Turkey Tour Report 16th May - 4th June 2010
|Turkey is often described as where east meets west, and this is very much the case. In the west of the country the commercial capital Istanbul, is a bustling, modern, westernised city. However, in the hundreds of small villages dotted throughout the rolling steppes in the eastern part of the country, the villages have changed very little since biblical times, and you are left in no doubt, that you are in Asia. Turkey really does have it all; dozens of ancient archeological sties are to be found throughout the length and breadth of the country; Seljuk Turk fortresses, crusader castles and Roman temples and mausoleums, are commonplace. The scenery throughout is spectacular, the carpets of wildflowers simply stunning, the birdlife is both prolific and very varied and we saw a staggering 230 species of birds, which included a new bird for the Mediterranean, a Brown Booby, and best of all, the people themselves are extremely welcoming and friendly. We all enjoyed a wonderful tour in an equally wonderful and timeless country.|
Following a long and tiring flight from Australia we arrived at Istanbul Airport, where not wanting to waste any time, we started looking for birds through the windows of the airport waiting lounge. We saw good numbers of Western Jackdaws, a couple of Hooded Crows and a few European Starlings; our Turkish adventure, was underway! We then took a short flight from Istanbul to Ankara, the capital city of Turkey. Here we joined up with Hickmet, who was to be our driver throughout the tour and Demir who was to be our local guide. We were very pleased to meet up with them and they provided terrific service throughout the tour. We then began the drive to Kulu Lake, which was to be our ultimate birding destination for the day. However, we enjoyed plenty of short birding stops along the way, allowing us to get to grips with some of the more common birds of the steppes, of central Turkey.
While driving through the sprawling suburbs of Ankara we added Feral Pigeon, Common Swift and the stunningly attractive Common Magpie. While driving through the rolling steppes, which stretched to the horizon on either side of the road, new birds included White Stork, Eurasian Collared Dove and Barn Swallow. A short comfort stop produced several new birds for us, including Long-legged Buzzard, which was to become a conspicuous feature of the steppes, Common Kestrel, a small flock of delightful European Bee-eaters, an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, a male Blackcap, which was to be our only sighting for the tour, Spotted Flycatcher, Rook and House Sparrow.
On our arrival at Kulu we enjoyed lunch and then spent the entire afternoon birding Kulu Lake as we circumnavigated this very large lake in our bus. There were large numbers of birds congregating around the edge of the lake and we very much enjoyed our time here. New birds for the trip were many and varied; Grey Herons stalked the shallows, along with good numbers of shimmering pink Greater Flamingos, both Ruddy and Common Shelducks were plentiful, Black-winged Stilts and Pied Avocets fed in the shallows and Kentish Plovers ran along the edge of the lake. We enjoyed watching several showy Spur-winged Lapwings and one or two of their close relatives the Northern Lapwing, smaller waders included Little Stint, Common Redshank, Ruff and our only sighting for the tour of Dunlin, most of which, were in full breeding plumage. There was also good numbers of Black-headed Gulls and large numbers of beautiful Slender-billed Gulls and a solitary immature Yellow-legged Gull. There were large numbers of both Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns who were foraging over the open grassland surrounding the lake. We also found a good variety of passerines in the open grassland, which included no less than five species of larks, Calandra, Greater and Lesser Short-toed, Crested and Eurasian. We were very fortunate to find Greater and Lesser Short-toed Larks literally side by side, allowing us to observe their differences in plumage, very well indeed. Large flocks of Common Sand Martins were flying above the grassland and this species was seen in enormous flocks during our time in Turkey, it was commoner here than in any other country that I have visited. We came across our first Tawny Pipit, lots of splendid Yellow Wagtails, with stunning black caps; and we were delighted to watch many displaying Isabelline Wheatears. We also added two very colourful species here, the attractive Red-backed Shrike and the stunning Black-headed Bunting. One of the many highlights of this tour was to have the Black-headed Bunting as a common roadside bird throughout the tour. We also saw our first mammal of the tour today, around Kulu Lake we observed many Asia Minor Ground Squirrels.
