Natural History Trip
Central & Eastern Turkey, June-July 2011
In June-July 2011 the Maritimes
Club undertook a three week visit to central and
eastern Turkey. While our group had a mix of interests ranging from
natural through cultural through historical, and half our time was
spent investigating historic sites, the birders in our group were
active daily, and many destinations were chosen primarily for their
natural history (especially birding) interest.
In the course of our trip we made some small, and a couple of larger,
discoveries, and as well can provide updates to some well-known Turkish
The map of our complete natural history itinerary is available on-line
through Google Maps, at: <http://g.co/maps/fr6ux>. Or click here.
Our complete Google Maps itinerary, including Cultural and Historic
Sites, is at:<http://goo.gl/maps/BDvn>, or click here.
You can import the map into Google Earth (using the KML file function)
if you wish GPS coordinates for the locations. All sites mentioned in
this report are on the Google map, and there are links to pertinent web
I must praise "The Birds of Turkey"
by Guy Kirwan, et al. It was an extremely useful resource both before
and during our explorations, and is worth bringing, despite the size
and weight. Highly recommended.
We began our trip with several days in the Cappadocia area, and found
that some popular sites combined geology and history with decent
birding, such as the Devrent, Ilhara, and Paşabağı Valleys. Our
wonderful cultural guide, who is also a fervent nature photographer,
suggested a brief diversion to Acıgöl Gölü, which was
productive during a 90 minute exploration (Cretzschmar’s Bunting,
Blue Rock-Thrush, Great Reed-Warbler, many wheatears), and which I
recommended to others.
We then headed south-east (Tekir Alabalik Restaurant and Trout Farm was
a fine lunch stop, and birdy), to Kâhta, where we spent two
nights. On 21 June we hiked to the summit of Nemrut Dağı, in time to
watch the summer solstice sunrise. Notable birds near the mountain’s
summit included Yellow-billed Chough, Horned Lark, Red-tailed
Wheatear, Rufous-backed Rock-Thrush, Cinereous Bunting, Pale Rockfinch,
and White-winged Snowfinch.
Early on the morning of June 23 we drove to Birecik, and our first stop
was at the North Birecik Marshes (the location and access is clearly
marked on our Google map). We arrived early in the morning, and spent 4
hours here, the most productive birding site in the Birecik area.
Almost the first birds we encountered were Iraqi Babblers, a
troop of five. Other birds of note: 50+ Dead Sea Sparrows (especially
common in the woods and gardens of the farms between the Marshes and
the river), several Graceful Prinia, 2 Pied Kingfishers,
Menetrie's Warbler, 20 Desert Finches, Black Francolin,
and 8 Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robins.
The South Birecik Marshes were much degraded, and not especially
productive, and should be visited only if you have time to spare. I
marked two access routes on our map, the one that has been described
previously (along which Dead Sea Sparrows have been found), and
the route we took, in error. On the cliffs east of the river, north of
the main bridge, we found a colony of 50+ Little Swifts, and a
number of free-flying Bald Ibis. We also visited the Bald Ibis
Breeding Centre, but did not have time to bird there. The Director of
the Centre was very knowledgeable and helpful regarding the birdlife of
the Biricek areas. Had we a second morning we would have hiked the wadi
behind the Centre.
We visited the Gulhane Tea Gardens, but were not successful in locating
any owls. We had to be content with White-spectacled Bulbul. We
lunched at the Zeugata Restaurant, along the shores of the Euphrates
River, whose water level was very high, so no sand bars were exposed.
The water levels fluctuate often and unpredictably, due to dams and
Late in the afternoon, en route to Şanlıurfa, we made a brief excursion
into the Kızılkuyu Wildlife Improvement Area, where there are
impressive expanses of desert scrub, and small herds of reintroduced Persian
(we saw three). We were hoping for See See Partridge, but
had to be content with Chukar.
On June 26, en route to Tatvan, we stopped in the morning to hike the
dirt road leading to the Hasuni Caves, which lie high on a cliff face
overlooking the highway, close to the main road. The access dirt road
is interesting both archeologically and birdwise (the road sign was
knocked down at our 2011 visit, as the road was being widened to four
lanes). We enjoyed a good variety of birds, including See See
Partridges and Persian Nuthatches. Before stopping at our
hotel we explored along the shoreline of Lake Van, and found productive
marshes n.w. of Tatvan, that we have marked on our map as the West Van
On the morning of June 28 we drove up and into Mount Nemrut, and have
marked all our stops on the map. We saw no Velvet Scoters on the lake,
and it is our understanding that there have been no sightings in a
number of years. This site is very much worth a visit, though we found
nothing untoward, but enjoyed Ring Ouzel, Wood Lark, six
species of bunting, Twite, and Fire-fronted Serin. On
the afternoon we took the boat to Akdamar Island in Lake Van, where we
noted numbers of Red-billed Choughs.
On June 29 we explored Erçek Gölü. The well-known
south roadside marshes were still productive, and held at least three
pair of White-headed Ducks, and there were easy views of
singing Moustached and Paddyfield Warblers. A warning: the road
(D300) between Van and the Iranian border is being expanded to four
lanes, and while the road construction had not yet impacted the
marshes, I fear the worst. There may be a delay as the Van region
rebuilds following the recent earthquakes, but the prognosis for the
marshes is not good. The environment seems to take a back seat in
Turkey when it comes to road (and dam) construction.
