Turkey 27th of June to 4th of July 2012

If you have read my earlier trip-reports you had noticed that I usually have prepared the trips pretty well. I have read many trip-reports, contacted local birders and birders who have visited the country, booked places to stay and checked also other than birding places that are must to visit and so on. Well here is a story about a week trip to Turkey which wasn’t prepared that well at all; actually it wasn’t prepared almost at all. So if you are planning a trip to Turkey, here is an example how you maybe shouldn’t do your trip.

After we had came back from Morocco I had already booked my next holiday week to the first week of July. We had been planning to visit on of the few places where is still several WP-ticks for us. There are not many places like this anymore: Turkey, Egypt and Fuerteventura. We had one more possibility if a Kontiki Tour’s trip that Hanna was going to lead would get enough participants, I could join it too. But it really seemed that there weren’t enough people joining the trip. After all the chose was easy when I found out that the Brown Fish Owls that had been found one year later were again twitchable. I had to get to Turkey! Then surprisingly Hanna’s tour tp Georgia got a few very keen participants, enough to fill one car, so Hanna decided to lead the trip anyway. So I had to try to find company to join me to Turkey.

Petri Kuhno, a friend who had been with me in Kuwait and Azores, was also planning to go to spend a week in Turkey. He was just waiting to find cheap flights and maybe also accommodation too. About 10 days before my holiday he found a good offer, a week with flights to Antalya and accommodation only 345€ per person. Only problem was that it was 3 days before my holiday! Luckily my boss thought it was ok to start my holiday a little bit earlier and even take one day more to the end of it. So we booked the trip from 27th of June to 4th of July with AirFinland. We also booked a boat-trip to see the Brown Fish Owls immediately to the 30th of June. The boat-trip for birders was arranged once or twice a week and we managed to get to the first possible twitch.

Petri had been in Turkey earlier and then they had made a good tour, so I counted pretty much on his experience. I did printed some of the best trip-reports and read some of the. Of course I checked how many possible new WP-ticks there were in Turkey and surprisingly there were only 5: Brown Fish Owl, Pallid Scops Owl, Kurdish Wheatear, Olive-tree Warbler and Iraq Babbler. So I told to Petri that it would of course be nice to see at least most of them during the week. Of course we called a couple of times but we didn’t really plan anything much. The only decisions we made were that because of we had a couple of days before the Brown Fish Owl trip, we’d have to spend a couple of days first near Antalya. It seemed that the most interesting place would be Akseki. Then we talked that we would drive east to Birecik which was the place to see Iraq Babblers that had now been a couple of years possible to find there.

One day before the trip everything seemed to be ok. Petri had bought a map and we planned that I would pick up Petri from Lahti and then we would continue to Helsinki-Vantaa airport together. We would have a relaxed week with lots of birding to come! I had no too big stress about the trip as it was only my first trip to Turkey and I knew it was impossible to see everything in one week. I would do another; longer trip in the future… When we ended the call Petri told that he was still going to work so he wouldn’t be answering phone for a couple of hours.

It didn’t take long when Hanna shouted from her room that AirFinland had decided to go bankruptcy and all flights were cancelled! OH F#¤”!

I immediately text-messaged to Petri and sat down and started to search any other possibilities to get to Turkey cheap as soon as possible. But all the cheap flight was sold out already. Turkey was much more famous holiday-destination this summer than for years because of the problems in Greece. Then I checked if there were any cheap flight to any other interesting country but it seemed they were all gone and even more expensive flights were sold all the tie because of all other AirFinland customers were probably doing same than me. Finally Hanna checked straight from Turkish Airlines site if there were any flight to Turkey on the same dates that my holiday was and there were perfect flights. Of course the price wasn’t what I wanted but I really wanted to get anywhere else than stay in Finland! The next week weather to Finland didn’t look promising at all. So I booked flight from Turkish Airlines!

Petri called pretty soon and he really didn’t believe how unlucky we were! In the evening he also started to look for flight to Turkey but the earliest cheaper flights were one week later. Luckily he had no problems to go later so he booked flights from 5th of July.

So it was the last evening before my trip and about 10 p.m. and I realized that I was going to a big and crowded Turkey alone! I had to start packing but luckily it doesn’t take many miutes to pack everything I need on a birding holiday – I have some experience. Then I sat down again and booked a car for the next week and continued searching good trip-reports to read on the airports and plane. Then it was time to go to sleep, I had an early start on the next morning.

27th of June. I left towards Helsinki at 7 a.m. I stopped only in Vantaa Jumbo where I went to bank and changed some Turkish Liras and tried to find a map of Turkey from the book-store but without luck. I did find a LonelyPlanet book about Turkey so I bought it. I still ate well before I continued the last kilometres to the airport.

Once I found a place to park my car I walked to the terminal and once I got rid of my luggage I continued to the right gate and started to read the trip-reports. The main target was to collect all information about Akseki and find out what to do on my first days before the Brown Fish Owl boat-trip.

My Turkish Airlines flight left towards Istanbul at 1:20 p.m. and I landed to Ataturk airport 3 hours and 25 minutes later. I had read all the trip-reports so I was much wiser now. I had tried to find out which places I should visit and how to find them and it seemed there were 4 interesting places to visit. Most of them were told to find with help of Gosney book but luckily there were probably enough information how to find them without the book too. At least I hoped so. I also had decided which places to visit first.

