Memories of a bygone visit from 2008
This was to be our first trip to Turkey – indeed we’ve only been to the Eastern Med once before – and it was intended to be more a family holiday for Mrs R and myself…. although of course, we wanted somewhere nice to go, and a few good birds would certainly not go amiss!
With a few recommendations from friends and some BF-ers, we settled on Dalyan in Turkey, and what a wonderful choice it was… Dalyan is a small town, set on a decent sized river, with a distinctly ‘villagey’ feel to it. You have to get a boat, dolmus or car to get to the beach, so not too attractive to the bucket-and-spade brigade, plus there are some great restaurants and the natives are friendly – all in all, it was one of our favourite holiday destinations yet….The area is designated as a nature reserve – primarily due to the breeding loggerhead turtles at the nearby beach – so development is under some sort of control and the absolutely stunning environment is looked after to some extent.
Bizarrely, we found that to book a package holiday was actually more convenient and cheaper than booking flight only and sorting ourselves out, so that’s what we did – staying in a small, family-run hotel near the outskirts of town and just a few minutes walk from the river, which had a very attractive river-side walk into town.
We hired a car – which cost a fair bit, but probably our own fault as we didn’t shop around at all, and it was a good bit older than the average hire-car, having 133k km on the clock. We breathed a sign of relief when it got us through the week OK, as we had been to some pretty remote places – a fair way from the nearest RAC man, we were thinking. As it happened, the car failed to start when the chap from the hire car office came to pick it up, so maybe justice was done after all!
In Dalyan, English is widely spoken (just as well, since we knew zero Turkish!) but in the hinterlands zero English is spoken, so communication was ‘interesting’…
Local airport is Dalaman, which is only 25 mins or so away… Driving in Turkey was no problem, if a little anarchic…. on more than one occasion, I looked up to find someone pootling towards me on the wrong side of the road, happily gazing out of the window or chatting to their friends – no accidents though… As someone mentioned, they do seem to consider that road-signs are for wimps, but it couldn’t have been too bad, since we covered about 750km and didn’t get lost once!
It was HOT, with temperatures in the mid/high thirties each day and not a cloud in the sky all week. Dawn was about 05:30 and it got dark around 20:00.
We arrived mid-afternoon, and were a bit pooped after the journey, so just flopped out by the pool. House Sparrows hopped around our sunbeds and Collared Doves sang from roofs and wires. A few birds flew over – a Purple Heron and a couple of White Storks, and it was nice to hear Cetti’s Warblers singing in the reeds that bordered the hotel garden. Butterflies were everywhere, but extremely active (and mainly unfamiliar!) so not really easy to id what they were.
Day 2 Dalyan
I woke up early and decided to go for a dawn stroll to start to familiarise myself with the area – asked Mrs R if she wanted to come and was quite surprised that she knew such bad language! …just me and the BINs then!
Creeping out of the hotel, I heard and saw much the same birds as yesterday, but additionally a Little Owl was sitting on the hotel roof and I could hear Turtle Doves purring away from somewhere. Running the gamut of the many dogs that seem to consider the road outside their houses as part of their own personal fiefdom, I made it down to the river. Looking across to the other side, my eye was drawn to a flash of bright turquoise – kingfisher, I thought… but no, it was actually a Roller, and subsequently I saw quite a few of them in much the same place, so I reckon there was quite a colony over there.
A Cormorant and Little Grebe were seen on the water, and a Grey Heron flew over. Three juvenile Night Herons flew up the river and landed in a tree opposite me, which was good – and then I had a real find…. a Penduline Tit had built its wonderful nest right next to the path – just a bit of perseverance, and I was able to get great views of both male and female going into the nest and a well-grown youngster sticking its head out – magic. Another bonus was that Penduline Tit is a bird that I often have trouble hearing – something to do with the particular pitch (plus distance!) I reckon, but I couldn’t fail to hear these as they called away as such close range.
Swallows and House Martins zoomed around the river and a pair of Jays announced their presence noisily – these seemed to me to be rather darker than our UK birds and the blue on the wings was a fantastic iridescent colour. Making my way back to the hotel, I passed large numbers of Greenfinch and Goldfinch feeding on the copious weed and wild grass seeds and a single Fan-tailed Warbler was heard calling nearby. A large bird got my attention as it came in from distance – with a body shape and a flight action that seemed unfamiliar and interesting, but as it got closer it turned out to be a Hooded Crow – not the last one of those I’d see all week!!