The following day was a travel day; we drove further to the southeast and drove past the huge salt lake of Tuz Golu, before overnighting at Sultanhani. However, we had allowed plenty of time for birding along the way. Roadside birding at small drainage channels proved very rewarding and along the edge of the channels we added such exciting species as Little Egret, a pair of Black Storks who had an immature with them, this was to prove our only sighting of this species for the tour, Western Marsh-Harrier, a small flock of the delightful, but unfortunately, endangered Lesser Kestrels, Wood Sandpiper, a flock of a dozen or so Black-bellied Sandgrouse in flight, which was to be our only sighting of this species, Little Owl, Eurasian Hoopoe, Great Reed-Warbler and Corn Bunting. At the southern end of Tuz Golu we where traveling through some very arid and sparsely populated country when the bus suddenly came to a screaming halt, jumping out of the bus as quickly as we could, we were able to enjoy great scope views of a pair of very uncommon Lesser Spotted Eagles, we were even able to scope them sitting on the ground and we also watched them in flight, this was our only sighting of this very uncommon species of eagle. A little further down the road and the bus came to a screaming halt once again, this time for another uncommon species of raptor, and we were able to watch a splendid adult male Montague's Harrier fly past us, exhibiting its typical buoyant, almost butterfly-like flight, as it did so. A further roadside stop produced good looks at our first of many splendid European Rollers.
We enjoyed a very good picnic lunch at the 12th Century ruins of Obruk Hani, which had been a lodging place on the legendary Silk Route, providing both lodging and protection from the many brigands who were only too happy to relieve the merchants of their precious cargoes. Obruk Hani also had a clinic where weary travelers could be treated for any ailments that they were suffering from. The series of fortified lodging houses along the Silk Route, not only enabled goods to be transported from Asia to Europe; they also enabled new inventions, new ideas and new religions to spread westwards. Following lunch we walked around a huge crater lake immediately behind the fortress, from which the fortress had once obtained its water supply. New birds for us at the crater lake included European Turtle-Dove, Northern Wheatear, Eurasian Tree Sparrow and Rock Sparrow. Our next birding stop was at Lake Meke, yet another volcanic crater lake, it was actually a Ramsar Site, because it is an important wintering ground for large numbers of wildfowl. However, it was spring and all the wildfowl had already headed north. Even so, there were good numbers of birds around the edge of the lake and new birds for us included Little Ringed Plover, Eurasian Crag-Martin, stunningly attractive Finsch's Wheatears and Common Linnet. As we were driving out of the crater the dirt road we were travelling along cut through layer after layer of volcanic ash. Early in the day we saw our second mammal of the tour, a solitary Brown Hare.
The following day our first scheduled birding stop was at the Kachar State Research Farm, close to Topakkaya. Here in the fields and orchards we added several species of passerines to our ever growing list; they included Cetti's and Upcher's Warblers, Common Whitethroat, Eurasian Golden Oriole, European Goldfinch and Spanish Sparrow. Our next birding stop was at Acigol Crater, yet another volcanic crater. As we climbed the steep slopes of the crater, which were covered with holly and stunted oaks, we enjoyed great looks at a splendid male White-throated Robin, a Lesser Whitethroat and a superb pair of Rock Buntings. We then drove through the very impressive area of Cappadocia, located in the very centre of Turkey. This area is famous for its spectacular natural rock formations; thousands of years of erosion by wind and rain on soft volcanic stone, with a layer of hardened larva caps, has created a fascinating landscape of rock cones and pinnacles. It is strewn with underground cities, where layers of tunnels and an intricate system of caves hid early Christians who were fleeing from persecution. Inside the rocky cliffs there are numerous churches and stone chapels, with beautifully painted frescos, as well as monasteries and other dwellings, all hewn out of the weirdly eroded volcanic rock, dating from 400 BC. In this fascinating area new roadside birds included Alpine Swift, Common House Martin and Eurasian Jay. We then enjoyed a picnic lunch along the banks of the Kizilirmak River at Avanos, where we also did a little birding. New birds here included Little Bittern, Common Moorhen, our only sighting of Savi's Warbler, Eurasian Reed-Warbler, Great Tit, several uncommon Eurasian Penduline Tits and a singing Common Nightingale who somewhat surprisingly, allowed us to approach closely, enabling us to enjoy very good looks at this normally very shy and secretive species.