In Istanbul I had to queue for ages to get to national flights terminal where I again tried to find a map of Turkey without luck. Then I continued reading the trip-reports and soon, at 6:15 p.m. I was in a plane again. Flight to Antalya left 20 minutes late but it took only a little bit more than an hour before I landed to Antalya airport. When the plane was landing I saw how big city Antalya was – actually I got first time scared what I was going to do? I still had no map!

I got my luggage soon (this ha been the reason why we usually travel with bigger company’s not cheap ones – we have always got our luggage straight away) and soon I walked to the rental car offices. My car was from AutoEurope but I got it from National car rental office. I have never got a car faster than now even though I hadn’t printed the voucher because of I got it to my e-mail when I was already driving towards Helsinki. When I got out my car came straight away and soon I had keys on my hand. A woman just shouted good travelling and that was it! Luckily I realized to ask if there was a map in the car and I got a crappy Turkey map – but anyway it was better than no map at all.

I left from the airport but the realized to stop and dig my gps and navigator from my luggage. I turned them on and what a surprise – I should have had only Western Europe maps in my navigator but there was Turkey maps too! I saved the location of the rental car-park to both machines and then I was ready to start driving. It was already getting dark when I hit the road.

Luckily the airport was on the eastern side of Antalya so I easily found my way to the coastal road and once I had put Akseki to my navigator it was very easy to go on. The traffic was simple and easy but on the traffic light locals were driving like crazy. But there were far too many traffic lights and they were all always red!

I stopped to check at least 10 gas-stations and shops to find a better map but there weren’t any maps. So I just bought something to drink and eat and kept on driving.

After about an hour driving I turned to inland after Manavgat city. The road started to climb to the mountains but it was wide and in very good condition. Big trucks were climbing very slowly but luckily there were some straight parts where to overtake them. After another hour or so I came to the crossroads with a sign Akseki 4 km. I drove backwards for some hundreds of metres to a restaurant Toros and from there took a turn left (opposite direction than Akseki). I continued for a kilometre or so to a place where the road turned right and started to climb up. In this place I turned left, drove over a new road that wasn’t ready yet and continued a couple of hundreds of metres along this sandy track to a walled garden. I parked my car next to the stony wall and under a big trees that were growing inside the walls. This was the place where I had decided to start next morning and here I had decided to sleep in my car. After I had organized my birding equipments, I started to sleep about at 11 p.m.

28th of June. I woke up at 5 a.m. and soon it was enough light to go out. I started to walk around the walls clockwise. There was no reason to inside the walls because of the trees were so high and dense that it was impossible to see anything under them. It was cleverer to stay close to the walls and watch to the trees further. I had expected to see and hear more birds in the early morning but in the beginning it was very quiet. I didn’t see any birds and all the calls I heard I couldn’t identify. The first identified birds were just flying over: Greenfinches, Linnets, European Serins and Goldfinches. Then I realized that the “tsip” -calls were of course Oriental Warblers and soon I saw the first one too. Soon Hoopoe started to call, a Short-toed Eagle flew over me but I had already walked almost around the whole wall without seeing anything else. I had also walked a little in the bushy area next to the garden without anything else than a couple of Masked Shrikes. On the last side of the wall I then heard Middle Spotted Woodpeckers calling, a Syrian Woodpecker drumming further on the bushy area and then a bigger passerine flying to one bush next to me. I took my mp3-player and chose a right song – soon I had a couple of Olive-tree Warblers looking at me from the nearest bush! I stopped the player and one of them started to sing, so I got a short recording. I also tried to photograph them but I had only my digiscoping equipments with me (Hanna had a good camera with her in Georgia) so I didn’t get any really good pictures.

When I was back to my car I decided to walk around the garden again. I found some European Nuthatches, Blackbirds, a Crested Lark, a Kestrel, a Mistle Thrush, Great Tits, Blue Tits and some Long-tailed Tits. Olive-tree Warblers were still on the same bush and now there were at least 4 birds. I decided to try to digiscope them again and managed to get a couple of better shots. A Cretzschmar’s Bunting laded next to me so I digiscoped it too.

While I was digiscoping I heard some falcon calling from the hills nearby and soon I saw a big falcon chasing Hooded Crows. Unfortunately I didn’t see it well enough to identify it but I am pretty sure it was a Lanner. I decided to walk towards the hills and walked over the main road and started climbing. A Couple of Rock Nuthatches were found immediately and soon I saw a small warbler disappearing in to a dense bush. I took my mp3-player again and soon I had a family of Rueppel’s Warblers around me. A male started to sing on the top of the closest bush so I got it recorded and digiscoped too. I also heard a Chukar calling shortly, saw several Coal Tits, digiscoped a Black-eared Wheatear but unfortunately the falcon wasn’t found again.

When I walked back to my car I saw a beautiful Roller flying over me, but soon I was driving to the next place. I turned towards Akseki but stopped soon because of there was a good looking bushy area along the road. I found a couple of Masked Shrikes, a couple of Black-headed Buntings and some Olivaceous Warblers, Red-rumped Swallows were breeding on the buildings.

