Join Yoav Perlman’s birding experiences in Turkey
Last month I went on a short weekend trip with three of my mates to Turkey. Our main target bird was Brown Fish Owl. I am not a keen WP lister but this is an almost mythical bird for Israeli birders. I was born just a few months after the last bird in Israel had been shot in 1975, so this bird was always special for me.
Charters between Israel and Antalya operate twice a week, so we decided to spend the weekend searching for some of Turkey’s special birds apart for the owl tour, which is very focused and well -organized. It was my first-ever visit to Turkey, and I was fascinated by its size and beauty. It has very diverse habitats (albeit driving between them is long and tough) and I am sure I will return soon. But even for such a short trip we did quite well.
Our first site was at Akseki, high up in the mountains above Antalya. The coniferous forests are home to Krueper’s Nuthatch, which is a small and beutiful nuthatch with a restricted range in Turkey and extreme SE Europe. I did not manage to get any decent photos of it – we saw and heard about 20 birds but they all stayed high up in the canopy and didn’t give themselves up to our lenses. The local form of Coal Tit (michalowskii) is much darker then the European birds. This adult was feeding a young.
Next morning with met up with Ozcan Kilic, a local guide who takes birders on short boat trips to see the owls in a reservoir above Antalya. There are several large hydroelectric projects up in the mountains there that were constructed some decades ago. Now these man-made fjords host about 10 pairs of this fantastic owl. Brown fish Owl is common in SE Asia, but currently this the only site in the WP where they can be seen. On the plane back to Israel I started planning a reintroduction program to Israel, so who knows maybe in a few years poor Ozcan will lose some of his clients… Anyway the tour went well as planned, and we quickly saw two adults and their fully-grown juvenile in the early morning (dim light for photos…). Super stuff!
Twitching these Brown Fish Owls has become quite trendy among leading WP listers. We shared the boat with some of UK’s biggest twitchers.
From Antalya we decided to take an internal flight to Birecik in SE Turkey (unlike most other cheap Europeans who drive for 12 bloody hours!). Birecik lies on the shores of the Euphrates, one of the largest rivers of the Middle East. Around Birecik we were able to see some special species that are impossible to see anywhere else in the WP.
Iraq Babbler was discovered in the WP as recently as 2006, and can be seen only in the new gravel pits near Birecik, that are now covered with reeds. We had a few family groups of this small babbler flying around the reedbed. Unfortunately this site is unprotected, and like everywhere in Turkey shooting is a very big problem. We saw there almost nothing larger than passerines.
Birecik’s symbol is the critically endangered Northern Bald Ibis. They used to breed on the old towers of the town, and now have moved to breed in a small reserve on the outskirts of town. This small population is managed by a local NGO, and they have some major conservation challenges. For instance, if they let them migrate to Africa they never return – they all get shot along the way in the Middle East or NE Africa. Therefore each year in summer, just before they’re supposed to migrate, the entire population gets trapped, kept in large cages and prevented from migrating! In spring they are released and they can breed again. Sad but true.
Most species in that area were familiar to us Israelis (Black Francolin, Pygmy Cormorant etc.) but there were some more special birds there. See-see Partridge is one of these restricted range species found there. We saw some but didn’t manage to photo any – they were very shy, I guess as a result of hunting pressure. Menetries’s Warbler, a rarity in Israel, breeds in very large numbers in scrubby habitats around Birecik.
The plateau above the Euphrates Valley is covered with endless Pistachio plantations. Chestnut-shouldered Petronia (AKA Yellow-throated Sparrow) is common in these plantations. This brightly-coloured species, that resembles a miniature Resplendent Quetzal, is common in S Asia but again this is practically the only place in the WP to see it.
We took a short trip from Birecik to search for Eastern Rock Nuthatch. They breed on cliffs above the Euphrates canyon, and are easily seen above a small resort called Halfeti. This is one big nuthatch, with massive bill and legs. Interestingly, we saw them together with their sister-species, Western Rock Nuthatch. It is interesting how they can live together, probably ecologically separated enough by different food requirements.
To conclude, Turkey is a great country – lots of birds and habitats, good food, friendly people, good infrastructure, concise birding info – pity it’s so big… I will return for sure. Many thanks to my partners – Rami, Rony and Amir for the great company.
The full story and more images can be found in my blog.