Monday, 30 May 2011

Interesting Wheatear in South-eastern Turkey (Part 2)

There has been a lot of interest in my previous post on the putative 'Basalt' Wheatear in South-eastern Turkey in May, so I thought that I would add more to the discussion by adding some pictures of the female bird that was associating with the 'black' wheatear. Once again I apologise for the poor quality of the photos, which was again due to the combination of the extreme heat and distance from the bird. On the date we were watching these birds, the two  appeared to be feeding within the same territory, but were not interacting. There were no other wheatears in the area, and therefore the assumption was that these two birds were a pair.

Female Wheatear Possibly Paired with 'Basalt' Type 

I won't bore you with a description of this bird as you can see the ID features for yourselves, but there was a suggestion that the 'Basalt' type was paired with a female Finch's Wheatear Oenanthe finschii. Superficially this bird does resemble a female O. finschii, but it lacks the white trailing edge to the outer tail feathers, so surely that species can be excluded.

Female Wheatear Possibly Paired with 'Basalt' Type 

Interestingly, this female bird also shows extremely pale and contrasting primaries, similar to the male bird, is this because this bird is a first year? Has anyone see a female O. picata looking like this?

Female Wheatear Possibly Paired with 'Basalt' Type 

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have very limited experience in these in O. picata and O. lugens, and therefore would really appreciate your comments and conclusions of these birds.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Göksu Delta, Southern Turkey - May 2011(Part 1)

The trip began with a flight from London's Heathrow Airport to Adana in Southern Turkey, via Istanbul, and after a couple of hours driving we arrived at the Lades Hotel, Tasucu which was to be our stop for three nights. This trip was going slightly earlier than many previous trips to the area, (30th April to 9th May), but that added an element of surprise to our trip which made it quite exciting. The first full days birding began with a visit to the Goksu Delta, and a chance to explore the lakes and surrounding wetland and farmland. The Goksu Delta consists of a large flat area where the Goksu river enters the Mediterranean Sea, and includes two lakes, Akgol and Paradeniz, and a huge sand spit which extends into the sea.

The southern watchtower, overlooking Akgol lake, was our first stop, and this gave us the chance to scan the lake and surrounding reeds in search of Purple (grey-headed) Swamphen and Marbled Duck, which are two of the local specialities. I did not see these species,  but enjoyed scanning over the reeds in search of different raptor species in amongst  the common Western Marsh Harriers.

Western Marsh Harrier - T. D. Codlin

The heat haze combined with the size of the lake made viewing difficult at times, and having to scan through hundreds of Common Coot in search of a Swamphen did not inspire me. However the mixed flock of White-winged, Black and Little Terns soon boosted the enthusiasm, and as I continued to scan a Great Bittern got up from the reeds and flew north whilst two White Pelicans soared overhead. Garganey, Ruddy Shelduck, Purple and Grey Herons were all recorded, and a flock of Alpine Swifts filled the skies above.

The nearby reeds and scrub were fairly dense and viewing was again difficult but we did end up with good views of a pair of Blackcaps, several Graceful Prinias, White-spectacled Bulbuls and a couple of Spur-thighed Tortoise.

Spur-thighed Tortoise - T. D. Codlin

After the southern watchtower, we continued through the dunes and pools in search of migrants. Apparently the lake was holding more water than usual and therefore most of the waders were on the pools, but unfortunately for us we had arrived on a Sunday, along with  most of the residents of the nearby village, so many of the birds had gone. Wading birds were still present in good numbers though with Little Stints being the most numerous. Little Ringed Plover, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper and Ruff were all recorded, but the most vocal and striking wader species were the Spur-winged Plovers.

Spur-winged Plover - T. D. Codlin

These birds were extremely photogenic, although they were constantly taking flight to 'see-off' the Marsh Harriers as they flew overhead. The Spur-winged Plover is considered to be a scarce breeder in South-eastern Europe, but in the Goksu Delta it was relatively common.

Spur-winged Plover T. D. Codlin

Of the passerine birds recorded in the Goksu Delta by far the most striking was the Yellow Wagtail, which in this part of Europe is represented by the subspecies Motacilla flava feldegg or Black-headed Wagtail. I have seen this subspecies many times before, but have never noticed the subtle white stripe between the black hood and the yellow on the cheek, at first I thought it might be a trick of the light but it was present on all the male birds I saw.

Black-headed Wagtail T.D.Codlin

For lunch we stopped near a narrow channel which links Lake Akgol with Lake Paradeniz; a sand bar extends in a southerly direction from this point, this provided an ideal roosting location for a few Yellow-legged Gulls, Sandwich, Common, a couple of Caspian Terns and a lone Grey Plover. A handful of Greater Flamingos fed in the lake behind. A chance meeting with a Belgian Birder tipped us off to the presence of a Cyprus Pied Wheatear in the area, and it was not long before we found the bird. Good views confirmed the identity of the bird, but it disappeared before I could get any photos.

Squacco Herons T.D.Codlin

Continuing east the farmland was an excellent area to explore, White Stork and Squacco Herons fed along the damp areas and Crested Larks were abundant along the tracks. Black Francolins were calling from the nearby fields, presumably from a suitably prominent perch, but despite our best efforts we were unable to find one.

White Stork T.D.Codlin

Our second days birding (2nd May) began with a visit to the north of Akgol Lake and the northern watchtower. Overnight rain had brought about a fall and migrants were everywhere. Whinchats, Red-backed Shrikes, Spotted Flycatchers, Lesser Whitethroats, Black-headed Buntings and European Bee-eaters were all recorded but the highlight was a flock of around 20 Red-footed Falcons.

