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Two go owling in Turkey

Posted by on July 7, 2012 7:13 PM | 

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Thanks to Tropical Thomason for the words and Neill Hunt for the pix from their latest "we're just popping out birding, be back soon", adventure while on holiday with their missusses in Turkey.
They got the owl AND survived the treehouse of luurrrrvvve - read on MacDuff:

"Here's a small trip report of our exploits in the province of Antalya, Southern Turkey:
Er Neill and I with our good wives planned a relaxing holiday based in Dalyan, near Dalaman, with a little light local birding thrown in, but when we heard about the recent discovery of Western Brown Fish Owl breeding at Lake Oymapinar, east of Antalya city, we dug the maps out and realised we could twitch it, as it was a quick 6 1/2 hour drive away.
All praise and thanks to Neills online organising and emailing abilities, within a few days he had secured us a place on a private charter boat with Eric Herschfeld and his family and friends.
Eric is a prominent Swedish birder, and alround nice guy. He had also taken time out from a family holiday to see the owl as it was one of three birds he still needed on his Turkish list, we were in with the big boys here.
So with car quickly sorted on arrival and the good ladies ensconced in the villa with pool and the fridge stocked with fine wines food and beer, we hit the road at about 6am, we were soon climbing high into the hills and mountains east of Fethiye.
Google directions had informed us that it was a 6 1/2 hour drive to our final destination, but with road improvements completed and still going on, we where flying along.
As we had all day to cross the Antalyan mountains we decided to bird a few selected spots en route.
Our first stop was the open farmland around Seki, a short detour off our route, and surrounded by snow capped mountains, this was a beautiful place to start. We drove on into Seki and turned right at the famous(?) strawberry in hand roundabout.
According to recent reports a mile up this narrow road it was Whitethroated Robin central and every bush held a Ruppells warbler - well we searched and searched.
We had a few Ruppells but no robins, as I'd not twitched the Hartlepool bird but Neill had, he wasn't as disappointed as me.

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We had other robin sights en route, so hopes where still high.
We birded good road side habitat just east of Seki, and our bag of birds was growing including Lesser Grey, Masked, Woodchat and Red Backed Shrikes, Isabelline Wheatears where everywhere as well as Northern and Black Eared, here we also came across our first of many Hermanns Tortoise of the eastern race Boettgeri, it was nice to see a wild one as I have a 60-year-old one living wild in the garden.

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After getting directions from the two oldest men in Antalya, we were hopefully on the right road pointed out by his bent stick - hard really to know which fork in the road he was pointing at.
We soon reconnected to the main road to Korkuteli. The good new dual roads where eating up the kliks faster than we hoped, BUT because of the wider roads the drinking troughs that Gosney and other reports mention have all but gone.
These troughs where a magnet for birds and provided water to high mountain birds in a dry rocky environment, including the robin.
Anyway onwards and upwards to our next site for Finsch's Wheatear, a rough track off the main road took us up into treeless rocky habitat, a rougher track off of this and we where at the edge of a marble quarry, a splendid Horned Lark looked at us only feet away before we'd even got out of the car.

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This looked good as there where birds everywhere, a wheatear with a white centred back and black and white tail disappeared into the quarry, and Neill and I where soon in hot pursuit when a car with 5 Turks stopped Neill, they had two words of english, "military" and "go".
I had noticed the large radar station looking down at us from the mountain top, but chose to ignore it, "drat," I said to Neill as we drove back down to the first track," we made a slight navigational error here".
We drove deeper into the mountain. Up ahead I could see one of those water fountains and troughs, "let's try here" we both said in unison.
Before I got out of the car I could see a male Finsch's Wheatear down the slope, but it flew before Neill got on to it.
We split up and searched, filling our bag up with asst. larks and pipits.
We both soon got onto the target bird and filled our bins pants and bags ("it's in my trousers" is an old unit term usually called out when seeing a new bird).

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We scrabbled back up the slope smiling widely as this was the first tick of the day, only to be met by the oldest soldier in the Turkish army on a clapped out moped.
He demanded to know what we where doing and were we Greek spies?
Neill replied in fluent Turkish that we were British birders and we'd seen what we had come for and as you are unarmed you can ........, the last bit I didn't understand as my Turkish is not as good as Neills.
Down the mountain now towards the great metropolis that is Antalya city, what a dump, this place is harder to cross than San Jose, Costa Rica, it has the road signage that the other doesn't, but it also has the worst drivers I've come across, for a start Turkish drivers use there horns to communicate with each other - hello, goodbye, how are you?, how are the kids?, isn't it nice weather we're having?
This all makes a nervous British driver very tense, and with a 39 degree temperature I was losing fluids rapidly.
Another quaint idea they have come up with is to put countdowns in seconds at every set of lights, so its like Santa Pod at every junction, the smell of burning rubber and broken wind is not a good mix, even the guys in the turn right lane shoot straight across and cut everyone else up.

