BIRDING TRIP REPORT:
20 April to
25 April 2015
Last year I had made a moderately successful
brief, solo spring visit to
Poland & Germany, so this year I was looking for somewhere
hopefully more productive in terms of lifers and photography.
Remembering an article from a few years back in the now defunct Birding World about
recently discovered breeding Brown Fish Owls, I soon firmed up
on southern Turkey which I had never visited before. As well as the Owls,
this area also held a number of other lifers for me, mostly to
be looked for in the mountains that are within relatively easy
reach of the coast, both to the west and east of Antalya.
Accommodation and travel are relatively easy as
this area is a popular tourist area in season - there are many
hotels available, as well as direct flights to the centrally placed city of Antalya. To cut
down on driving distances, I decided to spend my first two nights on
the west side of Antalya to cover the mountain sites on that
side of this very busy city. My remaining three nights were in
Side, to the east of Antalya which is the pick-up point for the
early morning Brown Fish Owl excursion organized by Vigo Tours.
English was generally widely spoken and there
western tourist infrastructure in the coastal strip, but it is
a different world up in the mountains! There has clearly been massive
investment in the main roads, most of which are now very good with a
remarkable number of modern filling stations (which also have
small shops for essentials and WC's).
Vigo Tours didn't have any availability in early
May, so I ended up going in the 3rd week of April which is
somewhat earlier than when most birders go. I found the birds were
singing really well and picked up various migrants on the
coastal strip near Side that may well have moved on by early-mid
May. However I may have been too early for some of the latest
arriving summer visitors (e.g. Olive Tree Warbler, of which I
saw no sign). In April it is also fortunately far too
early for most of the tourists, but by no means all of them!
Easy Jet was the only scheduled airline I found
serving Antalya from any of the London airports (Gatwick), so this is what
I used. The outward flight left mid afternoon but arrived late
evening given the two hour time difference. The return flight
departed 22:20 and arrived back at Gatwick around 01:00 (or 03:00
Turkey time) making for a very late return home. At least both
flights were pretty well on-time.
I used Enterprise
having had generally favourable experiences with them in the UK. They also
did quite well for me in Turkey, although it was a bit of a trek
from the international terminal to the domestic terminal where
their desk was, and a further reasonable distance to the actual
car. I was offered a choice of two and opted for a Toyota
Corolla automatic, due to its better leg room. Even this large
car was quite moderately priced, compared with some hire charges
I have paid, and was in good condition.
As with most recent trips, I relied almost entirely on my SatNav,
using lat, long (GPS) coordinates I had stored in advance by careful study of
Google maps and the Gosney booklet (see below). I give many of
these coordinates below to help similarly
equipped other birders. I also had a 1:400,000 map of the
area - called Guney Akdeniz from MapMedya, purchased from
Stanfords which at least showed me roughly where I was going. A
Marco Polo map of the whole of Turkey ay 1:800,000 was too small
scale to be of any real use.
The recent Gosney booklet, "Finding Birds in South-West
Turkey" was useful for the Korkuteli Hills and a few other sites
in the area. It also usefully contains GPS coordinates for
his sites. The Akseki area is covered by his much older
separate booklet "Finding Birds in Turkey Ankara to Birecik"
which was of very limited value as there are numerous more
recent trip reports
covering the Akseki sites. However the
gem of this area (at Cimikoy) seems much less widely known, and I
only found clear mention of it in one web trip report.
Despite all this information, I was made aware of probably
the best site for photography very near Side only by the group
of Norwegian birds on the Brown Fish Owl excursion - thanks guys
if you ever read this!
was dry throughout but there had clearly been heavy rain
recently. It was also cooler than I expected, being only in the
low 20's on the coast. Early in the morning up in the mountains
it was down to 4C, combined with a bitter northerly wind!
Conditions on the Brown Fish Owl excursion were the coldest our
guide had ever experienced, with a gale force wind in the second
canyon, more of which below!
All the pics shown
below were taken with my DSLR equipment - Canon EOS 7D Mk II with
EF400mm/f4 DO lens (often with a x1.4TC) or my EF400mmf5.6.
