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TURKISH DELIGHT Short break to South-eastern Turkey via Cyprus - 7th to 11th May 2014 (1 Viewer)

wolfbirder

Well-known member
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Easier version to read with species seen highlighted. Should have done that with the original...............otherwise very little different to original version, though I have tidied it up a bit in a few areas. But not worth re-reading!

I finally undertook a previously postponed trip to the birding mecca that is South-eastern Turkey, to enjoy the magnificent ornithological offerings of the Birecik area. I can allay any fears that birders like me travelling independently may shoulder. Of course there is slight risk anywhere in the world, but as a single western european travelling in an area of Turkey not frequented by many westerners, I certainly came across no hostility, sometimes a handshake and sometimes staring curiosity. But you feel that the residents of Birecik have become accustomed to those crazy westerners chasing birds over many years now.

The reality of life for most Turks is that they 'exist' on a day-to-day basis, selling goods and working the land so that they can provide a meal on their plate that very same day. They do not care what we are doing. Simply observing their daily activity made me realise just how detached most of us are from hardship. No benefits handed out here!

I am afraid I have no photos at all to attach, which is a real shame because the scenery and experience was something else, but I hope the read proves quite enjoyable and supplies useful information to future visitors. There are now so many reports from Turkey on sites like Cloudbirders, Birdtours, Surfbirds, and of course on this great forum too, but most spend far longer and hence see all the specialities that this wonderful but easterly point of the Western Palearctic has to offer.

The weather was unusually pleasant for May. Birecik is in a bit of a bowl and is thus often 'stiflingly' hot. But I found it comfortable at around 22-25C. More importantly, 90% of my birding was either done from the air-conditioned car, or within 30 metres of it. So birding to be frank, was bloody easy and comfortable - just how I like it!

LOGISTICS AND COST

Most birders spend a longer period in Turkey, and understandably so. They want to clean up. But I have 'done' South-western Turkey, and seen Brown Fish Owls plus much more, so I was happy to concentrate on Birecik and one or two spots within an hour's journey distance. Most birders fly with Turkish Airlines to Gaziantep via Istanbul. I flew a most unusual route initially thinking it would be easy. I flew Ryan Air from Manchester to Paphos in Southern Cyprus, then drove in my hire car 120 kms to a 'rain-drenched' Oroklini (near Larnaca) where Ercan Taxi Service picked me up at a pre-arranged pick up location- a local hotel (you can't officially take Southern Cyprus hire cars across the border), and then transported me across the Cypriot border to Ercan Airport, where a dirt-cheap Pegasus Airlines flight (booked online via www.flypgs.com) took an hour to reach Gaziantep. There I had pre-booked my second hire car of the trip from Hertz, and they provided me with a brand new VW Golf TDI. I don't usually use Hertz due to the huge excess fee, but I had purchased a seperate annual excess policy for £30, so was more relaxed. Also with the language barrier in mind, I wanted to use a reputable and reliable company who would have a clearly-marked desk at the airport. That worked out as well as could be expected, and from the airport, I drove to Dedeman Hotel & Conference Centre on the outskirts of Gaziantep (booked via Expedia) because it was easy to find and close the to motorway system.

So a break down of cost:

Manchester Car parking £35
Ryan Air return flights Manchester to Paphos, Cyprus £130
Pegasus (PGS) return flights Ercan (North Cyprus) to Gaziantep (SE Turkey) £55
Hotel Paphos (4 nights even though only needed 2) £122
Hotel Gaziantep 2 nights £110
Taxi transfer each way between Southern Cyprus (Larnaca) to Ercan Airport (Northern Cyprus) £55 each way
Car Hire Cyprus 4 days £109
Car Hire Turkey 2 days £55
Food £50
Petrol £60
Turkey entry Visa at Gaziantep Airport 10 euros (about £8)

TOTAL COST £850

More than I had initially hoped! I really should have flown to Larnaca, or better still considered using Pegasus who fly directly from London to Ercan (Northern Cyprus) I believe, as do Onur Air. I would have avoided the taxi fare and avoided long distance driving in Cyprus at either end of the trip. Upon reflection I travelled most uneconomically! I reckon I could do it all again for around £650 and saved considerable time by flying to Northern Cyprus and then onto Gaziantep from there, or the traditionally-used Turkish Airlines route from London or Manchester to Gaziantep via Istanbul. If you wanted to combine the "snowcocks" in the mountains at Demirkazik you would fly to Adana via Istanbul, Adana being a couple of hundred miles east of Gaziantep (and also served by the O-52).

