TURKEY, GEORGIA & CYPRUS BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Turkey, Georgia & Cyprus: Day 1 The tour begins this morning at Tbilisi airport.
(If you are not arranging your flights to and from the tour through us, we will be happy to arrange a flight from Istanbul to Tbilisi for you if you find this more convenient. Just let us know.)
The capital city of Georgia is situated along the banks of the Kura River and is one of the most attractive cities of the region, with many fine old churches in the Georgian style and an ancient fortress that dominates the valley.
From Tbilisi, we follow the historic Georgian Military Highway over the Jvari (or Krestovyy) Pass to Stepantsminda (formerly Kazbegi) for a three nights stay.
At first, the road runs through the cultivated Kura Valley, but soon we are climbing through the forested foothills until the trees are left behind and we wind our way upwards through the magnificent scenery of the Great Caucasus (often simply referred to as the Caucasus, although there is a Lesser Caucasus range further south). The top of the pass (the unmarked border between Asia and Europe) is situated at 2395m and from there we drop down the Terek valley to Stepantsminda, the view dominated by a continuous wall of huge, snow-capped peaks including the great white dome of Kazbek (5047m), the highest mountain in the Central Caucasus. We will stop along the way in the wooded foothills to look for both Green Warbler and Semi-collared Flycatcher.
Other likely species today include Griffon Vulture, Common Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Common Swift, the lovely European Roller, European Bee-eater, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Barn Swallow, White Wagtail, Common Redstart (of the interesting form samamisicus, in which the male has a white wing panel, known as Ehrenberg’s Redstart), Common Blackbird, Eurasian Blackcap, Long-tailed, Great, Blue and Coal Tits, Eurasian Nuthatch, Eurasian Treecreeper, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Red-backed Shrike, Eurasian Magpie, Eurasian Jay, Hooded Crow, Common (or Northern), Raven, Common Chaffinch, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch and Eurasian Bullfinch. We also have a chance for Black and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers.
During the afternoon we will begin our exploration of higher altitudes, having our first encounters with a number of the species mentioned for Stepantsminda.
Turkey, Georgia & Cyprus: Days 2-3 During our stay at Stepantsminda, a large village on the Terek River, we shall explore the high Caucasus in search of a fabulous suite of very special birds.
The star attraction of the alpine meadows and rocky slopes is the impressive Great Rosefinch (the endemic Caucasian form sometimes being treated as a distinct species, Caucasian Rosefinch), while amongst the snow patches and boulders, we should encounter the striking Güldenstädt’s (or White-winged) Redstart, another species restricted within the Western Palearctic to the high Caucasus. In the more open areas, amongst the high-altitude azalea scrub, the regionally-endemic Caucasian (Black) Grouse is to be found. The males flutter into the air, revealing their gleaming white underwings, as they strive to impress the cryptically-coloured females. Amongst the high crags, Caucasian Snowcocks (a species endemic to these mountains) give their curlew-like whistles and we should soon spot our quarry.
Rocky gullies are the haunt of that avian butterfly, the delightful Wallcreeper, and overhead we will look out for the dramatic silhouette of the Lammergeier, as well as Golden Eagle and Red-billed and Alpine Choughs. Areas of high-altitude scrub are home to Mountain Chiffchaffs (the local form is sometimes split as Caucasian Chiffchaff) while open areas attract White-winged Snowfinches, Red-fronted (or Fire-fronted) Serins and Twite of the Central Asian form (which may represent a distinct species).
Other species we are likely to encounter during our stay include Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Corn Crake (much easier to hear than see), Common Sandpiper, Common Cuckoo, Alpine Swift, Horned Lark, Eurasian Crag Martin, Common House Martin, Water and Tree Pipits, Grey Wagtail, Dunnock, Alpine Accentor, White-throated Dipper, Eurasian Wren, Dunnock, Black Redstart, Whinchat, Northern Wheatear, Common (or Rufous-tailed) Rock Thrush, Ring Ouzel, Mistle Thrush, Common Whitethroat, Common Linnet, and Common Rosefinch.
