Well, it has been over a month since returning from my trip to Turkey and I still haven't finished writing posts for this blog, so just in case you thought I have forgotten here is the next installment.
After three nights at Tusucu and the Goksu Delta, we headed north to the north Aladagar Region and the Taurus Mountains; the journey was a long one, but was broken with stops along the way to look for new species. Eventually we arrived at the village of Curkurbag and Safak Pension, which was to be our next stop. The purpose of driving all this way was to attempt to see some of the high altitude species that inhabit the mountains in this region. The most sought after of these species was Caspian Snowcock, which breeds at scattered sites in mountainous regions in Eastern Turkey and Armenia. To stand a chance of seeing this species an early start is required, as it is a long and slow journey up to a height of 2,250 metres and their breeding site on Demirkazik Peak. Caspian Snowcocks usually stop calling just after dawn, so a pre-dawn start from our accommodation was essential.
|Caspian Snowcock - Demirkazik Peak May 2011|
Our journey up to our viewing area was not without some difficulty due to areas of low lying snow on the track, but we arrived in plenty of time and were soon enjoying good views of the Caspian Snowcocks. This species is identified from the similar Caucasian Snowcock by the presence of a mainly grey nape, finely spotted breast and pale flanks.
|Caspian Snowcock - Demirkazik Peak May 2011|
When calling, birds throw their heads back and with their beaks wide open they emit a far carrying and echoing call. It was strange watching birds calling but not hearing the call until it arrived a few seconds later, on the opposite side of the valley. Another specialty of the region is Radde's Accentor. This species was relatively easy to find as individuals scampered around the scree slopes; the strong white supercilium and pale white throat are distinctive and separate Radde's Accentor from Siberian and Black-throated. On Demirkazik Peak the only other Accentor species present is Alpine Accentor, so there is no chance of confusion with the other two similar species.
|Radde's Accentor, Demirkazik Peak - May 2011|
Both Radde's and Alpine Accentor's were easily located during our visit which meant that there was also time to enjoy some of the other species present. Horned or Shore Larks were also fairly common and as with most of the other birds on the mountain they were extremely confiding. I have featured this species previously, but not this subspecies. The pinkish nape, white throat and thick black breast band that joins the cheeks, identify this as the eastern race Eremophila alpestris penicillata.
|Horned Lark of Eastern race penicillata - May 2011|
Other species on the mountain included northern wheatear, but rather than being of the nominate race Oenanthe oenanthe, they are of the south-eastern European race O. o. libanotica. This race resembles pale individuals of the nominate race but has pale grey upper parts, cream or white underparts, a slightly longer bill and narrower black tail band.
|Northern Wheatear of the race O.o. libanotica - May 2011|
Snowfinch's were very common both up at the snowcock site on the scree slopes, but also lower down on the vegetated hill sides. On the ground they can be a difficult species to locate since their subtle colours merge in with their surroundings, whereas in flight, the white inner wings and predominantly white tail make them highly conspicuous.
|Snowfinch, Demirkazik Peak - May 2011|
As well as the birds we also saw Ibex and Souslik or Asia Minor Ground Squirrel. The Ibex were feeding high up on the peak, just below the snow line, whereas the Souslik were running around our feet. It was interesting to see their burrows, which had been exposed by the melting snow. They appear to forage under the snow, and their burrows zig-zag all over the place, presumably searching out their food by smell.
|Souslik or Asia Minor Ground Squirrel, Demirkazik Peak - May 2011|
Back down from the mountain, and after a well earned lunch we headed out around the village and surrounding valleys in search of birds. The species list included Chukar, Red-billed Chough, Rock Bunting and Rock Sparrow and single Crimson-winged Finch and Ortolan Bunting. But I think the highlights for me were the stunning Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush and Red-fronted Serins.
|Male Rufous-tailed Rock-thrush - May 2011|
Rufous-tailed Rock-thrush is not a particularly rare species but it is not one that I encounter very often, although I did catch up with a first year male bird in Denmark in 2010, which was only the third for the country. Male birds have stunning orange underparts and a blue head and mantle, the female is generally brown and densely vermiculated dark above and below.
|Red-fronted Serin, Emli Gorge - May 2011|
Red-fronted Serin is a species of mountainous regions that breeds just below the tree line in mixed or coniferous forests. The sexes are similar, although the males usually show more black on the head. We encountered this species in two places, but they were most numerous in Emli Gorge. A large flock of over 60 birds were present in this valley, busily feeding on seed heads on the ground, occasionally taking flight and uttering their twittering trill call. There are scattered populations in Turkey, but the species generally a fairly common breeder in suitable habitat.