South West Turkey, 10th – 24th May 2013.
Based at Dalyan.
After many visits to the west end of the Mediterranean in spring and autumn over the years, this year it was time to take a look at the eastern Mediterranean to pick up a few new species. Black-headed bunting, Cretzschmar’s bunting, Dalmatian pelican, pygmy cormorant and a good few more were on the list of lifers that could come, so with a view to the pelican and cormorant I chose the south-west corner of Turkey as a base and because some of the targets were late migrants I chose mid-late May in preference to my normal spring break of the last few days of April into mid-May.
The strategy certainly worked as far as the late arrivals were concerned, but the downside was that I seemed to miss all but the tail end of migration and some of the birds I thought I might pick up had already gone through.
The trip wasn’t about building a big trip list. I wanted to pick out some specialities and spend time trying to get some reasonable photos of them.
Of the resorts, Dalyan seemed to fit the bill – close to Dalaman airport and not too far away from the Aegean coast in one direction and hill bird territory in the opposite direction in the hills north of Antalya. Proximity to main roads for access to those areas was also a plus factor, but in hindsight I was a little optimistic on the traveling times to my more distant destinations. The hills for instance were only 70 miles away, but speed restrictions, single carriageway roads and the extensive road-works involved in upgrading some of those roads meant that a 70 mile trip was a two hour drive.
Dalyan also seemed to be a good birding prospect in its own right – not over-commercialised, standing in open country next to a river a few km inland from a protected beach it looked just the job. Our accommodation was on the north side of the town in an area where David Gosney stayed as mentioned in his guide to the area. Google Earth showed it to be an open area with separated houses and open ground. The photos were some years out of date and there has been more housing inserted into the open spaces and the masked shrikes and Syrian woodpeckers that Gosney saw in the gardens were sadly displaced, but that didn’t detract too much from the area.
Our literature for the trip consisted of my Collins and Gosney’s guide to Western Turkey. Navigational aids were my Garmin sat-nav with the full European maps (which gives adequate coverage of Turkey) and the Bartholemew South West Turkey Holiday Map at the less than ideal scale of 1:435,000. Larger scale maps just couldn’t be found before the trip.
I also used information from various trip reports and the site descriptions on the Dalyan Birding website.
We arrived late at night on 10th May on a Jet2 flight and Dalaman airport was no trouble at all. A tenner each for visas at the desk next to passport control and we were through.
Our car was pre-booked through dlmcarrental.com and their representative was waiting for us as we came out of the airport with a very clean and tidy Renault Symbol (a Clio with a boot) with just short of 20,000km on the clock. The paperwork was completed in the car-park (my cap lamp came in handy) and the rep drove us as far as his rental office on the main road on the edge of Dalaman town where we dropped him off.
Driving in the dark was interesting, particularly when the sat-nav decided that the back road from Ortaca was the best way to get to Dalyan. This introduced us to the massive potholes that characterise many roads and the need to be constantly ready to move onto the wrong side of the road to avoid them (and also to be ready to encounter a car coming in the opposite direction on the wrong side of the road that is avoiding potholes of its own). High speed on these roads is to be avoided at all costs – even in daylight. We also encountered a motor cycle coming towards us in the dark, its presence only advertised by the small cap lamp on the rider’s head – the only illumination the vehicle carried. Expect the unexpected seems to be the way to go on.
Other interesting observations on driving that I made in the first few days included the fact that if a Turkish vehicle flashes his headlights, there is no ambiguity involved. It’s not an invitation for you to proceed as it often (but not always) would be in the UK. It means ‘Get out of my way, I’m coming through’.
I also learned that small motorcycles can seat up to four in comfort – one driving, two on the pillion and one on the tank, a Vespa scooter can carry three – one driving, one on the pillion and a small child standing on the floor between the driver and the handlebars and that carpets can be transported with ease along main roads, rolled up and slung cross-ways across the tank of a motorcycle.
We arrived at our rented house at just before midnight and a Little Owl calling from a nearby roof was the first bird of the trip.
Day 1. Saturday 11th May. Around Dalyan.
The muezzin’s call to prayer at about 5.20am, broadcast over the town’s loudspeaker system woke us rather earlier than we were expecting, but it’s a rather comforting sound and we drifted back off to sleep for another couple of hours. This was to be the routine for the first few days, but then we got used to it and stopped hearing the call.