Once I got to Akseki I found a graveyard easily and once I had parked next to it I walked to the graveyard fro the rusty gate. I walked around in the forested and overgrown graveyard for some time but I didn’t find anything else except a couple of Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, Syrian Woodpeckers and Olivaceous Warblers. Rock Pigeon and Laughing Pigeon were the only new trip-ticks. Pretty soon I decided that I had lost enough time and continued towards the mountains behind the city. I tried to follow the old Konya road to get to the mountains but the usual road (that was on my trip-reports) was under construction and I couldn’t find an easy way to the mountain road. So I gave up and drove back to the main road (new Konya road) and continued 16 kilometres north, turned left, continued 2.1 kilometres and parked along a sandy track right. From here I was supposed to walk between to big piles of rock and 400 metres along a track that turned right and climbed up towards the mountain. (Actually it wasn’t this well written in any trip-story, but after some time I found this was the way to get to the right place.) Once I got out from my car I saw Black-eared Wheatears, a Lesser Whitehroat and heard strange calls from the forest. On the forest I saw immediately many Mistle Thrushes and the strange callers were Krueper’s Nuthatches! Chaffinches, Spotted Flycatchers, Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Short-toed Treecreepers were seen before I had walked this 3400 metres to a Y-shaped valley where I had a good view to the mountain-forest. I stayed there for an hour or so and even climbed a little bit on the hillside but I didn’t see or hear any Lilford’s White-backed Woodpeckers. A Short-toed Eagle was perched on the top of one dead tree and a couple of Wood Pigeons flew over me and when I was walking back to my car I still found a couple of Wood Larks, a Northern Wheatear and a Sombre tit which was too shy to get any pictures.

It was just an early afternoon and I had checked all the places in Akseki that were easy to find. So I decided to go and try to find the only place that I hadn’t found on my first try. After I had turned to Akseki again I saw a Woodchat Shrike. In Akseki I followed the road that climbed up left and had trees growing between the lines. When I got up I saw again the road that was under construction on my left so I decided to turn around and continued to left side of the city and tried to find a way up. After some driving I found a road that was going higher and after a couple of U-turns and tiny roads I realized I was finally on the other end of the road. Then I continued to the right end of the city and soon knew I was on the right way around the mountain, luckily I had again some gps-points to follow.

After some kilometres I was already pretty high on the mountain so I started to stop to see some birds. From one quarry I found a Blue Rock Thrush and heard a flock of Turkish Twites flying over me. A couple of Ravens and a Common Buzzard were soaring on the sky but on the along forest road I saw only Mistle Thrushes, heard a couple of calling Redstarts (samamisicus) and some Krueper’s Nuthatches. The road climbed higher and higher to a beautiful forest but only woodpeckers I found were Middle Spotted Woodpeckers. After about 9 kilometres driving I got to the highest point of the road and saw that the road was getting much worse. So I decided to drive all the way back to Akseki of course stopping on the way.

In Akseki I saw a Black Redstart and there I decided to drive again to a forest that was 2.1 km from the new Konya road. On the way I saw a stunning Long-legged Buzzard and once I was in the forest I saw a male Goshawk but even though I walked again for an hour in the forest I didn’t find anything new. Because of the White-backed Woodpecker is one of my favourite species and I desperately wanted to see a Lilford’s subspecies and of course because I had nothing else to do, I decided to drive once again through Akseki to the mountain to sleep there and wake up early morning to keep on trying to find woodpeckers.

In Akseki I saw some Swallows and soon I was climbing to the mountain again. On the way I saw a Sparrowhawk and finally I found a wider place were I could park my car and make a nest.

29th of June. I woke up about 4:30 and soon started to play White-backed woodpecker calls from the mp3-player in good looking places. Of course I had no idea which kind of places Lilford’s preferred but anyway. A Couple of Wrens, Goldcrests, Chaffinches and then Krueper’s Nuthatches and a couple of Oriental Warblers, but only woodpeckers were again Middle Spotted Woodpeckers and then one Green Woodpecker that flew over the road. Funny Persian Squirrels were extremely noisy! I now tried to drive down from the other side of the mountain but soon there was at least on part of the road that was drivable only with a 4 wheel-drive. So I had to turn back again. Anyway now I found a straight road to Akseki and found out that there are several roads leading to this old Konya road. You just need to drive through the city right, it is not necessary to climb up there.

Close to Akseki cross I found again a new species – a Lesser Grey Shrike. Because of it was still an early morning I decided to drive once more 16 kilometres and then left 2.1 kilometres and walk to Y-shaped valley. a Corn Bunting was heard and with a Short-toed Eagle I saw a white-morph Booted Eagle soaring on the sky. I climbed on the hillside for an hour but nothing new was found. Of course Krueper’s Nuthatches were nice to see again and now I saw 2 Sombre Tits too.

At 11 a.m. I decided to leave Akseki and start driving to a motel from where we had booked a room for the next night before the Brown Fish Owl trip. Of course Petri had cancelled his bookings. So I left Akseki and first drove down from the mountain towards the coastal road. On the way I saw a White Wagtail, a White Stork and some House Martins. When I turned to Manavgat I saw my first Collared Doves and soon also a Turtle Dove was perched on a electric wire.