We took the public river boat to the beach after breakfast, and I was quite disappointed not to see some other good birds as we wended our way through the reedy channels, but it was just more of the same – mainly flyovers…
Dinner that night was good, as we watched large numbers of mainly House Martins zooming around the roofs – just how many became clear when a Magpie unwisely entered the area and was seen off by several hundred Martins chasing it in a high-speed aerial dogfight – quite a sight! Swifts circled higher up, and as darkness fell, two Scops Owls started to call to each other from the town and other side of the river – magical!
Day 3 – Korkuteli Hills
Even though this was not a birdwatching holiday, we promised ourselves one day at a ‘proper’ birdwatching site, and the place that we chose was the Korkuteli Hills area which is roughly 170km NW of Dalyan. Information for this site was obtained from Dave Gosney’s book “Finding birds in Western Turkey” which proved to be a good purchase.
With the hot weather and dawn at 05:30, it was not too tricky to get an early start, and 06:15 found us on the road and heading inland. The first part of the journey is on the main D400 coast ‘motorway’ passing Dalaman and Fethiye before heading in-land on the good quality D350. As soon as we started on this road, we left almost all of the traffic behind and were able to relax, choose our own speed and start keeping an eye out for birds!
As you head inland, you immediately start a slow and steady climb higher, and it wasn’t too long before we started to get views of some higher mountains in the distance, many still with snow in the sheltered areas – it was bizarre to be driving through such heat and yet seeing snow not too far away.
First birds seen were many of the usual suspects seen and heard from the car – Hooded Crows abounded, Corn Buntings could be heard jangling frequently and Crested Larks tested your nerves by sitting in the road until the last possible minute! A Buzzard sp. was seen briefly between the trees but not for long enough to identify it – which was a shame, as this was our first raptor and there was a reasonable chance of it being Long-legged…. but it just went on the list as a buzzard.
First proper stop was a road-side drinking trough just NE of Kavdir, and we found this place no probs and pulled into the layby and settled down to wait and see what birds might come to relieve their thirsts in the blistering heat. After a few minutes, I became aware of some movement in the trees above and caught a glimpse of vivid yellow and black plumage – Excellent, I thought, a chance to get a really close view of a Golden Oriole – but no, as it came down into the open, it turned out to be a Black-headed Bunting…. even better, a lifer for me! Unfortunately, I hadn’t had time to get my scope and camera set up, so the moment went unrecorded, but Mrs R and I enjoyed the sight of this beautiful bird.
Becoming aware of a kerfuffle going on in a nearby stand of trees, I started to scan and found a small non-descript bird calling for food. When the parent arrived, we were able to id them as Sombre Tits – this was getting better and better!
As if this wasn’t good enough, I then caught the briefest glimpse of a bird starting to make its way down through the canopy towards the water, and this was enough to let me know that it was my number 1 target for the area – White-throated Robin. After a while, it made its way down to drink and I was able to get a few pics – although the bird was surprisingly nervous and would only stay put for a few seconds at a time.
This was great!! Our first site, 30 minutes sat at a picnic table eating pistachio nuts, and 3 lifers!! …does birdwatching get any better?
Given enough time, I’m sure that quite a list of species could be built up at this one spot, but we had already spent 3 hours getting here and we had lots of other places in mind, so we packed up and moved on.
Re-tracing our steps back to Cavdir and Sogut we continued to pass good habitat and saw quite a few birds – particularly Larks, including quite a few Calandra Larks which are amongst my favourite species.
Heading due east now, we entered an area of extensive roadworks, which was a shame, as it meant that despite seeing plenty of promising looking places, we weren’t able to stop the car to look. We just had to content ourselves with looking at the lovely scenery.
We made it to Korkuteli without any problems and headed S, following the route and stops as outlined in the Gosney Guide and at his roadside stops we managed to see Isabelline Wheatear, Finsch’s Wheatear and Northern Wheatear. Another Wheatear that baffled me at the time has subsequently been identified as the white-throated form of Black-eared Wheatear. In fact, if you like Wheatears, this is the place for you, as the whole area abounds with many of these birds.
