We’re in Russia, and we love it. This country rocks. Putin may do strange things, but what we see, this sure looks good. We have a setup here with a full-package deal from Ural Expeditions. This is sort of required to do a proper Ural tour, expensive but good. In the Yekaterinburg area we have a van, a driver Igor and our guide, Sasja.
First day of birding we went straight to a famous site close to the airport, packed breakfast and dawn. The first Booted Warbler sung as we opened the car doors.
These marshes held a plethora of new WP birds for us, and just in a few hours we ticked off Grasshopper Warbler, Thrush Nightingale, Long-Tailed Rosefinch and a fast over flying Oriental Turle Dove.
Other nice species at the Airport marshes:
After a wonderful breakfast in the lingering morning, we went to another spot close by which held a number of breeding Great Snipes.
Nice little wetland with breeding Godwits and Red-shanks
Keep at it, we went to another local site called, Monetny which is an amazing site, with a dirt road passing thorough prime marsh habitat. First thing, we came into the habitat and we heard River Warbler calling, next we hear Greenish Warbler and then Lanceolated. Dream birds.
Oriental Cuckoo called from far away and we found the first of hopefully many Olive-backed Pipits. The site is famous for Azur Tit, we didn’t find any though.
At the end of the day, we had picked up 11 new WP ticks. We remember when we had the pelagic in April in Kuwait, we had 10 new ticks that day and Paul Chapman said, this was probably the last day you had 10 new ticks. Haha, he was wrong.
Day two, started out early in a park close to the city, Lake Shartash where Sasja had seen the Azur Tits just two weeks ago. No tits there. Tried a few other spots, and finally went to a spot an hour north of the city. This was the place where Sasja had seen Yellow-breasted Bunting two weeks ago, a known nesting site. Fairly long walk through woods and moor, and we arrived at the spot. Entirely different habitat to what we believed was the right habitat for the enigmatic bunting. The spot was a classical Swedish/Russian taiga marsh with small Pines and Cloudberries. We split up, and after half an hour Mårten calls on the Walkie and says – WE HAVE THE BIRD. Raul and I run there but when we arrive, the bunting is gone. We walk back and forth, searching, no Bunting. Eventually the bird responds to playback and flies over, Raul and I see a Bunting, but that’s all. Sigh. One hour later, after thorough search we connect with a male. Poor pics, but better video. What a bird.
Day three, rain. We’re sleeping in a wonderful camp full of well behaving children on some sort of Russian wilderness course. We eat with the kids and it’s just great – apart from the rain which pretty much rules out birding. Nevertheless we ignore that and walk along a swampy area for a couple of hours searching for Rustic Bunting. None there. Back to camp and drink coffee and read. Eventually, bored out of our sculls we go out again for a walk. Mårten and Erik gets to see a Capercaille!! The infamous Difference List is finally empty, it hasn’t been empty since January 1 when Mårten saw a Moustached Warbler and Erik and I did not.
Day 4 in Lower Urals, this is Azur Tit day. We’re on a quest. Started out really early in Monetny, walking slowly playbacking the darned Tit. Apart from not finding the Azur Tit during the entire day, we had some fantastic birding this day, with sightings of Oriental cuckoo and much more. Best, and a bit unexpected were in total three Siberian Ruby-throats.
What a stunner. Pretty wasted after a long walk through the marshes we come back to the van, the driver, Igor, sees us and waves – come come. A Great Grey Owl has parked just by the van.
Another good bird on this second visit to Monetny was White-backed Woodpecker, quite a few individuals were seen and heard.
We gave up on Monetny and tried a few other sites nearby for the Azur Tit. Tricky bird, the current theory is that due to the late spring, they had failed nestings and are now sulking in the woods.
On a field, on the way back, we heard Yellowhammer/Pine bunting song and stopped to investigate. A few Yellowhammers, but also a number of clear hybrids. Interesting to see such a clear mix of two species.
Tomorrow it’s going to rain, and we’re having Azur Tit panic.
Kazakhstan is mostly steppe, that is also the main reason for visiting the country. The steppe habitat is, grass and scrub continuing for endless hours in the car. Before going north from Atyrau, we revisited the place on the Ural river where we found a Black-headed Penduline Tit, the goal being better pictures.
Headed north towards the little village Inderbor. This is a good place to stay a couple of days, it has an old-school soviet-style hotel which was just great.