DRIVING IN TURKEY AND GETTING TO MY HOTEL

Obviously good road maps are useful, but I simply printed off a few google maps of key areas such as Gaziantep (for Durnalik & Isikli), Birecik, and Sanliurfa (for Estagfirullah) for my short trip. Advance study clearly helps so you have a fixed notion of where places are, and which main roads serve them (O-52 toll motorway and D400 main road).

After driving out of the 'quiet' Gaziantep Airport, I initially followed the directions for Gaziantep, but then quickly turned off onto the 'sign-posted' O-54 (for Adana I think) which is a dual carriageway that loops around the western side of Gaziantep for about 30kms (or 20 miles). You must take this road or you will end heading straight into the metropolitan sprawl of Gaziantep. Where the O-54 terminated I turned left onto the D400 (again in the direction off "Adana", & not in the direction of Gaziantep) and after 5kms came to the 'towering' Dedeman Hotel & Conference Centre set just past a large traffic island, though I had to turn back across the dual carriageway at the first opportunity as it was set on the other side. My 11th floor room was quite luxurious, complete with mini-bar and widescreen TV. "Efes" beer is nice, I can tell you, especially after a hot days birding or a long days travelling. Room service delivers meals, or you can use the restaurant of course.

This hotel (as opposed to its sister Dedeman Park Hotel in central Gaziantep) is ideally situated, being just 4kms from DURNALIK, and about the same distance again from the connecting O-52 Toll motorway.

THE O-52 TOLL MOTORWAY, AND EXPLANATION OF THE HGS TOLL SYSTEM

You can skip this section unless you need the information. I admit to being concerned about this prior to my trip as I thought being unable to use it would potentially have compromised the amount of time I had for birding. I did not fancy driving the D400 to my birding destinations, it would have taken far longer.

The O-52 toll motorway runs westward towards Adana, and eastward towards Sanliurfa running past Birecik (around 40 miles away) and then terminating near Sanliurfa (around 100 miles away), where a Blue-Cheeked Bee-eater colony can easily be found north of Sanliurfa. Using the O-52 made travelling around easy and relatively fast, and this was crucial as juggarnauts clogged up the main 'A-type' roads connecting towns, such as the D400 which runs parallel to the O-52, a few miles apart. I would say that the O-52 is similar to and slightly quieter than the M6 Toll motorway around Birmingham, and is excellent for travelling distances in short times, but of course be aware of speed radar and traffic police (though I saw none of the latter).

Most or all access points onto the O-52 have clearly signed 'HGS' and 'KGS' access lanes (the latter is apparentlly being phased out) onto the toll motorway (but there are no barriers), as well as a toll office set to the side (you may have to cross the lanes to the office booth) where "HGS" permit stickers can be purchased (can also purchase them at some petrol stations and post offices). I was really pleased that Hertz had already done this in advance. A small yellow "HGS" sticker was on the front windscreen of my car just behind (or in front of, depending how you perceive this) my rear view mirror. As you approach the toll access lane you simply choose one of the 'signposted' HGS lanes and drive through at about 30mph without stopping and the radar beam simply scans the sticker and the green light flashes. A large screen also tells you how much credit you have left. Easy.

Not so easy if your hire car does not have one. You need to go to one of the toll offices with the car's black log book (they need to see registration details and what class of vehicle your vehicle is etc) and show the writing "Benbir HGS etiket almak istiyorum" which means "I would like to get an HGS sticker". The other half of the permit is stuck in your log book apparently. But this only ever needs doing once and then hypothetically it would only ever need topping up at one of the toll booth offices when you run out of credit. The minimum you can pay is about 30 Turkish lira, which would be fine for a few days. I think it is 4 Turkish lira each time you access or exit the toll system, but I may be wrong. I did so 8 times over the two days. So once the HGS sticker is applied and you are 'in the system', you can top up if neccessary at one of the access point toll offices.

What happens if you do not get a sticker? There are no barriers so you do not have to purchase one to actually use the toll motorway. You can just drive through, with alarms going off and red lights flashing. No police will chase after you. Also, if you slightly belatedly purchase one, after already having had flashing warnings that is ok, as the next time you enter or exit via an HGS lane it simply deducts the amount you have already accrued. But if you don't purchase one at all, the fees and any fine incurred (about £100) are passed on to the car hire company, who presumably then charge your credit card. I guess this must happen frequently. If the accrued fee is not paid in 7 days, the fine kicks in. So if your hire car company do not provide an HGS sticker, and if you do not buy one, at least contact the hire company and ask them to pay it promptly before the fine kicks in. Hertz at Gaziantep now provide the stickers based on my experience. I expect most reputable car hire firms around Gaziantep 'now' equip all their cars with HGS stickers as it is in their interest to do so, because the language barrier is considerable for English-speaking visitors who may make up a good proportion of car hire customers.

