There was a bit of déjà vu when we set off for Halfeti, since most of the road is the one we incorrectly traversed twice yesterday in our vain attempts to find Ahmet’s village. The views on the approach to Halfeti are impressive, with the village nestled on the edge of the wide expanse of the Euphrates (perhaps exaggerated by the presence of the dam some miles downstream!), and surrounded on most sides by steep craggy outcrops. The road ventures into a few “S” bends as it descends to Halfeti, and we parked the car before these to overlook the village, and spent 2 hours covering the slopes overlooking the river. They climbed slowly up to crags which had a view of the cliffs on both sides of the river – apparently good potential for Bonelli’s Eagle and Little Swift, neither of which decided to make an appearance. On the other hand, Eastern Rock Nuthatches were literally everywhere, both in sight and in sound. We followed a couple by the roadside, and stumbled on a trio of Sombre Tits. A pair of Finsch’s Wheatears were below where the car was parked, but only showed briefly. Our first gulls of the trip could be seen in small groups flying upriver, but were too distant to specifically identify. Before we left this area, we watched one of a pair of Hoopoes demolish a large green dragonfly on a flat rock.
The better birding was at the top of the hill, about 2km back again from Halfeti. This area is bounded on both sides of the road by orchards, and was very productive. We were initially stopped by a Woodchat Shrike on the wires – this turned out to be the first of quite a few in the vicinity. We were then alerted to the presence of a few Rufous-tailed Bush Robins, singing from within the orchards. One of these was being constantly harassed by a mid sized grey warbler – a similar bird was later identified as Upcher’s Warbler. Hoopoes continued to be commonly seen, and many may have been feeding young. We then found a track which led away from the main road to the North, and dug up a few pairs of White-throated Robins, and more Rufous-tailed Bush Robins. A slight detour into one of the fields found what may have been a small family party of Desert Finches – this species was confirmed later before returning to the car.
We also drove towards the lake which was present due to the dam (which seemed to be off limits). Being Sunday, this area was very busy with locals, and thus not busy at all with birds, so we decided to make our way back to Birecik and force ourselves to sample more of the delights of the Ikinci Bahar restaurant for lunch – and it didn’t disappoint for the second day!
After our “tour “with Mustaffa last evening, we were at the correct place this time for our tour of Ahmet’s land behind his farm. Yeniakpinar is about 16km to the North of Birecik, and only took us about 25 minutes to reach from the motel. We were early, and it became apparent that we would be having company – a couple of Dutch birders had also signed up for the tour. In the time before our departure, we picked up a Golden Eagle soaring over the farm. This was to be in a tractor – our second of the trip - and made the one for the Snowcock seem luxurious. Ahmet had strapped a few wooden benches into the trailer, and the stony ground made this an uncomfortable ride. Also, Mustaffa tried to insist that we go the previous evening, even though our wanderlust had left little time for this. The fact that we were out and about for about 3 hours justified our decision.
The track veers from the “main road” quite quickly, and we notched up Seesee Partridge and a very pale Little Owl almost immediately. We then started to climb, and this was where the bumpy ride began in earnest. Larks were commonplace, but only singles of Short-toed and Bimaculated were specifically identified (as well as numerous Crested) before reaching the top of the ridge. Here we disembarked from the trailer (no resistance to this), and added Lesser Short-toed Lark – the first of many. Ahmet scanned the horizon with his telescope, and after glimpsing Black-bellied Sandgrouse flying past, located the first of a handful of Cream-coloured Coursers. Despite these being some distance away, they were still a very welcome find – one which we had waited some years for! Constant observation of these found the odd extra bird, as well as one or two Black-bellied Sandgrouse on the ground. While sifting through the larks, the bee-eater like call of Desert Finch was picked up, and the birds themselves found on the ground. Ahmet then pulled off a magic stunt by finding the nest of one of the pairs of Lesser Short-toed Larks, hidden well on the ground.
The return to the farm was by a different route, and seemed even longer and more bumpy than the first. We continued to scan the larks, and also came up with 2 more Seesee Partridge. Back at the farm, we enjoyed a cup of tea before making our way back to the hotel.