I decided to spend the first day locally to see what could be seen and to resist the temptation to head for the hills. Overnight cloud cleared at daybreak.
The DalyanRiver was just a couple of hundred yards away, so at 8am I headed there first while my wife stayed at the house. On the way I picked up Yellow-legged Gull, House Sparrow, House Martin, Collared Dove, Feral Pigeon, Cetti’s Warbler and Swallow. A warbler singing from the top of a bush in one of the remaining open spaces turned out to be an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, the first lifer of the trip. I thought this was a bit of a feather in my cap, seeing it only ten minutes after starting out. Little did I know at the time that I would be seeing dozens of the things in all sorts of habitat, including the wires over our garden, bushes, trees, reed-beds and anywhere else a bird could find space to sit. They were everywhere.
The path north along the river produced White Wagtail, Blackbird and Great Tit.
Turning east between a drainage ditch and a pomegranate orchard there was White Stork, Reed Warbler, Goldfinch, Little Egret, Chaffinch and Red-rumped Swallow, then back to the digs via the riverside again for a group of four juvenile Night Herons in flight and Blue Tit.
We then took the car to explore slightly further afield. The hill beside the sewage works on the northern edge of town was only a few hundred yards, so that was the first stop. Woodchat Shrike on the wires, Nightingale in the undergrowth and a group of Hooded Crows over the top of the hill and a Common Kestrel were the first things we saw, followed by a pair of Rollers that flew off croaking from the cliff.
The road between Dalyan and the beach was a bit of a disappointment. The roadside pools were dry after a dry spring and there were none of the expected terns or water birds, although we did see Fan-tailed Warbler, Crested Lark, Moorhen and Common Swift.
Just before the beach car park we took the track off to the left up through the forest and on the way up there was nothing of note, although when we stopped at the top to scan we saw the second lifer of the trip – a ruffinus Long-legged Buzzard, the first of many we were to see on the trip. Prior to this I’d seen the cirtensis race of Long-legged Buzzard. This was my first ‘real’ one. Of the raptors we saw on the trip, I’d say that long-legged buzzard turned out to be the commonest.
The trip back down the track with the windows open gave us another lifer only a few minutes later – a pair of Kruper’s Nuthatch feeding in the trees next to the road and making a racket while they did so.
After seeing a Hoopoe, as we got back close to the junction with the main road, a flash of black, white and red streaked across the road just in front of the car and stuck itself onto the trunk of a pine tree. Another lifer – Middle Spotted Woodpecker.
Back at Dalyan a late afternoon walk to the river produced one of the local race of Jay and a very confiding Penduline tit building a nest on a low branch overhanging a jetty right next to the footpath.
Day 2. Sunday 12th May. Lake Koycegiz and Kaunos.
The day started fine and sunny and we set out in the car for Lake Koycegiz, the southern end of which was just a mile or so up the river, but not accessible without a boat. As we drove north near the village of Tepearasi we saw the first Masked shrike of the trip sitting on roadside wires. This would have been a lifer, but I twitched the juvenile that turned up in Fife a few years ago, in the days when I could be bothered with such shenanigans.
Just west of Koycegiz town we parked up and walked a track up a small river, adding Marsh Sandpiper that flew off calling Ringed Plover, Redshank, Red-backed Shrike (in a bush with another Masked Shrike), Magpie, Bee-eater, Cormorant, Grey Heron and Turtle Dove to the list.
A stop at the Namnam River, which is reported as being a site for White-breasted and Pied Kingfishers yielded nothing. We followed the road down the west side of the lake and eventually arrived at the boat landing at Kaunos, the site of the ancient city ruins only about half a mile from our digs, but because of the intervening river, over an hour and a half by car. I parked at the boat landing and walked the track back to the ruins, hoping for some of the Cretzschmar’s Buntings I’d read about in a trip report. Not a feather.
At the ruins (very reasonable entrance fee; 8 Lira each) we went first to the amphitheatre. I was blown away. Firstly by the condition and location of the ruins, which are well worth the fee and secondly by the lifer that bobbed about on the amphitheatre steps just in front of me, occasionally too close for the 3.5m minimum focusing distance of my camera. Western Rock Nuthatch.
Western Rock Nuthatch
A walk through the ruins and along the river at the other side gave Cattle Egret and Peregrine.
On the drive back north along the lake road a pair of eagle-like silhouettes circled over the road against the sun. On further inspection they turned out to be a pair of Honey Huzzards. We saw what were presumably the same birds again in the same place from the opposite bank of the Namnam river a few days later.
