Birdwatching in Turkey

   the exoticism, on the land and in the air, of the South-Eastern corner ©  

Day 1. Arrival at Adana, and transfer to Cukurbag village and our cozy and very quiet guesthouse right in front of the 3756 m Aladag peak, across from a valley with orchards. Difficult to do better in terms of peaceful and majestic scenery — which we can already see if the moon is around!  

turkey-mount-aladagDay 2. All day birding in the area, along paths and tracks and valleys and rocky slopes to look for Wallcreepers, Red-billed Choughs and Alpine Choughs on cliffs, Alpine Accentors on boulders, Northern Wheatear, Shorelark and Red-fronted Serins in the grass, and plenty of White-winged Snowfinches, Red-fronted Serins, Black Redstarts, not to forget the Finsch’s and Isabelline Wheatears and… Crimson-winged Finches.  

Day 3. Today is the great adventure, a very early morning rise to board a tractor with trailer, and go up the mountain for a couple of hours, as high as needed to see the famous Caspian Snowcock who tends to retreat higher and higher as the summer sets in. Take along warm clothing and a windbreak, as well as gloves to hang to the trailer which is equipped as much as possible for such a trip.  

We will go down partly on foot along a gorge, looking for Radde’s Accentors while Golden Eagles and Griffon Vultures circle overhead, ending down with Blue Rock Thrushes, Western Rock Nuthatches, and Whitethroats.  

Day 4. Transfer to Birecik, the longest transfer but the smoothest, mostly on a good highway. On the way we will enter, just before Gaziantep, a couple of charming little valleys dotted with villages from another age. This is not just an ethnological stop to break the journey. All the Easterners are there! The Eastern Rock Nuthatch, the Eastern Orphean Warbler, the Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, as well as the Upcher’s Warbler, the Cinereous and Cretzchmar’s Buntings, the White-throated Robin, the Desert Finch, and the Sombre Tit.  

turkey-river-euphratesWe will sleep very romantically on the western bank of the Euphrates River by the little town of Birecik which glows under the setting sun. But not in a tent, for the hotel has even a pool and a live orchestra!  

Day 5. There are many things to do on the Eastern bank, up and down from the town, the Bald Ibis WWF station to the north, past large cliffs full of Little Swifts, some wadis and stony plateaus with Ménétries’s and Olivaceous Warblers, See-see Partridges, and Pied Kingfishers, and plenty of orchards further away, with Rufous Bush Robins, Syrian Woodpeckers, and Pale Rock (or Hill) and Chestnut-shouldered Sparrows, not to forget the Dead Sea Sparrow, up to Halfeti village upstream, then back, south of Birecik where Pale Scops Owls have been waiting for us for years.  

Day 6. More morning and early afternoon birding along the Euphrates, looking for what we may have missed the previous day, before we drive to our next destination north, past the famous Ataturk Dam, the key to the Great Anatolian Project providing the water to irrigate and develop the whole South-East of the country.  

Our hotel tonight has a good restaurant, pleasant staff, and is away from the busy center, right at the eastern exit.  

Day 7. Birding starts as soon as we head east towards famous 2150 meter high Nemrut Dagi topped by collosal two millenia old stone statues, like Zeus, which head only, measures two meters.  

Here is a sample of what we may find on and around the extended mountain, most importantly Cinereous Buntings and Red-tailed Wheatears, but also Olive-tree Warblers, Masked Shrikes, Sombre, and Long-tailed Tits, Rose-coloured Starlings, Woodchats, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robins, Goldfinches, Finsch’s Wheatears, Rock and Blue Rock Thrushes, Horned Larks, Water Pipits, Eastern Black-eared Wheatears, Western Rock Nuthatches, Black-headed Buntings, Upcher’s and Eastern Orphean Warblers, Rock Sparrows, White-throated Robins, Pale Rock Sparrows, Bee-eaters, Hoopoes, Golden Orioles, as well as Scops Owls, and, finally, Short-toed Eagles, Long-legged Buzzards, Egyptian Vultures.  

Up there, we also find a… hotel with a dining area decorated with carpets, a large stone terrace overlooking a valley, and an absolute serenity at 2000 meters altitude. No cars, no houses, no cell phones, only birds, rocks, and food!  

