Our final morning in E Turkey was very short and sweet. We flew out of Van at noon, and we had to wash and return our rental car on time, so that left little time for birding. We headed off early towards the 'famous' valley about 45 minutes SE of Van, following a tip from Tor Olsen via Silas. Took road D975 until we passed beyond Zernek Baraji. We parked the car beside the main road ( 38.342960°N 43.757780°E), and started walking east. The secondary river (don't know its name), convering into the larger river (Zernek I think), was roaring and was very noisy, so we climbed up the top of the southern ridge and walked on the top, above the river, in order to be able to hear something. The first minutes were rather quiet bar a pair of noisy Ruddy Shelducks that flew around. But very soon we picked up our first Grey-necked Bunting - a pair feeding in the nest. Eventually we had in a small area four pairs, all quite close to each other, all very busy with breeding activity. I was so happy to see them - I have been looking for them in Israel for so many years now. They breed so close to Israel but still have never been reocrded in Israel yet - I suppose they get overlooked among the huge numbers of Ortolans and Cretzschmar's we get here on migration. I was surprised how distinctive they are, even the females. Craking birds!
Grey-necked Bunting - male
Grey-necked Bunting - female - unfortunately I don't have better images
While watching the buntings we also had some Mongolian Finches - first again some flyover views but eventually we got a pair on the deck. Pretty brief and pretty distant, but good enough views. Crap record shots though. Need to improve that next time...
Mongolian Finch - male
Mongolian Finch - female
This is special habitat, very arid, possibly as a result of overgrazing and soil degredation.
We had many more good birds around - a pair of Trumpeter Finches, Finsch's Wheatears, Western Rock Nuthatches. A pair of Semi-collared Flycathcers was breeding in the riparian forest on the other side of the river. This valley was in fact the first place in Turkey we had any reptiles at all - quite many Caucasian Agamas and some fast lizards I wasn't able to identify.
Caucasian Agama (Laudakia caucasia)
Not sure - I think this is Balkan Marbled White (Melanargia larissa):
We saw further east and south some very interesting habitats - wet valleys and wetlands, but we had no time to explore the area. Very beautiful landscape.
We headed back to Van, had breakfast and flew out to Istanbul. We had some hours to kill around Istanbul - traffic was too heavy to head into the city so we went to the beach for some seafood, and then back home.
To conclude, this was a great little trip. For three days on the ground I think we did pretty well (131 species, without a proper wetland), and managed not to get our wives and bosses too pissed by disappearing for only a short while. We found Turkey very pleasent, very beautiful, good roads, friendly people and nice food. Many thanks to my partners during this trip, Amir and Gidon. We had a great time together and had lots of laughs. They were excellent birding (Gidon) and photography (Amir) companions. Looking forward to our next trip together.
Thanks also to Silas Olofson, Emin Yoğurtcuoğlu and Michael Opitz for their valuable help in planning this trip.