All pics were taken in RAW format, and I use NeatImage for
noise suppression, with PhotoShop Elements 9.0 for
subsequent processing. For further details see the equipment and image processing pages elsewhere on this website.
Korkuteli Hills and
hills are within relatively easy reach of Antalya which is where
I spent my first two nights. They were reputed to have several
of the mountain birds that were some of my main trip
1. Gosney White-throated
37.012307, 30.173907 )
With the two hour
time difference and breakfast in my hotel available from 07:00,
I decided that was a sufficiently early start for my first
morning! I then fought my way out of the free-for-all that was
rush hour Antalya and headed north west for the Korkuleli Hills
region, with Gosney's White-throated Robin site first on my
agenda. Arriving in the area, I found my SatNav misbehaving with
the Gosney coordinates so that I ended up going well beyond the
site (which is just beyond the end of the dual carriageway,
south from Korkuteli) and then retracing my steps. I ended up
parking rather awkwardly at an angle on the verge of the busy
Heading to the east and away from the road, I spent a bit of
time wandering around the bushy, dry terrain seeing only several
Lesser Whitethroats, but things improved when I
moved towards some goat herders' shelters on a flattish, greener
area (see above coordinates) when I first heard and then saw one
superb singing White-throated Robin. There was
also a Ruppell's Warbler in the same area,
although it wasn't obliging for photos. Also a Hoopoe.
|White-throated Robin (click
2. Gosney 'Radio Tower' Hill site
My next stop was
Gosney's 'Radio Tower Hill' site at which he saw all sorts of
mountain birds including Crimson-winged Finch, Red-fronted Serin
etc. This site is to the west of Korkuteli, and the new dual
carriageway wasn't open yet where a small road heads off to the
right of the E87 into a loose collection of houses (see GPS co-ords above). Unlike Gosney, I saw
nothing of interest around the houses at the start of this small
road (only House Sparrows!). Beyond them, the
road climbs up via some sharp bends to a straighter stretch
where again I saw little apart from Northern Wheatear,
a Rock Sparrow and a Rock Thrush.
However his hollow on the left just beyond the turn to the
marble quarry was somewhat more productive with Finsch's
Wheatear (one of my targets), more Northern
Wheatears, Rock Nuthatch, more
Rock Thrushes and a Steppe Buzzard
over. Of the various shrikes and buntings seen by Gosney, there
was no sign - possibly because I was too early in the season.
Nor did I see any Crimson-winged Finches, Red-fronted Serins or
Isabelline Wheatears. He must have had a real purple patch
during his visit here!
Thrush (click to enlarge)
The next day I returned to this site and saw much the same
birds, but it was even colder and more windy so I spent less
time in the hollow. I then thought I would try following the
small road further on. This descended to a less wind blasted
area with Crested Larks by the road and then a loose collection
of houses. In a small orchard on the left, which was just coming
into leaf/blossom (GPS 37.048553, 29.970926) I was delighted to
find a nice flock of charming Red-fronted Serins
- another of my target species.
||Red fronted Serin
3. Gogu-Beli Pass
On my first day,
with another night in Antalya to follow, at about 13:00 I
decided to move on from the Radio Tower Hill for a longish drive
to the Gogu-Beli pass via Seki, for more possible mountain
species. This was not a great success! There were still snow
patches around at the pass itself, and lovely scenic views. But
there were few birds to be seen. As there were abundant sources
of water everywhere, nothing was coming to the water troughs
mentioned by Gosney. All I managed to find in roadside streams
was one Serin (not Red-fronted!). Wandering
around produced little else, apart from some more
Northern Wheatears one elusive bunting sp. and some
Choughs over (probably Alpine).
The return drive via Elmali to Antalya took at least two
hours, but did have some birding interest, especially in the
stretch before Elmali. At various places I heard singing
Nightingales beside a river, and just short of Elmali I
spotted an immense flooded lake off to the right of the road.