Black-headed Bunting T.D.Codlin

The male birds were stunning and showed off their silvery primaries as they hovered over the fields, whereas the females showed off their pale rufous underparts. Six Short-toed Eagles, a 'Steppe' Buzzard, two Common kestrel and a Hobby were also present, adding to the spectacle.

Female Red-footed Falcon T.D.Codlin

As we continued along the track we encountered several Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, Common and Great Reed Warblers and a Plain Tiger Butterfly. A singing Moustached Warbler was present in the reeds by the northern watchtower. I have seen this species on Majorca before and therefore was slightly surprised to the see how pale the underparts were, and then noted that this part of Turkey is represented by the subspecies Acrocephalus melanopogon mimicus.

Moustached Warbler ssp. mimicus T.D.Codlin

We spent a while looking at this bird as it sang from a prominent perch, its distinctive song and short primary projection confirmed its identity, then it was time to move on. Finished with the Goksu Delta, we next headed inland to the village of Uzunchaburc for the afternoon, I will write about that in my next post.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Interesting Wheatear in South-eastern Turkey

It has been a while since my last post because I have been on my travels again, this time to Central Southern and South-eastern Turkey. The trip was an Ornitholidays birding trip, and I was the co-leader, the other being Mitko Petrakiev from Bulgaria. Our trip lasted for 10 days, 30th April to 9th May, and was based around four main areas, The Goksu Delta, The Aladaglar Region and the Taurus Mountains, the valleys and plains around Gaziantep and finally Birecik, the home of the Bald Ibis. Over the next couple of weeks I will put together a few posts with some of the highlights of our trip, but I will start with some pictures that I hope will bring about a discussion of an interesting wheatear that was breeding in hills around Birecik.

We were on our last full days birding and had spent the morning birding a valley near the small village of Ilhan Koyhu, when Mitko pulled over and informed us that whilst researching the trip they had found an interesting ‘black’ wheatear, which after much debate they considered to be a form of Mourning Wheatear Oenanthe lugens, known as ‘Basalt’ Wheatear. They had posted many pictures on various bird forums and based on the pictures, the general consensus of opinion was that it was indeed a 'Basalt' Wheatear, although a few people commented that it may in fact be a dark form of Variable Wheatear O. pictata opistholeuca. Now I don't profess to be an expert on either species, and have never seen either the 'Basalt' form of O. lugens or O. p. opistholeuca, therefore my opinion is based solely on seeing this bird and my reference library which includes The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol. 5, Handbook of Birds of the World Vol. 10, Field Guide to Birds of the Middle East, Collins Bird Guide (2nd Edition), Identification of European Passerines and the Advanced Bird ID Guide. In addition I have reviewed various pictures which are currently available on the web.

In the first instance I would like to apologise for the quality of the images, the bird was fairly distant and it was an extremely hot day, therefore I have had to crop images and they have suffered badly with the heat haze. Anyway here are the images.

1. Putative Variable or 'Basalt' Wheatear showing White extending to
Behind Legs on Undertail Coverts

2. Putative Variable or 'Basalt' Wheatear

As can be seen this is an all black wheatear, with the exception of a white rump, upper and under tail coverts and vent, and variably white tail feathers. Given the look of the bird, there are obviously four potential candidates; Black Wheatear O. leucura, White-crowned Wheatear O. leucopyga, Mourning 'Baltic' Wheatear O. lugens and Variable Wheatear O. p. opistholeuca. Black Wheatear can be eliminated since it is a large wheatear which is restricted to the Iberian peninsula and Northern Africa and is generally a non-migratory species, and White-crowned (black) Wheatear can be eliminated since it does not usually show a complete tail band.

3. Putative Variable or 'Basalt' Wheatear Showing Complete Tail Band

So that leaves Mourning 'Basalt' Wheatear and Variable Wheatear. 'Basalt' Wheatear is usually restricted to the basalt desert in Southern Syria and Northern Jordan and is described as having an all black body and pale bases to the remiges, with the white on the undertail restricted only to the vent. The sexes are similar, with the female being slightly duller. First year birds are considered to be duller than adults with pale-fringed brownish wings. 

O. p. opistholeuca is described as resembling Black Wheatear but smaller and with a smaller head. It has brownish flight feathers with slightly more white on the lower back, and the white on the underparts extends to just behind the legs.

4. Putative Variable or 'Basalt' Wheatear

5. Putative Variable or 'Basalt' Wheatear

6. Putative Variable or 'Basalt' Wheatear

Looking at the pictures, 1 and 2 clearly show that the white begins just behind the legs and extends to include the vent and under tail coverts and the flight feathers in pictures 3, 4, 5 and 6 are brownish (although this could be because the bird is a first summer male; I am not sure of the moult strategy for either species). However, in pictures 3, 4 and 6 the bird seems to show pale inner webs to the primaries, which would suggest 'Basalt' Wheatear. But looking at the photos it is possible to clearly see some show pale inner webs on one wing and not on the other, and therefore I think that this is just a trick of the light, it was intense sunshine on that day and therefore any sheen on the feathers would show as white. In addition 'Basalt' should only show white on the inner web at the base of the primaries as with Mourning Wheatear, the extent of white on the primaries seems to extent down the length of the primaries, again suggesting it is the light. 

Having reviewed all these features and looked at numerous pictures I think this is a male Variable Wheatear, but I have spoken to Mitko and he and a few others who have seen the bird, are convinced that it is a 'Basalt' Wheatear, for one main reason, and that is that it does not show white underwings which Mourning usually does. So if any one out there has an opinion and more experience than me on these species I would be interested to hear your views.

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