One of the characteristic birds on a visit to Turkey is Caspian Snowcock, and so most trips here visit the Demirkazik area to locate them. They were probably first put on the birding map over 20 years ago, when Ali Safak started taking birders up to the higher meadows on the back of a tractor. His brother Hassan then followed suit, and they founded the Safak Pensions (opposite each other just outside of Camardi, in the village of Cukurbag). Ali unfortunately died a couple of years ago, leaving the business in the capable hands of son Basar. Thus it was that we were woken up at 3.45 am, which in itself was a good sign, since rain had threatened to curtail this morning’s visit. As it turned out, the skies were clear. We drove to the track where the tractor was parked, and were then ferried up (on cushioned seats in the trailer I have to say!) the dirt track, a journey which only took about 30-40 minutes, and wasn’t quite as hellish as we had been led to believe.
We arrived at the meadows below the high peaks at just after 5am, and the temperature was also warmer than expected (although gloves and a couple of layers were preferable). We chose the option of walking back down to the car later, so the tractor made its way back down, leaving us with a very short uphill walk to gaze longingly at the peaks above (after first notching off Radde’s Accentor). The Snowcock could be heard as soon as we stopped, and we were sure we could pick out exactly where on the slopes above they were located. However, it took some time to locate the first pair – in the selfsame place that we had predicted – with the aid of a small group of Alpine Ibexes which were close by. The initial views bagged, we than saw a pair plummeting sideways with the impression of a passing aeroplane as they landed somewhere distant, and a fifth bird was picked up much lower down (almost our elevation) but a couple of hundred metres away.
This spot was also excellent for other higher altitude specialities. One of my long time wants, Wallcreeper, was seen flying adjacent to the rock faces above. A Crimson-winged Finch or two flew tantalisingly past a few times, occasionally landing briefly on the rock stacks to our side. Blue Rock Thrushes and Snowfinches were much more obliging, with a superb male Black Redstart a little more distant.
After spending some time, and sipping on a cup of tea, in this spot, we made our way slowly downwards. The area where we had left the tractor was in a grassy glade containing a water spout emptying into a trough. This was a popular haunt for House Martins. More Snowfinches were seen in the glade, along with a pair of Alpine Choughs (adding to the pair of Red-billed Choughs higher up). The brow of the hill further on was host to a small groups of Red-fronted Serins, looking stunning with the bright red forecrown contrasting with the dark head. The walk down to the car took over an hour, and was a real strain on the knees, with the steepness and the loose ground both playing their part. However, we did add at least 3 Finsch’s Wheatears to the list – a species which Basar had said was in lower numbers than usual this Spring.
The afternoon promised a lot as well, with a trip to the Chromium Mine on the other side of Demirkazik on the cards, and the potential of White-throated Robin. It was fairly straight forward to find, taking a right on to a track just before a village beyond the car parking space at the entrance to Demirkazik Gorge. However, the track deteriorated some distance before the mines parking area, and in addition to numerous large rocks eager to take a chunk out of the chassis, the front wheel drive car spun wheels on the rocky track up one hill too many. After a tricky 5 point turn, we descended back to the slopes along the earlier track, and spent some time looking around here for birds. Isabelline Wheatears were as common as in other areas, along with its Northern cousin. After a Long-legged Buzzard over and Red-backed Shrike just up from the roadside, I spent some time trying to pin down an Ortolan Bunting singing from the slopes. This took longer than anticipated due to the fact that it wasn’t perched anywhere obvious, but singing from the ground amongst the vegetation.
Before returning again to Demirkazik Gorge, we spent a short time near to the village at the end of the Chromium Mines track, sweeping up Serin and Grey Wagtail, and an abortive attempt to lure out Common Quail (although 2 Hobbies passed overhead late on). The gorge wasn’t in the warm evening glow of the day before, with threatening grey clouds this time. It also seemed that the birdlife was quieter – at least during the first part of the walk. Not as many Alpine Swifts were overhead, along with fewer Crag Martins. The Golden Eagles, however, had doubled in number to two – the sight of a Lesser Kestrel trying to take on one of these behomeths was impressive. One or two new birds for the gorge (our list that is!) were added – Red-fronted Serin, Rock Bunting, Goldfinch, and a family party of Great Tits.
Before returning to Ozsafak, we went back along to the ski centre again (where we parked the car this morning to switch to the tractor). Before tracking down what turned out to be a Lesser Whitethroat skulking in the sparse bushes, we picked up a light grey mantled larger falcon which also had a rusty crown – Lanner was the call, although some trip reports may have mentioned a Peregrine variant from Turkey with this colouration.