See this report from 2013 to see an image of these HGS stickers (though he noted that Hertz did not supply a permit then, but at Gaziantep they did for me, although this perhaps is because it is close to the O-52?) :-

http://www.cloudbirders.com/tripreport/repository/FROST_Turkey_05_2013.pdf

Indeed there are many excellent reports on Cloudbirders, with Turkey reports being in the Asia section (not Europe).

THE BIRDING

After my arrival at my Gaziantep hotel at 5pm on 8th May, I made my first short journey of just four miles along the D400, and turned left at the single, 'weary' signpost for DURNALIK, which was about half a mile after the village of YESILCE on the D400. There once stood a lime kiln directly opposite this turning, but this landmark has been demolished. The road you take initially runs through orchards, and then winds uphill gradually for about one to two miles at most. Half way up a left turn can be taken for Durnalik village, but due to 'local brats' others have experienced here you should drive straight on, continuing upward (there is no reason to want to drive into the village anyway). The orchards at the bottom of the road by the D400 contained good birds including a few Black-Headed Buntings, male Golden Oriole, Yellow-Vented (White-eyed) Bulbul, Sombre Tit, and on the way back down a 'superb' Eastern Rock Nuthatch by the last farm building right by the D400 road. If you had time you could park up carefully and walk through the orchards and undoubtedly connect with far more than I did. You could spend a day here. Lorries 'hurtle' down the road from the quarry at the top, so care must be taken. Do not block the road if you pull over to watch birds. On the way up I saw Cuckoo, male Blue Rock Thrush, and a fine male White-throated Robin. The roads bends to the right at the top, and immediately after this obvious bend I pulled over and parked at the side, to walk around the boulders and scrub, this probably being the key general birding area at Durnalik. There are also a couple of driveable, minor tracks by the bend that can be taken to investigate too, with the left hand one on the bend apparently leading to Isikli. Amongst the boulders and scrub here I enjoyed views of 2 more Eastern Rock Nuthatch, male Cinereous Bunting of the eastern race, 2 pale-throated male Black-eared Wheatears, Lesser Whitethroat, and a perched Upcher's Warbler. The latter bird, along with the Nuthatch and Bunting meant that I had seen 3 "lifers" in just an hour here. I did not look for Kurdish Wheatear (also referred to by many as Red-tailed Wheatear) as I had 'lucked' in with an over-wintering male previously in Cyprus. This species can be tough to find here. Pale Rock Sparrow was probably around somewhere but I can't recall even looking for them sadly, in the short times I spent here because my key targets were Eastern Rock Nuthatch, Upcher's Warbler and Cinereous Bunting. I was disappointed not to find any Bimaculated Larks around the orchards and stoney-fields near the highest areas. But I only spent an hour at Durnalik and it probably requires quite a bit longer to see everything here. It had been a long day travelling before and after my arrival at Gaziantep Airport, so feeling weary and with dusk encroaching on my birding, I returned to the hotel for a meal in the restaurant and a beer or two!

I managed a few hours sleep, but my mind and body was pumped with anticipation and adrenalin for my "big" day coming up - the 9th. By 5am I was on the road, quickly adjoining the Toll O-52 Motorway and heading eastward, passing Birecik away to my right and carrying on towards Sanliurfa, where the Toll motorway terminates. I easily joined the main D885 in the direction of "Diyarkabir" (as opposed towards Sanliurfa), passing Golgen Airport after 20kms and then just a few kms later taking a left turn off the highway onto the D390 for "Bozova", heading north-westward. There is only one sign for the D390 Bozova so it is easy to miss (if you hit the town of "Hilvan" you have missed it!).