Next day we headed out onto the steppe. We drove a long round about towards north west of Inderbor. We had received good information from the unthreatened WP king, PAC. Larks were abundant, especially Short-toed Lark. We estimated the number of Short-toed Larks seen in the day to 7000. White-winged Larks were reasonably common all day too.
After a few hours driving west, we soon found the first Black Larks. They were common in an area along the dirt track stretching approximately 10 km. The steppe favoured by the Black larks was possibly more sandy than other parts of the steppe. We counted all together 104 Black larks.
The Black Lark is a bit of a dream bird, it stands out like a beacon of want in the Collins Guide. We drove on heading towards a lake on the steppe. The lake hosted quite a few Dalmatian Pelicans which were easy there.
We heard a Bittern at the lake, possibly uncommon. Soon we also found our first group of Demoiselle Crane, altogether we saw 4 different groups of Demoiselle Crane, one pair nesting with chicks.
Turned east after the lake, continued to bird from the car with numerous stops and short walks. Pallid Harrier and Montague’s Harrier were fairly common, also Steppe Eagle was fairly common.
Halfway between the lake and the main road, a group of 3 Saiga Antilope runs across the dirt track. A very rare and strange animal indeed, threatened on the brink of extinction. Later, one more ran along the road.
Next day was spent searching villages and disturbed areas along the road back to Atyrau. There is always the possibility of that rare bird from far away. Rosy Starlings were seen a couple of times.
Our last day in Atyrau, we went back to the Ural Delta. We had gotten all psyched up on the possibility of the Lesser Short-toed Larks in that area actually being Asian Short-toed Lark. We photographed several individuals. The Advanced Id Guide, says that t6 should be almost entirely white.
We concluded though, slightly disappointed that the birds in the Ural delta most probably are not Asian. This complex needs further investigation, and we have heard that Per Ahlström is conducting just that right now.
Kazakhstan, western part of the country is part of WP. This is an area which not especially easy to access. The city to go to is called Atyrau, and there are AFAIK zero car rental agencies in the city. We opted for a solution organised by Yekaterina Dotsenko (email@example.com) which has turned out to work well, albeit expensive. The setup is a UAZ bus with one driver, one guide and one translator (I guess this explains the price)
Nevertheless, we arrived yesterday and took a day privately with a taxi driver, birding some of the parks in the city and also some nearby marshes. Long-tailed Shrike was found breeding in Victory Park, Atyrau last year. This was our first target, and we birded that park and nearby shrubbery along the Ural River. No Shrike, but quite nice birding, especially in the shrubbery.
After the park, we took the all-day-cab to a sewage pond north-west of the city. Lot’s of Caspian Gulls, lots of ducks and warblers.
In the shrubbery next to the sewage, we found a few Red-headed Buntings.
Drove on towards wetlands just north of the city, plenty of Black-winged Pratincoles there. We sort of ignored a few sightings of the Pratincole when we were in Kuwait, the idea being that we should get the Pratincole here. This was right, Black-winged Pratincole is common here.
The next day, we had a date with the Kazak team, 5.30 outside our hotel in Atyrau. The destination was the Ural delta. This area is possibly difficult to visit. We have heard of groups who lately had problems getting access to the area. There was a military checkpoint, but our guide just spoke to them and we had access. The area is covered with dirt roads, and a 4WD is required.
Anyways, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, just 100 m prior to the checkpoint, we search bushes and reeds, and found at least two Black-headed Penduline Tits. This is MEGA, and AFAWK a first for Western Palearctic. The distribution maps for the Tit shows that is should occur in the Ural Delta, but no one has to our knowledge ever reported it. Poor pics, but it sure looks good.
With this gem under our belt, we entered the Nature Reserve, the Ural Delta.
Birding in the area was excellent, the salty steppe combined with reeds, canals and marshes.
On this leg, the Kazkhstan and Russia, Raul Vicente joins up with us. Raul in the middle on the picture above. So far he has called out two WP ticks for us, more to come !!
A wide variety of species, waders, ducks, Sykes Warbler, Red-headed Buntings, Calandra Larks, Short-toed Larks and Lesser Short-toed Larks in the delta.
After a few hours, we also found a few White-winged Larks.
Cyprus has three specialities, one we’d already seen in Israel, the Cyprus Warbler. The other two are the Cyprus Scopes Owl and the Cyprus Wheatear.
