (flyby's again unfortunately), 14+ Snowfinch, showy Crimson-winged Finches (missed this subspecies on a recent trip to Israel) and the slightly bizarre sight of a dozen and more White-winged Black Terns flying over the lava fields. Nice snake in the lava field, and bank of Sand Martins by the river.

Selale looked promising from the description in the book. Added a few new species, including a number of very black-and-white Eastern Black-eared Wheatears (superficial confusion risk with Finsch's of course - interesting as the Collins only mentions worn EBE's as occurring in late summer). My legs were too tired to explore the hillsides above the gorge, and considering Eagle Owls had not featured in any trip reports of recent (the book was now 15 years old), decided to move on to the marshes around Lake Van a little further south. Interestingly, upon showing my bird book to one of the guys giving me a lift to that end, he got all excited and showed me a (admittedly rather poor) photo of an Eagle Owl he had taken on his mobile phone somewhere in the area. Interesting ...

And to Bendimahi ... with new roads in the area I got dropped off about 4km away in the wrong place. Had about half an hours birding before the sun went down, and the same after. Top place though. The crake was performing before the sun had even dropped, with a further couple of interesting small crake sp's well after it had gone down. Highlight however were the unexpected Sprossers (as affectionately known in earlier times). First one flushed from the edge of the lush field, perched up briefly on a reed stem before hiding from view. On my way back to the road they just continued coming out. Mantle colour and spotted underparts still visible in the rapidly fading light. Without a tent, and expecting a heavy dew near so much water I decided to hitch down to Van, some 80km away. Fortunately I got a lift from a Wayne Rooney look-a-like, who even took me to a suitable hotel in the middle of town and spoke to the reception guy - another example of the helpfulness of the turkish people which I frequently came across during my trip.


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Bah humbug
13/5/11 Southern Van Golu - Bendimahi marsh

189. Garden Warbler 3
190. Eastern Olivaceous Warbler 1
191. Eastern Orphean Warbler 1
192. White-headed Duck 5
193. Spur-winged Plover 1
194. Red-necked Phalarope 48
195. Curlew Sandpiper 33+
196. Dunlin 4
197. Ferruginous Duck 2
198. Shelduck 2
199. Lesser Short-toed Lark 4
200. Turnstone 1
201. Garganey 2

Headed south, looking for some of the small wetlands mentioned in 'The Guide'. The first one seemed to have been developed out of existence, the minibus took me past the second without stopping, and a heavy shower was setting in as I reached the 3rd. Managed a few new species, but decided I really ought to go back north as I hadn't fully explored Bendahami the night before. Glad I did - a little bit of wader heaven, 14 species in all, 800+ Little Stint not containing any Broad-billed Sandpipers unfortunately, but Dunlin and Turnstone actually quite 'good species' for the location, and the Red-necked Phalaropes just superb. Better views of the distinctive 'thick-billed' Reed Buntings too. Wish I'd taken a photo, or attempted a guesstimate, but the spectacle of thousands and thousands of Armenian Gulls like so many giant snowflakes in the air and covering the waters of the Bendihami river were it entered the lake was quite something. Headed back to the hotel in Van early, decided to give the crake-watching a miss.


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