An intriguing bird by a quarry got me briefly excited, but it turned out to be ‘only’ a female Blue Rock Thrush, shortly joined by its male partner. Just as we were setting up to leave, a buzzard moved past overhead, and this time we got the good look that we needed to confirm it as a definite Long-legged Buzzard – fantastic!
It was now about 2:00pm, so we thought we’d start making our way back, as I wanted to stop at a drinking trough in the middle of the roadworks which we weren’t able to access on the way up. As it happens, this was no longer a quiet little oasis, but was proving very popular with construction workers and lorry drivers coming to fill up their water bottles, and a group of police were taking their ease at one of the tables of the nearby cafe/bar. We thought that we might as well stop anyway and ordered up a couple of soft drinks and sat down. Mrs R fancied a packet of crisps, so went off to a display-case to get some, only to be waylaid by the proprietor, upon which a lively discussion took place…. I say ‘lively’, perhaps “involving a lot of arm-waving” would be a better description, since Mrs R has no Turkish and the chap had no English…. Anyway – not quite sure how it came to pass, but we ended up not getting any crisps but instead getting a large sea-bream, bowl of salad and shoulder of lamb (plus more drinks) and it was all absolutely great! Equally great was the bill, which came to a princely YTL30, which is about £12!!
Continuing on our way, I almost immediately took a small side-road heading N off the main road, which I had thought looked to be going through a promising area when I had noticed it on the way up. This proved to be an inspired choice as it quickly led away from the main road (and roadworks!) and passed through some excellent habitat of scrubby vegetation and rock outcrops.
First good birds seen were a family group of Rock Sparrows hopping around and making their screaming calls – this was really good to see close up, but the best was yet to come as going around the corner, we came face-to-face with a fantastic male Rock Thrush sat on a road-side boulder! This bird has been my number 1 target for a couple of years now and every time that I am in suitable high ground, I always have a good look around with this species in mind – but no joy until today! We moved on for a few hundred metres until we could find somewhere safe to dump the car and then got out for a proper look around, and quickly added the female Rock Thrush to our list. Watching them, it became obvious that they had a nest in the rocky outcrop near where we had first seen them and we enjoyed watching both birds hunting around the area and making frequent stops back to the nest-site.
Also in the same area were lots more Wheatears and I was able to get some excellent views and a few pics of birds that came close. This was a great area and one that I would happily spend many an hour!!
Unfortunately, time was passing and we were a loooong way from home, so reluctantly we had to pack up and start making our way back. The journey home passed without incident and we treated ourselves to a few further stops when we saw really good spots but didn’t really see any new birds. The most significant incident was when a Black-headed Bunting perched up on a nearby tree and I was able to snatch a quick pic, which partially made up for the one that I’d missed at the first drinking trough earlier on.
We arrived back at Dalyan at about 20:00 – it had been a great day, but a lot of km, and the first beer of the evening slipped down a treat!!!
Day 4 – Dalyan
As has been mentioned, Dalyan is a major breeding area for Loggerhead Turtles, but in order to protect their breeding area, the beach is closed between 20:00 – 08:00 each day so you can’t actually get to see them. What you can see though is what the locals call River Turtles – actually the Nile Soft-shelled Turtle (Trionyx triunguis) – which themselves grow to an impressive metre or so in length… method being to get a hireboat from Dalyan up towards the lake at Koycegiz, so that’s just what we did.
The local boatman use traditional rocky sites where the turtles know that they will get a free meal – which the boatman provide in the form of chicken skins and bones which are draped over the rocks, forcing the turtles to haul themselves partially out of the water if they want to get at it. This is good, since it gives you a good chance to see these huge creatures – one that we saw was massive… over 100kgs and 100 years old the boatman reckoned!
Part 2 of the boat trip is to chug further up-river to the southern end of the lake and then push through some channels cut through the reeds ‘African-Queen’ style (which was filmed here btw…) For bird watchers, this is great, since you get to see many of the reed-dwelling birds at close quarters and even snap a few pics.
As we passed by, we also spotted 3 Rollers perched up very close on a metal frame, but I couldn’t get any pics before they flew.
All week, I had been hearing something which sounded a bit like Woodlarks coming from the opposite side of the river, and now a couple of brief glimpses and a quick page through Collins enabled to belatedly suss that they were actually Rock Nuthatches – another lifer!