The only other new bird of the trip was Jackdaw near Tepearasi.
Day 3. Monday 13th May. Dalyan.
Heavy thunderstorms overnight and early morning shot down any idea of heading for the hills, so at 7.45 I set out on foot to look along the tracks north of the town around and past the sewage works. A huge dark thundercloud moved in from the sea and 15 minutes later the first heavy drops started to hit just as I was passing the local football pitch. I took shelter in the roadside grandstand to sit out the shower. What I hoped would be a short stay extended to over two hours as the heavens opened and stayed open.
Entertainment on the pitch consisted of a white stork that flew in and probed the grass for food between the five-a-side nets. The local Rollers flew in from the nearby cliff and perched at the top of the cypress trees at the other side of the pitch, getting wet for a while before flying off to get wet elsewhere.
Next a pair of Little Owls turned up and one of them perched on a floodlighting tower and the fence next to it and engaged in what I can only describe as taking a shower. It sat leaning forward with its head dipped and its wings outspread for a minute or two before giving itself a good shake, then repeating the exercise several times, getting a good soaking from the downpour. I’m guessing it’s a way of getting rid of feather parasites, but I’ve not seen anything like it before.
By about half past ten it was safe to continue my walk. A large crab in a fresh puddle on the tarmac road was the first life I encountered.
The tracks west from the sewage works and past a refuge full of rather large, energetic and noisy rescue dogs produced the only new bird of the day, an Eastern Orphean Warbler. Another Masked Shrike was hunting from the wires and bushes at the edge of town next to the sewage works tracks. The intermedia subspecies of banded demoiselle and many scarce chaser dragonflies gave good views in the vegetation over the drainage ditches.
The afternoon saw the return of some rather spectacular thunder storms, so that was that for the day.
Day 4. Tuesday 14th May. Eskikoy and the hills north of Beyobasi – Çövenli Yaylasi.
The forecast was for thundery showers again, so again the trip to the hills to the west near Korkuteli is put on hold. It’s no good going and seeing a Red-fronted Serin if a millisecond later you provide a temporary pathway to earth for a million amps of electricity as a reward.
Four days in already and not a bunting seen. What’s going on?
Despite the forecast, the day began sunny and warm and I took a look along the track described as Eskikoy on the Dalyan birding website. It’s actually a track that bears off towards LakeKoycegiz and the nearby fields from the road between Dalyan and the nearby village of Eskikoy. Driving along the track in from the road the ditch alongside was full of basking Balkan terrapins and the occasional snake crossed the track to get to the water. Later examination of photos taken a little further along the track a few days later showed that they would have been dice snakes and grass snakes. We saw a small group of Greenfinch before I stopped at a T junction to take the left-hand track to a rocky outcrop that stands proud from the flat lands around. My wife said there was a ‘sparrow thing’ on the wires at her side, so I pulled the car around to take a look. Oh, dear! The sparrow thing was a cracking male Black-Headed Buntingsinging its heart out from the wires only a few yards away. About 60 yards further along the wires was another one. They were the first of about 6 Black-headed Buntings we saw on the track that morning and after a total dearth of them in the days before, we managed to see at least one on every day for the rest of the trip. A little further on a Corn Bunting sang from some stems.
We arrived at the outcrop and parked up to take a walk. A Squacco Heron flew by and then out of nowhere the sky above us was full of Swifts and hirundines amongst which were a good number of Alpine swifts and Sand Martins. At a bridge over the stream I heard birdsong that came from a friendly Rufous Bushchat (or bush robin if you like) perched on top of a nearby bush, one of three we found in the next quarter of a mile. A Common Buzzard and a Long-legged Buzzard drifted past. A Spanish Sparrow picked grit from the track.
I stopped at a place where the track passes a wooded mound to photograph a Black-headed Bunting singing on the wires and once more the sky was suddenly full of Swifts and hirundines, but this time they had company. A large falcon showed just over the brow and then another. A pair of Eleonora’s Falcons was hunting the flock and I managed to fire off a couple of hasty shots with the camera before they stooped out of sight behind the hill and they were never seen again.
Back on the main road it was approaching mid-day.
The weather was still fine and although there were a few clouds over the hills to the north the forecast thunder showers hadn’t arrived. I decided to do a bit of exploring and drove north, turning off the main road at Beyobasi to follow the road beyond there into the local hills to see what could be seen. The road quickly rose and entered extensive pine forest that persisted for almost the whole trip. A Masked Shrike sat on wires just outside Beyobasi.