Getting closer on smaller roads and then a track I reached about
36.74072,29.84615. This was a pleasant spot, with
Spanish Sparrows by the road, Woodchat Shrike
in a meadow, calling Quail, Corn
Bunting and a couple of Ruddy Shelduck
on the distant 'lake' shore.
my second day, I first went back
to the Radio Tower Hill site as described above, and then headed
for the Side area for my last 3 nights of this trip, traversing
the congested and roadwork plagued Antalya. There were also more roadworks along the busy
coastal D400, so that the whole journey took the better part of
3 hours. A brief visit to the Titreyen Golu area (as featured in
Gosney) to the east of Side was not productive with access to
the east side of the site apparently blocked by a closed road.
1. Oymapinar Reservoir
At a challenging
04:30 the next morning I was collected from my hotel by the Vigo
Tours guide in a minibus for the excursion to the Oymapinar
reservoir, which was to be the highlight of this trip. We collected some more birders en-route (4
Norwegians and a lone Dutchman) and arrived above the lake
well before sunrise. We then descended some steep
steps, and clambered through several boats to reach the
outermost one which was surprisingly large, with an extensive
flat deck on top, surrounded by seating. We left just as the sky
was brightening and we were in the first canyon (Little Canyon,
I think) in only about 10-15 minutes.
It was fortunately nice and
sheltered here, but still very dark when we arrived. An ace
Brown Fish Owl was quickly spotted on an exposed perch on the
steep hillside well above the boat. But even with a
tripod, (partially defective) cable release and ISO 6400, my first shot (at just
before 06:00) needed a 0.5 sec exposure time and was hence a
hopeless blur! The light then improved steadily but
unfortunately the bird quickly retreated into a more
obscured location. None of my photos of the bird out on the
exposed perch were worthwhile and the one below is the best I
could manage. It was taken using ISO 6400 @ 1/50 sec at 06:25 - due to the bird's
distance I kept the x1.4 TC on the DO lens the whole time.
Brown Fish Owl (click to enlarge)
After this frantic photo session (the boat was quite a stable
platform in this sheltered location but did slowly move around
making use of a tripod and cable release with long exposure
times quite a hit and miss affair). Hand held would however have
been hopeless, as I think the other birders on the boat found.
Perhaps later in the season it is lighter at the time the boat
reaches the canyon, making for easier photography?
We then went to another location which took a good half
hour or more to reach but unfortunately the conditions were against
us here. Although it was now a lot lighter, there was a gale force
wind blasting through the canyon and the second Brown Fish Owl
was trying its best to shelter behind some grass, which didn't
seem likely to be an effective wind break. But it was sufficient
to rule out any
thoughts of further productive photography. We didn't spend too long in
this exposed location and returned to the shore, and then back
up the steps to the minibus. I got back to the hotel around
09:00 - just in time for a celebratory and well earned breakfast!
2. Side ruins (GPS
Having found one
very enthusiastic web report of the Roman ruins at Side, I
visited here after the Brown Fish Owl success (and breakfast!)
described above. Arriving fairly early morning, I managed to get
into a small car park at the GPS coords above which seemed
slightly closer than the main car parks to the north. I found
the bushy areas behind the ruins (in the general area of
36.768373, 31.393582) to be quite pleasant and productive,
with a Masked Shrike, my first
Spectacled Bulbuls, a Blackcap, a few
Lesser Whitethroats, an Olivaceous
Warbler, a few Red-rumped Swallows and
the odd Tortoise! It didn't quite justify rave reviews though,
which must have coincided with a migrant fall.
3. East side of Manavgat
36.742511, 31.487007 )
birders on the Brown Fish Owl excursion had mentioned a promising
sounding area on the east bank of the river to the east of Side,
which may be called the Manavgat river. This turned out to
be a splendid area that I visited three times, seeing different
species each time. A drive-able track goes through the area
parallel with the river and even some of the smaller side tracks
can be driven on in a standard car with care. The main birding activity
was centered on the small marsh (GPS location above) but the
whole area was productive with a variety of species. I found the
car made a good hide for photography in places.
The small marsh must be a highly
threatened habitat, surrounded as it was by cultivated fields.