Arrived late in the evening in the North/Turkish part and made a short stop close to our hotel. Heard the owl calling on our second stop.
Second day we went birding on a point into the sea, the idea being that once we had picked up the Wheatear, we could do some sea watching. The sea was completely empty and in retro perspective, the short stop we made close to Antalya before the Romania Amur Falcon twitch, was a lucky strike. Then we had good views of both of the two occurring Shearwaters in the eastern Mediterranean, Scopoli’s and Yelkoan Shearwater. Without those two bagged in Turkey, especially the Yelkoan, we would be in Shearwater-panic-mode now.
The Wheatear was a bit tricky to find though, we saw one individual from the car briefly. Eventually, at one stop where we flushed a Little Owl we got it.
The Little Owl woke a whole lot of Sardinian Warblers, and also a Cyprus Wheatear. They all were very irritated with the owl, including the Wheatear which was then easy to photograph close to the Owl.
Late in the season, birds here are already breeding and birding is generally poor. Slightly interesting was the lightly coloured subspecies of Hooded Crow.
We never had any views of the Warbler, on the other hand we didn’t search that hard.
After dinner at night, slightly drunk, we went owling again. This time we not only heard the cool little Scopes Owls, we got good views. Sneaked into a graveyard and whistled the calls.
Listen carefully to the two-note-call, this is what mainly separates it from the normal Eurasian Scopes Owl which has a one-note call.
Last day here, spent by the pool, emailing and planning the remainder of the year. Lazy.
Quite a few people suggested that we should have skipped Cyprus, or maybe shortened it and gone twitching the famous Albatross on Sylt in Germany. Lucky thing we didn’t, the Albatross is gone again (as far as we can see on Internet) . Had we hurried like crazy from Milan, we would have arrived on June 6, and dipped the Albatross. Much better then to drink beer by the pool in Cyprus.
Finally, Northern Cyprus appears to be an undiscovered gem. The three of us generally hate tourist resorts. For example the Lago d’Orta in Italy, the lake with the Muscovy Duck. That place was crawling with tourists, horrible place. Not to mention Hourgada in Egypt … brrrr. The coast of Northern Cyprus is beautiful and very relaxed. Well worth a visit.
The category C species is a constant topic of conversation in the car as we travel. Since we wanted to know more about it we asked our friend Paul Chapman, British birder, who we met on our second trip to Kuwait to make matters more clear. Paul is now “guest blogger” here and wrote the following informative and entertaining piece for you all.
LAST CHANCE TO C
Nothing is more likely to produce a gasp from a competitive lister than to realise that he has missed a species which he’ll now never get. In a Western Palearctic context, this would seem reserved for Slender-billed Curlew and the like, but in fact, a new series of blockers has started to appear. There’s always that dream that you’ll get a chance at Aleutian Tern or Ascension Island Frigatebird – mythical birds like these can always recur – but with tighter regulations on bird imports and a heightened approach in many countries to preventing invasive species taking hold, will there ever be another self-sustaining population of Lady Amherst’s Pheasant? For those that have visited that same farm near Rilvas, Portugal to be greeted by the revelation that there aren’t any Black-headed Munias any more or walked those same streets near the shops in Pardes Hanna-Karkur, Israel only to see Ring-necked after Ring-necked Parakeet rather than their Nanday cousins, they will be aware of that feeling.
Howls of derision are directed towards self-sustaining feral species – Category C species. They are often referred to in slang as ‘plastic’. Indeed, I’ve lost count of the number of blog posts that I have seen over the years ironically entitled ‘Plastic Fantastic’. In fairness, few words rhyme with plastic.
But for a WP lister intent on a 800+ life list or a 700+ year list, they are difficult to ignore. In a WP context, not far short of 5% of the species likely to be seen in a year will be Category C species. I counted 33 species which I believe are only on the Western Palearctic list as a result of feral populations. These can be broadly broken down into wildfowl (6), gamebirds (6), parrots (5) and cagebirds (16).
For the wildfowl, the species are generally located in northern Europe – a day out in the Netherlands and Germany should get you a clean sweep of Black Swan, Bar-headed Goose, Swan Goose, Mandarin Duck and Ruddy Duck. Probably the admission that has caused most howls is that of Muscovy Duck. Recently added in Northern Italy, this species was also considered to be self-sustaining in Britain before an intervention on that population.
