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BIRDING TRIP REPORT:

Turkey: Antalya area

20 April to 25 April 2015

By Stephen Burch, England

Introduction
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 is much 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! 


General
Flights
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.

Car hire
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.

Maps
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.

Birding information
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!

Weather
The weather 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!  

Photos
All the pics shown below were taken with my DSLR equipment - Canon EOS 7D Mk II with either my 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 Gogu-Beli pass
These 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 targets.

1. Gosney White-throated Robin site (GPS 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 road.

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
White-throated Robin  (click to enlarge)

2. Gosney 'Radio Tower' Hill site (GPS 37.0328,29.9900)
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!

Rock Thrush Rock Thrush
Male Rock Thrush  (click to enlarge) Female Rock Thrush

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.

Steppe Buzzard Red fronted Serin
Steppe Buzzard Red fronted Serin

3. Gogu-Beli Pass (GPS 36.8463, 29.7457)
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.

Woodchat Shrike
Woodchat Shrike

Side area
On 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
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 36.768130,31.389509   )
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 river (GPS 36.742511, 31.487007 )
The Norwegian 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.

Marsh
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 sex)!

Collared Pratincole Gull billed Tern
Collared Pratincole  (click to enlarge) Gull-billed Tern (click to enlarge)
Whiskered Tern Squacco Heron
Whiskered Tern Squacco Heron
Glossy Ibis Pallid Harrier
Glossy Ibis Pallid Harrier  (click to enlarge)
Little Bittern
Little Bittern

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 Spur-winged Plover, 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 Little Ringed Plover
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 Olivaceous Warbler
Red backed Shrike  (click to enlarge) Olivaceous Warbler
Great Reed Warbler Great Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler  (click left to enlarge)
Spur-winged Plover (click to enlarge) Distant Great-spotted Cuckoo

Main track
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!

Barred Warbler

Akseki area
On 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 37.025687,31.738654)
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 minor road 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
Eastern Bonelli's Warbler

2. Akseki cemetery (GPS 37.045109,31.795123)
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 (GPS 37.023541,31.85393 )
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!

At 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 Cretzschmar's  and 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 Wheatears 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.

Cretzschmar's Bunting Finsch's Wheatear
Cretzschmar's Bunting Finsch's Wheatear
   
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!

Accommodation Details

Place Comment
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.
Conny's, Side 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.

All pictures copyright Stephen Burch 

 

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