|Alpine Swifts climbing for the pass at Erendag|
The noise climbs as birds strain to gain height. You feel the noise as well as hear it, a roar but remarkably high pitched, the wings of several hundred thousand hirundines struggle upward and then I feel it, the reason for the struggle as a warm breath on the side of my face. The wind gathers itself and the birds climb higher, striving for the pass. The sky is dark now, full of Swallows, wall to wall. Thousands of Red-rumped Swallows, House Martins, Alpine Swifts and Bee-eaters are lost in the morass. A few Common Swifts are spotted and an Eleonora's Falcon joins the throng, like Mercury on the battlefield. A light breeze suddenly turns into something a little more potent and the sky clears and the noise drops away as the dam breaks. All the birds struggling to haul themselves over the 2700m high pass on Erendag are pushed over the top and disappear towards the coast, Israel and beyond.
This is what greeted me on the 26th August in the Western Taurus mountains. I'd gone looking for Red-fronted Serins and the like but borne witness to an amazing piece of migration. Afterward it felt lonely up there, despite plenty of Swallows continuing to hawk, despite finches and wheatears carpeting the ground. It was one of the finest things I have seen whilst birding. No, strike that, it was one of the finest things I have seen.
|A different experience|
I was fortunate to escape the virus-laden depression of the UK for a family holiday in Hisaronu, Mugla, Turkey which is between Olu Deniz and Fethiye. The destination was principally chosen due the Covid-19 status of the country as we booked 10 days before we went having lost a holiday to Sierra de Grazalema, Cadiz. The upside was plenty of potential new stuff although I barely had time to draw breath in preparation. The hasty purchase of Dave Gosney's SW Turkey site guide was invaluable. I was only able to get a car for 5 out of 14 days but I tried to make the most of that. I considered trying to go and see the Fish Owls but a 400 mile round trip and the uncertainty of whether I could get to see them dissuaded me. I chose to do a local day, two days in the Taurus Mountains, one morning on the coastal marshes in Fethiye and then some time with the family. I saw a perfusion of birds with big numbers, spectacular species and plenty of diversity.
|Babadag from the pool|
The first day of the trip was spent lazing round the pool, getting to know our environment. There was a ridge above the hotel which was shielded annoyingly by a line of conifers. Looking beyond this I picked some corvids playing over the top. After a bit of time watching them they resolved into Chough. Hirundines skittered round the pool, both Red-rumped and Barn Swallows and I later found that the Red-rumped Swallows were breeding next to my window. A single Alpine Swift was migrating south along the ridge. The only other additions were White Wagtail, Jay, House Sparrow and Collared Doves all of which were common around the pool area.
Day two started with a coffee on the balcony and a band of Crag Martins working along the ridge, migrating. Again, the main purpose of the day was some family fun with a good food and a few jars of euro lager. Before it got too hot I had an amble into the pine forest behind the hotel. Venturing out required a mask and it was sweltering but worthwhile. My hopes were pinned on local specialties but alas they weren't to be. All the standard paridae were present with Coal Tit amongst the pines and Long-tailed Tits in the gardens. Blackbirds scurried and a Sparrowhawk darting made it feel like Albion rather than Asia Minor. This continued with Grey Wagtail, Chaffinch and Goldfinch only for a very welcome Hoopoe to snap me out of my pining. A Lesser Whitethroat was a pleasant surprise but hardly earth shattering. A Short-toed Eagle, hanging over the forest, was my first of the trip and my first decent view of one since I visited Kefalonia in 2013. Later in the day a lifer, as a Long-legged Buzzard traversed the ridge. This was one of a pair which presumably nested on the hillside somewhere, as I saw them most days there on.
|The summit of Babadag ready for tourists when the cable car starts running|
The isolated mountain of Babadag, taller than Ben Nevis, sits above Olu Deniz and Hisaronu and you can drive to the very summit. Its a nervy, steep ascent with adverse cambers, hairpin bends, interesting road surfaces, single track and absolutely no crash barriers In short it was terrifying. Obviously I went up three times in the five days I had the car. It is the closest place to get some of the mountain birds although not all are available. It also gave me a new way to not see Kruper's Nuthatch. The reason for the road is the tourist industry and at the top parascenders hurl themselves off and into the unknown, to land half an hour later in Olu Deniz, far below. It was a delight watching these specks of colour drift on the breeze from mountain to sea. It was less delightful meeting the minibuses which ascend and descend the mountain at breakneck speed making my own, slightly sedate pace seem mundane. These guys must have nerves of steel.
|A gurning idiot at 1900m|
The birding on the way up was non-existent as I wrestled the car all the way up. It was mild at the height but there was no wind and I was joined by swallows of both flavours and a kettle of 41 Ravens. Another shape lolloped in with the corvids, a female Goshawk. She thundered off, back to her forest kingdom after a less than friendly welcome. A small sylvia dropped over the edge of the cliff and into a bush on a cliff. Gingerly putting my nose over I gained views of a female Ruppell's Warbler. I didn't get a good look at this species the entire trip but there were several seen briefly, in cover or from cars, much like the sort of views I got of Sards across Europe. This was a lifer and another swiftly followed with a Rock Thrush scooting around the as yet unopened centre at the top of the mountain.
After 30 minutes at the top, I decended, checking all the safe pull ins on the descent for Sombre Tit and Kruper's Nuthatch. I didn't see a sausage but I did find a pass to the south of the mountain which went through some farmed clearings. It was very hot by this stage but a timid Lesser Grey Shrike was my first of the trip whilst in the bushes an Eastern Bonelli's Warbler was a first. The only other bird seen aside from swallows and ravens was a Kestrel hunting for small snacks. I returned to the bosom of my family, eager to share with them the excitement of the morning. They, obviously, didn't give a stuff. The afternoon was enlivened by the discovery of a small Spur-thighed Tortoise amongst the rock garden. This was one of several that I found in the grounds of the hotel. In the evenings these were supplemented by Kotschy's Geckos, both of which were lifers. There were also Turkish Geckos about as well but they were rather more familiar to me. My eldest daughter ran regular evening herping clubs for the kids whilst the parents enjoyed the euro lager with social distancing excusing the loud voices.
|A Spur-thighed Tortoise|
My first trip to the mountains proper had me heading 150km inland towards Seki and 2500m up, to Erendag and the Gogu-Beli Pass. I hit Erendag first, driving through Temel where there were so many Swallows it was insane. It was obvious that these weren't just local breeders but accumulations of birds as every inch of phone line and surface of barn was covered. Small numbers of House Martins and Red-rumped Swallows were in these groups. I climbed out of the village and started to ascend, finding some small water cut valleys along the dirt track road. I got out and I could hear birds but I saw virtually nothing. A ficedula escaped ID and several Lesser Whitethroats took far too long to sort out. A Chiffchaff hweeted and a few sallies from a Spotted Flycatcher were all I could muster when there was suddenly a flurry and a storm of swallows. They were everywhere. I thought I was going to find a few in my hair they were so numerous and close. I pushed on seeing Cirl Buntings in an orchard. I found a stop, overlooking a forest with meadows and hedges infront of me. It seemed a good vista and so it was to prove as a hulking raptor hauled itself into the sky and up the ridge. After ten minutes or so of ascent the adult Bonelli's Eagle disappeared over the ridge. I wasn't aware this species was a goer but I later checked and their records have been blurred by eBird as they are a rare breeder. Trying to relocate it, I espied a distant raptor but this was a brief Griffon Vulture, my only one of the trip somewhat surprisingly. Closer, the meadows held Red-backed Shrike, Rock Bunting and finally, a Sombre Tit in the firs above the road.