The gamebirds are more problematic. It is far more difficult to tell if a species routinely released and artificially fed is really self-sustaining. California Quail requires a trip to Corsica. Northern Bobwhite can be targeted in Northern Italy as well as still in France and also available in France (and perhaps the Czech Republic) is Reeve’s Pheasant. Whereas Golden Pheasant clings on in Britain but for how much longer, two species now appear to have become ultimate blockers being Lady Amherst’s Pheasant in Britain – a victim of golf courses, increased disturbance and loss of understorey – and Erckel’s Francolin which never really took to Italy. I’m not sure how many listers got to the forbidden ‘orgy island’ Zannone (as CNN described it) before the demise of the species. Maybe if they saw that headline then they would have tried but lets face it, birders aren’t normally known for that type of thing.
The parrots again are in the main an easy enough bunch. Ring-necked Parakeet is found in a number of countries and Monk Parakeet is heading the same way though despite fulfilling self-sustaining status according to the bird committee, it was prevented from admission to the British list and control measures are in place. Alexandrine Parakeet has recently been admitted in the Netherlands and Yellow-headed Amazon in Germany. Nanday Parakeet is a problematic one. The true extent of the Israeli population – now lost – has always been unclear and its Canaries and Barcelona populations are part of a whole bunch of parrot species which occasionally escape and breed – Blue-crowned, Red-masked and Mitred perhaps most notably. Indeed, Blue-crowned has bred in the Britain. One species admitted and then removed is Fischer’s Lovebird. Many took the trip to the stunning backdrop of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat but eventually the cages and the feeding proved just too much for the list compilers….. The species is now totally erased – a mistake in time eradicated from all lists. At least you could always have a seawatch from the nearby headland.
So then you get the ‘true’ cagebirds. In the main, these split between the Iberian Peninsula and the Middle East. The former with planning should produce Red-billed Leiothrix (also in France and Italy), Crested Myna (Portugal), Black-headed Weaver, Yellow-crowned Bishop, Common Waxbill (also on the Atlantic Islands) and Red Avadavat. Black-headed Munia (Portugal) has reached blocker status with the birds apparently being recaptured for the bird trade – an ironic twist and a reminder to move fast.
The Iberian Munia puzzles are probably not over yet though as various species have a tendency to get themselves established at least temporarily and perhaps Scaly-breasted Munia will slip seamlessly into the list in the next decade. Otherwise the Middle East adds Common Myna (increasing throughout), Bank Myna, White-cheeked and Red-vented Bulbuls and Ruppell’s Weaver (Kuwait) and Vinous-breasted Starling (Israel).
At least four of those appear to have pretty restricted populations. This leaves Vinous-throated Parrotbill – one species to chase despite some earlier listing confusion – mainly in Italy and as a recent vagrant from there to Switzerland but also with a population in the Netherlands, Red-billed Leiothrix in France, Spain and Italy and Indian Silverbill in at least France, Israel and Kuwait.
So there you have it, 33 species and 4 of them already likely to be extinct in the countries in which they were admitted.
Is that the end of the matter? Well not really. Four species are pretty much exclusively ticked as Category C species though they continue to occur (or at least occurred) on a Category A basis. Egyptian Goose and Ring-necked Pheasant are most often seen in their feral European populations and I doubt that many would twitch a Sacred Ibis in the Middle East having seen the European ones. Also, Helmeted Guineafowl is now extinct as a Category A species and listers resort to the Cape Verde introduced populations. Further, where does House Crow sit on this list? A slightly different proposition being human assisted in its arrival rather than escaped or released but nevertheless as a result, this is seen by many as a variant on the Category C conundrum. So that takes us to 38!!
It then gets really murky. Ironically the Eurasian Collared Dove expansion, that has made certainty of identification of African Collared Dove in its former haunts including Egypt and elsewhere difficult, has also confused the identification of the feral populations in at least the Canaries and the identification of vagrant Snow Goose and Greater Canada Geese from their self-sustaining feral relatives is more a matter of art than science.