Day 8. The area is extensive, the statues many, the birds of a large variety, scattered at all levels, so we need one more morning to locate and watch them, before leaving early afternoon for the little ferry across the northern part of the Ataturk Dam reservoir, and our next destination on the shore of Van Lake.  

If you like ping-pong room or billiard, now is the time to practice it in this competitorless 3-star hotel right across the Jendarmas.  

 turkey-nemrut-volcano
Day 9. We go back to Nemrut Dagi… wait! This is another mountain by the same name, overlooking Van Lake instead of the Ataturk Dam. And this one has a crater instead of stone statues. But we feel equally solemn and isolated as we descend along a smooth, dirt road until we reach a big blue lake and a small green lake, both within the vast crater. So do the birds. Armenia is not far, so we get… Armenian Gulls, and also Red-fronted Serins, Pale Rock (or Hill) Sparrows, Horned Larks, Black Redstarts, Northern Wheatears, Booted and Golden Eagles, and more.  
 
 
 
turkey-nemrut-craterOur minibus climbs back to the rim of the caldera before gently descending towards the lake passing on the way three picturesque villages. A new road leads us straight north across mountains to Malazgirt. And in the middle of nowhere, on that high plateau, we find a 4 star-hotel! Well, of course! That small town has been at the crossroads of civilization for centuries, having witnessed Urartians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, Ottomans, and of course Armenian and Kurds. And in 1071, Byzantine emperor Diogenes was defeated in Malazgirt by Seljuk sultan Alp Arslan, a historical event that opened the road of the West to the Central Asian-born Turks. Four stars is the least to honour such glorious past. Lots to do before we move again slightly east to Ercis and yet another 4-star, 7-floor hotel, towering over Van lake, right on its shore.


Day 10. This region is also at the crossroads of the Demoiselle Cranes breeding. But to find them needs maneuvering and eventually walking on pot-holed and sometimes muddy tracks leading to nearby Murat River. That will take us a whole morning — well, there are also Spur-winged Plovers and Black-bellied Sandgrouse to see, while Montagu’s Harriers, Long-legged Buzzards, Marsh Harriers, Hobbies fly over the fields. And in the river, the Demoiselles are in the good company of Pygmy Cormorants, Spoonbills, Squaccos, Little Egrets, Teals, Oystercatchers, Green Sandpipers, Wood Sandpipers, Little Terns, Gull-billed Terns, White-winged Black Terns, Little Ringed Plovers, Snipes, and Armenian Gulls. If we are lucky we can also see the lone Stone-curlew.
  

 
 
turkey-malazgirt-birding

Day 11. An easy and short road to our first stop at the Bendimahe marshes & lagoon at the north-estern tip of the lake, where we can find Collared Pratincoles, Eurasian Coots, Common Pochards, Common Reed Buntings, Caspian Terns, Black-headed Wagtails, Bearded Reedlings, Great Reed Warblers, Tawny Pipits, Common Redshanks. We may hope for White-headed Ducks, Moustached Warblers, Slender-billed Gulls, Ruddy Shelducks, and Greater Flamingos.  

Our next destination is Serpmetas, a small village inland special because of its extended lava field, very hard to walk on, and its Mongolian Finches, White-winged Snowfinches, Crimson-winged Finches, Twite, Short-toed and Bimaculated Larks, and Isabelline Wheatears, as well as Long-legged Buzzards and Short-toed Eagles.  

 
 
turkey-serpmetas-birding
Eventually we have to tear ourselves away from this easternmost location, and head to Van. We bypass, however this very commercial and noisy city, to spend our last night once more on the shore of Van Lake with an unrivalled sunset.

 

Day 12. Transfer to the 5-km away airport for our flight to Istanbul.  

Our hotel is less than 10 minutes away on foot from Blue Mosque & Aghia Sofia, yet in a very quiet neighborhood. Equally important, it has a very pleasant and helpful staff, offering personal service (not often the case in that big city), and, last but not least, it is run by women (also unusual there). There is even a last chance for birding at the nearby Marmara Sea which we see from our rooms.  

Day 13. Late morning transfer to the airport to catch our flight home.

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