The D390 passes through good birding countryside, with Larks (mainly Crested), Rollers, Lesser & Red-backed Shrikes on wires and then a pair of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters! This latter species was my number one target bird and another lifer. They posed nicely on wires before being 'flushed' by a car that overtook me. After several kms the hamlet (for the several houses hardly constitute a village) of ESTAGFIRULLAH appears on your right. This hamlet, and the route I took can easily be seen by studying Googlemaps. The conical "Bee-eater" breeding mound at the hamlet is obvious. Just to confirm you have arrived at location, a small leaning "Estagfirullah" sign borrowed from some spaghetti western film, points along the dirt track towards the hamlet, and just before the houses, a track can be driven to the right to put you within 30 metres of the mound. The local farmer waved to me in a welcoming, friendly manner, and then carried on tending his sheep and ploughing his field. I quickly realised that the Bee-eaters had returned quite early this year, and I was mightily relieved. This date last year, respective birders visiting here reported 2, 5 and 0 Blue-cheeks, but today I counted a minimum of 35 Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and around 20 European Bee-eaters. I spent forty-five minutes watching these beautiful and colourful birds from my car so as not to cause disturbance, with Swallows flitting all around and a pair of Spotted Flycatchers nearby. Comparison of the Bee-eater species was possible as they flew around and sat on the sandy slopes of the mound, and whilst there is little doubt that the species{\rtf1\ansi\ansicpg1252
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} we are most used to seeing in Western Europe is the most contrasty and eye-catching with its beautiful rainbow colours, the 'Blue-cheeked' possesses the prettiest face in the western palearctic, in my opinion. I was certainly wooed and extremely happy with the views. I dragged myself away, flushing a huge Calandra Lark as I left, checking the underwing for a 'hoped for' Bimaculated. I headed southward about ten miles back towards the D885 close to Sanliurfa, having completed a triangular route to and from Estagfirullah. Another Blue-cheeked Bee-eater was on overhead wires and offered the closest views yet, just south of Estagfirullah. There were more shrikes and a 'lilith' Little Owl perched by the road side, before I rejoined the D885 and back got onto the O-52 Toll road, where I headed for Birecik about forty-five minutes away. It would have been nice to spend more time birding the lush steppes and farmland the area around Estagfirullah offered.

It was certainly hotter when I arrived at a 'sunnier' BIRECIK at about 10.30am. I quickly crossed the D400 Euphrates River Bridge, noted Hotel Merkelam to my right just after it, and then took the first right turn which I knew led to BIRECIK NORTH PITS. This was my first port of call of several around the town. The potholed road led past a huge graveyard to the left (meant to be good for sparrows), past a gravel extraction plant, and 'between' buildings that were a cross between Livestock sheds and houses - it certainly appeared that cattle and humans inhabited them! I drove on, past slurry pits and impoverished gypsies living in tents, with their children sitting arond the edge of the slurry pits. The smell of poverty was evident, but it was perfectly safe and I used this route several times during the day (and the following one). The extensive reedlined series of pits lay ahead, and I first checked out the obvious and noted "Iraq Babbler" hotspot where old and new telegraph wires cross. Unfortunately I saw no Iraq Babblers here at all. The track left or right can be taken here, infact both were productive, and you can simply meander around, infrequently stopping and turning your engine off to see if anything emerges. You can infact drive a mile or two further out alongside the sprawling reedbed, something I belatedly regretted not doing, although nearly all reports seem to concentrate on the obvious area within a few hundred metres of the "cross telegraph wires". Birding was certainly good over a few hours here, and I connected with 2 Menetries Warblers, 3 'striking' Pied Kingfishers, and 4 Dead Sea Sparrows which are surely the most attractive sparrow-species in existence with their yellow, grey, black and white heads and chestnut wing patches. 7 Bald Ibis were also feeding by the pre-mentioned slurry mounds, which meant that I enjoyed seeing four "lifers" here, and to compliment these 4 enigmatic bird species, I also saw at least 30 Pygmy Cormorants, 3 Little Bitterns, 7 Graceful Prinias, 2 Yellow-vented Bulbuls, 3 Squacco Herons, a few Great Reed and Caspian Reed Warblers, 2 or 3 Bee-eaters, Rollers and Hoopoe's several Little and Cattle Egrets, hundreds of Swallows and Sand Martins, also House Martins and Swifts, and the ubiquitious House Sparrow's, Crested Larks, and Collared Doves. Raptor-wise I only saw a single Marsh Harrier and a couple of Kestrels, which was slightly disappointing.