So why have these species got such a poor reputation amongst ‘serious birdwatchers’? Often by their nature they are tame, some are brightly coloured and some just look out of context. Another reason is that there is no clear definition of what self-sustaining means and by their very nature, it is difficult to separate recent escapes or supported populations from truly self-sustaining ones. In Britain, the Lady Amherst’s Pheasants in North Wales were considered untickable whereas the ones in Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire were counted. In France, arguments continue over which are tickable populations of Reeve’s Pheasant. In Kuwait and indeed in Israel, a species seems more likely to be officially accepted onto the list than elsewhere. Does one well at Jahra Farms really support a self-sustaining population? At least the Bank Mynas have moved wells in the last few years! I once had a conversation with a member of the Israeli committee who was genuinely surprised that Nanday Parakeet was on their list. So at times, it does really seem a lottery.
What next? Do any of those Indian Peafowls breeding in Britain tick the boxes? What about the Greater Rheas in Germany? Those Scaly-breasted Munias and maybe Pin-tailed Wydahs in the Iberian Peninsula or the Red-whiskered Bulbuls on Fuerteventura may be next let alone the next parrot off the conveyor belt?
Although not to everyone’s tastes and certainly beset with problems of interpretation and confusion, Category C species are an intrinsic part of any geographically limited list. I know British listers who count Capercallie for their British list but will only admit it to their World List when they have seen a Scandinavian bird. That said, this is a species with at least some European assistance and reintroduction programmes so at times you cannot really tell the origin of the bird in front of you. In reality, whether it is a Houbara at Merzouga, a Double-spurred Francolin at Sidi Yahya des Zaer or a Red Kite in Oxford, if you scratch the surface, in an overcrowded world with the impact of man at every corner, the position is a lot less straightforward than some with absolute views would like to think. I am far less fussy. I’m not sure when I first saw my Category A Red-legged Partridge or Little Owl away from Britain and I wouldn’t know where to start in working out a Category A British Mute Swan. My personal view is just enjoy the birds for what they are unless they are causing an environmental impact. In an average year, a WP year lister may well end up with 37 Category C targets, a furrowed brow over some extinct friends and a bit of insurance to acquire over a few that may soon be joining the party.
Since we were able to finish our Turkey trip way ahead of time, we went twitching in Romania, but we also rescheduled our summer trip to Italy. This coincided well with a Black Heron rarity in Puglia, Southern Italy.
Arriving in Rome Italy, we immediately headed south towards the reported Black Heron. Ticked number 600 en route at a gas station, trash bird. It would have felt good to have the Amur Falcon as 600, but then again you can’t have everything.
Arrived at the sleepy little Mediterranean city of Porto Cesaro. We had received pretty good information from Italian friends, and we were able to find the Heron just after a few minutes scanning the bay.
This is an African bird, as far as we know, 7th find in WP, very good. On the shore there were also some normal Mediterranean birds, such as Yellow-legged Gulls, Audouin’s gulls, a few Little Terns and a lost Little Stint.
Slept in Porto Cesaro after a spectacular full-on Italian dinner. Now, this is a country with food culture. Morocco, eat your hart out.
In the morning, drove north, long drive towards the mountains north-east of Lucca, close to Pisa. Camped late at night, high up. Early start, searching the steep wet slopes for Red-billed Leiothrix, an Asian bird introduced, probably by mistake as result of cage birds fleeing their captors. We found quite a few after maybe an hour of searching. Quick birds, hard to photograph.
Went from Lucca to the little village of Deiva Marina (where incidentally I were a few years ago, a bicycle race started from there) There were eBird reports of Moltoni’s warbler from that village. We found a pair almost immediately, too easy. This was a bird we had worried a bit about.
It’s not as hard to distinguish from the regular Subalpine warbler as you would think, the call is entirely different and the song has a different twang to it. Also, the coloration is pinkish, not red. However, the main distinguishing feature is the wren-like call. Some things are harder when you read about them than when you actually do them.
Tick on – drove further north, ticked Sacred Ibis from the highway. Abundant in the rice fields. Arrived in the afternoon at Lago Orta which hosts a category C population of Muscovy Duck. These birds were surprisingly hard to locate and we also feel uncertain of the actual category C categorisation of these birds. Anyways, the Italian ornithology organisation has deemed these birds wild.