Then I drove through the Manavgat city as I had instructions that the motel was 7 kilometres after Manavgat towards Oymapinar. It wasn’t that easy but soon I found out that I was on the right road when I saw a sign to Yesil Vadi motel.

Once I found Yesil Vadi I got the room that was booked through Vigotours like the owl-trip too. The room was on the top of nice 2 floors high bungalow. I tried to go to the shower but you know you are on the hot country when there is only hot water coming before the evening when the electric is turned on!

I walked a little close to the motel in a bushy area and on the riverside but there was almost no birds at all. So I drove to a Manavgat waterfalls that were only some kilometres towards Manavgat. It was a popular tourist place with lots of shops but all maps they got were crappy. Anyway the waterfall was nice with restaurants over the water. Then I continued to Manavgat city where I walked for an hour or more and found one bigger book-store but there were no maps at all. The owner of the shop gave me his own map which was a little bit better than the one I got. The only trip-tick I got was a Swift.

In the afternoon I still walked a little bit along the river and heard a couple of Cetti’s Warblers and saw some Rollers. Then I had a delicious Turkish pan on the motel restaurant. It was offered on a plate that still had a fire under it. Then I went to sleep very early – I had my alarm calling at 3:30 next morning!

30th of June – The Day! I woke up at 3:25 when a dog was barking. I had already packed everything ready so I just lay down on the bed and woke up for 20 minutes before I climbed down and walked to the parking place. There I met 3 British and one Dutch birder. Thierry Jansen, the Dutch had been sleeping in a room under me but British birders Ernie Davis, Gordon Beck and Gary David Fennemore had stayed in the car because of the motel had been full. After some waiting our ride came and we met our guide and a Swedish birder Per Forsberg who had been staying in different hotel. With Thierry we got place from our guide’s car but British followed us on their own car. Soon we drove through the gate to Green Canyon protected area and after some driving along smaller roads we drove down to a parking place of the harbour.

Our guide was leading us to the long stairs and I was following last because also I had a torch. We climbed down to the harbour where we jumped from a ship to the next one until we got to the last ship. It was a big ship which normally had 40 tourists when the cruises were done during the days. On these Brown Fish Owl trips there were limit of maximum 8 persons – now we were only 6 of us plus our guide and 2 staff of the ship. Soon these 2 boys freed the ropes and we were off to the man-made lake.

In the beginning it was completely dark, only the Moon, Jupiter and Venus were giving us light. I was also absolutely quiet; nothing was calling or moving around us while we were cruising towards Little Green Canyon.

Soon the sun started to rise and the first Yellow-legged Gulls were seen flying over the lake. We were just approaching the Little Green Canyon when some of the group saw a big birds flying over the narrow canyon. Soon we all saw it flying again and there it was – a Brown Fish Owl! This adult bird landed to a tree but it was still too dark to see it well with a scope. But soon another bird, a young, flew over us, yelled on the flight and landed to a rocky wall in front of us. It was perched on a lighter place so we all got magnificent views to it! Soon a third, another young bird flew over us but disappeared to the shadows.

Luckily the adult and the first young bird stayed in front of us. They both changed places several times and the young were yelling several times. Finally the adult male (our guide told that it was an adult because of it was so far from the nest that was further in the canyon) flew in to a huge tree and hided behind the trunk so that only the head was visible. But the young bird stayed on the tree in front of us and was very well visible.

The sun got higher and we finally got enough light for photographing. The only problem was that we were too close to the rocky walls that it was impossible to turn of the engines, so the ship was moving all the time and digiscoping wasn’t very good. Luckily for some seconds the ship always stopped before it started to move again and I managed to get some better pictures and videos of this dream bird!

We were watching these two visible birds for 45 minutes before we still continued through a narrow canyon to the end of Little Green Canyon. On the way we saw an old nest-hole and soon found a female perched under a dence tree on the wall. So after all we had seen 2 adults and 2 young Brown Fish Owls!

Brown Fish Owl had been a long time just a legend or a myth. The Western Palearctic birders had just heard rumours of birds found on cages in Bagdad markets. I had heard rumours about 6 years earlier that Turkish birders had found a pair breeding and it might be possible to twitch this amazing species in the future. Then last summer in Green Canyon, in a place where thousands of tourists had been on cruise and many of them had seen big owls there, someone photographed an owl and finally showed the pictures to some birdwatcher – they were Brown Fish Owls! And people had seen these birds in Green Canyon already for at least 6 or seven years! Then SoundApproach bird-recorders made a trip to an area nearby and managed to find about 6 pairs of Brown Fish Owls. And finally on last July the ship owners started to make tours for birders. It was then still very expensive but since this summer the prices had been reasonable – 600 Liras per boat.

We were back on the harbour after 7 a.m. and once w had climbed up to the parking place we continued straight to our hotel. We saw a flying Black Stork on the way. Then we said goodbyes to our guide and to Per and packed our luggage. We had found out that the rest of us were all going straight to Birecik. Because of there was no breakfast offered in 45 minutes, we decided to start our long drive immediately. We had 770 kilometres to go, which my navigator told to take 12 hours and 30 minutes!