In the afternoon we made a prolong visit to the Sultan Marshes, before driving south to Camardi, where we enjoyed a three nights stay. The Sultan Marshes are a low area of flooded grassland, which were literally teaming with birds; new birds here included several Great Crested Grebes, a small flock of Cattle Egrets, the only ones we saw during the tour, a few Squacco Herons, one or two Purple Herons, small numbers of Mallard, a drake Garganey in full breeding plumage, several Common Pochards, good numbers of Eurasian Coots and best of all, a flock of approximately 150 White-winged Black Terns in full breeding plumage, providing an exceptional ending to what had been one of the most interesting days of the tour.
The small village of Camardi lies at the foot of Mount Demirkazik, the highest mountain in the Aladag mountain range. Mount Demirkazik is home to a wide range of high alpine specialities, which includes the highly range restricted Caspian Snowcock, which was to be our number one target species in this area. We were up at three in the morning, well before dawn, and after a quick breakfast we started up the mountain, on a dirt track, in a purpose built trailer, which was pulled by a tractor. Even with five layers of clothing on, it was very cold and after an hour or so, as we approached the tops of the mountain and the snow, it had not warmed up, not one little bit. However, we all stopped thinking about the cold as we jumped off the trailer and began our search for the high alpine specialities. The first thing we noticed was the many alpine plants that dotted the landscape. Unfortunately, as soon as we began our search, low cloud spiraled up from the valleys below and shrouded the mountains in mist. During the next few hours a pattern of low cloud totally obliterating the mountains was interspersed with short periods which were free from cloud, with good visibility, allowing us good looks at some of the specialities, before another wave of low clouds enshrouded us all in semi-darkness once again. One of the first birds we saw well was the beautiful Horned Lark, and then several Black Redstarts popped into view, followed by a stunning Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush. During one period of good visibility a beautiful Radde's Accentor was found singing from the top of a rock. All the while, we could hear the loud, mournful calls of Caspian Snowcock, all around us. They were quite close, but the poor visibility prevented us from seeing our number one target species. By late morning we had seen all the high alpine specialities including Chukar, Alpine Accentor, the very uncommon Ring Ouzel, the equally uncommon Wallcreeper, Red-billed Chough, White-winged Snowfinch and the very beautiful Crimson-winged Finch, but not the elusive Caspian Snowcock. It was a delight to watch Northern Wheatears and White-winged Snowfinches performing their aerial display flights all around us. Then suddenly, it cleared completely, we could see the rock face in front of us and we scoured the tops for our last target species. A Caspian Snowcock then flew past us and landed on the cliff in front of us and began to call from the top of a rock; the scope was soon on the bird and we all enjoyed wonderful scope views of this high altitude and extremely range restricted species. We were now happy to travel back down the mountain, where we would enjoy our lunch. As we were walking back to the trailer a pair of Golden Eagles circled overhead and as we were watching them a solitary Peregrine Falcon began mobbing them. Paying no attention to the Peregrine the eagles settled on a nearby rocky crag, where we were able to enjoy good scope views of them. During the morning we also enjoyed good scope views of the Bezoar Goat, the ancestor of all domestic goats, which looks much more like an ibex, than a goat.
While walking to lunch back in Camardi, we saw our first White Wagtail and our first of many flocks of the stunning Rose-coloured Starling. In the afternoon we went birding on the lower slopes of Mt. Demirkazik, where we enjoyed good looks at three new species of birds; the beautiful Menetries's Warbler, a small flock of Alpine Choughs and great looks at the very striking Ortolan Bunting.