We enjoyed our boat trip and after a quick coffee at one of the waterside bars, we started to walk back alongside the river for a late breakfast. This turned out to be good, as I spotted a couple of birds that I had been on the look out for….
Hearing a bird which sounded like a gentler version of a Reed Warbler (many birds in Turkey sound a bit like Reed Warblers, it seemed to me!!!) but clearly wasn’t, I was able to track it down to a small Warbler flitting about in the upper branches of a tree, acting rather like a Chiffchaff or Willow Warbler in fact. Luckily, I had boned up a bit, and this bird’s habit of continually flicking its tail downwards enabled me to id it as an Olivaceous Warbler.
Second good bird was a Masked Shrike, seen well flitting between two favourite trees as it hunted insects. What a handsome bird this was and now that I knew where it hung out, I was able to return on a subsequent day with digi-gear to get some close pics. On another day, I was able to watch 2 males disputing territory. As often happens, once you get your eye in, it is a good deal easier to see these new species, and now that I had ‘broken my duck’ with Masked Shrike and Olivaceous Warbler, I started seeing and hearing them all over the place! Great birds though.
The rest of the day was spent down the beach…..I did spend a bit of time late afternoon going through the pine woods looking (particularly) for Kruper’s Nuthatch – I did see a couple of distant Nuthatches, but nothing I could confidently id as Krupers, so that will just have to wait for another trip.
Day 6 – Koycegiz
Saturday is market day in Dalyan and Mrs R and I came to an accommodation – she would spend the morning shopping and I would go and stand in a swamp. We were both happy!
My target today was to try to find some of the exotic Kingfishers (White-throated & Pied) that live in Turkey – I had been keeping an eye out all week, but no joy, and such literature as I had found was peppered with phrases like ‘Have been reported here, but none seen for several years’ etc so it wasn’t looking good.
05:00 found me on the road heading round the lake, through Koycegiz town via Hamitkoy to a bridge over the Namnam river which has been mentioned as a possible site for White-throated Kingfishers. I had in mind being on site for first light (mission accomplished) but I needn’t have bothered since the place was as dead as a dodo! You could see that this would be a sizable river at certain times, but it was now reduced to a trickle, and all that was to be seen at first was a flock of 24 Little Egrets which I disturbed from their night-time roost and the House Sparrows that were nesting under the bridge – Turkey is a great place to come if you mourn the passing of this bird from the UK – they are everywhere!
As things started to warm up, so a few birds appeared. Using my new Turkish id-ing skills, I was able to identify a few Olivaceous Warblers in the river-side trees and Swallows and House Martins started to zoom around. An adult and juvenile Grey Wagtail came and sat on the guard-rail next to me, looking very much like they were thinking “What the heck are YOU doing here?!” and I was starting to wonder much the same myself…
This area is very active for agriculture, and quite a few farmers were bombing past on a variety of dodgy cars, tractors, trailers, bikes and scooters and each one would wave and smile. Some would shout out – I couldn’t understand what they were saying but, judging by their general demeanour, it probably wasn’t “Oi, w*&%er.” or “Gerrof moi land.” …. not like good old Blighty then!
I had explored some rough tracks in the area of the bridge and hadn’t really come up with much – Turtle Doves purred from the wires, Hooded Crows hopped around in the nearby orchards and a Night Heron passed over. Re-tracing my steps, I headed back to the car and drove a bit further down the road alongside the river in the direction of the lake, but I couldn’t really find anywhere to stop that looked promising for Kingfishers. Apparently, if you follow this road, it takes you all the way around the western shore of the lake to the ruins at Kaunos, which are directly opposite Dalyan on the other side of the river…. Not that this helps much, since there is no bridge or vehicle ferry, so you have to drive all the way back round again in order to get home, but it would probably be a productive drive in Winter when the lake hosts large numbers of over-wintering water birds.
Passing back over the bridge again, I stopped for one more try – no good, so I tried driving down a rough track which I hoped might lead down to the banks of the river…. It didn’t, and furthermore soon turned into a raised bund which was too narrow to turn the car around – I had to drive for miles before I found a spot where I could do a 17-point turn and head back!
