Eastern Orphean Warbler
Caspian Snowcock-it is there, just to the left of the central peak
The group met up at Heathrow for our flight to Istanbul, the start of a birding adventure 0rganised by Birdfinders. Vaughan Ashby travelled with us to Istanbul where we met up with local guide Soner Bekir. We transferred seemlessly to Kayseri in south central Turkey where we boarded a coach, yes a coach, none of your 15 seater mini-bus with luggage on the roof for us. Comfort all the way to a village called Camardi in the Taurus mountains. Our hotel had spectacular views of the mountains which were to be our destination the next day. First though, a stroll round the orchards immediately surrounding the hotel got our species tally moving with Eastern Olivaceous warbler, Syrian Woodpecker, Black headed Bunting and Tree Sparrow with Golden Oriole and Scops Owl heard but not seen. After our evening meal of Lamb soup followed by Lamb stew and rice, it was straight to bed as we had to be high up in the mountains before daybreak the next morning.
After a quick coffee at 3.00am we were loaded on to 2 farm trailors for our journey up the mountain. The trailors had all mod cons, air conditioning, matresses slung on the floor and wheels with tyres. For over an hour the tractors climbed in the darkness until as the first light dawned the silhouettes of the peaks and patches of snow could be made out. It was cold up there, very cold. I'd got more layers than a thing with lots of layers and I was still cold.
As the light came up birds began to move. Alpine and Red billed Chough, Snow finch, and Alpine Accentor. We scanned the distant peaks and ridges for the special bird. We picked out the silhouettes of small flocks of Ibex and eventually a single Caspian Snowcock showed but at some distance.
A Radde's Accentor came quiet close to us keeping close to the ground but this was my only sighting of the species.
As the sun rose more Caspian Snowcocks were sighted much closer now, throwing back their heads as they called and showing their distinctive head pattern. It was still very cold and the group was very grateful to the tractor drivers who made us all tea. As we warmed ourselves with the tea a Golden Eagle drifted overhead and we had time to appreciate the magnificent mountain scenery.
The sun was now shining brightly as we started our descent on foot and birds were now more active on the slopes. Crimson winged finches showed well, but also Shore Lark, Black Redstart, Snow finch, Rock Sparrow, Rock thrush and Northern Wheatear were quite numerous. A Finsch's Wheatear and Water pipit were also seen. Star bird though was a Wallcreeper, spotted my by room mate Bob Swann. The bird was watched at quite close range on boulders before flying to its more usual habitat, high up on a cliff face.
We rejoined the chiropractors express for our bone crunching trundle down the rest of the mountain. The difference this time you could see where you were going, or might go. The track seemed very narrow at times, eroded by the torrents of melting snow. I must admit there were times I forgot I was a British birder, able to take any amount of discomfort in the quest to see a rare bird, as I contemplated my fate. Would I meet my end hurled against some rock in the valley below or would I be crushed as the trailor rolled slowly on top of me? I needn't have worried the tractor drivers knew their work. However, little did I know that a far greater threat to my health lay ahead.
Back at our hotel we had a belated breakfast, although it felt like tea time, and then off again to explore more of the area. Our coach driver was fast becoming a bit of a star in an unassuming sort of way as he took his coach boldly to places no coach had been before. The star coach Enterprise took us to the Emli valley in the afternoon. We saw a couple of Tawny pipits en route but the valley itself was a real delight. Red backed Shrikes were abundant but the best bird for me and my fourth new species of the day was Red fronted Serin. We had 3 feeding on the ground at close range, the illustrations in the guides I'd seen previously didn't do them justice. Other birds seen in the valley included Chukar, Blackbird, Blue Rock thrush, Black eared Wheatear, Goldfinch, Western Rock Nuthatch, Ortolan, Hoopoe, Coal tit, Rock Bunting, Woodlark and Turtle dove. Using Vaughan's tape we also managed to get excellent views of Eastern Orphean warbler. We enjoyed lunch about 3pm thanks to the heroic efforts of our driver who carried a picnic for 18 people up the valley for us.
We had a lie in but were still up for a 6.00am stroll before breakfast. After which we travelled to the Aladaglar mountains. We took a gentle walk up a steep sided valley with Soner checking out likely roosts for Eagle Owl. Alas no Eagle Owl but we did see Finsch's and Northern Wheatear, Snowfinch, Isabelline Wheatear, Lesser Whitethroat, Long legged Buzzard, Rock dove, Alpine Swift and Saker.
We stopped for a picnic lunch at a mountain pass which looked good for raptors. We did see Long legged Buzzard, a pair of Golden Eagles and Egyptian Vulture but my much hoped for Lammergeier unfortunately didnt show. Other birds at this site included, Red rumped Swallow, White Stork, White wagtail, Jay and Turtle dove.
We moved on to our Mediterranean destination at Tasucu. As we neared the town we stopped at a churchyard where Soner assured us we would find Masked Shrike. Sure enough we had good views of the Shrike and an Eastern Olivaceous warbler, a Hobby flashed over and a Preying Mantis created some interest.
Our hotel room overlooked the sea, the temptation was too much for my room mate Bob, a hardy Scot, who went for a dip. I whimped out. We picked up a few birds from our balcony, Laughing Dove, Common Tern, Shag and Yellow legged Gull.