Italians don’t speak english. Traveling Italy without being able to speak Italian you have to get by with body language. When we had ticked the ugly ducks, we got into a conversation with an Italian couple that just – well – spoke a lot of Italian. A lot. I couldn’t hold back and countered with Paperi Poperi
Drove to Milano and made a late evening attempt at Northern Bobwhite before crashing in hotel. Tried another site in the early morning and walking into the right habitat at dawn, we could hear the Bobwhites displaying inside the thick bushes. These birds were hard to see, hadn’t it been that the Bobwhites were calling we would never had been able to find them. Thus, it was lucky that we were able to do this Italy trip now in June, instead of as originally scheduled in July when we believe they are silent. Excellent birding in general at that site with singing Nightingales and Melodious Warblers everywhere.
Drove on, this time into France and the Alps. Arrived in the afternoon with spectacular weather over the Alps.
Birded the slopes of the mountain roads north east of Modane and shortly found the Citril Finch.
Started to walk the mountain slopes and found a displaying Rock Partridge after a few hours. The call is surprisingly loud.
Drove down the mountain in search of a camping spot and a Spotted Nutcracker flew over the road. We were able to tape in the Nutcrackers and got good views.
Woke up in the morning in rain and complete mist. Bad weather just came in. In this weather the Partridge would have been impossible, probably the Citril Finch too.
A couple of days ago we were in the car, close to the tourist resort Antalya in Turkey, heading towards a lake in the area where we could tick Dalmatian Pelican, the last bird for Turkey for us. We had heard about recent sitings of an Amur Falcon in Romania, it was reported on Tarsiger and also on Tommy Holmgrens Facebook. Someone dropped the comment – how far is it to drive there?
Our Turkey trip was finished, one week ahead of schedule, much due to all the help we got from Emin, but also due to the fact that we nailed the Caucasian Black Grouse in Georgia. Thus, we had extra time on our hands so we went twitching to Romania.
For our non-hardcore-birder followers, I now repeat some lister terminology.
Twitch – Fly/drive/run/whatever to a reported rare bird.
Twitchable – The reported rare bird is supposedly still there if you decide to go there.
Tick – If you run a bird list (as we do) , a tick is a seen or heard bird.
Tickable – Some birds cannot go on the list, they are not tickable due to the bird not being wild, but rather an escaped previously caged bird.
Lister – a person that keeps a list.
Dip – Go on a twitch, and not find the bird
So, with the extra time on our hands we went twitching in Romania. Easy and cheap to fly from Antalya to Bucharest and we went straight to the Red-footed Falcon colony in the Donau Delta where the Amur Falcon had been seen. Spent the better half of the afternoon and the evening scanning the colony.
Zero warblers in the patch of forest, probably due to the 60 pairs of Red-footed Falcons nesting there. The only other bird in that patch was an Oriole. Apart from the nesting Rooks, Red-footed Falcons steal the nests from Rooks. Seems to be a never ending fight.
No Amur Falcon though, but it was a delight spending time in the Red-footed Falcon colony, actually getting to know the individuals.
Next day we were in slight panic mode, we also needed to get Dalmatian Pelican. Some local guides we spoke to suggested we needed to go on their boat tour. Started early in the morning at the Red-footed Falcon site, but then went searching for Dalmatian Pelican. After an hour or so, we found a 2 cy bird.
Went back to the Falcon site, scanning. Yet another Dalmatian came flying over.
There is a lot of tea-drinking going on in Turkey. We think that one should always say yes when offered a cup of tea, and we’ve been offered many. Nice.
Going west from Birecic, where we all had our hair and beards sorted by a Syrian barber we drove towards Aladaglar NP. We didn’t make it all the way though, and decided to camp before sunset. Once at the camp site, Mårten thought he should check how Krüpers Nuthatch sounds and played it from the phone. Dang, an aggressive nuthatch came flying in immediately.
The habitat was pine forest, lot’s of Mistle Thrush, Coal Tits and more.
After a slow morning with slow birding and lots of coffee we eventually drove towards Aladaglar where we met up with Basar Safak who runs a wonderful pension just below the mountain. Anyone who decides to go to Aladaglar to see the Caspian Snowcock should seriously consider to stay in ÖzŞafak Pension and let Safak show you the area.
Before sunrise we drove up to the mountains to look for Caspian Snowcock and Radde’s Accentor. Here we need to give some extra cred to Basar Safak who broke his arm one day prior to our arrival. We thought it was strange how his messages suddenly changed character and his english got really bad. This time it was not a case of someone using spellchecker at the start and then later, not botherin. No, Basar was still drugged and had just left the hospital having to write with is left hand… And the day after he was with us up on that mountain, his arm in a cast and a big smile on his face. What a guy!
