SOUTHERN TURKEY & CYPRUS BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Southern Turkey & Cyprus: Day 1 Our Southern Turkey & Cyprus birding tour begins this afternoon at Ercan airport at Nicosia, from where we will transfer to the Girne (or Kyrenia) area, where we will stay for four nights. Girne is an attractive town situated on the northern coast of Cyprus.
Southern Turkey & Cyprus: Days 2-4 Near to our hotel are extensive areas of fruit groves and small fields, divided by cypress trees and low limestone walls, as well as maquis covered hills. This is prime territory for all three of Cyprus’s breeding endemics and it should not take us long to track down the attractively marked Cyprus Warbler, whilst a strange buzzing song should lead us to the sprightly Cyprus Wheatear. Both species are pleasingly common on the island. Some careful searching may well reveal the presence of a diminutive endemic Cyprus Scops Owl at its daytime hideaway (although it is easy enough to locate at night if need be).
Much of our time on Cyprus will be spent in these types of habitat and during our wanderings, we will encounter a number of other interesting breeding species including Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, the lovely Masked Shrike, Spanish Sparrow and Black-headed Bunting, all of which occur alongside Common Kestrel, Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, Little Owl, Common Swift, Eurasian Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Red-rumped Swallow, Barn Swallow, Common House Martin, Cetti’s Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Great Tit, Eurasian Magpie, Western Jackdaw, Hooded Crow, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Common Linnet and Corn Bunting.
The areas of cultivated land and their brushy margins hold Black Francolin, an elegant and impressive gamebird still found in some numbers in Cyprus. Its strange, rather machine-like, grating call typically reveals its presence long before it can be seen. Often the guttural sounds of calling Chukars will herald the imminent appearance of a covey on the skyline. Once they see us they will probably scuttle away, uttering their ‘chukar’ call as if surprised and embarrassed by our presence.
In some places invading Sardinian Warblers chatter away, having displaced the native Cyprus Warblers. At higher altitudes in the coastal range, we are likely to encounter Alpine Swift, Blue Rock Thrush and the attractive, restricted-range Cretzschmar’s Bunting.
We will also visit a number of marshy areas and some quite extensive pools. During the migration period these often hold interesting birds. Some spots regularly hold Little Bittern and Little Crake, although the secretive crake can prove hard to see, and there is even a slim chance for Great Snipe. (The latter is a rare but regular migrant that can sometimes be found hiding at the edge of marshy pools. Cyprus is a known staging post on their long journey from tropical Africa to the marshes of Poland, the Baltic States and Russia.)
Other species that we may come across in wetland habitats or elsewhere include Little Grebe, Western Cattle, Great and Little Egrets, Squacco, Black-crowned Night, Grey and Purple Herons, Glossy Ibis, Western Marsh Harrier, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Collared Pratincole, Black-winged Stilt, Spur-winged Lapwing, Little Ringed Plover, Common Snipe, Common Greenshank, Marsh, Wood, Green and Common Sandpipers, Ruff, Little and Temminck’s Stints, Black-headed and Slender-billed Gulls, White-winged Tern, Common Kingfisher, Sand Martin (or Bank Swallow), Western Yellow Wagtail (Black-headed and Blue-headed forms predominate, but we may also see Grey-headed), Red-throated Pipit and Sedge, European Reed and Great Reed Warblers.
Richer areas of agricultural land are prime habitat for Greater Short-toed Lark and especially the impressive Calandra Lark, which we may well see displaying, when it appears even larger than usual, flying with wings-outstretched in a manner resembling a pratincole! Areas of low Salicornia scrub hold the sometimes secretive Spectacled Warbler.
To the northeast, the wild and rugged Karpaz Peninsula possesses a variety of beautiful landscapes. This is an excellent area for finding migrants in spring, and among. Those we will be looking out for here and elsewhere during our stay are Common Quail, European Turtle Dove, Great Spotted and Common Cuckoos, European Bee-eater, European Roller, Eurasian Wryneck, Tree and Tawny Pipits, White and possibly Citrine Wagtails, Woodchat, Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrikes, Common Redstart, Common Nightingale, Whinchat, Northern and Black-eared Wheatears, Barred, Garden, Wood and Willow Warblers, Eurasian Blackcap, Common and Lesser Whitethroats, Spotted Flycatcher, the elegant Eurasian Golden Oriole and Ortolan Bunting. At this season, European Pied and Collared Flycatchers can sometimes be found together, providing the observer with a rare opportunity to compare these species in the field. Often at this time of year, Red-footed Falcons are on the move and we will keep an eye out for this spectacular falcon.
Here one can also find Peregrine Falcons and truly wild Rock Doves (of the subspecies gaddi) though even here there is probably now some limited hybridization with feral pigeons. Along the coast, Audouin’s and Yellow-legged Gulls, as well as European Shags of the interesting southern form desmarestii, can be seen. A seawatch at the tip of the peninsula may well produce Yelkouan Shearwater and perhaps Cory’s Shearwater. With a bit of luck, we will also encounter the slim and dashing Eleonora’s Falcon. At this time of year, they occur regularly on migration, or simply as wanderers prior to the late start of their breeding season. Eleonora’s Falcon has a most unusual breeding strategy, laying its eggs in July or August and raising its young on birds caught on the wing during the southbound migration. Eventually both the adults and juveniles set course southwards in late autumn, bound for winter quarters in Madagascar.
Southern Turkey & Cyprus: Day 5 This morning we will return to Ercan airport and catch a flight to the city of Izmir, situated on Turkey’s southwestern coast. From here we will drive eastwards to the town of Pamukkale (which means ‘cotton castle’ in Turkish) for an overnight stay.