After a couple of hours, I drove back across the Euphrates River Bridge and took the first right hand turn which bent downhill back under the bridge, and then you need to get into the left hand lane to turn left back along the edge of the Euphrates in a southerly direction. It may sound complicated but it is'nt. This road heads between a number of tea gardens, and it is easy to park along the wide road wherever you want. The infamous and signposted "GULHANE TEA GARDENS" are on your left, and they are used to birders coming in for "chay" (tea) and asking for "Baykuus" (owl). Of course they make a killing off it, you pay to be shown the favoured trees, even if for like me, the bird(s) wasn't there. I always knew that by not staying in Birecik at night, I risked 'dipping' on Striated Scop's Owl, but I hoped the birds would be easier and that other birders would be searching. Wrong on both counts unfortunately and despite searching I must be one of those approximate 5% to 10% of birders who fail to connect with this enigmatic little owl.

I drove on towards BIRECIK SOUTH PITS, which are accessed by simply following the main road alongside the Euphrates after the tea gardens, even where it turns inland briefly. Keeping as close to the Euphrates as you can, a 'rougher' track passes through shaded orchards that produced 2 'wonderful' and very 'showy' Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin's, and a few Eastern Olivaceous Warblers & Great Tits, before emerging out into the open and then up onto an raised and elevated track that overlooks BIRECIK SOUTH PITS. I enjoyed good looks at a Laughing Dove by the track, and streams of Pygmy Cormorants flew to and fro. Several waders were feeding including 2 Black-winged Stilts, 2 Ruff, and 2 Wood Sandpipers. 'Noisy' Little Grebes and Coot were present and a 'drake' Red-Crested Pochard looked impressive in the 'gleaming' afternoon sunshine. 4 of these handsome ducks were present on my subsequent visit here the following day. But on this occasion I could not locate any Iraq Babbler's here frustratingly, so I drove back past the tea gardens and under the Euphrates bridge, past the 'bustling' and 'hectic' markets following signs for 'Halfeti'.

The road then passes by steep cliffs & the Bald Ibis centre on one side, and the Euphrates on the other. I did not stop at the Bald Ibis centre, as I did not have time nor fancy looking at caged birds, and the wadi would probably have been unlikely to have produced See-see Partridge at that time of day. I drove on to the first petrol station and checked out the PISTACHIO ORCHARDS behind, but only found Eastern Olivaceous Warbler amongst the House Sparrows. I paused by the cliffs, close to the Ibis centre however, to chat to a group on a tour, and with them watched a few Little Swifts high above the cliffs, and a juvenile Armenian Gull that passed slowly over the Euphrates.

As I left Birecik on the main D400 to connect with the O-52 for the half hour drive back to Gaziantep, I checked out a turn-off on the eastern edge of town that led across barren country towards a school and a quarry by a wadi, but I only found a Woodchat Shrike, and more House Sparrows feeding around sheep.

On the O-52 I saw an obviously 'sandy' and eye-catching Desert Lark on the roadside, shame I couldn't get better views though.

Back in Gaziantep, I checked out DURNALIK again for an hour before dusk. I ambled around the rocks and scrub again by the top, and enjoyed very good views of a pair of Upcher's Warbler's , plus 3 Linnets, 2 Black-eared Wheatear's, Woodchat and Red-backed Shrike's, Lesser Whitethroat, and Buzzard (possibly Long-legged). I briefly tried to find good birding areas around nearby ISIKLI, but I could not find any productive areas, though I now believe I did not find the recommended spots.

Back in my room I enjoyed a couple of beers and ordered a hot meal via room service, as I watched Sky News and wrote up my log. Although I had dipped on the owl and See-see Partridge, I was thrilled to have enjoyed Blue-cheeked Bee-eater's, Dead Sea Sparrow's, Eastern Rock Nuthatches, Upcher's and Menetries Warbler's, Pied Kingfisher's, Desert Lark, Bald Ibises and Armenian Gull - all lifers! And plenty of other good birds too.

I decided to see how I felt in the morning before deciding on a plan of action for my final day in Turkey, but at 6am on the 10th I predictably decided on a BIRECIK return, before I was due to hand in my car to Hertz at the airport at 3pm later that day. And by 7.45am I was back at BIRECIK NORTH PITS, determined to at least see Iraq Babbler. I see from reports that at least 90% connect, though May is the time of year they are perhaps most difficult due to breeding. 2 Menetries Warbler's showed well, as did Hoopoe, 2 Bee-eater's & 2 Great Reed Warbler's, and I also heard a Black Francolin and a few possible Desert Finches - but I could not find either. I have seen many of the former in Cyprus, but the Desert Finch would have been another lifer. I also saw the only Rook of the trip, a real change from the 'ubiqitous' Hooded Crow's and Magpies. And views of a Cattle Egret trying to devour a huge frog were entertaining, though I am sure the frog did not share those sentiments.

