Southern Turkey, 5-17 August 2001
James J. Packer & Andrew R. Williams
The trip in general
The holiday was not a birding trip, but the choice of spending two weeks in Turkey during August was partly decided by its birding potential. We found birding to be quite difficult - nowhere were birds found in large numbers and the lack of birds in song made most species quite elusive.
Temperatures were very high, even in the mornings and evenings, and many birds were sheltering from the heat, seeking shade and panting! The high temperatures also made it virtually impossible to spend hours at a time in the field, especially between 12:00-16:00hrs which was the hottest time of the day.
Unfortunately, I got an ear infection during the first week, which left me virtually deaf for about three days, then I lost my voice from an associated throat infection. Not good!
We stayed at the same place for the whole time. The Mermaid Apartments are situated just west of the resort of Konakli, west of Alanya. They are situated away from the other hotels, in the countryside surrounded by fields and citrus groves. Ideally sited for a birding base, and exceptionally clean and modern. See their web site at www.clubmermaid.com. Their UK agents are First Choice, whose representative was so completely useless that her lack of knowledge about Turkey provided an excellent laugh!
The Mermaid Apartments were about 30 minutes drive from Alanya and about 2 hours from Antalya. Being fairly remote didnít bother us at all because we had a hire car, but most others staying here probably found it a bit inconvenient.
Hire Car and Driving in Turkey
Hiring a car in Turkey is expensive, the cheapest option we could find was to pre-pay for the car before we left. We were a bit suspicious about doing this, having not seen the vehicle, but the arrangements worked out fine, the car was delivered and picked up and we saved a significant amount of money. The company we used was Direct Car Hire (www.directcarhire.com) who in turn provided us with a National Car Rentals vehicle. We were told we were getting a Renault 21 Estate, but ended up with a nearly new saloon style Clio which was much better. The cost was approximately GBP350 for two weeks.
Using the local dolmus would be vastly cheaper, but impractical for birding.
Driving in Turkey is an experience never to be forgotten. We saw the very recent aftermaths of three serious accidents, and nearly became part of several others. Turkish drivers appear to have virtually no consideration for other road users, and are completely ignorant of cars coming towards them when overtaking. You are expected to get out the way at all times, and if you donít you will get hit! The roads are very bad Ė the coastal highway between Antalya and Analya is being up-graded to dual carriageway, where the road is half finished cars drive in both directions along both carriageways. Where you enter the road, there is no way of telling which direction cars will come from!
We had two maps, a Bartholomew map of SW Turkey and reportedly better, but out of print ĎKarayollari Haritasi Road Mapí. Both were very difficult to use, with many places not marked on one, or both maps and several places marked in completely the wrong place!
I saw only five new species, but seeing that Iíd already been to Cyprus, Rhodes and Israel I guess thatís not entirely surprising.
Turkey is a huge country and distances that might appear relatively small at least to a British birder, were always further than first thought. Several specific birding sites were visited, but we usually arrived too late in the day due to underestimation of distances.
We didnít visit any decent wetlands, deciding that the Goksu Delta was probably too far for a day trip. We concentrated on areas that might provide us with new birds, as Iíd seen most of the Goksu specialities in other countries.
Area around the Mermaid Apartments
The best area, but probably because we spent most time here. The Mermaid Apartments are signposted from the main coastal road, take the dirt road up to the apartments and explore the fields. The Mermaid Apartments are just east of a river, and the whole area contains a number of irrigated fields, citrus groves and some reedy ditches. Within seconds of arrival we heard Black Francolin, and these proved easy to both see and hear, and Red-rumped Swallow were nesting on the apartments and under the bridge that enters the site. I nearly ran over a female Francolin one evening, and a male regularly perched on one particular fence post to sing. This site is several hundred miles west of any other Black Francolin sites that I could find in other reports and we were surprised to find them here. Graceful Prinia were common in scrubby areas, and other warblers around the area included Great Reed, Moustached, Olivaceous and a single juvenile Barred Warbler that fed in a fig tree for at least two days. Shrikes were represented by large numbers of juvenile Masked, Red-backed, Woodchat and Lesser Grey. Yellow-vented Bulbul were seen here on several occasions, usually in the citrus grove near the river mouth.
Despite the river, the only waterbirds we could find were single Purple and Grey Herons which both landed during a spectacular and severe thunderstorm. Other species of note included Golden Oriole, Roller and Scopís Owl calling at night.
The only bit of coastal freshwater within an easy drive that might have some birds appeared to be the lake surrounded by hotels just east of Side. Gosneys Finding Birds in Western Turkey suggested it might be worth a look, but we could only manage Little Grebe and Coot. Slightly disappointing. The lake now has a concrete path right around the edge which I suspect wasnít present when Finding Birds was written. The pine woods on the south-east side of the lake did however have Yellow-vented Bulbul, Masked Shrike, Syrian Woodpecker and Olivaceous Warbler.
The possibility of a number of new species was the reason for the four hour drive to Kortuteli, west of Antalya. The drive probably would have been nearer three if maps and road signs at Antalya had not confused us. The area was nowhere near as good as Gosney makes out in his guide. The guide indicates that he visited most sites in August, but I suspect this account might refer to a spring visit to the area. We saw two White-throated Robins, Isabelline Wheatear and Syrian Woodpecker in a roadside ditch on the outskirts of Kortuteli on the Elmali road. Further up the road we had Rufous Bush Chat, Black-eared Wheatear and Hoopoe. We got to the relatively birdless roadside water troughs on the Kortuteli to Sogutkoy road before we decided to head back. These troughs had Crested and Short-toed Larks, but none of the hoped for goodies such as Red-fronted Serin.
We tried the layby 7.9km north of Akseki for White-backed Woodpecker, but the area proved very quiet. Lots of Krupers Nuthatch were calling, but were quite difficult to see. The drive up had Long-legged Buzzard, Black-eared Wheatears and more Krupers Nuthatch. The graveyard in Akseki itself was more productive and had Syrian Woodpecker, Masked Shrike, Sombre Tit and a few warblers.
The drive up to the gorge is scenic, but the area was quite birdless, Common Sandpiper on the river being the only species new to the trip! A buzzard species seen briefly was the only raptor in this area, which is said to be good for birds of prey. Most notable dip was of Levant Sparrowhawk, which I thought must be in the area, somewhere.
A roadside stop on the way up to the Koprulu Canyon at this well known Olive Tree Warbler site failed to see Rock Nuthatch, which is supposedly present on the rock outcrops, or the warbler, but little time was spent looking for the warbler as Iíd seen this species previously. A few Yellow-vented Bulbuls were present in the olive grove.
The restaurants in the river are a bit bizarre, and birdwise this stretch of river is along an apparantly nice pine forest, which eventually reaches higher ground. Alpine Swift was seen in the mountains, otherwise the usual forest species along the roadside. A Little Egret was in the river near Alanya.
Excellent views of surrounding scenery and a dark phase Eleanoraís Falcon.