We will arrive in time for some initial exploration, and here our prime target is the nominate, grey-bellied form of the restricted-range Cinereous Bunting, a subspecies that breeds only in western Turkey and on the island of Lesbos.
Southern Turkey & Cyprus: Day 6 We will have another opportunity to observe Cinereous Bunting this morning and we will also visit the famous travertine terraces that cascade down a mountainside outside the town, a place where people came to benefit from the calcium-rich mineral waters for over 2000 years! Nowadays bathing is no longer allowed, but you can still visit this extraordinary UNESCO World Heritage Site and enjoy the vivid pale blue pools and white and yellow crystalline deposits that make up the terraces.
Afterwards, we will drive through the spectacular western Taurus Mountains to the coastal city of Antalya and continue a short distance eastwards to the resort town of Side, where we will spend three nights.
Southern Turkey & Cyprus: Days 7-8 Most of our time in the Side region will be spent exploring the southern slopes of the beautiful western Taurus Mountains, as far inland as the Akseki area. The Mediterranean scrub (maquis), limestone crags and forests in this area harbour a suite of restricted-range specialities that we will not have seen in Cyprus, and in particular White-spectacled Bulbul, the large Olive-tree Warbler, the smart Rüppell’s Warbler, Sombre Tit, Western Rock Nuthatch and the pretty little Krüper’s Nuthatch (virtually endemic to Turkey). Other new birds are likely to include Short-toed Snake and Booted Eagles, Laughing Dove, Syrian Woodpecker, Eastern Orphean Warbler, Coal and Blue Tits, Eurasian Nuthatch, Eurasian Jay and Common Chaffinch.
The Akseki area is still largely forested, with the rugged, limestone peaks of the Taurus rising high above, and is an excellent place for finding Middle Spotted Woodpecker and Eastern Bonelli’s (or Balkan) Warbler. Birding in this lovely area is a pleasure and we are also likely to come across European Green Woodpecker, Wood Lark, Common Redstarts of the interesting form samamisicus, which has an obvious white patch in the wing, and Common (or Red) Crossbill. White Storks still nest in good numbers in the Akseki area.
A big highlight during our visit to southern Turkey will be a visit to a recently-discovered site for the magnificent Brown Fish Owl. The rare western form, semenowi, is paler and less heavily streaked than the eastern forms, so this is a possible split for the future.
Southern Turkey & Cyprus: Day 9 Today we will head for the Demirkazik area in the Nigde region for a two nights stay.
First, we pass through the western Taurus Mountains, but eventually we emerge onto the dry, rolling uplands of the Central Plateau. Life in this harsh landscape has become easier in recent years, but the villages still seem pretty rough and ready and the shepherds still have their flocks guarded by ferocious-looking dogs equipped with spiked collars to deter attacking wolves. We will keep a lookout during the journey for such species as Black Kite, Rook and Common Raven.
Southern Turkey & Cyprus: Day 10 Today we will explore the high valleys and mountain slopes of the Aladag range, part of the Eastern Taurus, which rise to 3910m (12,829ft) at the summit of mighty Demirkazik. The scenery is magnificent and our birding will be carried out against a backdrop of snow-covered peaks, jagged crags and sheer cliffs. There are many interesting birds here and we shall be looking in particular for Bearded Vulture (or Lammergeier), Finsch’s and Isabelline Wheatears, White-winged Snowfinch, the attractive little Red-fronted Serin and Asian Crimson-winged Finch. By hiking to higher levels we should see four other great birds: Caspian Snowcock, Radde’s Accentor, Alpine Accentor and the remarkable Wallcreeper. Also to be found are Griffon Vulture, Golden Eagle, Horned (or Shore) Lark, Eurasian Crag Martin, Grey Wagtail, Black Redstart, Common (or Rufous-tailed) Rock Thrush, Alpine and Red-billed Choughs, Rock Sparrow and Rock Bunting.
Southern Turkey & Cyprus: Day 11 This morning we will visit the famous marshes and lakes of Sultansazligi, an internationally important wetland area. Amongst the many species we may encounter in this fine area, dominated to the north by the towering volcanic cone of Erciyas Dagi (3916m), are Greater Flamingo, Ruddy Shelduck, Mallard, Red-crested Pochard, Ferruginous Duck, Long-legged Buzzard, Eurasian Hobby, Greater Sand and Kentish Plovers, Northern Lapwing, Whiskered Tern, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Eurasian Skylark, Savi’s and Moustached Warblers, and perhaps Bearded Reedling and the nomadic Rosy Starling.
Afterwards, we will travel to Gaziantep, situated on the southeastern fringes of the Taurus mountains, where we will stay for two nights.
Southern Turkey & Cyprus: Day 12 The drier country of the Gaziantep region holds some very interesting birds.
Here we will explore the rocky hillsides, crags and scrub-covered slopes looking in particular for two very special birds, Kurdish Wheatear (the former Red-tailed Wheatear is now split into this species and the more easterly Red-tailed or Persian Wheatear) and the eastern, greenish-yellow-bellied semenowi form of the Cinereous Bunting (geographically separated from the nominate form and a potential split).
Other good birds in this area include Bimaculated Lark, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Upcher’s Warbler, Eastern Rock Nuthatch, Desert Finch and White-throated Robin (which can often be seen display flighting over the maquis). We should also be able to find Pale Rockfinches (or Pale Rock Sparrows) trilling away like grasshoppers.
Southern Turkey & Cyprus: Day 13 Today we will drive to Adana airport, where our Southern Turkey & Cyprus birding tour ends in the late morning.