I checked out BIRECIK SOUTH PITS and saw many of the same birds as yesterday, though a flock of 30 white-headed gulls passed overhead, very likely Slender-Billed Gulls. The elevated track provides easy observation and as I scanned the reeds below and along the water's edge I at last saw an Iraq Babbler clinging to a reed, before it flew to the right..........and out of view. This would prove to be the only view I would obtain of this 'sought-after' rare bird, though the profile and silhouette is certainly distinctive even if the colouration is not at one-hundred metres distance. Considering the hours put in at both pits, it was certainly a little disappointing not to have enjoyed better views of this rare species.

I decided to check out the PISTACHIO ORCHARDS along the north-east side of the Euphrates again, past the Bald Ibis centre. Overtaking men and boys standing on horse-drawn carts driving to and from the markets, I checked out the orchards behind the 3rd petrol station past the Bald Ibis centre (I think this petrol station was called "Santgaz" or similar). This orchard was far more productive, with Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Yellow-vented Bulbul, a few Dead Sea Sparrow's with 'weaver-type' nests, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Upcher's Warbler, and a little further along the road the only Syrian Woodpecker of the trip. The orchards extended over quite a large area and it may be most productive early morning. I failed to definitively locate any Yellow-throated Sparrow's, with many passerines seen simply disappearing into the densest parts of the many small trees, never to be seen again. And there were many House Sparrow's. Again, time was not on my side to see a species that most birders locate at Birecik.

But it was indeed time to leave, and as I left the town heading westward along the D400, I glanced back for a final look at the impressive and distinctive cliffs overlooking the Euphrates and the charismatic 'birding mecca' that is the town of Birecik.

I arrived at GAZIANTEP AIRPORT an hour early, so drove a mile or two past it, out into the quiet countryside on the D850 road, and took a right turn off into more PISTACHIO ORCHARDS, where I saw a few Starlings and the first Blackbird of the trip. Within the orchards a few passerines flitted about and I was pleased to see my first Yellow-throated Sparrow (Chestnut-shouldered Petronia) high in a small tree. It moved into the middle of a bush, where a small gap allowed me to study it reasonably well as it moved about and preened. Although very close, it was never in full view except when it initially briefly showed moving high in the tree. This was to be my final "lifer". A Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin however showed extremely well out in the open near the ground, and several other passerines flitted around the orchard but once disturbed stayed out of view frustratingly, again disappearing into the 'densest' tree foilage never to re-emerge. There were no farmers around mid-afternoon who may have queried what I was doing on their land, though I was very close to a quiet public road anyway. As always discretion may be wise in areas where people are not used to seeing birders unless you want to attract their unwanted attention.

My flight back to Northern Cyprus, and transfer back to the hotel in Larnaca where I had left my car went smoothly, and I 'devoured' a Kentucky Fried Chicken meal as I drove back to Paphos for the final night of four away from home. Birding wasn't quite over, as the final day I birded around Paphos until I handed in my car in at 5pm at Paphos Airport. 13 Red-footed Falcon's, Lesser Kestrel and Great Spotted Cuckoo were at Anarita Park, 20 or so Bee-eater's at Acheleia and Lower XP Pools, and 30 Alpine Swifts above Asprokremnos Dam, as well as 3 Red-rumped Swallow's, and a Collared Pratincole at Mandria, but overall I felt migration was slow and probably well past its peak here.

My Ryan Air flight back to Manchester departed at 9pm, so I arrived at 12.30am the next morning, then drove home, feeling pretty shattered at my 2am arrival.

South-eastern Turkey had been superb though - I saw 102 species overall, and would undoubtedly have had more if I had been with other birders (more eyes/ears etc), but I do enjoy being selfish and moving on when I want. I enjoyed seeing "12 lifers", just missing out on Striated Scop's Owl, See-see Partridge, Desert Finch, and Pale Rock Sparrow - the owl being a 'gut-wrenching' dip especially. You never expect to connect with everything, but its always the way you feel 'afterwards', annoyance that you dipped on any remaining goodies. I should have spent more time at the tea gardens looking for the owl and perhaps should have ventured into the Bald Ibis wadi for See-see Partridge. I belatedly also learnt that just north of the 0-52 not far from Birecik, the 'adjacent' hamlets of Akpinar & Yeniakpinar (and their respective surrounds) hold See-see Partridge, Cream-coloured Courser, Bimaculated Lark, Pale Rock Sparrow, Desert Finch etc, although Mustafa at the Ibis centre can direct you to the farmer there (his friend Ahmet) who will take you around the hills on his tractor - at a small but probably well-worthwhile cost!