After about 15km the trees opened up to be replaced by a scrubby hillside for a kilometer or so. A couple of small birds flew by. They were probably Blue Tits, but I stopped just in case and was rewarded by a bunting song from nearby. On top of a bush was my first Cretzschmar’s Bunting singing his little heart out, sounding like an Ortolan that couldn’t manage the high notes. A little further on there was a village called Alan on the right hand side of the track. It looked promising, but a drive in and out didn’t produce anything so we pressed on.
The track was back into woodland by now but the first bend, overlooking open ground held a singing male Eastern black-eared Wheatear of the black-throated variety, singing from both perch and in flight. On we went, by now in solid overcast with the occasional spot of rain and the sound and occasional sighting of Kruper’s Nuthatch.
A clear area with boulders after another 15km or so had a common buzzard that took off as we arrived, a Northern wheatear of the very white local race next to the road and another Cretzschmar’s Bunting. A Green Woodpecker called nearby and a Cuckoo flew over. A Raven passed carrying twigs and a Coal Tit was feeding in the pines. About a kilometer further on a bend on the track produced a flock of Serin that flew up with some Greenfinches and Chaffinch.
The road dipped and after a couple of hundred metres I came to what was probably my favourite spot on the entire holiday. A hidden valley opened up in front of us, covered with tiny fields and dotted with a few houses. It wasn’t on my map, it didn’t have a signpost that I could see, so I didn’t know its name. It wasn’t until I got back to England and interrogated Google Earth that I discovered from the labels on some of the photos that the village is called Çövenli Yaylasi.
I call it a little bit of heaven, whatever its official name is. After the green sterility of the deserts we call farmland in England it was like stepping back a century to a time of basic farming techniques, a lack of pollution and a collection of birds to make your mouth water. It’s only about a kilometer square and it’s brilliant. I’ve brought it to the attention of the local birders who have included it on their Dalyan website. Highly recommended.
The first bird we saw was an impossibly bright male Caspian Stonechat that unfortunately flew off just as the camera was focusing on it, never to be seen again. It was the only one of the trip. Then straight away the first of several Eastern race Common Redstarts popped up next to the road. Then a Lesser Whitethroat hopped through a bush, then Cretzschmar’s Bunting, then Black-headed Bunting, then only 300m or so into the village a female Red-Backed Shrike carrying nesting material into a bush with her mate hunting caterpillars on the opposite side of the track, then another Black-eared Wheatear. The place was just studded with gems.
Unfortunately time was pressing on, so with a promise to come back before the holiday was over we headed back downhill for a feed.
On the way back down, near Alan a small bird sitting on a power line caught my eye. A male Ruppells’ Warbler. If not for an all too brief view of a female on migration three years ago at the southern tip of Sinai, this would have been another lifer.
The end of an exceptional day.
Day 5. Wednesday 15th May. Bafa Golu.
With a good forecast, but still the risk of cloud in the hills to the east we set off on the trip west to the Aegean coast and the huge lake of Bafa Golu in the hope of finding Pygmy Cormorant and Dalmatian Pelican. The early start at 06.45 (aided by the muezzin’s call at 5.30) was justified, because although the distance didn’t seem too great at first glance, the map was misleading and it turned into a three hour drive for the 201 km (125 miles) to the first stopping point near Dalyan roundabout at Bafa Golu. On the road we added Starling to the trip list.
Driving west beyond Mugla the landscape changed into what I would normally describe as Mediterranean, with scrub-covered limestone hills. Before we arrived in Turkey I was of the impression that it would all look a bit like Spain dragged eastward and I was surprised when I arrived and saw it in daylight at how green the country around Dalyan and the surrounding area was, with extensive forests, fruit plantations, reed cover and other greenery. West of Mugla it was more like my preconception.
Bafa Golu is huge and the first impression was that apart from Cormorants it was devoid of life, but as we proceeded other stuff appeared. From the roundabout confusingly named Dalyan we took the track east and then drove for several miles north east along a dead straight raised embankment that was for the most part frustratingly distant from the lake. There were birds over the lake, but the best I could do with the distance and heat haze was make them into gulls and terns, with no certainty as to species.