The following morning, we spent the whole morning birding the very beautiful Emli Gorge, in the nearby Aladag Mountains. This striking gorge has been inhabited for many centuries and there were countless homes that had been carved into the rocky sides of the gorge. Even today, Eurasian Rock Martins and Rock Sparrows were living in holes in the rock face along with Turkmen nomadic tribesmen, who live here during the summer months. The birding was as spectacular as the scenery; a Blue Rock-Thrush perched on top of one of the rocky crags, a European Blackbird sang from a nearby tree, as an Eastern Orphean Warbler foraged in a large bush, a Coal Tit showed well in a small conifer and a small group of Western Rock Nuthatches were searching nearby rocks looking for spiders. A beautiful Lesser Grey Shrike sat at the top of a large bush, a pair of Common Ravens flew by, a pair of European Serins were feeding on the ground and best of all, we very much enjoyed watching a small flock of the extremely range restricted Red-fronted Serin.
Back to Camardi for lunch and a little birding, new birds here included Black Kite, Syrian Woodpecker, Blue Tit and Common Chaffinch. We spent most of the afternoon birding at Akkaya Barraje, close to the town of Nigde. During the drive there we drove through an area of rolling steppe, and when we were close to the small village of Uckapili, we found three new species for the tour, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Grey Wagtail and a solitary Common Stonechat. The birding at Akkaya Barraje was extremely enjoyable and we added three very uncommon birds here; a pair of endangered White-headed Ducks, a small flock of breeding Greater Sandplovers and a stunning Citrine Wagtail, in full breeding plumage. There was also a supporting cast of new birds, which included Black-necked Grebe, Eurasian Teal, Northern Shoveler, Common Greenshank and Common Sandpiper. We also stumbled across a nest of the Lesser Short-toed Lark, which had four eggs in it. Somewhat surprisingly, the nest was not placed in the ground as is the norm with most species of larks; the nest was actually built on a platform above the ground, amongst the grass.
An early start the following morning found us at a stakeout for the uncommon Bimaculated Lark, at the nearby village of Celaller. In no time at all, we were enjoying scope views of this range restricted species. Reluctantly leaving the mountains behind, we headed for Tasucu, on the Mediterranean Coast. As we neared the coast we drove through the first of many conifer forests, so we decided we would have a quick birding stop. This was to prove very rewarding and new birds for us here included a stunning dark morph Booted Eagle, the first of many Red-rumped Swallows and our only Mistle Thrushes and Short-toed Treecreepers of the tour. As we reached the Mediterranean coastline we drove past many archeological ruins which included medieval fortresses, crusader castles and Roman temples. From the bus we added two new species here, the delightful White-throated Kingfisher and the range restricted White-spectacled Bulbul. We spent much of the afternoon birding in the famous Goksu Delta, this area is most famous as a wintering ground for wetland birds from northern Europe, even in late spring there was still large numbers of resident birds in attendance and somewhat surprisingly, even the odd bird still wintering and good numbers of birds still on passage, through the delta. We added a staggering 13 new species of birds for the tour, and we went back the following morning and added a further 7. New birds in the afternoon included a pair of Great Egrets, this is the only place in Turkey where this species breeds, a small flock of Eurasian Spoonbills, a pair of endangered Marbled Ducks, a drake Red-crested Pochard, in full breeding plumage, a couple of Black Francolins, a solitary Eurasian Oystercatcher, a flock of superb Collared Pratincoles, three third winter Caspian Gulls, several Common Terns in full breeding plumage, good numbers of Little Terns in breeding plumage, a solitary Sandwich Tern, also in full breeding plumage, several Graceful Prinias and a magnificent Woodchat Shrike. We also observed a Golden Jackal walk across one of the tracks. We were staying in a hotel that overlooked Tasucu Harbour, where we found our first of many Laughing Doves.
We spent a full morning birding once again in the Goksu Delta and one of the features of this mornings birding was the huge numbers of Common Sand Martins nesting in the sandy banks of the delta. Offshore gale force winds made the birding very difficult, because the passerines were very reluctant to perch up, where they could be seen. However, there was such a storm blowing offshore we decided to see if any species of seabirds had been blown close to shore. This was exactly what had happened; large numbers of Cory's Shearwaters could be seen battling the winds close to shore and amongst them there were a couple of Yelkouan Shearwaters and then we were stunned to find a juvenile Brown Booby flying along the beach; this is the first time this species has ever been recorded in the Mediterranean. Other new birds included Ferruginous Duck, Grey-headed Swamphen, Bearded Reedling, European Greenfinch and the surprise find, of a pair of Pale Rock Sparrows.