Surely it is only a matter of time before it is drained? But on
my visit it was a brilliant spot! There was a substantial flock
of Glossy Ibis present (50+) and many herons -
mainly Squacco Heron and Purple Heron.
There were plenty of waders with good flocks of Ruff,
Wood Sandpipers and a possible Marsh
Sandpiper (which the Norwegians recorded). But best of
all hawking over the marsh one day was a small flock of
Collared Pratincoles. There were terns about as
well - Gull-billed Tern and Whiskered
Tern. On my first visit there was also a charming male
Garganey in the middle, along with the
Black-winged Stilts. Once even a Red-throated
Pipit appeared and started to bathe! I found by walking
slowly along the edge of the adjacent field and then standing
still for a prolonged period the birds seemed to settle down and
forget about me. No lifers maybe, but a truly memorable spot
with quality birds everywhere!
Probably the best bird was a 2nd year male Pallid
Harrier that appeared twice during my visit (thanks to
Ian Lewington for confirming the ID and advising of its age and
Pratincole (click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)
||Pallid Harrier (click
Field adjacent to Marsh
It was possible
to drive into the field next to the marsh (at GPS 36.742979,
31.488808). I spent some time here trying for pics from the car
of the waders feeding on this field, which included
Little Ringed Plover, Ruff and
Curlew. The odd Red-throated Pipit put
in appearance from time to time, as did the Pallid
Harrier (see above).
Ruff (click to enlarge)
||Little Ringed Plover (click to enlarge)
Pools and scrub opposite marsh
Immediately opposite the marsh on the other side of the main
track were a couple of reed fringed pools with scrub behind.
This was again a good habitat with more Spur-winged
Plover, Squacco and Purple
Herons and various warblers including
Olivaceous Warbler and Great Reed Warbler.
I was also surprised to see a distant Great-spotted
Cuckoo briefly. The scrubby areas 'inland' from the
track were good for shrikes, with Woodchat Shrike,
Red-backed Shrike and a probable
Great-grey Shrike seen very briefly.
Red backed Shrike (click
Great Reed Warbler (click left to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)
The main track between
the marsh and the main road to the north was also notable, with a wary
pair of Red-fronted Falcons hunting one
evening. Even better was a chance reasonable sighting of a migrant
Barred Warbler in a bush near a small house, which was
somewhat ironic given the time I had spent in Poland
last year getting a 3
second glimpse of one!
the day after the Brown Fish Owl I decided on another early (but
not quite so early!) start to explore some of the sites around
Akseki which is up in the hills, north east from Side. The roads
early in the morning were quite quiet, and I reached the area in
about an hour, arriving just after dawn at about 07:00. These
sites have had mixed reports on the web, with some good reports
and others from those finding very little of interest, so I
wasn't sure how productive this morning was going to be.
1. Akseki walled plantation (GPS
This site is
reached by turning left off the D695 just before the Akseki turn
to the right. The walled plantation is very obvious close to
where the road bends to the right after a km or so, with a
to the left going very close to it. Emerging from a warm car
into the cold, post dawn conditions was a bit of a shock - it was
only just above freezing!
Between the road and the
plantation were various rows of bushes which held a few
Eastern Bonelli's Warblers, which I later discovered is
now considered to be a full species and was hence a lifer!
Walking around the outside of the plantation my main objective
was to find another of my targets - Syrian Woodpecker and indeed
one duly appeared albeit briefly, and only giving distant views.
The only other birds of note were Hoopoes and a Nuthatch in
the wood, so after this relatively brief and fairly successful visit I
headed on to Akseki itself.
Eastern Bonelli's Warbler
2. Akseki cemetery
The route to this
site is well described in various web reports. Essentially turn right once in Akseki through a square, just before
the main road becomes divided by trees along the middle, but the
coordinates above worked fine for me and I parked by the
football stadium on the left as described by others. The
entrance to the cemetery was on the opposite side of the road.
This was again a site that has produced very mixed
reports. I had another glimpse of a Syrian Woodpecker
flying away, but the only other birds were numerous very obvious
Jays. No signs of Olive Tree Warbler or anything else for that
matter. No photos here!