Migrant species will also be passing through this major route through the Caucasus and typical species at this season include European Honey Buzzard (often in large numbers), Black Kite, Montagu’s and Western Marsh Harriers, Steppe and Lesser Spotted Eagles, Common Buzzard and Eurasian Hobby. Best of all, this is a reliable area for seeing the much sought-after Levant Sparrowhawk, a bird that many have failed to see elsewhere as few bird tours visit places where this species occurs regularly, at least at the relevant time of year.
Migrant passerines often stop off here, especially during unfavourable weather, and likely species include Red-throated Pipit, Blue-headed, Grey-headed, Black-headed and Sykes’s Wagtails, Bluethroat, Barred and Willow Warblers, Red-breasted and Spotted Flycatchers, Lesser Grey Shrike and Black-headed Bunting.
As well as possessing many fine birds, these wonderful mountains hold the East Caucasian Tur, a close relative of the Ibex, and we may well see some picking their way across the precipitous mountainsides. There is even a slim chance of Grey Wolf and Brown Bear. As we walk amidst the simply awesome mountain scenery, our progress will be enlivened by myriads of alpine flowers, the swards dominated by primulas, gentians and fritillaries.
Turkey, Georgia & Cyprus: Day 4 After spending most of the day in the mountains, we will make our way back to Tbilisi for an overnight stay. We will make a stop along the way to look for Armenian Gull at a lake they regularly frequent. Other waterbirds we may well encounter include Little and Great Crested Grebes, Great Cormorant, Little Bittern, Great and Little Egrets, and Grey and Purple Herons.
Turkey, Georgia & Cyprus: Day 5 This morning we will take a flight to Istanbul in western Turkey and then an onward connection to Ercan airport in northern Cyprus. From there we will transfer to the Girne (or Kyrenia) area, where we will stay for three nights. Girne is an attractive town situated on the northern coast of Cyprus.
Turkey, Georgia & Cyprus: Days 6-7 Near 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 habitats 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.
Turkey, Georgia & Cyprus: Day 8 This morning we will return to Ercan airport and catch a flight to the city of Antalya, situated on Turkey’s southwestern coast. From here we will drive a short distance eastwards to the resort town of Side, where we will spend three nights.
Turkey, Georgia & Cyprus: Days 9-10 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.
Turkey, Georgia & Cyprus: Day 11 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.
Turkey, Georgia & Cyprus: Day 12 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.
Turkey, Georgia & Cyprus: Day 13 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, Turkestan Short-toed Lark (found here in an isolated population, restricted to Central Turkey), Eurasian Skylark, Savi’s and Moustached Warblers, and perhaps Bearded Reedling and the nomadic Rosy Starling.
Afterwards, we will travel to the Gaziantep region, situated on the southeastern fringes of the Taurus mountains, where we will stay for four nights (divided between two locations).
Turkey, Georgia & Cyprus: Days 14-16 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 the Gaziantep 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.
We will also explore the Birecik and Sanliurfa (or Urfa) area further to the east. Amongst the rolling semi-desert with its steep erosion gullies or along the Euphrates river valley around Birecik, we shall look for such major specialities as See-see Partridge, Ménétries’s Warbler, Dead Sea Sparrow and Yellow-throated Sparrow (or Chestnut-shouldered Petronia). Even more importantly, this area harbours the restricted-range Iraq Babbler (a recent colonist from Iraq/Iran that first invaded Syria and then southeast Turkey along the Euphrates valley). We also have a good chance of finding the little-known Pallid (or Striated) Scops Owl, either at its daytime roost or after dark.
Other new birds we should find in the Birecik area include Pygmy Cormorant, Little Swift, Pied Kingfisher and Delicate Prinia.
The captive breeding project for the last Northern Bald Ibises in Asia is based at Birecik. Our pleasure at seeing this rare species will be tinged with sorrow at its seemingly inexorable slide towards extinction in the wild: indeed the species only survives here (in semi-captivity) thanks to intensive human assistance, although it is increasing thanks to supplementary feeding.
Turkey, Georgia & Cyprus: Day 17 Today we will drive to Adana airport, where our Turkey, Georgia & Cyprus birding tour ends in the late morning.
(If you are not arranging your flights to and from the tour through us, we will be happy to arrange for a flight from Adana to Istanbul for you if you find this more convenient. Just let us know.)