In the afternoon we went birding in the hills above Silifke, in and around Uzuneabure Gorge. New birds came thick and fast; and included a beautiful European Honey-buzzard, which flew directly overhead, Black-eared Wheatears perched on the top of several large rocks, a beautiful male Ruppell's Warbler sand from the top of a large bush, we saw Sombre Tits particularly well, Long-tailed Tits were very much in evidence, we enjoyed watching a very active Kruper's Nuthatch, a pair of stunning Masked Shrikes and one or two very striking male Cretzschmar's Buntings, in full breeding plumage. At one time we found ourselves birding along an ancient road made of limestone rocks, which were littered with ancient fossils, the road predated Roman times. We also took a little time off to visit a Roman Temple built in 70AD in honour of their main god, Zeus. We also saw a beautifully coloured Persian Squirrel which jumped from rock to rock right in front of us. During the drive back to our hotel in Tasucu, we drove past the very impressive Silifke Castle, built in the 13th century by Armenians, to protect themselves from attacks by Seljuk Turks. On arrival at Tasucu Harbour, gale force winds were still blowing hard and there were still large numbers of Cory's Shearwaters inshore. While doing a seawatch through my bedroom window, I managed to pick out a pair of second summer Audouin's Gulls, battling to fly against the strong winds, which we all saw extremely well.
We spent the whole of the following day in the very large Cukurova Delta, to the south of Adana, were we concentrated our efforts in the Adana Karatas bird sanctuary. The sanctuary is a large freshwater marsh surrounded by extensive sand dunes. Most of the delta is intensely cultivated and it is here that most of Turkey's water melons and rock melons are grown. This was the time of the harvest and literally hundreds of itinerate Kurdish farm labourers from eastern Turkey, were working in the fields and were housed in large makeshift tent cities, lining the roadsides. The Kurds come here for three months of the year, to work in the fields, before driving back to eastern Turkey. The birding proved very successful and we found a number of very late waders on passage to their breeding grounds in the far north of Europe and Siberia. These included a few Ringed Plovers, a few Grey Plovers, one in stunning breeding plumage and a Ruddy Turnstone in absolutely immaculate full breeding plumage. We also found a first winter Pallas's Gull, which is a very occasional visitor to Turkey. Other new birds included Pied Kingfisher, Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin and a solitary Zitting Cisticola.
Continuing eastwards, we spent much of the morning birding the very scenically attractive Isikli Valley, where our main target species was the recently split and extremely range restricted, Kurdish Wheatear. We climbed high into the mountains in our vehicle, before setting off on foot to walk along the top of a nearby mountain range. The top of the mountain was a large area of limestone kaste, where exposed limestone had been weathered by rain and wind and carved into spectacular rocky pinnacles, of all shapes and sizes. Finsch's Wheatears were very conspicuous and were displaying all around us, but try as we may, we could not find a Kurdish Wheatear anywhere. However, we did find a number of other exciting new birds; one or two Pallid Swifts were picked out amongst the flocks of Common Swifts, a small flock of Eurasian Nuthatches was found in one of the orchards, the extremely range restricted Eastern Rock Nuthatch, was commonplace, we found a pair of nesting Desert Finches, a very uncommon species of bird, and another range restricted species, the attractive Cinereous Bunting, also proved to be common in this area. In the afternoon we had a long drive to the east, before arriving at Birecik, on the banks of the Euphrates River, very close to the border with Syria.