I cannot vow that I will ever return though I would love to. Maybe if I am on holiday in Northern Cyprus with the family I may do an overnight trip flying from Ercan to Gaziantep, and then stay at the hotel in Birecik. I am in my 50's and found all the travelling in a short period every day hard going. Nevertheless, that is life, and I was desperate to bird in this region and I really did enjoy seeing the Blue-cheeked Bee-eater's, Dead Sea Sparrow's, Eastern Rock Nuthatches, Pied Kingfisher's, Bald Ibises, Upcher's Warbler's, Menetries Warbler's, Cinereous Bunting, Yellow-throated Sparrow, Armenian Gull, Desert Lark, and that solitary Iraq Babbler! Not a bad haul for a pretty mediocre birder!!

SPECIES LIST Lifers in bold

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater - 35 at least at and close to Estagfirullah
Iraq Babbler - just a single bird at Birecik South Pits
Bald Ibis - up to 40 around Birecik
Dead Sea Sparrow - 8 seen around Birecik
Yellow-throated Sparrow (Chestnut-shouldered Petronia) - single bird in orchard near Gaziantep Airport
Eastern Rock Nuthatch - 3 birds at Durnalik
Cinereous Bunting - single bird at Durnalik
Upcher's Warbler - 4 birds at Durnalik
Menetries Warbler - 4 birds at Birecik
Pied Kingfisher - 3 birds at Birecik
Desert Lark - single bird briefly on the O-52 toll motorway
Armenian Gull - single juvenile at Birecik
Slender-billed Gull - flock of 30 over Birecik South pits flying along Euphrates
White-throated Robin - adult at Durnalik
Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin - a pair at Birecik and a single bird by Gaziantep Airport
Black-headed Bunting - up to 10 birds at Durnalik
Scop's Owl - one by Paphos Airport
Little Owl (Lilith) - single bird by Estagfirullah
Great Spotted Cuckoo - 1 near Paphos
Bee-eater - 20 birds at Estagfirullah, 3 at Birecik, 20 plus near Paphos
Roller - 15 around Estagfirullah & Birecik, 2 near Paphos
Lesser Grey Shrike - 10 around Estagfirullah
Red-backed Shrike - 15, especially around Estagfirullah
Woodchat Shrike - 2 - 1 at Birecik, 1 at Durnalik
Sombre Tit - 1 at Durnalik
Little Swift - 2 at Birecik
Laughing Dove - 2 at Birecik
Yellow-vented Bulbul (White-eyed Bulbul) - up to 5, at Birecik and Durnalik
Syrian Woodpecker - 1 near Birecik
Graceful Prinia (Warbler) - 8 at Birecik
Calandra Lark - at least 1 at Estagfirullah
Pygmy Cormorant - at least 200 at Birecik
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler - 3 at Birecik
Lesser Kestrel - 1 near Paphos
Red-footed Falcon - 13 near Paphos
Hoopoe - 3 at Birecik
Blue Rock Thrush - 2 at Durnalik
Golden Oriole - 1 male at Durnalik
Black-eared Wheatear - 4 at Durnalik
Great Reed Warbler - 4 at Birecik
Cuckoo - 1 at Durnalik
Turtle Dove - 4 near Paphos
Collared Pratincole - 1 near Paphos
Alpine Swift - 35 near Paphos
Red-rumped Swallow - 3 near Paphos
Fan-tailed Warbler - 2 near Paphos
Cetti's Warbler - 2 at Birecik
Sardinian Warbler - 8 near Paphos
Spanish Sparrow - 1 near Paphos
Cyprus Pied Wheatear - 1 near Paphos
Chukar - 1 near Paphos
Squacco Heron - 3 at Birecik
Night Heron - 3 at Birecik
Little Bittern - 3 at Birecik
Red-crested Pochard - 5 at Birecik
Garganey - 2 at Oroklini Marsh, Larnaca
Greater Flamingo - 9 at Oroklini Marsh, Larnaca
Black-winged Stilt - 5 at Birecik & Oroklinin Marsh. Larnaca
Wood Sandpiper - 9, mainly near Paphos
Common Sandpiper - 1 at Birecik
Ruff- 2 at Birecik
Cattle Egret - 5 at Birecik
Little Egret - 50, mainly at Birecik
Crested Lark - 300 commonplace
Long-legged Buzzard - 1 at Estagfirullah
Buzzard - 2 at Durnalik
Kestrel - around 20, various locations
Marsh Harrier - 1 at Birecik
Lesser Kestrel - 1 at Anarita Park, Paphos
Red-footed Falcon - 13 at Anarita Park, Paphos
Spotted Flycatcher - 2 at Estagfirullah
Sand Martin - 50 at Birecik
House Martin - 50 at Birecik
Swallow - 400 widespread
Swift - 50 at Birecik
Pallid Swift - 10 at Birecik
Blackcap - 1 at Birecik
Lesser Whitethroat - 4 at Durnalik
Reed Warbler (Caspian) - 8 at Birecik
Linnet - 5 at Durnalik
White Wagtail - 1 at Birecik
Blackbird - 1 by Gaziantep Airport
Starling - 50 Estagfirullah and by Gaziantep Airport
Little Grebe - 20 at Birecik
Moorhen - 10 at Birecik
Coot - 30 at Birecik
Mallard - 10 at Birecik
Shag - 1 'desmerati' near Paphos
Great Tit - 8 at Birecik
Serin - 1 near Paphos
Wood Pigeon - 20 at Birecik
Collared Dove - 300 widespread
Greenfinch - 10 at Durnalik & Birecik
Goldfinch - 10 at Birecik
Rook - 1 at Birecik
Jackdaw - 30 near Paphos
Hooded Crow - 300 widespread
Magpie - 70 fairly widespread
Yellow-legged Gull - 10 near Paphos
Rock Dove - 20 at Birecik
Feral Pigeon - 1000 widespread
House Sparrow - 2000 approx widespread
 