3. Cimikoy meadows
I found this site
mentioned clearly in only one trip report but it sounded promising
so I paid it a visit after the Akseki sites mentioned above. It is reached by following the road out of Akseki past the cemetery. This goes through an area of pines
that is likely to have Kruper's Nuthatch but I didn't stop to
check, having already seen one many years ago in Lesbos.
Within the small village of Cimikoy, turn right just past
a small mosque and in front of a larger building. This small road goes
downhill and rapidly turns into a track along a valley through an
absolutely delightful area of meadows, teeming with birds!
least some of the region's mountain specialties were here, and
at last I found some buntings that had been notably absent from
the trip so far. Stopping first at a small cultivated field at roughly
the GPS coordinates given above, I found both
Ortolan Buntings as well as a Black-eared Wheatear. Thereafter
the track got rougher and I decided to pull off and park in an
adjacent field, and explore the area on foot. The grassy areas
were alive with wheatears - mainly
Northern Wheatears, but with a few Black-eared
as well. It was only on my way back to the car that I found a
Finsch's Wheatear. Both Cretzschmar's and
Ortolan Buntings were present in small flocks,
together with a few Rock Buntings and several
Red-fronted Serins. There was another
Syrian Woodpecker to add to the two already seen
earlier the same day, with the odd Whinchat
thrown into the mix.
The wonderful valley below Cimikoy, near Akseki
The north side of the Cimokoy valley (left side on the photo
above), had more cover and was
also good, with Rock Nuthatch and Blue
Rock Thrush, while along the southern edge I found
Orphean Warblers and had a couple of
Steppe Buzzards over. But I saw no sign of Olive Tree
Warbler nor Crimson winged Finches, both reported from here.
Can't win them all! The only real downside of this site was the
wariness of the birds, which made photography very difficult
unless from the car.
Side to Antalya airport
On my last day, I had a late evening flight back, so I spent the
afternoon visiting a couple of sites conveniently placed along
my route. The first was the Gosney site reputedly for Olive Tree
Warbler at Tasagil Olive Grove (36.942123,31.220156). However a
reasonable exploration produced a Pied Flycatcher but no
sight nor sound of Olive Tree Warbler - possibly because late
April is too early for them? My final port of call was the Penge Roman ruins
which feature in one enthusiastic web trip report. However having paid TL 40 to get in,
I saw nothing very notable other than a few more Spectacled
Bulbuls and the odd Crested Lark. There was no sign at all of
the buntings and wheatears mentioned in the trip report. The
ruins were extensive so maybe I never found the best bit.
|Dawn at Oymapinar Reservoir, shortly before
connecting with a Brown Fish Owl!
Blue Garden Hotel, Antalya
||This hotel was sited on
the west side of Antalya which was where I wanted to be
for my first two nights and had reasonable Trip Advisor
reviews. However it had a number of significant drawbacks.
Firstly it was on a very busy main road which ran between
the hotel and the sea. Even asking for a quiet room didn't
help much, as all rooms faced the coast. Furthermore the
restaurant staff were unwelcoming and downright rude at
one point, as well as speaking no English at all. The
buffet breakfast was a vast array of dishes, presumably
put out and taken away daily so it was difficult to know
how fresh it was - as there was only a handful of
customers. The dinner was mediocre at best. The only
bright point was the reception staff who were OK, but
overall this place is not recommended.
||This compact hotel tucked into a quiet side road was
the complete opposite of the Blue Garden Hotel. The staff
were extraordinarily welcoming and helpful - insisting on
taking my bags up to my room for example. One of them even
came out with me at 04:30 in the morning and waited with
me on the kerbside until the Vigo Tours minibus appeared!
The owners were equally friendly and made a point of going
round all the dinner guests having a brief chat every
night. The dinner and breakfasts were good as well! Nor
was it was very expensive. There wasn't a TV in my room
but that didn't bother me at all. I even had great views
of a pair of Bulbuls while having a late lunch on my final
day! Definitely recommended.
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