First we were driving in line and when we got through Manavgat and back to the coastal road we spent a lot of time in traffic lights again. We managed to get through Alanya tourist city before most of the tourists had got out and soon we drove to a new road that went inland. It wasn’t in my navigator or map so I started to worry when it comes back to the coast where luckily all the traffic lights were but there weren’t any gas-stations either now.

Luckily the road came back to the coast soon and surprisingly all other stopped also to the first gas-station. They were going to have breakfast. I didn’t need to eat so I just filled the tank and kept on going a little bit faster than earlier.

Anyway in every city I had to stop in numerous traffic lights and between the cities the road always climbed higher to the mountains where it was even slower to drive.

I had thought to see many birds on the way but on the sea I never saw a single bird! On some cities I saw some Yellow-legged Gulls close to the harbours, but all other birds were Rock Doves, Collared Doves, Laughing Doves, Hooded Crows, Jays and House Sparrows. Only better birds on the way were a Short-toed Eagle, a Bonelli’s Eagle, a couple of big flocks of Alpine Swifts, a couple of flocks of Spanish Sparrows and a couple of White-spectacled Bulbuls.

Finally before Mersin I got to the motorway! Soon I had the first toll and I had no idea what I shoul do there? So I followed the other cars and as all the gates were open I just drove through them. I didn’t care the red light that told me that I probably was doing something wrong. Anyway I didn’t see anyone selling any tickets and all the other cars were changing lines and just trying to get through the gates as soon as possible. Maybe the road was free on Saturday? Yeah, sure…

Close to the next big city Adana I again drove through the toll and same happened again in Osmaniye and Gaziantep. In between the cities I had been driving 120 to 140 kilometres per hour and it really seemed that I might managed to get to Birecik to do some birding before the dark. So I didn’t stop at all on the way and the only trip-tick I got was a Starling.

Finally a little bit east side of Birecik I got away from the motorway and there was a toll again. But now the gates weren’t open. Only the automatic toll was open so I used that one and red blinking light and sirens were telling that I maybe should have stopped. Well I didn’t. I drove the last 20 kilometres to Birecik and after 9 hours and 40 minutes driving I was there!

Once I saw the city of Birecik I realized it was much bigger than I had thought! I still had no good map, just some gps-coordinates in my gps. How on earth I could find to all those places? Luckily I realized that all of the birding places were close to the Euphrat -river, so I should start driving along the roads next to the river.

The first gps-spot I found was the one I needed least, but anyway it was nice to have cold cola on Kiji-restaurant while watching Pygmy Cormorants, Little Egrets and Squacco Herons flying over Euphrat. Also Coots and Bee-eaters were seen while I was once more checking all the information about Birecik I had gathered from the trip-reports. Kiji was found on the west side ov the river Euphrat and turning north from the first cross from the river next to Mirkelam hotel.

Luckily I understood that the most important place was along the same road. I just needed to continue a kilometre or so more north. After I had once made a sharp turn towards Euphrat and looped back towards north the houses ended and I could see Euphrat with many pools and reeds. The place where the electric line went over the Euphrat was told to be the right place to find Irak Babblers. Many gps-spots I had already told me that I had found the right place. So I got out and immediately had many good trip-ticks! Black Francolins were calling behind the fields, Desert Finches were feeding on the fields, Dead Sea Sparrows were flying around and calling from the reed-beds, a couple of Pied Kingfishers were flying around, Reed and Great Reed Warblers were singing and I saw one Moustached Warbler. Little Egrets, Pygmy Cormorants, Bee-eaters and some Rollers were flying over the river, from the pools I found Moorhens and lonely Little Ringed Plover and a Green Sandpiper were flushed on the shore. Only warbler I saw was the boring one – a Sardinian. But soon the sun started to set and I haven’t seen or heard any babblers. So I decided to move on and give up this time.

I followed again bad instructions and on the east side of the bridge turned north and then on the first cross towards the river where it was possible to turn south and drive under the bridge towards south. After about half a kilometre I found Gülheme Tea Garden. On the sign there was something else but once I walked to the garden I knew I was on the right place as there was a sign with pictures of Pallid Scops Owl! Most of the birders had found the owl easily as there were always people willing to show the owl against some payment. Now there was only one man and he didn’t really care me at all. So I had to start checking the numerous trees by myself.

It wasn’t easy – a tiny owl can really hide well and there were lots of big trees. After a half an hour I had seen only Olivaceous Warblers and a Tree Sparrow when 2 men walked to me and they were local birdwatchers. They weren’t searching for owl but only having a tea or something on the neighbour tea garden but anyway it was nice to chat with them. Once they had left they surprisingly came back after 10 minutes and told me to follow them. I already hoped that they had found the owl, but once I had followed them for 100 metres more along the road along the river they told me that the corner behind the first cross left was the best place to find the owl.

It was already getting dark and I had got some company – local little girls were following me. I was already getting extremely tired and I was thinking how on earth I could come back at night to find the owls, when I saw one owl flying over me and landing to one of the trees. Luckily I found it perched on the branch and there it was a Pallid Scops Owl! I saw it still very well with my binos but it was too dark to get any pictures – my scope and camera were in a car too. The girls wanted to see the owl too so I tried to show it to them with binoculars which probably didn’t work well but anyway they were happy and I was even happier! Finally the owl continued to the next tree and disappeared.