After a while I spotted a handful of Great White Egrets at a distance, but little else until we got to the north end of the embankment where a number of Black Terns were passing. At the end of the track we came to the village of Sercin, where things started looking up. The canal there had Little Grebe and when we got out of the car and walked out along an earth mound a pair of Spur-winged Plover flew noisily around overhead. There were several Ruddy Shelduck out on the lake and the shore and Gull-billed Terns hunted the lake.
The levee we walked out on had Crested Larks, Sand Martins, a Bee Eater colony and the only Isabelline Wheatear of the trip. I set up at the end of the mound and scanned the lake with my scope. Out in front of us, a good distance away beyond an expanse of dried out mud and a wide belt of tamarisk scrub a Dalmatian Pelican sat on the water. We walked out over the mud to close the range, but the tamarisk scrub turned out to be a trackless mass with flooded channels running through it. We turned back to the car, but after only a couple of hundred yards the sun was blotted out by a shadow and when I looked up there was our Pelican, come to see us, flying low directly overhead.
The lake side at the village added Black-winged Stilt and Coot to the list and a patch of bare ground on the edge of the village where I stopped to watch Bee-eaters contained a Rufous Bushchat. Beyond the village we walked up along a watercourse with expansive Reedbeds, finding further Rufous Bushchats, about a million very noisy marsh frogs and a couple of Little bitterns,
We took an alternative track back south-west from there to pick up the main road back near our starting point at the roundabout. Great Reed Warblers called from the reeds, a Short-toed Eagle drifted overhead and just before we reached the road I spotted a couple of Night Herons at the edge of the reeds on the other side of a canal.
From there we headed north in the direction of Soke, turning off west at Tuzburgazi for the coast on the north side of Karine Golu. As we arrived on the shore a second Dalmatian Pelican flew along the shore towards us. Some medium-sided dark-looking birds roosting out in the heat haze on a sand bar turned out to be Oystercatchers. We followed the road down to the point at Karine, but none of the hoped-for Pygmy Cormorants were there. Good views of several Black-headed Bunting, Cretzschmar’s Bunting, a singing male Ruppell’s Warbler and very distant views of a group of Dalmatian Pelicans in flight and on the water had to do for compensation. A very close view of a Caucasian squirrel sitting on a wall at the side of the road was a welcome surprise.
The afternoon was pressing on and after a look along a canal-side track or two I headed for the village of Akkoy and the colony of Lesser Kestrels in the village centre. I don’t know if it was bad timing on my part, or the presence of a new-looking minaret on the village mosque, but there was neither sight nor sound of any kestrel of any species in the village, so mindful of the three hour drive home we called it a day. We’d not got all we’d hoped for, but the area deserves more time.
Day 6. Thursday 16th May. Dalyan.
The day began with a bit of a difference. I barely noticed the muezzin and just drifted through his call. Just after 6am I felt a sensation as of someone was shaking the bed, then about 10 or 20 seconds later an even gentler shake, then another, almost imperceptible.
‘Earthquake’, I said (actually a minor earth tremor, but if the UK press can over-sensationalise them I suppose I can too). My wife had been woken by it too, as had all the town dogs, which began barking. When the dogs stopped I rolled over and had another hour or two. No rush to get up today.
I found out later from an internet search that the tremor was a 4.9 one – bigger than I’d thought and centred in the Dodecanese islands at a depth of 10 km. If I’d been outside doing something I’m sure I’d not have noticed it at all. There was another later on, at about half past midnight while I was looking at the laptop. A very faint sensation, like someone walking on a wooden floor (our floors in the villa were concrete) and a gentle rattle of a loose wrought iron stair-rail. That one was a 2.6 on the Richter scale, centred 5km below the Dodecanese/Turkey border. Again, I wouldn’t have noticed it in anything other than a silent room in which I wasn’t engaged in activity.
Interesting at the time.
The birding for the day was relaxed and local. A walk around the village produced nothing we hadn’t seen before and later we had a drive down towards the beach. The cliffs above the dried-out wader pools on the east of the road had Rock Nuthatch. A pair of Middle Spotted Woodpeckers were calling and feeding in pines next to Gokbel village. The track up through the forest that we’d taken on Saturday produced more Kruper’s Nuthatch and dozens of the ever-present starry agama lizards on various boulders and outcrops.
Near Ortaca we explored the track that starts opposite the Ley Ley restaurant and went on foot through a very attractive gorge. A Long legged-Buzzard on the cliffs above was the star of the show.