Birecik is without doubt one of the most outstanding birding spots in the whole of Turkey, with many target species occurring here. Our hotel literally overlooked the Euphrates River, the cradle of civilization, and from the hotel itself, we were able to add the very range restricted Pygmy Cormorant and the Black-crowned Night-Heron. Sadly, a small gorge on the outskirts of Birecik, is now the only nesting place in the Western Palearctic of the critically endangered Northern Bald Ibis. As we drove towards the gorge a number of the ibis were flying upstream along the Euphrates River and we were also able to watch good numbers on their nesting cliffs. In all, we saw approximately 75 individuals, which is a large percentage, of the entire world population. Continuing out of town we searched for one of the other main target birds, the range restricted See-see Partridge, but it was now becoming very hot, and we did not have any luck finding it, although the habitat looked perfect. We decided we would return early the following morning. While searching for the partridge we did find the very attractive and incredibly range restricted Dead Sea Sparrow and the far more widespread Chestnut-shouldered Sparrow. We then decided to look for one of the other main target species in this area, the Iraq Babbler, which was only discovered in Turkey, as recently as 2006. We found this species very easily and had a good look at a couple of birds. While here, we also found a Dead Sea Sparrows nest, built on the outside of the nest of a Hooded Crow. Later in the afternoon we visited a small colony of nesting Little Swifts, this is the only breeding place for this species in the whole of the Western Palearctic. In downtown Birecik, we then visited a small park and searched for two species of owls which are known to breed in the park. We were spectacularly successful, finding an adult Pallid Scops-Owl at its daytime roost, where we enjoyed excellent scope views of the bird. This is one of the most difficult owls to find in the world and has a very small range. We also found an adult Long-eared Owl at its daytime roost, in a different tree, and once again, we were able to obtain good scope views of it.
Early the following morning found us searching for the See-see Partridge and this time, we found a pair very easily, and we watched them flush from our feet and fly into the adjoining valley. We had now found all the target species of Birecik and still had a day up our sleeve. It was decided that we would leave Birecik immediately and on our way further east we would make an unscheduled overnight stop at the famous ancient monument of Nemrut Dagi, and late this afternoon we would try again for the Kurdish Wheatear.
Following a long drive to the east we arrived at Nemrut Dagi and booked in for the night at a local hotel. We then drove to the ancient monument and slowly drove up the road, watching for birds as we did so. In only a matter of minutes we had found the Kurdish Wheatear and we enjoyed good scope views of both male and female. We continued to bird our way up to the ancient monument and added a further four new species, three of them were raptors. The first was a Eurasian Hobby, which flew swiftly overhead and out of sight, this was followed by a prolonged sighing of a Bonelli's Eagle in flight, this is a very rare species in Turkey. We then enjoyed prolonged and excellent looks at two juvenile Short-toed Eagles, who spent much of their time hovering together, looking for food. We also had a couple of quick looks at a Desert Lark, yet another, very uncommon bird in Turkey. We then walked around the very impressive archeological site of Nemrut Dagi. In 62 BC, King Antiochus I of Commagene a city state, built for himself a mountain top tomb in the Anti-Taurus mountains of southeastern Turkey. The tomb is flanked by huge statues 8-9 metres in height, of himself, two lions, two eagles and various Greek, Armenian and Persian gods, including Hercules, Zeus and Apollo. The statues are seated, with the names of each god inscribed on them. The site is as awe inspiring as it is enigmatic.
|The following day was very much a travel day, spending almost all of the day in the bus as we drove from Nemrut Dagi to Tatvan, in the far east of Turkey. It rained for much of the day, which did not affect us, as we were inside the bus. This was to be the only rain that fell during daylight hours, throughout the whole tour; it could not have come at a better time. Early in the drive we had to take a ferry across a large river, to us, it looked like organised chaos, buses, trucks, cars and motor bikes all jostling for position to ensure they got on the ferry. In the end, everyone got on and the transfer across the river went like clockwork. Today we traveled through villages that had changed very little since biblical times. |
The following morning we were to drive to Nemrut Dagi Volcano, not far from Tatvan, however, when we were approximately three and a half kilometres from the crater lake, the road became impassable, as heavy snow and ice had washed away a section of the road. So we made the decision to walk to the lake and back. It was a lovely day and there were plenty of birds for us to look at, even though we had seen them previously on the tour. Then we found a small bird doing a broken wing distraction display, the adult bird was trying to lure us away from its nest, which it did very successfully. The bird was a Woodlark, a new bird for the tour, a little later we enjoyed a second sighting, this time of a Woodlark singing from the top of a small spruce. These were the only Woodlarks we were to see throughout the whole tour, if it had not been for the landslide, we would never have seen this species. On arrival at the lake we found a large number of Armenian Gulls nesting on a small island, in the lake.