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We reached our overnight stop below the Barrage of Manavgat at about 8pm, very hot and quiet tired and totally out of ginger beer, and also robinless.
After a good meal, first food of the day, and lashing of ginger beer, I turned to Neill and said this is actually a very nice place to stop, besides a beautiful wide river surrounded by mountains in nice countryside, it would be an excellent place to bring our partners, as it all looks very romantic.
This had also been noticed by the local Turks.
We were billeted in a strange flimsy wooden structure about 3 floors high and as we were up at 4am we were looking forward to a good but short night's sleep, we were tucked up by 10pm on the second floor, and soon feel asleep dreaming of one of the scarcest birds of the western pal. and maybe potential split, Western Brown Fish Owl. Hours later the swaying of the building and the moaning of the other occupants soon told me that they would not be joining me in my early assignation with Brown Owl, other things where on their minds.
I spent the rest of the night listening to the one mozzy in the room knowing that it was taking chunks out of me every time I tried to drop off - oh well that's birding, take the rough with the smooth, I now know why euro women find Turkish men attractive.
4am saw us sitting at the entrance of "romantic hotel" waiting for our prearranged rendezvous with Eric and his guide, 10 mins later a convoy of 3 cars swept us up the river and over the dam to a small car park in total darkness.
Outside we could hear a Tawny Owl calling, maybe the goddess Athena was sending me a sign I mused, in the world that is my mind.
After falling, tripping and stumbling down various flights of non HSE steps also in total darkness, save for one dull torchlight and various mobile phone lights we walked a narrow plank ending up on the outside of 6 moored tour boats.
Soon we had chugged quietly into a very narrow but steep canyon, trees and bushes rooted into every crack.
This looked good, soon a crew member shone a bright light at various pines (where was this when I nearly broke me neck?) but the expected owls did not materialise - this is the tree they fish from, this is the rock they roost on we were told.
I felt like telling the guide I can't tick owl shit, I need to see it's producer, but I didn't.
After much mutterings, it was decided to cross the large reservoir and try another canyon.
As it dawned on the world it dawned on me that if I have to go back and explain to family and birding friends the biggest dip of my birding career, I might have to hang up me bins.
The world was being bathed in glorious light, but my world was sinking into permanent darkness. I had to console myself that it was in fact a beautiful place to be with numerous Yellow Legged Herring Gulls to look at, but somehow this didn't work.
We passed into a much wider canyon, which in my black mood could have held dozens of unseen owls in the cracks and caves.
This bird retreats into cover of darkness during the bright light of the day, a bit like Gollum (doesn't he also eat cold wet fishes?), and the sun was about to hit the lip of the canyon any minute. I thought to myself that if the sun hits me before I see this bird then worlds could collide for all I care.
What sane person puts themselves through this kind of torture - only birders.
The canyon was getting narrower, the cliffs where getting higher, the world was getting lighter, the tension on the boat was getting tighter, when one of the crew calls out, "look, up there on the right".
Low (anagram of owl) and behold, there on a lower rock was a young Brown Fish Owl! First year Brown Fish Owls are smarter lookin' than their parents in my humble opinion. An adult was also found nearby.

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Panic over, put tick in book and it's off for the next bird, a delayed date with a White Throated Robin, so we headed back through Antalya, after a fruitless search for Olive Tree Warbler at Gosneys Tasagil site.
We decided to go back to the Seki area as this was the best latest reported site.
We where soon back at the previous day's site and decided on a new approach, stealth. Neill being younger and stealthier than me, he got brief views of a male, while all I could get was rubbish flight view of a probable female.
Could I tick that? - if you have to ask yourself that question the answer is probably no. After two hours in the baking sun, a different approach was needed as we both agreed that this was useless, the birds here were in the densest of bushes with tiny sharp holly like leaves and not coming out.
We looked at the map, drank some water and scratched our heads, the road we were on looked like it would take us up the snow capped mountain we could see from the farm land.
Up we climbed, ears popping and temperature dropping, the habitat changing as we ascended.
We stopped before the treeline ended on a bend, there where plenty of birds about. Neill went down and I went up, Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Chaffinch shared the slopes with Red Backed Shrikes and Serins.
We both got good but brief views of a male White Throated Robin, and thought there had to be more here.
Ortolan was seen before I lost sight of Neill. I could hear whistling and I ran down to join him but the Red Fronted Serin had gone.
"Did you get good views?", I asked.
"Photographed it", he replied, followed with, "it's the bird of the trip for me".

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Should I push him off the mountain now and claim the photo was mine I thought, or go and find my own?
Best go and try and find my own.
Luckily for Neill I soon found one - what a stunner, the combination of colours is quite startling.
Elated over our finds and with about an hour left to bird we pushed on up the mountain (its called Salurtepe Dagi, height 2,600 mts) the road ended at a ski lift, surrounded by alpine meadow.
Crag Martin buzzed the lone building, I wandered around the meadows and rocky slopes while Neill photo'd the martin, amazed by the plant life, dianthus flowering next to giant pale prickly orchids with euonimus everywhere.
This was a botanists dream, many types I've never seen before.
Typical of alpine meadows there where butterflies where everywhere.
3 birds flew up from under the ski chairs turned out to be Wood Larks, and not a tree within 2 miles!
3 more R F Serins fed on scrawny weeds close to the ski hut also seemed out of place. As we watched and photo'd them, the oldest ski lift attendent in Turkey came out and asked us if we would like some cold ginger beer - hmmm beer or birds?, this dilemma has plagued many birders over the years, but being true to our cause we chose the latter.
Minutes latter I was watching a superb male White Throated Robin soon joined by a female, both giving stunning views and posing for their photograph - Yup, birds every time.

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We speed-slipped and skidded down the mountain road that was fast melting - liquid tar was running off the road in the late afternoon heat.
We where soon back home, our open armed wives running out to greet their heroic birding husbands.
Words by Tropical.
Pictures by Neill.
Thanks to Jan and Lynette."

Eyes to the skies everyone, eyes to the skies...

3 Comments

Morning John, just outside Toad Hall, at Ainsdale this morning, was a young none-flying Herring Gull. Must have hatched somewhere very close.

Two Wheatears on the coast at Ravenmeols this morning.

Green Sand and Marsh Harrier at Martin Mere yesterday; 6 Little Egrets, hordes of Swifts and hirundine Hobby bait at Marshside.

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