Middle Spotted Woodpecker
Day 7. Friday 17th May. Korkuteli Hills
A clear sky after overnight rain and at last we were heading for the hills around Korkuteli, setting off at 8 am. I was forewarned by reading recent trip reports that the Gosney information on places to stop is now sadly out of date and the single carriageway roads have largely been upgraded to dual carriageway and the stopping points are largely meaningless today.
Fortunately I was also aware of a magnificent route through the hills that somehow doesn’t appear in the guide. This road crosses the Gogubeli pass and it’s a cracker.
The drive up to our first stopping point at Kinik was slower than I’d expected because of speed restrictions and road-works where they are upgrading the main road to dual carriageway. The 70 miles or so took 10 minutes over two hours, 20 minutes longer than the time suggested by Google Earth, but once the road upgrade is complete no doubt this will reduce.
On the way up we saw Crag Martin over the road.
Kinik is a small hamlet standing a few hundred yards from the main road, with houses on either side of a central track that then continues up a scrub and grass-covered hill with rocky outcrops. As we passed the first house a red squirrel that had been sitting on the low roof made a dash for a tree just too quickly for my camera and White Throated Robins flew up from the track in front of us. These robins would have been lifers if not for the one that came to visit us in the north east of England in the famous Hartlepool Headland incident of 2011. Fortunately I got to see that bird early on, before it retired from the bowling green to the doctor’s garden and the masses turned up with their ladders to see it over the wall.
We followed the track uphill for a couple of kilometres until it became rutted and I didn’t want to chance getting into somewhere I couldn’t get out of. Better ground conditions could have allowed more exploration.
After turning the first thing we saw was a male Ruppell’s Warbler singing from the bushes at the side of the road, so the car morphed into its secondary role as a photographic hide and we spent some time making the most of it before heading back down.
As we came to the first of the houses on the way back down we came face to face with another example of the wildlife of Turkey. The huge yellow bulk of a kangal came bounding from an open door and ran alongside my open window, barking loudly in my ear. I ignored it and kept going, pulling away. The dog obviously felt spurned by this lack of good manners and responded by having a bite at the rear wheel-arch of the car as it passed. An examination later in the day showed teeth marks right through the plastic trim.
I was pleased I wasn’t on a bike.
We looked along a track on the other side of the main road and saw the first Calandra Lark of the trip, before doubling back to the road and heading for Seki, the next stop.
Just before Seki I spotted a large raptor sitting on a roadside power pole. As I drove past I was face to face with a lovely Long-legged Buzzard. There was no other traffic so I stopped. Amazingly the bird didn’t fly off as raptors usually do in these circumstances. It just sat on its pole looking at me and I had time to take a few close range photos. Even when I eased the door open to take a more comfortable position with the camera and the bird flew, it only sauntered to the next pole and perched again, allowing a couple of flight shots showing tail detail and some more perching shots as it landed.
White Throated Robin
At Seki we spent some time watching and photographing White-throated Robins, Black-headed Buntings and Crested Lark. If we’d had more time, I’d have liked to head further south to LakeGirdev, but unfortunately we had to press on.
Onward and upward, the GogubeliPass beckoned and after probably too long at Seki we set off east again. Our map for some reason shows that the road doesn’t go beyond Seki, but reality is different. It’s tarmac all the way to Elmali.
Leaving Seki I saw a Common Redstart by the side of the road and a little further on, just beyond a place called Zorlar a stop at a roadside fountain produced a close Rock Nuthatch and a Black-eared Wheatear. As we climbed further and approached the pass a pair of small dark birds flew in front of the car and were immediately lost in a roadside bush. Getting out of the car to investigate produced nothing at first. A wagon drove past and blew his horn in greeting, seemingly emptying the bushes before I reached them, but as I turned back to the car a pair of Red fronted Serins – flew across the road at eye level, close enough to see the red fronts. They flew into some open scrub just over the road so I followed them, adding Chough, Black Redstart and a smart male Rock Thrush to the trip list in the space of about five minutes.
A couple of kilometres further saw us at the pass itself, where on the loose gravel underneath the altitude sign, a mixed flock of Red-fronted Serins, Serins and Linnets picked grit from the roadside. A Blue Rock Thrush perched on an outcrop nearby.
An unsurfaced track in good condition leading from the other side of the road caught my attention, so I followed it to see where it went. It turned out to lead to the village of Kayabasi that lies in the valley bottom amid agricultural land. Here we found more Black-headed Buntings, Mistle Thrush, Cirl Bunting and Woodlark.