Our biggest find was a “new” site at the n.e. corner of Erçek
Gölü, at the village of Karagunduz. The unmarked (and
inconspicuous) village access road is through the town of Erçek
on route D300 on the eastern shore of Erçek Gölü. A
kindly jandarma gave us directions, but I have marked the roads on the
The village of Karagunduz is the site of a remarkable concentration of
waders and waterbirds, including thousands of Greater Flamingos,
none of which were visible from the s.w. shore of the lake. We counted
roughly 5000, with the aid of two newly constructed viewing towers
built to help the village create and celebrate an annual autumn
Flamingo festival. We also enjoyed 300 Black-necked Grebes,
eight species of waterfowl (including Garganey, Common Shelduck,
more White-headed Ducks), and nine species of wader
(including Kentish Plover). There are many reed beds, and a
more thorough exploration of this corner of the lake should result in
more discoveries, perhaps including Moustached and Paddyfield Warblers,
which may need a home if the road construction destroys the other marsh.
On June 30 we drove from Van to Doğubeyazıt. We stopped at the southern
marsh of Bendimahi Deltasi. This wetland at the eastern-most end of
Lake Van is now a protected area, with a year-round hunting ban. Trails
are being constructed to permit access to the area. We did a fairly
brief roadside stop, but were impressed by the number and variety of
birds, including White-headed Duck, Pied Avocets, and our only Gull-billed
Terns of the trip. En route to Çaldiran, perhaps 25 km north
of Karahan, there was an extensive marsh north of the highway (route
D975), where hundreds of White-winged Terns were actively
foraging, and likely nesting. Once at Çaldiran we wound our way
through the town, and with the assistance of some locals, eventually
determined how to access the lava fields north of town. I have marked
this route on the Google map, but the roads only show properly in
Satellite view, not map view. We spent nearly two hours walking through
the lava fields adjacent the paved road, and most of the group were
eventually rewarded with brief views of Mongolian Finch, and
there were Tawny Pipits as well.
Near Doğubeyazıt we stayed at the “best” of an unprepossessing
selection of hotels, the Simir Hotel, east of the city on D100. Though
the hotel was rundown, and also was the only hotel on our trip lacking
WIFI, the meals were very fine, as were the views of Mount Ararat. A
steep ridge rose s.w. of the hotel, and we enjoyed views of a pair of
sub-adult Lammergeier flying and perched. It looks a suitable
area for a future nest site.
On 1 July, Canada Day, we drove to the northern slopes of Mount Ararat.
On an earlier trip one of our group, part of a German birding foray,
discovered breeding Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters at the village of Aktaş.
Our first task was retracing the route to Aktas, and we ended up a bit
east of the mark, in the village of Kırçiçeğı, which
turned out to be a fortuitous diversion, as we located a colony of
Blue-cheeked and European Bee-eaters on the eastern edge of the
village. We then undertook a remarkable journey along an unpaved road
between Kırçiçeğı and Aktaş, through the village of
Yazlik, skirting the edge of lava fields to the south, with an
extensive wetland to the north. This winding narrow road with sharp
turns would be easily navigable in a car or van, but it was a challenge
in our 48 passenger bus. Nevertheless, our driver successfully drove
the route, and although we had limited time to bird this is clearly an
area that would reward a more determined inspection. Once at Aktaş we
lingered only long enough to determine that both species of bee-eater
were present in small numbers, though we didn’t seek the colony. All
the villages, and the routes we drove in this area, are marked on the
Later that same afternoon we "discovered" marshes straddling either
side of the road (Route D070) near Borluk, southeast of Kars. There was
a significant colony of breeding Black-headed Gulls alongside
many White-winged Terns. More rare were breeding pairs of Tufted
(rare breeders in Turkey) and White-headed Ducks.
On July 2 we drove through the Black Sea Mountains from Kars to Hopa.
On our descent to the Black Sea we were distressed to witness the
destruction of the once-scenic valleys that lead to the sea – all the
rivers are being dammed to create hydroelectric power, and there are
currently thousands (!) of such developments countrywide, but nowhere
more evident than in the Black Sea Mountains. I predict this wilful
uncontrolled construction will have an enormously detrimental impact on
the environment within Turkey, and beyond its borders. And the birdlife
will be affected as well.
Our last major destination was the high mountain village of Ayder,
where we stayed several nights. We chartered 4WD vehicles in order to
drive to higher elevations, to Avusor Yaylasi and Ayder Yaylasi (a
yaylasi is a summer-season settlement for local farmers and herders).
The roads to the Yaylasi are not accessible until the snow melts, which
is a bit too late to view earlier breeding birds. The scenery was
wonderful, but we were disappointed somewhat in our species list,
though we were pleased at the number of Green Warblers in song,
and a single Mountain Chiffchaff was welcome. We did not see
any gallinaceous species, but that was likely due to fairly intense
local hunting pressures, based on the number of expended shotgun shell
casings we saw.
The full day-by-day bird checklist of our entire trip is available for
download at: <http://tinyurl.com/ctx73qt>, or click here.
were pleased with our overall trip, and the birding experiences
contained therein, and encourage anyone visiting central and eastern
Turkey to try to explore new areas; there are more discoveries