28 Jun 2015

28 June 15 - Birding The Pirate Beach

After a great boat trip watching the Brown Fish Owl, there was time for a quick look around the edges of the Green Canyon reservoir.
Steppe Buzzard: This is one of the Eastern subspecies known as Steppe Buzzard
We stopped briefly at the bridge just below the dam where there were a group of Red-rumped Swallows flying around.
Looking towards the dam
The river just below the dam
Red-rumped Swallow: Not the best of photos, but it is a Photo Tick
Soon after we were heading to the coast, for a spot of coastal Birding. No chance of any Seabirds at this time of year, but an excellent reminder of why I won't go on package beach holidays.
This was one of about ten boats just off the beach: The only impressive thing was how well sail technology had improved over the years as these boats were sailing with just the wind caught in the pirate flags!
We ended on by just behind a sandy beach to the East of where the Mangavat River enters the Mediterranean. Fortunately, this area hadn't been ruined as a tourist destination, but I do wonder how many years it has left before it will be developed. This would be a real shame as Soner said the area has produced a number of Turkish goodies over the years.
Little Ringed Plover: There was a pair just behind the beach
Rufous Bushchat: This was the star Bird at the site. We saw one or two in the dunes & several more in the Olive Trees as we leaving
Spur-winged Plover: Soon after we saw this Spur-winged Plover on a pool after we left the beach
There were a few interesting Insects around including quite a few Dark-winged Groundlings.
Dark-winged Groundling: This was a fairly common Dragonfly
But the best species at the beach was my first Crimson Speckled.
Crimson Speckled: This is found in Southern Europe & Africa. It is in the same genus as the equally stunning Heliotrope Moth that I saw on the Pacific trip last year which occurs in Borneo, Hong Kong to Australia, New Zealand & a number of Pacific islands
It was getting close to lunchtime as we headed towards the mountains & hills around Akseki. About halfway there were pulled over for a lunchtime snack. Being Ramadan, it wasn't away easy to find places open for food in the day, but Soner managed to do so.
Lunchtime snack stop
Lunch was a mixture of herbs & melted feta cheese in these wraps washed down with black tea: One of the best meals in the trip for me

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

27 Jun 2015

27 June 15 - A Short Foreign Trip

Back in the Spring, I was contacted by Nigel Jones about whether I was interested in a short six day Western Palearctic trip. Both Nigel & Simon Ingram were going, so the chance for a reunion of three-quarters of the 2014 Israel Spring Birders. The final member of the team, Edge, had been to the destination in the last few years. It sounded interesting & I figured by that time, it would be good to great a week's break from work: so I signed up. It was originally billed as a private trip using Wildwings to organise all the ground arrangements & provide a local guide. But in the end Nigel was unable to fill the whole trip & it was opened up to Birdwatch mag to fill the rest of the group. This gave me some reservations as organised tours are not something I have every wanted to go on. OK sometimes it's necessary & my trips to the New Zealand Subantarctic islands & last years Pitcairn & Henderson Island trips were organised tours. But in my mind that is different as they were Birding/Wildlife cruises & being ship based was the only way to visit the region. But this was the first tour I had been on to a country which I should have been able to sort out as an independent trip. After all, it was one of my first foreign trips back in 1986. But by the time the trip was opened up to the wider Birding public, I was committed as I had paid the deposit & wasn't sure if I would get it back. But I was planning an extension at the end of the trip. I also knew that I was going to struggle to find other mates who would want to do the trip if I was to try & do it independently, so I stayed committed. I won't name the country yet, I'll leave that to the next Post so there is the chance to guess.
There was clearly a lot of building going on in the country 
On the Saturday morning, I joined Nigel & Simon & their mate Bob Marchant (another Hampshire Birder), for a dawn breakfast at Heathrow. Soon after we were heading for the plane & the chance to try & spot the other punters. I knew there were all flying out from the UK & likely to be on the same plane. There were three or four other likely looking candidates. As we arrived for the connecting flight from the capital, we had a couple of hours for a coffee & the chance to meet a couple of the Birders who were tagging along: Tony Pollard from Devon & John Armitage from Islay. John had retained his Yorkshire sense of humour, despite many years on the Western Isles & fitted in very well with the Hampshire/Dorset contingent. After a short internal flight, we arrived with all the group & bags intact, at the final airport. We were quickly out & met our guide for the trip. There was a dull hour of travelling, before a stop for an hour of early evening Birding.
Here is a big clue about the religion of the country
The first stop was just off the main road & gave us the chance to stretch our legs & check the cameras were working OK: they would be in serious use the following morning. This was a few dry short grass fields next to a nice reed-fringed irrigation ditch.
The dry short grass fields were grazed by a few horses
The reed filled irrigation ditch was home to a few nice looking Dragonflies
Southern White Duck: Tickable under IQ40 rules from Domestic White Duck, Farmyard White Duck, Yellow-billed White Duck & Donald Duck (obviously not Tickable to serious Birders). Note, the way the male holds the tail in an attempt to look like a White-headed Duck: this is characteristic of Southern White Ducks
But the Southern White Ducks weren't the main target species. This was Spur-winged Plover, which didn't take long to get the group onto, especially, as I had clocked the first one before we turned off the road.
Spur-winged Plover: This is an uncommon breeding species in this part of the country
Crested Lark: Crested Larks inhabit a lot of interesting countries, but this is the zion subspecies: Jerusalem is at the other end of the range of this subspecies
Graceful Prinia: I didn't try very hard to get photos of this individual, but in the end it was the only photo opportunity I had in the trip. This is the akyildizi subspecies which is an endemic subspecies & only occurs in this coastal strip of the country. A better photo might have been in focus!
There were some interesting Dragonflies in the irrigation ditch: unfortunately, we only had a few minutes before it was time to leave.
Keeled Skimmer: This is the Southern subspecies anceps which is bluer on the thorax & abdomen than the males than the UK subspecies
Dark-winged Groundling: This proved to be a fairly commonly species seen on the trip alongside wet edges. The pale pterostigma contrast well with the dark wings
Violet Dropwing: Male. A stunning coloured Dragonfly
We also saw the first Agama Lizards of the trip. There is only one Agama species in the country, Agama stellio.
Agama stellio: This was the most widespread Lizard species that I saw on the trip
All to quickly it was time to get on the minibus again for the final half hour to the hotel. A quick chance to unpack before heading out for some food. We didn't want to linger over food that evening as it had been a long day of travelling & more importantly, it was an 04:00 departure the following morning.