Day 8. Saturday 18th May. Dalyan and Hamitkoy.
A change of pace for today. We took the public boat from Dalyan down to the Iztuzu beach, 10 lira each for the return trip. The intention was to spend a few hours on the beach and also to check out the reedbeds on either side of the river on the way there and back. You never know, we might see something like a rare kingfisher. (That was the hope, anyway). In the event the reedbeds proved remarkably birdless, although we saw one or two snakes and as the river widened into a series of lagoons as we approached the beach a Nile soft-shelled turtle that had come up for a breath dived just as I got my camera onto it – it looked about the size of a dustbin lid. The birdlife of the beach wasn’t much to write home about – a group of loafing Yellow-legged Gulls was about it, but the importance of the beach as a breeding area for loggerhead turtles was illustrated by fresh turtle tracks that led from the water’s edge to a new nest, showing that eggs must have been laid only a few hours earlier.
We took the return boat in the early afternoon and then set of for the Namnam river at Hamitkoy, where this time we followed a track on foot south from the bridge and were rewarded after a kilometre or so by the raucous call of a White-breasted Kingfisher that flew along the river calling before flying across an orchard to land at the top of a eucalyptus tree a field away from the river.
Jackpot! My wife says this photo reminds her of a flying Zoom iced lolly.
White Breasted Kingfisher
Day 9. Sunday 19th May. Dalyan.
Solid overcast in the morning meant that a planned return to Korkuteli hills was postponed, so we spent a fruitless day looking for Syrian Woodpecker in the vicinity of Dalyan. One of the forays took us back up the track from the beach road. Nearing the top of the track we turned off left and went on a broad track downhill to see where it took us. The answer was Ortaca. Nearing Ortaca the track passed a cliff with some more of the ancient rock tombs like those that so characterise the cliffs on the river opposite Dalyan. There wasn’t much in the way of birds to report from the drive, but I’m sure it has potential.
Day 10. Monday 20th May. Çövenli Yaylasi, a return visit.
A return trip to the village in the mountains beyond Beyobasi, Çövenli Yaylasi. The drive up was similar to the previous visit regarding birds although a distant Golden Oriole was a new addition to the trip. I went through the village and looked a short way up a track beyond. An Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler flicked and hovered as it fed in bushes next to the track. A Rock Bunting flicked between trees and boulders nearby, a Masked Shrike hunted from overhead wires and there was a very confiding Black-eared Wheatear.
I stopped the car in the centre of the village to photograph the resident pair of Red-backed Shrikes that were feeding along a fence. A pale Northern Wheatear also spent time close to us. Out of the blue a bird that had eluded us so far flew overhead, but maddeningly passed on without stopping in the orchard next to us. Syrian Woodpecker! Just after a very small grey bird flew past and landed in a bush near the shrikes and was never seen again. I thought I knew what it was, but couldn’t identify it at the time.
A couple of kilometres from the village on the track home, the unidentified grey bird became identified, when in a clearing of boulders and sparse bushes a Sombre Tit gave us good views, sufficient to confirm that the bird in the bush was one of the same. A Short-toed Treecreeper was feeding nearby.
Day 11. Tuesday 21st May. Eskikoy.
A late start on a hot, sunny day because our hire car was due for service and a replacement was brought out to us.
We spent the morning on the Eskikoy track before moving on to Hamitkoy and the Namnam river where we were treated to another good view of the White-breasted Kingfisher that we’d seen there on Saturday. It flew up from the river and perched in the top of a tree in the woodland opposite. New birds for the trip were Common Whitethroat and Song Thrush.
The 36° heat was becoming uncomfortable and the birds were taking a rest, so we headed back to the digs and cooled off for the rest of the day in our pool., entertained by an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler that included our garden in its territory and a fleeting visit by a Beech Marten that came in under the garden gate, ran between our car and the pool and disappeared behind the house. I found it hiding in the gas bottle store, before it disappeared along our path into the next garden.
Day 12. Wednesday 22nd May. Korkuteli Hills.
The forecast was cloud, but I was impatient to get back to the Seki and the Korkuteli hills. A good move, because the cloud broke shortly after we arrived and the altitude kept the temperature comfortable.
