Taurus Mountains Bird Surveys

After the lowlands, we head south east to a 50-km square in the Taurus mountains near Darboğaz and race to get two more transects completed in the evening, because the weather the next day (20th May) is predicted to be cloudy and wet.

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The northern slopes of the Taurus mountains near Madenköy

The mountain road runs the ridge high above the mining village of Madenköy that is flat on the valley floor. Old paths zigzag up the mountain sides. The view is a wild sweep of the north face of the Toros Mountains. The wind drives hard from the west bring menacing clouds from the south; small flocks of alpine choughs sail by on broad black wings.

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Golden eagle

The 1-km square transect is at the end of the road up a long valley where snow blocks the route over the mountain and a huge concrete and brick shell of a forgotten hotel project ruins the wilderness. Here northern wheatears lean low into the wind. Loose flocks of snowfinches cover the ground, winging flashing brilliant white then disappearing into the stony ground on landing; also a rock thrush, its blue and red colours caught in a brief spell of bright sun, and water pipits with more alpine choughs overhead. On the way down, back along the high ridge, a golden eagle flies up the valley across the wind on flat, bent wings, accompanied by a bouncing flock of choughs and three kestrels.

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Scutellaria species

The drive down the foothills through conifers give a singing scarlet rosefinch and coal tits. The second 1-km square transect just outside the village of Emirler is through cherry orchards in the warm and bright late evening sun. Serins, greenfinches and blackbirds sing from treetop perches; nightingales and golden orioles punctuate the sounds with flutes and whistles hidden in the bushes. A Syrian woodpecker drums and whitethroat and olivaceous warbler rattle. A black-headed bunting sings its familiar, repetitive song. The list and day are done.

The next morning we are woken before dawn at our campsite by the drone of black-headed and ortolan buntings and some difficult warblers that hug the bushes and then as the light improves go silent  A nightjar flies over giving its ‘guick’ flight call and as the sun rises the air is filled with singing calandra larks and corn buntings in the fields next to the track.

En route to our next transect, we pass through foothills and a well-wooded river valley. Olivaceous warbler is common, the song reminiscent of a sedge warbler. And a good view of a pair of Upcher’s warblers in the roadside bushes with a nasal scratch and a twitching tail. All the regulars are ticked off for the 50-km square including swift and swallow, occasional house martin and a single red-rumped swallow, house, tree and rock sparrow, black redstart and starling; also long-legged buzzard, kestrel, golden oriole, hoopoe and lesser grey shrike.

The road runs up through descending grey clouds full of rain to Kayasaray, a small village high on the ridge between two hills where the road cuts through the mountains. Kayasaray, translates as rock palace and there are ruins of ancient fortifications in the hills above. The land is again full of irrigated cherry orchards with new plantings everywhere.

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Kayasaray village just visible behind the clouds

We follow the tracks as far as it will go down and across a dry river bed then up to the crest of a steep valley with high mountains on the far side; a local man comes up the track armed with a shovel to attend to the black plastic water pipe that runs some 4km up the narrow ravine below. This is the water supply for the village and the orchards. From high above, there is the distant but unmistakable curlew-like whistle of a Caspian snowcock; a bird the size of a turkey that lives on the precipitous mountainsides descending to feed at dawn and then heading upslope through the day. This eerie call provides a new record for this section of the Taurus. Red-fronted serin, woodlark, rock bunting stonechat and even a great tit and a coal tit complete a good transect list at a great location.

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Mountain ravine with an irrigation pipe snaking up it; somewhere above is a calling Caspian snowcock

The mountain flowers are equally rich with broomrape and various species of grape hyacinth. Three small blues hang lifeless on a cut branch waiting for the cold rain to pass.

Another track runs up a black basalt slope, where the plants struggle to take hold, to another vantage point high in the mountains but the rain and cloud sweep in and so the views of abundant northern wheatear as well as snowfinch, black redstart and shore lark are poor. The cloud lowers, the rain intensifies; we drop back down through Kayasaray and head for lower ground.

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Azure grape hyacinth
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Rock soapwort
Barn in Kayasaray (photograph Gernant Magnin)

The lowlands are a sanctuary from the mountain weather and we walk the last farmland transect through vineyards and cherry orchards next to a fast flowing stream on the outskirts of Yayikli. We record all the usual suspects. We also think we hear a Rüppell’s warbler but it never shows. We drive back to Karapinar stopping to look at the Hittite rock relief of 8th century King and God at Ivriz.

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Jay in the vines

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