18 Jun 2015

18 June 15 - The Final Treat Of The Cretzschmar's Bunting Twitch

The final treat of the Cretzschmar's Bunting twitch came after we left the Seabird colonies, when I picked up a couple of Dolphins. Soon we were all onto them & it was a party of at least half a dozen Bottlenose Dolphins. They are our largest & commoner Dolphin in inshore coastal waters, although further offshore & less commonly inshore, the smaller Short-beaked Common Dolphins can appear in larger pods. Watching any Cetacean is a treat for me. This is especially so, when they decide to jump out of the water as a couple in this group did (but unfortunately not when the camera was pointing in their direction). After we had all enjoyed the views, we started to pick up speed again & were joined for a final spell of bow-waving as we left the group. It had been a brilliant day's twitching with some great company & well worth the extra twenty quid to have a dedicated boat. Had we gone on the regular boat I do not believe we would have been able to visit the Seabird & Auk colonies or seen these Bottlenose Dolphins.
Bottlenose Dolphin: They were bow-waving close to the boat
Bottlenose Dolphin: They are between 2 & 4 metres long & basically all grey (paler underneath) with an obvious upper dorsal fin & a large beak. The smaller Short-beaked Common Dolphins are between 1.8 & 2.4 metres long and have a distinctive pale hourglass pattern on their sides
Bottlenose Dolphin: Showing the top of their paler underparts
Bottlenose Dolphin: Finally, two breached together: my last views of the Dolphins

18 June 15 - Seabirds Galore

The journey across to Bardsey for the Cretzschmar's Bunting twitch, was choppy as we sped into the waves & there was a clear determination to get there as soon as possible. Ewan immediately dismissed the suggestion we could look for Auks at the colonies on the way to Bardsey. As a result, we didn't see many of the Seabirds well on the crossing over.
Manx Shearwater: Not brilliant, but still a photo tick for the Blog. A handful of Manxies raced past us at one point
However, the crossing back was both calmer as we weren't heading into the waves & also we had the time to chill out & enjoy the Seabirds.
We were soon heading away from Bardsey
Soon after leaving Bardsey, we saw a few Puffins from the boat. Always a favourite Auk to see well. But after that, the Auk numbers quickly dropped off until we reached the Seabird breeding islands of Ynys Gwylan-fawr & Ynys Gwylan-bach: where there is a good Puffin colony.
Ynys Gwylan-fawr island: There were about 40 Puffins in the water off the end of the island
Puffin: Another photo tick for the Blog
The next stop was at a Guillemot & Razorbill colony.
The Seabird colony
Shag: Adult on right with its juvwenile on the left
Guillemot: This was the commoner species around the colony
Guillemot: The breeding ledges were pretty crowded. Note, the Bridled Guillemot in the centre of the photo: this is a colour form of the Guillemot, which is uncommon in Southern colonies, but is more common in the Northern colonies
Razorbill with 2 Puffins & 2 Guillemots: There were a smaller number of Razorbills in the colony. Note, the Razorbills are blacker than the brown Guillemots
Razorbill: With another Guillemot