Birecik is well known for its Northern Bald Ibis captive rearing scheme, many of which are now allowed to fly freely (of which we had already seen some). The research centre is about 2km North of the bridge over the river, nestling next to a wadi which tracks North-east. It was this wadi which we chose for our early morning sorti, arriving there at 6am. The sky was predictably cloudless, with the temperatures warm, although a lot cooler than the maximum of 42°C we would see posted later in the day. Much of the wadi also was in shade, with a welcoming cooling breeze at times. We walked some way up (perhaps around 1km), passing through various widths between the rocks, the odd pool (often containing tadpoles), and also a small amount of vegetation. The main target bird here tends to be Seesee Partridge, but we didn’t come across any signs. Most common sight and sound was that of Menetries Warbler, with at least 20 birds, including some singing males, and also some feeding young. There is also supposed to be a good population of Rock Sparrows here, but we only saw a handful. The other species regularly seen was Roller. They were sometimes in singles, but more often seen in small groups. One of their favourite pastimes was harassing the local Kestrels.
Kestrels – both Common and Lesser – were commonly seen, with the former having a nest in the rock face containing 3 well grown young. One surprise just before we turned back was a Red Fox on the slopes above the wadi. Overhead, small numbers of European Bee-eaters passed over, with a pair of Yellow-vented Bulbuls within the wadi walls flying through. As the entrance to the wadi was being approached, a couple of the Bald Ibises were found on the rocky ledge above.
Outside of the Bald Ibis research centre, in the small drinks kiosk, we came across Mustafa Culcuoglu, who is a self reported bird guide for the area. He calmly told us he could find the Seesee Partridges within 200m of the start of the wadi. He also contacted a chap called Ahmet Demir, who lives in Yeniakpinar village about 16km into the countryside, and could show us some of the rocky country specialities later that day (for the sum of TL130). We agreed to this, and then set off for the gravel pits on the other side of the river.
Temperatures by now were becoming high. The gravel pits cover quite a reasonable area, and so we selected one or two of the tracks through them on our search. Overall, bird life was quite quiet here, possibly due to the heat of the day. Many Reed Warblers could be seen and heard, with one Great Reed Warbler further on. Graceful Prinias were also in full song, with a buzzing noise not befitting their small stature. Early birds seen were a couple of Gull-billed Terns over, and a handful of Squacco Herons. One of the target birds to be seen here these days is Iraq Babbler, since they have only been seen regularly in the country for a few years. We thought they may have been easy to locate, but were fortunate to find three birds feeding in the depth of a bush next to one of the lagoons. They were reluctant in general to show well, but we put in enough time to see them to our satisfaction.
Lunch time now, and we picked out a restaurant just North of the bridge in Birecik, and ordered 3 mixed grills. They were fabulous, and probably enough to last until the next day! With the heat still very high, we decided it might be best to try to find the village where we agreed to meet Ahmet later in the day. We found what we hoped was the right place, although Mustaffa had pointed out the presence of what we thought were “pines” just before the village, to find pylons instead. Ah, languages and translation. On the way back to the motel for a freshen up for an hour, we stopped at the side of the road for some time to watch small numbers of Finsch’s Wheatears, one pair of which was feeding young under a rock. However, our preplanning was to prove in vain, since the map that Mustaffa had lovingly drawn for us wasn’t quite accurate enough, and we ended up in the wrong village at 5pm. We decided to revisit him at the kiosk, where he decided to show us the way himself. Thus it was that we were sat drinking a traditional yoghurt refreshment with Mustaffa and Ahmet, planning to postpone the tractor birding trip to the following day.