28 Jun 2015

28 June 15 - An Early Boat Trip

It was a shock when the alarm went off at 03:30 & by 04:00 we were all in the minibus & heading off. About an hour later we arrived at our destination: the reservoir at Green Canyon just as it was getting light.
First light at Green Canyon
We were quickly aboard the chartered boat & heading off. Fifteen minutes later we were entering a narrow gorge.
The narrow gorge: With help from a high ISO setting it looks lighter than it really was
There were small trees on each side of the gorge
As we slowly entered the gorge, we saw our first Brown Fish Owl: a juvenile. Within minutes we had seen the parents and the second sibling. They were all within about 30 metres of the water's edge on the cliffs & soon moved up to a couple of the larger trees on the edge of the gorge. They seemed more curious, than stressed, by our presence quietly moored below them.
Brown Fish Owl: Juvenile
Apparently, this pair have nested in this gorge for several years now & are presumably tolerant of the visits by Birders to see them. Brown Fish Owls were 'refound' Turkey in 2009 when a pair with at least one juvenile, was found by Arnoud van den Berg of the Sound Approach. This was the first breeding record for the Western Palearctic. This was a stunning record for Turkey, as there were only two records in the previous hundred years: a single 20th century record in 1990 and another sighting at a different location in 2004. Subsequently, in 2011, a Birder was sent photos of a large Owl taken at Green Canyon and this was confirmed as a Brown Fish Owl. The boatmen on the lake had been taking punters to around the lake & showing them these large Owls for several years, but it wasn't until 2011 that news of this site finally reached the Birding world. This led to a number of twitches by Birders to see the Brown Fish Owls over the next few years & which helped to convince me about a return trip to Turkey. My first visit was a country wide dash over 3 weeks in 1986. The Sound Approach have spent a lot of time trying to obtain recordings which are published in their recent, stunning Undiscovered Owls: A Sound Approach Guide covering Owls within the Western Palearctic. There are few recordings of the Turkish Brown Fish Owls. Comparisons of these with Brown Fish Owls recordings with recordings from India have shown they sound different, as well as, being a paler colouration. DNA differences have also been found and it will be interesting to see if the proposal from the Sound Approach that the Western Palearctic population which also occurs in Iran is split from Brown Fish Owl is adopted in the next few years. For simplicity, I stick with a Clements taxonomy, so I will stick with these Owls being the semenowi subspecies of Brown Fish Owl which occurs from Southern Turkey, Northern Syria to Iran and NW India. It appears to be rare throughout this range.
Brown Fish Owl: Adult
In comparison, There are three subspecies within the Eastern population of Brown Fish Owl: all of which are fairly common. The nominate zeylonensis subspecies occurs in Sri Lanka, with the leschenaultii  in India South of the Himalayas and also occurring in Burma & Thailand and orientalis in NE Burma, the Malay Peninsula, Indochina to SE China & Hainan.
Brown Fish Owl: Parunbikulam, Western Ghats (2 Jan 14)
We spent well over an hour with these superb Brown Fish Owls, but were hampered with the low light conditions. One of the few occasions I really wished I had an image stabilised 400mm lens. But then I'm not sure I would like the extra weight (& cost) that would introduce. Finally, it was time to leave them in peace. We sailed on to check out a second pair at a larger gorge, but we were unable to find this pair. Sadly, they hadn't been successful in breeding this year.
Taken soon after we had first seen the Brown Fish Owls: as they turned the boat around beyond the narrow part of the gorge to allow us more views
Another shot of a happy group as we headed off to the larger gorge: Simon Ingram (foreground) with Bob Marchant, Mags Salter, John Armitage, Peter Salter, our local Turkish guide, Soner Bekir (our guide) & Darrell Pickles (left to right)
The lake is a large reservoir and it is very scenic.
Heading off to the large gorge
Heading back from the large gorge
Between the two gorges, we passed a small rocky island with a small colony of breeding Yellow-legged Gulls.
Yellow-legged Gull: Adult
Yellow-legged Gull: Juvenile showing the distinctive face mask