In the afternoon we visited a large reedbed close to Ahlat along the shoreline of Lake Van. The weather was still good, with little wind, making it ideal weather to search for reedbed birds, and in no time at all we were enjoying great looks at the two target species we were searching for, Moustached Warbler and Paddyfield Warbler. The Paddyfield Warbler has only been found breeding in Turkey, in the last few years. During the next few days, while birding in and around Lake Van, the weather followed the same pattern, with clear, bright mornings followed by a build up of clouds during the afternoon and then rain in the evenings. Lake Van is so huge, that it forms its own weather system! While driving to Gevas Marshes we came to a screeching halt and we all piled out of the bus to admire three Common Woodpigeons, a not so common bird in Turkey, in fact, it is a very uncommon bird in Turkey. There were plenty of birds for us to look at in the Gevas Marshes, most of which we had seen previously on the tour. However, we did enjoy good scope views of one new bird, a solitary Black-tailed Godwit, in full breeding plumage.
A little to the east of Lake Van, lies Ercek Lake and we spent a full day here, birding at several locations around the lake. It was a very enjoyable days birding and we even managed to find some new birds for the tour. Around the edge of the lake, new birds included a few Little Grebes and a flock of 12 Red-necked Phalaropes, all in full breeding plumage, pirouetting close to the lakeshore, just a few metres from us. This was a very enjoyable sighting and we spent some time watching these most delightful of birds. We then decided to walk a small trail which headed off into the mountains which surrounded the lake. The first new bird we found was a superb adult Egyptian Vulture, soaring in the sky above us, it was a terrific sight. The next new bird was a Common Cuckoo, which perched for us on telegraph wires, and the last new bird for the day was a stunning adult male Siberian Stonechat, which we saw very well indeed. Today we also saw many large flocks of stunning Rose-coloured Starlings, the majority were in full breeding plumage; we saw approximately 800 birds, some of them feeding on the ground just a few metres away from us. We also enjoyed our best sighting of Golden Jackal.
The following day we drove northwards to the small village of Serpmetas, near Caldiran. Here there is a fine example of a shiny black, volcanic flow of molten lava, which had cooled and set rock hard, it was an amazing sight. We birded around the lava flow and up into the mountains and we were very pleased to find a total of seven new birds for the tour. They included Common Crane, Eurasian Buzzard, the seldom seen Common Quail, Whinchat, Twite, Common Rosefinch and the very uncommon Mongolian Finch, only a handful of birds breed in the far east of Turkey. In the afternoon we birded at various places along the north shore of Lake Van. While birding at Bendimahi Delta, near Timar, we climbed an observation tower overlooking the marsh. This was a tremendous vantage point and we very much enjoyed our time here. Amongst the many birds here were two drake Gadwalls in eclipse plumage, which was a new species for the tour.
The following morning we drove to the east, to the 2,710 metre Guzeldere Pass, near Guzelsu. Shortly after our arrival a pair of Eurasian Griffon Vultures flew high over our heads. We then walked up a steep gully where we found nesting Bluethroats, a very uncommon bird in Turkey. On the way back to Van, for lunch, we made a quick birding stop at a small area of woodland, close to Zamek Barrage. Here we managed to find another new bird for the tour, the Mountain Chiffchaff. After lunch in Van, we visited Van Marshes and enjoyed great looks at a couple of Common Reed Buntings, a new bird for the tour, and another very uncommon bird in Turkey.
We spent the following morning at a Rocky Gorge south of Donenec, where we enjoyed great scope views of a singing male Grey-necked Bunting, another very uncommon bird in Turkey. In the afternoon we drove to the airport and flew back to Istanbul, for an overnight stay. From our hotel windows we could look over the Bosporus Straits, where we added Great Cormorant and European Shag. In nearby parkland, we found an introduced Alexandrine Parakeet.
This was a perfect end to a perfect tour in the ancient land of Asia Minor.