Birding in Aladag mountains was very different to our birding in the Caucasus mountains in Georgia. In Aladag the weather was perfect. No wind, no mist, no clouds, no snow (except at the top of the mountains). A fantastic morning and it was not long until Basars and Martens whistling payed of. A Snowcock was calling back and after some minutes scanning the slopes Klacke found two birds on a not to distant ridge. Very nice!
Me and Erik decided to try and get some pictures of a nice looking Rock Thrush while looking for Radde’s Accentor, our remaining target in Aladag. As the Thrush moved closer and closer we got more and more excited and then from under a small bush four meters away a brown bird crawled out. Radde’s Accentor Erik whispers to me! A dream bird for Erik and nice photos too.
Loads of other mountain birds too
After dropping off Anna Bohlin at Adana we drove further west. Picked a camping spot close to Akseki where Olive-tree Warblers should nest. Parked the car and open the doors, one-two-three-tick. They were singing everywhere. Very very hard bird to photograph though, the area where we camped hosted many many Olive-tree Warblers, singing constantly, always hiding.
Nice, that concluded the three eastern grey, Eastern Olivacious, Upcher’s and now Olive-tree. Other nice birds we saw in the morning were Middle-spotted Woodpecker, Eastern Orphean Warbler and to us unknown race of Eurasian Nuthatch.
One more slow morning with loads of coffee and birding.
Drove further west towards the well known site of the Turkish Brown Fishowls, Oymapinar. We choose a small mountain road there and did several stops looking for Rüppel Warbler. We saw Rüppel Warbler in Israel, but it would be nice to see on the breeding site as well. One stop had breeding Cretzschmar’s bunting singing.
And one had:
High quality birds.
Once we got close to the site, we tried to scope the owls from a site we had heard of.
But we couldn’t see the owls, the nest is known and the owls are down there. This lake has tourist boats driving around, but the skippers know that birders are prepared to pay up to get to the known owl site, thus they charge. Hence we had to pay up, 50 Euro/pers to get to the owls. Initial price was 100.
Driving further west towards a site for Dalmatian Pelican where we have a date with a friend of Emin, we start to talk tentatively about a recent siting of Amur Falcon in Romania – How far to drive there? – There are Dalmatian Pelicans in the Donau Delta too, right – so we change plan completely and fly to Romania. Flexibility is king.
So, this is last post from Turkey, and we’re giving Emin Yoğurtcuoğlu more than big thanks. Emin, we never met you, and now we’re leaving Turkey. Must meet some day !!!
When we started to plan our WP year and the first time heard of, and read about the birding site in southern Turkey called Birecik, we were fantasising over the amount of good WP species that were possible to find in that area. However, as the year has gone by, we have one by one found those good species in other countries. By now, we only had three remaining target species in Birecik.
We still were missing the Pale Rock-sparrow and Emin Yoğurtcuoğlu provided a spot close to Sanliurfa which was good both for the Sparrow, but even more interesting, See-see Partridge. At sunrise we drove on the dirt road into the right habitat. The Partridges were common, this was a bird we had been worrying quite a bit over.
We searched the area for hours for the Pale Rock-sparrow. We found a small pond in the dry area which attracted quite a few nice birds.
Crested Lark were ridiculously common everywhere. We’ll never forget the easily recognisable call of the Crested Lark for the remainder of our lives.
As opposed to the Nemrit Dagi, Finch’s Wheatear was common in this area.
No Pale Rock-sparrow though, and eventually we gave up. On the way out from the good habitat, through an industrialised area a Little Owl perched wonderfully.
Now, on to Pale Rock-sparrow. On our Facebook chat, Jani Vastamäki suggested to search the area around Yeniakpinar. We went there and spread out with the Walki-talkies. Short-toed and Lessed Short-toed Larks were extremely common in the area.
Mårten finally stumbles on to a nest of the Pale Rock-sparrow with a nesting female, and the male singing nearby. Took pictures and withdrew quickly.
Possibly the most boring bird in the Collin’s guide, but the more you bird, the more interesting the so called LBJs or Little Brown Jobs become. So, not boring at all, on the contrary, amazing.
Drove down to the wonderful little city of Birecik. The war in Syria is evidently near. Refugee camps along the road, and people we spoke to had recently lived in Kobane, occupied by Daesh devils just recently. On the Turkish side life goes on as usual though. On the way into the city, on a cliff we see the first of several Northern Bald Ibises.
