After some deliberation, we decided to travel to Durnalik from Birecik, rather than stay overnight in Gaziantep, and to travel back to Birecik lunchtime, with an extra night at the Motel Merkelam (no problems keeping the same rooms, and the manager didn’t argue against us offering TL70 for the night for both rooms). The journey from Birecik to Durnalik is only about an hour, and the site is easy to find (60km along the motorway, coming off at junction 12), and joining the D400 through Yesilce. I had wondered why the satellite map from Google didn’t look quite right in relation to the older maps we had from Gosney, etc, but the reason was obvious on arrival at the village. A brand new white track had been created for the lorries which were serving what looked like a quarry in the distance. Despite this meaning more noise, there was also a huge benefit – we drove just over 1km up this track, and parked on the right. This meant that we were right in the centre of the prime habitat for some of the key species, rather than parking next to the village and walking up the old track and then further on up the slopes.
It was immediately obvious that the orchards next to the where the car was parked were going to be productive. Woodchat Shrike was as usual in the open, but a bit of patience also drew out White-throated Robin, Eastern Orphean Warbler, singing Black-headed Bunting, and Eastern Olivaceous Warbler. The orchard was good for Western Rock Nuthatch, while the crags above (to the South-east) were even better for Eastern Rock Nuthatch. Other calls from these crags were too much of a pull, so I scrambled up the rocky ground. The initial reward was groups of Linnets, but after some more trudging, the first of a couple of singing male Cinereous Buntings was located.
So then it was back down to the open area next to the orchards again. The first Wheatear seen was Black-eared, but some patience also then found a pair of Red-tailed Wheatears. They were fairly bold, allowing close approach in the open ground, and after some time, they were seen to be feeding at least 2 fully fledged young. While watching, an Olive-tree Warbler also seemed to be feeding young nearby, with an Upcher’s Warbler further back. The orchard was good for White-throated Robins, with 2 males in a dog fight, and also a male Desert Finch.
Walking down the old track for a short distance, a couple of Woodpeckers in the same tree turned out to be to species: Syrian and Middle Spotted. Then the excitement! A scolding Lesser Whitethroat was creating a kerfuffle for a reason. A black snake, about 1˝m in length, was draped over branches within the bush. On closer inspection, we found the head end (not easy in the thick of the bush), and saw that it had an orange throat. The black scales on the back glistened with the sunshine which managed to percolate through. Later research proved this to be a Black Whip Snake. Moving on, and an Ortolan Bunting was singing above us, an Upcher’s Warbler showy, and a third Cincereous Bunting was near to the car.
Before leaving, we parked the car a short way along the old track, and located the spring a short way up. Ignoring the local kids having a plodge, we turned to the right (downstream), where we found the path a little flooded, and a magnetic area for drinking birds. Amongst these were Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Black-headed Buntings, and Upcher’s Warbler.
After returning to Birecik and just before our now traditional lunchtime visit to the Ikinchi Bahar restaurant, we had stopped off at the bridge on the motel side of the river to look for Dead Sea Sparrows amongst the numerous House Sparrows. After a little bit of searching in the high heat, we managed to pin down 2 males and a female.
Once the high temperatures of midday and early afternoon at Birecik had subsided to some degree, we decided to explore the Euphrates to the South. We took the road which passed the Gulhane tea rooms, and kept on this cobbled road until it ended at a gate. A left turn was made on to a track through the houses to some blocks of apartments, and then a right turn. After 3.3km (as measured from the bridge) we took a right turn through a fence, which immediately climbed up on to the track which was to progress South along the East bank of the Euphrates. This first part also bounded the “ponds”, which were indeed one or two ponds with the characteristic brackish smell of salt pans, but mainly a few islands in the river, which seemed to make side channels which at first glance looked like lagoons. There was much unfulfilled potential here. Some birds were present, but not nearly as many as could be expected from this type of habitat. Squacco Herons were obvious and flighty, with a single Glossy Ibis present early on. A female Red-crested Pochard didn’t stay long, but a couple of Ferruginous Ducks landed later. The only waders of note were a trio of Little Ringed Plovers, with a couple of feldegg Western Yellow Wagtails nearby. Only a couple of Pygmy Cormorants were on the lagoons, but were constantly flying over.
We then drove further on this track, which continued to the 10km mark, and skirted the shore of the river. Birds here were sporadic – Gull-billed Terns, Little Egrets, a few Rollers, some Bee-eaters, and more Pygmy Cormorants passing by upriver. The track joined a tarmac road, and we decided to continue on (towards the Syrian border!) to the 20km mark, since we had been told that there may be some more gravel pits there with the potential of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. However, no evidence of either was found, so we turned back and returned the same way. Main bird of interest was a single Stone Curlew which was on a small shingle beach on the banks of the river.