I walked back to my car and I was happy – I had got 2 owl lifers during the day! I was already planning to find a good hotel where to stay when I realized that I had still a lot to do! The next morning would be one of the most important mornings of the trip and I still had no idea what to do? Meanwhile I was once more checking all the information I got about birding in Birecik I got a message that Thierry and British birders were just coming to Birecik – luckily I had been driving faster! I read very carefully everything about the babblers and then decided to drive to the babbler place and find out what was the exact place where they had usually been seen? Once I was again close to Euphrat and saw the electric line coming over it, I found out a place where a smaller electric line went under the bigger one so the lines made an X- cross. In this place there was no water but reeds and many big and yellow Common Mullein like plants. This was the exact place where Irak Babblers had been seen most! So this was the place where I decided to be very early on the next morning. Anyway I still wanted to check all the other places too, so I could find them next morning too. First I drove to the other side of the river and again made a loop so I could drive south, continued south from the Tea Garden and somehow managed to find the right small tracks that took me to the good place to see Euphrat again. Now I could find there too. Then I continued north under the bridge and until Ibis Centre and behind that there was a gas-station from where a big wadi started. No I was happy – I could now find all the most important places easily. So I once more drove to babbler place where I had decided to sleep in a car once again. After a very long day I finally found a good place along one of the tracks between the pools and started to sleep.

The 1st of July. I woke up before 5 a.m. and started to walk towards the babbler place. A couple of Rufous Bush-Chats were singing on the bushes and an Eastern Orphean and Menestries Warbler were seen before I got to the place where electric lines crossed. I just stopped there when I saw a brown bird flying and landing to the electric pole – an Iraq Babbler! It was till too dark to get any pictures but it was great to watch this young bird calling and soon an adult came to feed it! They both soon disappeared to the yellow plants or reeds behind them but I immediately found another flock of Iraq Babblers on another side of the road. These 3 birds were moving along the roadside very fast and soon I lost them after I had followed them for a hundred of metres. I walked back to the flowery place and found 5 birds there! So I had seen at least 8 Iraq Babblers in 5 minutes! I sent a message about the birds to Thierrt and found out that there was finally enough light to digiscope the birds. After I had got some good pictures the birds flew over the road to the bank of the water behind the reeds. They still kept on calling so I got some recordings too, unfortunately it was too windy to get quality recordings.

Because I hadn’t heard anything from Thierry I decided to stay on my plan and continued to another side of Euphrat and parked to the gas-station behind the Ibis Centre. There I walked behind the gas-station where a beautiful wadi started. My goal was to find a See-see Partridge that I had only once had in Armenia years ago. I walked in the wadi for an hour and half but I found only plenty of Rollers that were breeding there, a colony of Rock Sparrows, 4 Syke’s Warblers, several Olivaceous Warblers, a Chestnut-shouldered Petronia and a Pale Rock Sparrow that both were seen only very briefly. I was already walking back to my car when I met a couple of Turkish birders. We talked for some time but unfortunately couldn’t find any partridges together either. Anyway it was nice to see that there were really good birders in Turkey!

Next I drove south to see Euphrat from the other side of the bridge and saw plenty of Pygmy Cormorants, 10 Ferruginous Ducks, a family of Mallards, a Common Sandpiper, Coots, Moorhens, Little Grebes and Great Crested Grebes. Also some turtles were seen and a funny Little Owl came to watch me to a closest rock.

Then I continued to Gülheme Tea Garden or actually 100 metres from it to check the same trees where I had seen the Pallid Scops Owl on the previous evening. It was only 9 a.m. so there weren’t any children yet on the garden. I checked every tree on the corner of the roads but in half an hour I hadn’t found anything. I was already giving up and walking back to my car but still checking every tree on the way when I found it – a Pallid Scops Owl was perched on one tree partly behind the branches. From a couple of places almost whole owl was visible so I dropped some batteries from my pocket to the ground to show the place where I could see the bird and almost ran to get my scope and camera. When I got back it was still difficult to find the birds but soon I was digiscoping it. And I was extremely happy!

When I thought I had digiscoped the owl from every possible angle where it could be seen, I decided to drive to babbler place from where I had got a message from Thierry that they hadn’t found any babblers in two hours search. I drove straight under the electric lines and once I got out from the car 3 Iraq Babblers flushed almost under my feet. I sent an sms to Thierry and soon he sent on back and told they were coming. They came soon but the birds had moved in to the reeds. At least one Iraq Babbler was calling on another side of the road and behind the water on the reeds, but anyway I decided to walk through the area with yellow flowers. Unfortunately there were no babblers anymore. Luckily the bird that was calling soon flew to our side of the river and after some waiting it came to the reeds just in front of us. It was a lifer to everyone! While we were watching it, I saw and heard a Wood Sandpiper migrating over us.