Just west of Zorlar we stopped at a drinking fountain and were rewarded by a pair of Red-fronted Serins that landed on the wire fence right in front of us. Just before the summit we stopped again with good views of Rock Sparrow and another Sombre Tit that turned up while I was scanning for Wheatears. At the summit Red-fronted Serins pecked for grit with Linnets, Serins and Goldfinches. Nearby we added Wren to the trip list and another eastern Bonelli’s Warbler obligingly hovered in front of us.
North of Elmali at the turn-off near the village of Calpinar two Syrian Woodpeckers flew across the road in front of the car and landed in some trees across a field, calling. Driving onward we survived another close encounter with a kangal when a flock of sheep crossed the road, but their protector decided to take a lump out of the wheel-arch of a wagon that happened to be coming the other way rather than going for us. It obviously wanted the prestige attached to going for the bigger target.
A track off the new dual carriageway west of Korkuteli turned up with the goods for the day. Northern Wheatears abounded and when we got out to walk the hillside we added Short-toed Lark and Tawny Pipit to the trip list. The same walk resulted in some evidence of the recent thunderstorms that had prevented our earlier trips to the hills. A small bush had been turned entirely to charcoal, presumably by a lightning strike. Its charred main stems still projected to a height of about a foot and a half above the ground, but all twigs and soft vegetation were gone. It stood in a perfect circle of about three feet in diameter of burnt ground, the vegetation around that circle completely untouched, probably protected by heavy rain that doused the fire before it could spread from the strike.
A male Rock Thrush was eating a worm on an outcrop and a little further on I found myself looking down from the car onto the back of a bird that wasn’t immediately familiar, grayish and almost game-bird like in shape, but it wasn’t there long enough to get a proper view and the confusion increased when it was attacked by another of the same kind. I had an impression of grey and white with black tails and black heads as they squabbled and it wasn’t until they settled that I realised I was looking at the penicillata race of Shore Lark. I was surprised at how grey they looked and also how large they appeared in comparison with the northern shore larks that I’d seen in the past. A very smart bird indeed, that isn’t done justice by the illustration in my Collins.
Penicillata race of Shore Lark
I little further on my wife pointed out a Wheatear flying up from a boulder, where it briefly hovered. The brief view I had of it was enough to get me out of the car and up the hillside. A short climb put us into a boulder-lined hollow that hosted a family group of Finsch’s Wheatears; a male, a female and either two or three juveniles.
What a great day this was turning into.
After that we headed south to the reservoir south of Elmali, Avlan Golu where the day got even better. After adding Mallard and Great Crested Grebe to the trip list I noticed a bird splashing in the water near some distant flooded trees, clearly smaller than the Cormorants that rested in the trees. My tentative ID was confirmed when two more flew past it, looking a bit like an all-dark Brent Goose in flight.
Pygmy Cormorant! I had given up hope on them when we didn’t get them on the trip to Bafa Golu.
On the way back through Elmali another Syrian Woodpecker cocked a snook at us, flying up from the middle of the road right in front of the car as I slowed to a crawl, before it disappeared forever into a line of roadside trees. This was getting silly – we’d looked all over for them for days and now that were coming thick and fast, but all annoyingly in situations that wouldn’t allow photographs.
Day 13. Thursday 23rd May. Hamitkoy and Eskikoy.
After the long day in the hills we took it easy. A milky haze soon cleared to another hot and sunny morning. The morning was spent at the Namnam river near Hamitkoy watching and hoping for another view of our White-breasted Kingfisher. Unfortunately for another English birder we met there who was on the same mission, the hoped-for kingfisher didn’t make an appearance.
In the afternoon a visit to the Eskikoy track added Black-headed Wagtail to the list.
Day 14. Friday 24th May. Kaunos.
The final day of the trip, but an evening flight meant that we had time to take the row-boat ferry across the river for another walk around the ruins of Kaunos, where a recently fledged family of Rock Nuthatches put on a good show.
On the walk to the ruins from the ferry, refreshed by cool fresh pomegranate juice bought from one of the many stalls along the path, we added an unexpected bonus bird to the trip.
A Chukkar Partridge was on the hillside between the track and the ruins.
A very enjoyable first trip to a place that was a delight to visit. Plenty of good birds and if all goes according to plan another visit is on the cards, perhaps a few days earlier to catch some of the other migrants, even though it may be at the expense of more views of the local buntings.
Many thanks to John Codling, who kindly went to the trouble of lending me his book of local walks while I was there.
And finally, a photo of birding heaven – Çövenli Yaylasi