Arriving at the junction of the main-road, I had a choice…. turn left (give up, go home) or turn right for one last try at the bridge: thankfully, I chose the latter.
Just pootling along, I heard a strange call – bit difficult to describe… but a bit like a horse whinnying with undertones of Marsh Frog. Pulled over to the side of the road and started scanning down in the direction of the river to try to find what might be making it. I couldn’t see anything, but luckily the bird’s nerve broke first and it emerged from a stand of trees, flew right past me and headed down-river towards the bridge – White-throated Kingfisher!!
What a bird – a decent size (seemed almost the size of a dove) and bright iridescent turquoise and rich chestnut brown and with a whopping great carrot of a bill stuck on the front! It was beautifully lit with the early morning sun behind me and a great, great sighting.
Jumped back in the car and headed down to the bridge, hoping that the bird might have fetched up somewhere I would be able to see it – I couldn’t, but I could hear it calling from nearby, so it was still around. This bird was obviously quite shy of human presence, since it quickly broke cover again, flew under the bridge right below me (wow!) and perched up on a dead tree about 300m away. I was able to get some good views through the scope but it would have been hopeless to try to digi-scope it due to the distance and heat-haze.
I was happy now and headed back home for a late breakfast and a look around the Dalyan area – not seeing anything new apart from finding a nest-site for Red-rumped Swallows close to our hotel – not sure how I’d managed to miss it up ‘til now!
As Sod’s Law would have it, when passing through an attractive marshy area to the W of Koycegiz town, a second WT Kingfisher flew across the road right in front of the car! In view of the distances between sightings, I’m pretty sure this must have been a second bird.
This was our first trip to Turkey and we absolutely loved it! …so much so, in fact, that we are already booked up for a return trip in October. The town, habitat, people, food, climate & atmosphere were all fantastic and I hope that it can remain relatively un-spoilt for a while yet. There are warning signs though, with large numbers of tourist-style houses under construction and the area already home to quite a number of ex-pats taking advantage of the things enumerated above.
Bird-wise, it’s a bit funny. Even though there are lots of birds around, you somehow get the feeling that there aren’t quite as many birds as there really should be in such first-rate habitat. As a birdwatcher, you would be constantly saying to yourself things like.. “Look at that fantastic dead tree in the marsh – I bet there’ll be something perched up on that!” Snag is, there almost invariably wasn’t! My own theory is that late May/early June was not really the best time to come – many birds were obviously raising young (or recovering!) and the heat was impressive – it was cracking the flags by 09:00 every morning. I reckon a trip earlier in Spring or maybe Autumn/Winter might be more productive. If you were prepared to get up early, go to some good places and put some effort in, many good birds could be found – it’s just that (unlike many Med holiday destinations) a ‘sunbed list’ would probably not get into double-figures!
Another thing that really struck home was that I was very much out of my birding comfort zone!
As many of you will know, I’m far from the world’s best or most experienced bird-watcher, but back in the UK it is relatively rare these days for me to struggle to id any bird that I get a reasonable look at… In Turkey, the L-plates came back on big-time!!
Up in the mountains, it was Wheatears and Larks! If you get a good close look at these they are not too bad, but id-ing unfamiliar species of Wheatear at distance can be a bit of a nightmare, but this is nothing compared to trying to id the birds that are calling from the marshes around Dalyan – to my un-tutored ear, they all sound like slightly different versions of Reed Warblers!! Reading through my literature, I think there is probably every chance that I saw/heard River Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Rupell’s Warbler etc but I just couldn’t differentiate all the different calls that I was hearing from barely seen birds! As you can imagine, this was quite frustrating and I will be making efforts to bone up on likely species before we go out next time.
Butterflies were everywhere – but I guess due to the heat – extremely active and therefore difficult to id. All I can say is that they were numerous and impressive, but I quickly made a command decision that I had enough on my plate trying to id the birds, so butterflies took a back seat I’m afraid. I will attach a picture of one impressive species that I managed to photograph – Eastern Festoon – which is about the size of a small pterodactyl!
Other wildlife is plentiful, with lots of dragonflies, lizards, water-snakes and turtles being seen everywhere, and it was bizarre to come across many tortoises just making their slow way around the countryside (and roads!)
As I say, a great place and a wonderful experience for us and one that we will be repeating in not too many months time…