Fly London/Istanbul/Trabzon. Transfer to Sumela with local birding if time permits. Overnight in bungalows inside the breathtaking Sumela Rock Monastery area. We will have a short night-walk around bungalows to listen and look for Tawny Owl.
This part of Turkey borders Georgia, so the Caucasus Mountains ensure the area has a mild climate. This makes it possible to grow oranges, 70% of the world’s hazelnuts, and is also home to the most northerly tea growing area in the world. Add more than 2000 mm of yearly rainfall and you can understand why the area is engulfed in forest. Our birding destination this morning will be around Sumela Monastery which is carved into a sheer rock face and is a good place to look for the much sought after Green Warbler, which is reasonably common here, as well as Red-breasted Flycatcher, Common Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Bullfinch and possibly Black Woodpecker. As the activity dies down, we will drive to the quaint village of Sivrikaya in the Kackar [Little Caucasus] Mountains, where we will continue birding. We should see Mountain Chifchaff, Common Rosefinch, Grey Wagtail, Dipper and Marsh Warbler along the river.
We will have a very early start to look for the spectacular Caucasian Grouse, whose males we may be lucky enough to observe while enjoying the snow covered Kackar Mountains. Common Rosefinches and Water Pipits are everywhere and each raptor should be checked. We will continue scanning the skies for raptors as we cross the mountains, stopping on the peak where we hope to see Golden Eagle, Lammergeier and possibly Griffon and Cinereous Vulture on the way to Ispir. We should also see Alpine Accentor, Twite and Red-billed and Alpine Chough. At noon, we will be in Ispir, where we should keep our eyes open for Semi-collared Flycatcher during lunch and where we also hope to see Syrian Woodpecker and Golden Oriole. We continue toward Erzurum, stopping in Gelinkaya Village, for the pink breasted mycatacea form of Menetries’s Warbler, which breeds occasionally here. Finally, we drive over the Erzurum Plain,birding en route which is home to many thousands of breeding White-winged Black Terns.
Overnight in Ezurum.
After a leisurely breakfast, we will head towards the Georgian border – we will have a lot of travelling today. We first visit Aktas Lake, which lies partly within Georgia, via a breeding site for Velvet Scoter, Common Crane and Lesser Spotted Eagle en route. On the lake, there is a breeding colony of both White and Dalmatian Pelicans and we should also see Ruddy Shelducks, Armenian Gull and Greylag Geese. In the afternoon we visit Kuyucuk Lake, close to Turkey's border with Armenia. This lake lies at a crucial spot on the bird migration path between eastern Europe and Africa and is a stop-over area for many species though at this time of year, we will check for breeding birds. Long-legged Buzzard, Rose-coloured Starling, Egyptian Vulture, Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers and Griffon Vulture are expected species.
Overnight in Kars.
In the morning, we will head toward Mount Ararat [5137m], the highest in Turkey and the purported resting place of Noah’s Ark. On the way we stop at a small freshwater lake, where we expect to find Ferruginous and White-headed Ducks amongst many breeding wildfowl. We continue to a mixed Blue-cheeked and European Bee-Eater colony, at the foot of the Mount Ararat before heading to the imposing Ishak Pasha Palace, where in the hills above, will look for specialities such as Saker, Grey-necked Bunting, Mongolian Finch, Western Rock Nuthatch and other rock-loving birds including Rock Thrush, Rock Sparrow, Crag Martin and Chukar.
Overnight in Dogubeyazit.
In the morning, we will drive south, passing the amazing black lava flows of Mount Tendurek and the Caldiran Plain, where we will search for White-winged Snowfinches, Crimson-winged, Mongolian and Trumpeter Finches and Citrine Wagtails before continuing to Lake Van. Lake Van, at 3755 km2 is the biggest in Turkey, and many locals wash their clothes in it without any soap in its alkaline waters. We will start birding from Bendimahi Marshes on the east shore of Lake Van for Gull-billed and Caspian Terns and White-headed Duck, Paddyfield and Moustached Warbler. Depending on the time available, we will check Sodaligol for shore birds that may include.
In the early morning, we head to Bulanik, where the valley of the Murat River is a very special place where traditional agriculture has preserved endangered agricultural habitats and dependent species. This is the only known breeding location for Demoseille Cranes in Turkey, although they are not guaranteed by any means. The search and the subsequent long walk should reveal some Common Cranes and breeding Great and Little Bustards could be present. Rose-coloured Starling is another species we will be keeping an eye out for, while many wetland species including Black-winged Stilt, Cattle Egret and possibly Spur-winged Plovers will provide welcome distractions. We return to Ercis in the early evening.
Overnight in Van.
We will head to Ercek Lake for any missing wetland birds. Finch’s Wheatear and Grey-necked Buntings should also be present. Then we will board our flight to Istanbul and then on to London, arriving in the early evening.