We had arrange to meet Recep just after 6am at the jeep. Although we might have tried it with a regular car, I felt it was best to go with a proper option despite the cost. The track we ended up on proved my point - we might have got a portion of the way, but the 4x4 was the realistic option and it meant we got someone who knew where they were going. On the way up he said that the main time people come is in May, and in fact that he could not remember ever taking people up in September - this did not bode well!! It turns out that there is a good reason for this - in May the Caspian Snowcock are very vocal, and you can track them down by their song and calls. In late September however.....
As we surveyed the rockface, cliffs and peaks from the silent plateau Recep confessed he was worried. He could not understand why the Snowcock were not singing and he thought that they most probably were not on the mountain any longer. As the birds live here year round I felt that the birds were here - somewhere - and that the reason that they were not singing was that we had stupidly come after the breeding season.... There were plenty of other birds though,and my life list increased by three in quick succession - Western Rock Nutchatch, White-winged Snowfinch and Red-fronted Serin, the latter two in quite large flocks on the plateau, mixed in with Shore Lark as you might expect for the habitat. Chough called overhead, and a Blue Rock Thrush was in the area. All in all rather splendid.
I continued to scan the high peaks with both scope and binoculars in the hope that I might pick up movement. On one of these regular left to right scans I spied a bird on the skyline which quickly turned into two. Given the distance they seemed quite big... I quickly got the scope on them. Lady luck was with us - Caspian Snowcock! Recep could not believe it. I could, I am a jammy bugger! Played for and got. There were four bird in total, slowly picking their way down the slope, and as soon as they dropped from the ridge they became more or less invisible, scanning would not have picked them up. It might not have been the haunting experience you get in the spring, but the elation was perhaps greater in the circumstances.
After a celebratory coffee we descended back to the valley to bird a different area, Cimbar Canyon, probably the most-visited site. On the track down a black and white Wheatear bounded ahead of us - we expected Black-eared but this was much better - a male Finsch's Wheatear. Somehow this had not been on my radar, but really it should have been. I've only ever seen this species in Cyprus before on a winter trip specifically targeting it, whereas this is where they live for the rest of the year. We saw several more on the way back down - the morning was getting better and better.
You can park off the road at the start of Cimbar Canyon and then proceed on foot. The lower area was stuffed with birds - loads of Black Redstart and Western Rock Nuthatch, another two Blue Rock Thrush, an Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, and our first Lesser Whitethroats and Balckcaps of the trip. Crag Martins were overheard. The target bird here was Radde's Accentor, but perhaps we did not ascend high enough and we would have been better searching around the plateau where we had just come from.
The day was still relatively early, we had done amazingly in the mountains all things considered. With birding coursing through our veins we hatched a plan to drive south into another biosphere and see a pile of different birds. The coast was a little over two hours ago, and checking a few likely eBird hotspots suggested gems like Pied Kingfisher, Spur-winged Lapwing and Collared Pratincole. If we got going we could arrive shortly after lunch. Why not? Thanking Recep we said we would play it by ear and may or may not come back that evening. We had paid for the room anyway so we had an option on a stop off point two hours closer to Istanbul if we so chose.
We were aiming for Tuzla Golu, a lagoon right next to the sea south of Adana and east of Mersin. The first hour was a gradual descent, and once back into the lowlands we started to see different birds. A random bridge over a canal had a large flock of Cattle Egret, our first Pied Kingfisher, three Caspian Terns and a pair of Spur-winged Lapwings. These very nearly justified the drive by themselves, but the lagoon was another level.
There were Red-rumped Swallow in the village, and as the houses end there is a causeway across the middle of the lagoon. The best birding is on the edges of this, as well to the east which is shallower and has more vegetation. A stunning nine Pied Kingfishers were sat on the wires here, and there were stacks of waders wherever you looked. Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Temminck's Stint, Little Stint, Kentish Plover, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Knot, Greenshank, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, five Spur-winged Lapwings and two Collared Pratincoles.
A large flock of 100+ Slender-billed Gulls were back and forth over the causeway, with Sandwich and Gull-billed Terns, there were a minimum of 50 Grey Heron and 25 Great White Egret, over a hundred Flamingo, you get the picture. I left Mick with the big camera and had a wander in the small dune system south of the lagoon. In the vegetation here I found Laughing Dove, Zitting Cisticola, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, and several Red-backed Shrikes. A lone Garganey was in the reeds and departed swiftly to the middle when it heard me. All in all it was a terrific spot, and as the sun went down over the Med we felt lucky to be alive.
We were not done yet though - after dinner and a long drive back into the mountains we still felt chirpy enough to try for Scops Owl in Cimbar Canyon. We had no idea if there might be one there or not, but why not give it a go? There wasn't. It had been scared off by a hugely vocal Eagle Owl! What a day!