We’re not sure if these birds are tickable, a few years ago the Ibises were extinct from this area and they have been re-introduced. Cool bird nevertheless. The ones we saw were all ringed.
Evening walk along the reeds of the mighty Euphrat river.
Soon we hear the target bird, the Iraq Babbler calling in the reeds.
In the last light, a group of Dead-sea Sparrows came chattering.
So, half a year ago, we though we were going to spend a week in Birecik – how wrong we were. On the other hand, Birecik has always been the placeholder as a backup site for various birds. Like Menetrie’s Warbler – if we don’t see it here, we’ll pick it in Birecik we have said. As it turned out, we only had three birds here, the Pale Rock-sparrow, the See-see Partridge and the Iraq Babbler.
The plan was to go by car from Van all the way to tourist resort Antalya on the Mediterranean coast. Long drive, but for reasons unknown to me Turkey has better roads than countries like Sweden and England. Actually, this is a mystery, how come countries like Morocco, Egypt and Turkey have better roads than what we have.
First stop was a quarry, close to Van where Eastern Rock Nuthatch had been reported. Western was common there, but no Eastern (string?)
The ubiquitous Rock Sparrow was everywhere in the quarry.
Anna Bohlin joined up on our Turkey leg.
Slightly surprising was the amount of Rooks at this site. This is
barren high elevation, and we think about the Rook as a typical
bird of agricultural landscape.
After dipping the Eastern Rock Nuthatch it was high time for breakfast. We drove down to a lake with reeds close to Van. Again, same as camping, having breakfast at the birding site is very nice. In the reeds Reed Warbler and also Great Reed-warbler were common. Great Reed-warbler was earlier on the
difference list, Erik saw one at Muttla Ranch in Kuwait.
Soon we also found a few Paddyfield warblers, a good WP bird.
The lake also hosted a few White-headed Ducks. When we were planning our WP year we never though that we would just see White-headed Duck as a regular species several times over the year. We though it would have to be specifically targeted at a known site.
Driving west, around the large Lake Van we made a short stop to
have a good look at the common Armenian Gulls. Fully adult birds
are easy to distinguish from other Gulls due to their stocky four-coloured bills.
Arrived at the famous site of Nemut Dagi in the afternoon.
At the foot of the mountain we tried a spot recommended by Emin Yoğurtcuoğlu. We almost immediately found a few Cinerous Buntings at the spot.
According to Emin also Eastern Rock-nuthatch and Pale Rock-sparrow was a possibility at that spot but we couldn’t find any. Nemut Dagi is a major tourist attraction with large stone statues from 30-60 BC, i.e more than 2000 years old statues.
The tourist business in Turkey has apparently collapsed the last couple of years. Since (for completely strange reasons)
Booking.com is blocked in Turkey we just drove there and picked a hotel at random. Driving up on the cozy hotel driveway, the owner simply cries out in joy – Tourists !!.
We spoke to them and they had seen very few tourist the last few years and we also saw quite a few shut down places on the mountain.
After checking in, in the afternoon as well as the entire following day, we drove slowly up and down the mountain birding with many
short stops. Below the tree-line quite a few high quality birds were
There are many reports of Finch’s Wheatear on the Numut Dagi mountain, however we couldn’t find any. The odd looking pale Black-eared Wheatears are quite similar though. This is one of the drawbacks of systems like eBird and Observado, there is never any checks for correctness, but then again, how could there be. The whole point is that everybody reports what they see which is exactly what makes these system so powerful and useful.
Below the tree-line we also found a couple of Eastern Rock-nuthatches. The nest is especially strange, a hole right into a vertical cliff.
Above the tree-line we soon found the price bird at Nemut Dagi, the Kurdish Wheatear.
The Wheatear as well as Cinerous Bunting were very easy on the mountain. What was not easy though was Pale Rock-sparrow, the Rock-sparrow should apparently be common on the Nemut Dagi mountain. We searched and listened for hours for the sparrow. This is a nomadic species, and some years they are abundant at a site whereas the next they can be missing. Other common species on the mountain were Rock Sparrow and surprisingly enough Wood Lark.
as well as Horned Lark.
Climbing all the way to the top –
we get to see the strange statues. Among the statues, Snowfinches nest. Strange and nice.