We were up early to try and get to our first birding destination of Mogan Golu whilst the light was still good. A farce trying to get coffee out of the hotel, who insisted on writing out some piece of useless paperwork that I was supposed to sign for. Sensing actual coffee was some distance behind the admin associated with coffee we left and got one on the road south of Ankara. Unfortunately it was utter filth and we threw most of it away, but I did get to scope Mogan Golu. Like the Sea of Marmara this also had a million Coot on it, hundreds of Great Crested Grebe, and our first Sand Martins.
Our actual destination was a little further, Mogan Golu Sel Kapani, and we spent a good part of the morning here. This is a wetland habitat, a lake surrounded by shallow pools, reeds and fields. It was excellent, birds everywhere you looked. Coots got an "X" here, there were too many to even estimate, but we were also able to pick out hundreds of Ruddy Shelduck, some Spoonbill, both Storks, Purple Heron and a Little Bittern. The margins had good numbers of Wood Sandpiper, Little Stint, and Snipe and Ruff were common too. The pinging of Bearded Tits was almost overwhelming. A single White-headed Duck was on a close pool. The fields around the edge had Red-backed Shrike, Tawny Pipit, Isabelline and Northern Wheatears, Whinchat and Bee-eater, and overall we recorded over 60 species. As with many places we would go there were a lot of fishermen, but also birders doing what we were doing, driving slowly around the edges which was a good tactic to avoid flushing things. The tracks seemed pretty solid, but we visited during a dry period. I would think the dam end would always be passable, even in a normal car such as ours. A scope is a real necessity at this site - whilst you can get great views at the margins, substantial numbers of birds are on the lake itself, and you won't to be able to identify distant ducks and waders without one.
Our next stop was Kulu Duden Golu, another wetland and saltpan site about an hour further south. It was on our itinerary as a good place to look for Larks, in particular the central Turkish race of Turkestan Short-toed Lark A h aharonii. We started at the northern end, access from the east side of Kulu. We were soon in an arid agricultural landscape with occasional running streams of water - one of these on the outskirts of town held both Temminck's Stint and Spotted Redshank. Driving a little further, we became aware of torrents of birdsong. There were Larks everywhere, field you thought were empty had dozens of birds hidden in furrows. Picking out the Short-toed Larks was far harder than we had thought, and was really only possible in flight when you could separate the smaller birds from the Greater Short-toed Larks and see the wing patterns. I think we got one look at a markedly grey bird on the deck, but it soon moved out of sight. At every field we stopped at a huge cloud of Larks would vocally ascend, move a certain distance, and then as one vanish as they touched down.
The 'water' was some distance away to our south, but it seemed as if a track along the eastern edge might give us a view. In short, it didn't, and whilst we saw tons of Wheatears and yet more Larks, the saltpan was exactly that, salt. No life. It took until we were driving away from the site on a block-paved road heading back north to Kulu that we saw some water. We managed to find a track that got us about halfway and walked the rest, but this did mean we spooked some of the closer Ruddy Shelduck to distance they felt comfortable with, whereas the Flamingos didn't move. We estimated around 2000 Ruddy Shelduck and 1200 Flamingo. Mixed in with the latter were 28 Common Crane, and what we assumed were Armenian Gull were simply too far away to rule out Yellow-legged. Once again there was a decent selection of waders on the near margins, including our first Kentish Plover.
It was now mid-afternoon, and we had one more site on our agenda before the mountains, the hotspot of Sultansazligi MP, still three hours away to our south-east. We didn't arrive until 6pm, and were dismayed to be immediately collared by a scruffy "guide" who pointed at an information board that said that all viewing of birds had to be done in the company of an official guide. An official paid guide! This is where eBird research falls down, the lists look great but the situation on the ground is far more complicated. Furthermore, the birds were half an hour away, and we would have to drive. As we only had an hour before dusk we declined this offer and instead paid a nominal sum to visit the bird museum and observation tower. From the top of this we could survey the area but it was immediately apparent that the water was miles away. All we could see was a vast reed bed stretching into the middle distance. Looking at the map it suggested there was some water right in the middle, but our hoped for Ibis and Waders were clearly off the menu. Instead we enjoyed the spectacle of innumerable Hirudines circling against the backdrop of Mt Erciyes (3917m, so not insignificant!) catching the last sunlight of the day, and murmurations of Starlings numbering thousands of birds. Various other species were also heading to roost, including many Egrets, 50+ Bee-eater, a Purple Heron and 20+ Marsh Harriers. A Little Owl hunted from the top of the tower as dusk fell.
Our accomodation for the night was an hour south, up and into the Aladaglar NP (Crimson Mountains) and the wider range known as the Anti-Taurus mountains. We arrived in Cukurbag right on time to be greeted by our host, Recep, who would be driving us further up the next morning. We agreed on a time, and then I taught Mick how to cook pasta in the communal kitchen where we also met some German ecologists who were cycling from Frankfurt to Singapore. Now that is travelling!