- Travel Blog
Brown Fish Owl in Turkey and first breeding record for WP. In early June 2009, Arnoud van den Berg and Cecilia Bosman travelled overland by car to Turkey for The Sound Approach with the aim to get sound recordings of some difficult species. Their main targets were a number of owl taxa Strigidae for a new The Sound Approach book to be authored by Dick Forsman. The journey took them as far as the coasts of southern Turkey, where they intended to search for Western Brown Fish Owl Ketupa zeylonensis semenowi. Obviously, they knew that finding a Brown Fish Owl, which in the WP is classified as ‘on the brink of extinction’, would be a long shot, not the least because they did not know any site and in summer it is supposed to be silent. There are only two reliable records for Turkey since 1900, in the Adana region in April 1990 and in the Antalya region from October 2004 (Dutch Birding 24: 157-161, 2002, Sandgrouse 29: 94-95, 2007); the precise localities are not widely known.
During the search, AvdB had frequent contact with Soner Bekir (who planned to do a search in late July) and Gernant Magnin (who searched for the species frequently in the past 20 years and did so in late May 2009 together with Kerem Boyla). From their suggestions and some literature, it was decided upon which area and what habitat to focus: mountainous streams with lots of fish, mature trees and steep cliffs. SB had mentioned a village situated in an area where the owls could be present. On 20 June 2009, within 30 km from here, AvdB and CB found a well-wooded river with frogs, crabs and fish. Later, it turned out that SB visited this place twice last year, without success. After a day of searching, AvdB and CB positioned themselves in the evening between
the main cliff and the river. It was almost dark when at 20:50 a large owl flew past them, giving a brief view of its silhouette. Eurasian Eagle Owl Bubo bubo is the main confusion species but because of the bird’s appearance they were convinced that they found a fish owl. Mark Constantine and DF were informed by phone and text messages were sent to SB and GM. The rest of the night and the following three days, they failed to see or hear another big owl, and they decided to try again later in the year when the birds are supposed to be vocal.
As soon as he could, SB arrived together with Murat Çuhadaroğlu. On 2 July, at 21:25, they watched a
silhouette of a flying fish owl at another site in the area. They returned here the next night and using torch light they caught some eye shine on a cliff of one that flew to a pine tree; it remained here from 01:45 to 04:50 and they made amazing flash photographs. Two nights later, they returned to this site with Emin Yogurtcuoğlu and, at 23:30, they found again an adult in the same tree. The next night, when SB and MÇ had left, EY visited the same place and he not only had two adults here but also one close to the site of 20 June. On 6 July, SB sent AvdB an email about his successful quest and added that there were possibly three territories in the area. The photographs were published on www.trakus.org/kods_bird/trakusdergi01/2009_3_exx/index.html but, for obvious reasons, the precise locality was kept secret.
When hearing the news, MC immediately suggested that AvdB should return to record some calls. AvdB arrived with CB on 11 July. That first night, no owls were found but in the afternoon of 12 July, when SB had confirmed directions, the tree of the photographs was identified by a few small feathers and c 30 crab legs underneath it! After seeing an adult perched in another tree just before midnight, AvdB and CB photographed an individual on a ledge high on the cliff in the early hours of 13 July; in the late evening that day, this bird flew down and could be aged as a fledgling. They tried to collect as much information on the birds’ natural history as possible. In four nights, despite the loud river noise, AvdB and
CB made a few sound-recordings of inconspicuous calls by individuals which could be photographed as well. Quite remarkably, they never heard any loud begging or alarm call despite spending a total of 27 hours with the owls. The two adults never showed before 20:40, when it was almost dark, while the fledgling usually started to move c 15 min earlier. In the morning of 14 July, they found the fledgling roosting in a tree low on the cliff and they could make a series of photographs in daylight. It seemed that two fledglings were present but they never saw more than one at the same time. Only once, they watched an adult bringing food, a fish.
These sightings constitute the first breeding record for Turkey and the WP. In addition, it concerns a new site, adding a third dot on the species’ map of occurrence in southern Turkey. Outside Turkey, there are less than a
handful of WP records, the last in Israel in August 1975 (Dutch Birding 24: 157-161, 2002). Morphologically, the western subspecies semenowi is quite distinct, being much paler, buffer and less heavily streaked than
leschenaultii from India to Thailand, orientalis elsewhere in eastern Asia to south-eastern China and Taiwan, and nominate zeylonensis in Sri Lanka. Unlike semenowi, the other subspecies are not considered rare.
Current plans include a survey this autumn or in early winter in this and other areas to see whether the species is indeed not as extremely rare as thought up to now. If the surveys are successful and necessary protection measures are in place, SB may run tours for birders who want to see the species (see www.birdingturkey.com). Arnoud B van den Berg, Soner Bekir & The Sound Approach