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wolfbirder

Well-known member
Supporter
Images found on the web, but only scenery to help future visitors obtain fixed notions of the key birding sites. Not my images obviously and not claiming such...............

1) An image of the Blue-cheeked Bee-eater mound and the hamlet of Estagfirullah, north of Sanliurfa, as seen from the main D390 road.

When you get to the village/hamlet, a driveable track takes you to a point exactly behind the most right-hand telegraph pole in this image, about 30 -40 metres from the Bee-eaters on the mound itself. There is no real need to get out of the car, ensuring minimal disturbance to the birds.

2) View from near the top looking back into the orchards and down towards Durnalik village, which lies just outside Gaziantep, with the main D400 road barely visible at the bottom. The boulder strewn hillside at the highest point is just behind the point where this photo was taken.

3) Birecik and the famous cliffs. Birecik North Pits are just to the left of the photo, on the near side of the Euphrates.

4) Another shot looking "up" the valley at Durnalik, with the road on the left and the "moonscape" bouldered landscape at the top. The road goes all the way up.

5) Final image of Birecik taken from the eastern side of the Euphrates. The North Pits are just to the right and out of picture on the opposite side of the river. The road bridge will be traversed repeatedly as you go from site to site in Birecik. This image is good as it shows the road layout you will need to familiarise yourself with.

For ALL sites on "this" side of the bridge (Birecik South Pits & adjacent orchards, Bald Ibis wadi, Orchards for YT Sparrow past 3rd petrol station), as you cross and approach this near side, 'immediately' after crossing the bridge, you take a turn to the right (left hand side as we look down at it) (by the obvious miniaret) and the road bends downhill quickly and you turn back under the bridge for all these sites. You then continue straight on (to the right in this image) if you want the cliffs and Bald Ibis wadi and "Yellow-throated Sparrow" orchards past the 3rd petrol station (following signs for Halfeti)............

OR for Gulhane Tea gardens and Birecik South Pits, once under the bridge get in left hand lane quickly and turn left at first opportunity (after about 100 metres only) to double back on the road alongside the river for Gulhane Tea Gardens and then Birecik South Pits, both which lie out of this image to the left of it.

For sites on the "opposite" side of the bridge - in effect Birecik North Pits - just across the bridge on the right hand side of the road is Hotel Merkelem (hard to make out in image), and once across the bridge then take the first right turn after this hotel (which again is hard to see here), but the pitted road runs alongside the obviously 'wooded' cemetary which is evident in the image, and continues out to the North Pits which lie out outside the image to the right of it. It really is very straightforward.

Hope this helps anyone going to this area, especially 'first timers' like me.
 

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ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
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