It was already getting hot when we continued to Tea Garden again. I had promised to show the Pallid Scops Owl for the others. Luckily it was still there but I think it was hiding a little bit better. While we were watching the owl an old man came to tell me something that I understood he had another owl somewhere. I followed him and hoped that he’d have a Pallid Scops Owl which was showing better, but no, he had found a young Long-eared Owl. Of course I digiscoped it too, but later I tried to tell the man that the owl we had found was the interesting one. We showed the Pallid Scops Owl for him and also many children that had now came to surround us before we continued to neighbour tea garden to have some coffee and cola.

Thierry and Brits decided to go back to see if they could still see the babblers and after that they were continuing more east to see Mongolian Trumpeter Finch and Grey-necked Bunting. I continued to Ibis Centre. On the gate I saw a big falcon but too briefly. It really looked like a Barbary Falcon but I didn’t see it well enough. In the centre I met a local BirdLife worker who told me about their work with ibises and of course I went to see the cage full of Bald Ibises. The man told me that the ibises were in cage after the breeding season. In spring they had been free and about 20 birds were still living free on Euphrat.

After I had bought some souvenirs I decided to say goodbye to Birecik. I passed a shop with huge Bald Ibis head on advertisement, a statue with 2 Bald Ibises and from the bridge I saw about 20 Bald Ibises flying over Euphrat!

Soon I was driving to the motorway again. Again all the cages were closed so I drove through the automatic door again and red light was flashing and sirens calling! I also saw a text about 125 Lira and something – probably that was the fine I got? I really had to find a way to buy a permit to drive on the motorway, but I saw no place to do so.

In Gaziantep I got out from the motorway and now all the cages were open. I turned towards nort-east and Nemrut Dagi Mountain. I still had my fifth possible lifer to get. I had got good instructions for my trip from my good old Catalan friends Oriol Calarabuch and Toni Alonso who had been in Turkey a month earlier. So I knew Kurdish Wheatear should be the easiest bird on my trip once I get up to Nemrut Dagi National Park.

After I had through Adiyama I saw a flooding Lake Ataturk (some roads were under water) and some Armenian Gulls were flying on the bays. In Kahta I filled the tank (gasoline was extremely expensive in Turkey, more than 2€/litre) and continued climbing towards Nemrut Dagi. On the way I saw a Barred Warbler that almost hit my wind-screen and finally after some 3 hours driving I arrived to the gate of the National Park. I had planned to get a room from the hotel that was on another side of the park, but the men on the gate told me that there was no hotel anymore. So I drove 100 metres backwards and took a room from Pension Cesme, which was pretty ascetic but the owners were very nice. After 10 minutes I was back and after I had bought the ticket, I got through the gate and continued towards the top of the mountain.

I drove slowly higher and higher and soon I started to see some birds. First wheatears were all Black-eared but a nice Cinereous Bunting landed just next to my car and gave very nice views. Soon I stopped again because of one black and white wheatear and it was a Finsch’s Wheatear! While I was watching it I saw another wheatear close to it and it was a lifer – a beautiful Kurdish Wheatear stayed on the top of a rock for some seconds before it flew further. When I kept on driving I saw some Black-headed Buntings, heard many Cinereous Bunting but they were very difficult to see, one Ortolan Bunting, a couple of Finsch’s Wheatears and at least 2 pairs of Red-rumped Wheatears.

On the top I stopped to a parking place and when I opened the door the wind was so strong that it was almost impossible to get out from the car! I was already going to leave my scope to the car but decided to take it with me anyway. It was still a good climb to the top of the mountain by feet.

Behind the information centre/shop building I chose the path that went left and started to climb towards the top. Rock Sparrows, Shore Larks and – a Crimson-winged Finch landed just next to me. Unfortunately the wind was so hard that the pictures I got weren’t very good. Along the path I found a couple of Finsch’s Wheatears and a couple of Kurdish Wheatears and finally after about 20 minutes climbing I reached the top. There were amazing statues that a megalomaniac pre-Roman king had built resembling about himself. Many statues were still standing but most of them had lost their heads that were now in front of the statues on the ground. I of course took many pictures and luckily I realized to walk around the strange stony top to the other side of it where were even bigger statues. Then I luckily realized to think which path to choose to walk back down because of some of the paths were leading to a different parking place to the other side of the mountain. So after all I walked back down using the same path I had climbed up.

I didn’t find any new birds but I finally got some better pictures of the Kurdish Wheatears. On the drive down I stopped to try to photograph singing Cinereous Buntings but even though I stayed there for 20 minutes I managed to see only one of them. At 7 p.m. I was back at my room and after a shower I had a dinner at 8 p.m. (it included to the price which was 45L per room, dinner and breakfast). I had still planned to go somewhere to watch EC-football final but I was absolutely too tired so I went to sleep before 10 p.m.

2nd of July. I slept as long as I just could, and woke up before 7 a.m. I thought I had arranged the breakfast at 8 a.m. but I remembered wrong. So I had to wait one more our which was just good because I was suffering a massive head-ache. Was it the wind, bad sleeping and eating schedules or just the relief of stress when all the lifers were in the bag? Anyway after the breakfast I felt fine and at 9:30 I was driving again to the top of Nemrut Dagi.

