Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Turkey day 3 - Işak Paşa to Van Gölü - colours and quality

For me it felt like an overall slower day, but looking back and reading at this post gives me the impression of a cracking day. Anyway, after the exhausting climb up Mt. Ararat the previous day, we started off early on June 22nd and first went to check the area around Işak Paşa castle south of Doğubayazit. This is a well known site for Grey-necked Bunting and Mongolian Finch. We saw no buntings at all, and of Mongolian Finch we had only some brief flyby views. So what did we see?
First we birded along the good track heading south from the castle to the grassy upland plains. As anywhere else in this region, Black-headed Bunting was the most obvious species. I saw so many during our trip and this was the first (and last) one I photographed: 

We tried really hard to locate Mr. buchananni, but all we could find were Ortolans - they were everywhere. We got worried and started suspecting that all previous birders misidentified them... 

Ortolan - male

Ortolan - female

Still we had many good birds there. Some brief Mongolian and Crimson-winged Finches, Twite, quite many White-winged Snowfinches, and one singing male Common Rosefinch that showed rather well, our only rosefinch of the trip:

We had some Red-fronted Serins around the palace, again showing too well - in fact one landed for a second on my lens when I was trying to photograph it:

Quite many Whinchats breeding on the grassy plains:

This is dedicated to my Israeli followers:


Again, good numbers of Western Rock Nuthatces and Eastern Black-eared Wheatears were seen breeding on the rocky hills, as well as our only Hill Sparrows of the trip. A pair of Golden Eagles breeds on the cliff just around the corner from the castle.

Unfortunately, here like everywhere else in E Turkey, signs of intensive huting pressure were very evident, with few mammals and lots of pellets: 

Işak Paşa castle - Doğubayazit in the background

After drinking coffee with millions of holidaying Turks at the castle gardens, we headed back south. A short stop at Tendurek moutain pass produced a very very cooperative Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush. Who said that only in the tropics you get colourful birds?

Tai Chi training 

 And then he came to check us out:

 And even sang a little for us:

At Çaldiran we met some new Kurdish friends over lunch:

When planning this trip, I used info and tips from some good friends. But I learned that I need to double-check my info, as I made a stupid mistake. There are two Nemrut Daği's in Turkey - one with a crater, overlooking the west shore of Van Gölü, and another some hundreds of km west (where Kurdish Wheatear breeds). I discovered that only when we were on the road heading to the wrong Nemrut Daği. Anyway the trip was much longer than we expected, and we decided to give Nemrut Crater a miss. Next time. We focused on reedbeds around the lake for Paddyfield Warbler. First we checked a small reedbed along the road on the N shore of the lake, that looked good (  38.780481° N   42.608487° E). Indeed there was some paddyfield activity there but it was too hot and we saw very little. A family of Armenian Stonechats showed there - the female was terribly worn. What a dark-looking bird!

That's one of the two recently-fledged juveniles of the Armenian Stonechat:

Then we followed a tip from Emin and headed to a fantastic site in the NW corner of the lake, just south of Ahlat ( 38.733648° N  42.441921°E). This is a very interesting and diverse wetland, with a matrix of small canals and patches of reeds and bullrush. We had plenty of Paddyfield Warblers there, some of them showing very well, especially in the small clumps in the NE side. All were adults - I suppose the young have not fledged yet, and very worn.But still good looking acros, as good as acros can get...

Paddyfield Warblers

I know this is out of focus but note the distinctive wing formula - very short and deeply notched P2, and P4 well emarginated (probably also P5), creating a very short, rounded and fingered wing structure. Dark distal half to lower mandible was very prominent too.

Other good birds at this site included a pair of Ruddy Shelduck, some Moustached Warblers, Bearded Reedlings and Penduline Tits. In the end we made one hell of a circuit to see Paddyfield Warbler; I'm sure there are sites much closer to Van, but it was nice to be there. 
After we were done there we started heading back to Van along the south shore of the lake. Beyond Tatvan we used the last minutes of sunlight to check a patch of scrub / degraded forest ( 38.455103° N  42.323805° E). There are few dense patches of forest or scrub in the Van region, and it was good to bird there for a short while. I am not sure whether the tress there are natural or planted (oaks and polar), but this site is very different from anywhere else in Van region. We didn't have anything special there, just some singing Nightingales among other common forest birds, but this site looks promising and certainly worth another check. I played Phylloscopus music but nothing responded...
In Van we stayed at the pretty shabby Medi Hotel, quite close to the airport.

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