Cinereous Buntings were still too difficult to photograph but a family of Kurdish Wheatears was showing very well. Now I heard Rock Nuthatches from everywhere and on the steepest cliff I heard at least 2 Eastern Rock Nuthatches. On one bushy area I found a couple of White-throated Robins.

Once I got up I chose the path that turned right and along this path there weren’t so many birds but a flock of Turkish Twites and a couple of Snow Finches were nice. The monuments were in better light now so I took again many pictures. There was again a couple of Kurdish Wheatears and one more Snow Finch too on the top. A flock of 3 Red-billed Choughs were flying far against the mountains.

I walked back down using the same path than previous evening and finally I managed to digiscope a family of Shore Larks. On the drive down I stopped several times and saw one Pale Rock Sparrow that was too fast to get any pictures. At midday I was back on my room where I took my luggage and started a long, long way towards Antalya.

I wasn’t in a hurry but my car had been getting noisier, there was something wrong with the exhaust pipe, so it was good to start going closer to Antalya. My navigator told that I had 975 kilometres to go.

I was back on the motorway soon and in Osmaniye I finally stopped to find out what I should have done a long time ago. I managed to buy a card that I needed to show a machine before the toll-gates to get through. It cost 5L per gate. On the motorway I now drove as fast as my small car was going so after a couple of hours I had passed 4 gates and seen one more trip-tick – Stock Dove. After Mersin I got to slowly coastal road again. This Via Dolorosa was long and when it came dark the lorries were driving very slowly. Anyway after 11 hours and 45 minutes driving I felt too tired to continue so in Alanya I turned up to the mountains, drove 15 minutes, turned to one small forest-road and parked there. A Scops owl was calling on the closest tree when I started to sleep.

3rd of July. Now all bird-crazies can stop reading, or then keep on reading and find out that also I am just a human. When I had woken up I just checked one passerine from the closest bush and it was a Cetti’s Warbler, heard an Olive-tree Warbler calling distant in the bushes and decided that I was not going to touch my binoculars anymore in this trip. I drove back to the coastal road and continued towards Antalya. On the way I saw a sign to Side and had some kind of Deja Vu – I decided to turn there. The next sign told Side Antik – so I thought it must be one of the places that some my friends have visited in the past. Then I came to a huge tourist village full of tourist everywhere! But I kept on going on once I drove through a stony gate I saw amazing Roman and Hellenistic and ruins in front of me. I decided to stay there! So I turned back stopped in front of first cheap looking motel and got a room. Then I changed to a tourist mode! I just took my camera and LonelyPlanet book and went to see the ruins. First I visited Side museum where were lots of statues, sarcophagies and antique coins and other practical articles. Then I went to see a huge amphi-theater which was partly felt down in earthquakes. And then I did the biggest mistake, I went to beach! There I took sun and wrote a base to this trip-report for a couple of hours. I used my sun-cream that I had been carrying on my trips for maybe 10 years without using it and it didn’t work anymore! So I really got burned! Once I was back in my motel-room I looked like a giant lobster!

I had to take a cold shower and drink a couple of litres and stand in front of the air conditioner for some time before I started to feel better. Then I went out again, I still had several tourist sights to see. Temples of Apollo and Athena were nice but the pita-kebap I bought on the crowded shopping street was even better! After some more walking I walked back to my room where I had to take a cold shower again and drink a lot! Then I just sat under the air conditioner and wrote the rest of the base of the trip-story and packed my luggage ready.

At 7:30 I went to eat to a really good restaurant nearby. I had a Turkish Pan again and took also a good dessert because I really felt I had deserved it! I was back in my room early and I planned to go to sleep when music started to play extremely loud just behind my door! And soon there were people shouting and jumping on my doorsteps! Welcome to the tourist-resort! And the local disco-music was extremely bad! Luckily about 10:30 p.m. they either stopped or at least turned the music down a lot and I managed to fall asleep.

4th of July. I woke up before 7 a.m. and packed the rest of my luggage and soon started to drive towards Antalya. So after all I was in the airport and leaving my car already at 8 a.m. – an hour earlier than I should have been. In chick in the officer told me if I wanted to fly to Istanbul earlier and so I got to a plane that left already at 9:20 a.m. It was only 11 a.m. when I landed to Ataturk airport.

Then I had some hours to walk in Istanbul airport. I ate again and just relaxed before my flight to Helsinki left at 4 p.m. Then I landed to Helsinki-Vantaa airport at 5:25 p.m. and after I had got my luggage, I walked to my car and after some 3 and a half hour driving I was back at home in Parikkala. It was maybe the first time I was at home so early that I could really sleep well before in the next morning I had to go to work.

What a trip I had once more had? A day before the trip I had got almost no plans at all but anyway everything had gone well. Of course the trip was more twitching than birding which is not normal for us, but anyway I had managed to see all the species I needed from Turkey. But my Turkey list was still only 135 species! Of course the time of the year hadn’t been the best so next time we go to Turkey we will go earlier and do much more birding! And for sure we will do many things differently! If I would now go to the similar trip than I was, I would fly to Antalya, go to Akseki and then twitch the Brown Fish Owl but then fly to east and rent a car there and stay there for a week before flying back to Antalya. The gasoline is so expensive and driving so hard and slowly that this would be the right thing to do! So until the next time!

J.A.