Everyone has their own idea of birding, whether it be masterful photography, rarity hunting, international traveling, and so on. Since I started actively birding aged 12, I have strived to do all of these. Unfortunately, life choices mean not all are viable. A busy academic life – first in high school and now in my final year of medical school – left me unable to chase crazy megas or go on exotic voyages. It even limited my ability to travel within my province in Turkey.
This left me with both an insatiable appetite for everything bird-related and an insufficiency in field time. So, it was one of my greatest fortunes when we moved to Atakent Sitesi, a large living complex furnished with everything a patch-birder could want. Ever since I started seriously birding here in 2019, not only have I amassed a respectable list of 153 species, but I also acquired some lifers, found some local rarities, and became a proficient field birder. This article discusses my unlikely patch, with a month-by-month account of the birds I encounter.
An aerial map of Atakent Sitesi (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
About Atakent Sitesi
Situated 22km south-east of Ankara city centre and 18km north-west of Lake Mogan (Ankara's premier birding site), Atakent Sitesi is a closed living complex comprising of some 200 villas. The total area amounts to 0.35 km2 and all of my birding records are strictly within the limits of the complex. Residents share several common spaces, and these are also primarily where I've done my birding. The eBird hot-spot is here. These include:
- A tightly maintained pocket park and children's playground in the south-east part, comprised of lawns broken up with stone paths and interspersed by conifers, birches, various berry bushes, plum trees etc.
- A small wooded area adjacent to the tennis courts, a more 'wild' area compared to the park with long grass and a large variety of trees including pines, cedars, birches, chestnuts, oaks, plums, silverberries, junipers and other various scrubs.
- Two separate grassy plains lined with junipers, silverberries, and tamarisks.
- A small pond, surrounded by conifers and lined with rocks, Phragmites, poplars, and other large trees. It flows out of the complex as a small grassy stream.
As with everywhere else in Europe, winter here is defined by thrushes and finches: Common Chaffinches everywhere, European Serins and Eurasian Siskins giving their equally distinctive calls flying overhead, Redwings feeding in their favorite berry bushes, and Yellowhammers flocking together in the last lights of the day to spend the night at our park.
Periods of sustained snowfall can blanket the ground, forcing a wide array of seed-eaters to the few patches of remaining open ground. However, despite the many flocks of birds about, it can get dull quickly; so the quality of January largely depends on any surprise appearances. This can be a Northern Goshawk zooming through while hunting pigeons, a Water Rail or Common Snipe displaced by heavy snow and ice, or a Rock Bunting among a flock of Yellowhammers
Eurasian Bullfinch, Atakent Sitesi, İncek, Ankara, Turkey (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
February is much the same as January, so excitement is mostly provided by the relatively scarce winterers such as Fieldfares or Bramblings, which greatly vary in numbers and can be absent in some years. However, little bits of pre-migratory movements can be observed, like flocks of Black-headed Gulls moving south. Local raptors can also put on appearances; such as Western Marsh Harriers moving about or Eastern Imperial Eagles from an as yet unknown nesting site patrolling the skies.
February 2022 saw three new species added to the patch list, all good in their own way: a mildly-expected Ruddy Shelduck making its way south, Hawfinch finally making its long-overdue entrance to the list and, last but not least, a spectacular Twite in a flock of Common Linnets – one of the handful of records from Ankara, and a lifer!
Eastern Imperial Eagle, Atakent Sitesi, İncek, Ankara, Turkey (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
Twite, Atakent Sitesi, İncek, Ankara, Turkey (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
March can be variable. Winter conditions last into mid-month or, as was the case in 2022, to the very final days of March. Small movements do happen, though virtually no proper summer migrants arrive, with at most a handful of Common Chiffchaffs or an early Common Redstart. Exceptions do occur, however, as with a Spotted Crake seen feeding on the stream leading out of the pond in 2021. Our migratory pond-dwellers, Common Moorhen and Cetti's Warbler, usually arrive in March, along with our local pair of Long-eared Owls, with the male giving its spectacular wing-clapping display to the calling female.
2022 saw almost no activity in March right up until the last two days, which were some of the best days for the patch ever – 30th saw the first records of Green Sandpiper and the marvelous Bluethroat, while the skies were graced with Steppe Buzzards, Black Kites and a duo of Eastern Imperial Eagles. On the 31st, the daily species record broke, with 44 including a trio of heart-stopping Cinereous Vultures putting on an appearance!
Bluethroat, Atakent Sitesi, İncek, Ankara, Turkey (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
Cinereous Vulture, Atakent Sitesi, İncek, Ankara, Turkey (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
April usually alternates between desperate silence or the dreams of every patch-birder in the Western Palearctic. Luckily, it's mostly the latter. The first couple days of April see the arrival of classic summer migrants such as Common Swifts, Swallows and Lesser Whitethroats, while the first migrant Eurasian Blackcaps and Collared Flycatchers also make touchdown.
From then on it’s a bonanza on land migrants: Eurasian Wrynecks, Willow Warblers, Common Chiffchaffs, Common Nightingales, Spotted, Collared, and European Pied Flycatchers and Common Redstarts all pass through in good numbers. Among them are scarcities such as Common Cuckoo and Wood Warbler.
2022 saw this passerine migration delayed. However, this was made up in the form of an immature Yellow-legged Gull migrating north (unexpectedly rare in Ankara!), multiple Purple Herons at the pond, and singles of Baltic Gulls migrating on two consecutive days. The pond is also very active with the reedbeds hosting up to three species of Acrocephalus warbler, while the trees lining the pond almost always hold Black-crowned Night-Herons.
Levant Sparrowhawk, Atakent Sitesi, İncek, Ankara, Turkey (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
Spotted Crake, Atakent Sitesi, İncek, Ankara, Turkey (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
Baltic Gull, Atakent Sitesi, İncek, Ankara, Turkey (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
Purple Heron, Atakent Sitesi, İncek, Ankara, Turkey (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
A Spotted Crake which spent three weeks giving cracking views in 2021 also remains a highlight. Finally, April is the month for raptors. While this mostly means small numbers of Steppe Buzzards, persistence can pay off in the form of a Levant Sparrowhawk, Pallid Harrier, or Lesser Kestrel.
The madness of April continues into May. Flocks of European Bee-eaters pass, while Red-backed Shrikes suddenly appear on every other bush. May is the month to find late migrants like Masked Shrike, Great Reed Warbler, Barred Warbler or Thrush Nightingale. Rarities such as Laughing Dove, Squacco Heron, Little Egret, Northern Lapwing, Woodchat Shrike and Black-headed Bunting have also been recorded during May.
On 4 May 2022 I found a splendid male Common Rosefinch feeding on the park lawn – a memorable bird. River Warblers have also been providing excitement for the last two years; a comparatively showy bird in 2021 was followed by three (!) singing in 2022.
However, for me, May is defined by four things – the arrival of our most abundant and noisy breeder, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Little Bitterns stopping at the pond, Rosy Starlings hurrying west early mornings in the third week of May and Marsh Warblers arriving en masse singing one of the best Western Palearctic bird songs.
Little Bittern, Atakent Sitesi, İncek, Ankara, Turkey (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
Marsh Warbler, Atakent Sitesi, İncek, Ankara, Turkey (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
River Warbler, Atakent Sitesi, İncek, Ankara, Turkey (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
Common Rosefinch, Atakent Sitesi, İncek, Ankara, Turkey (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
June is simply the time to appreciate our breeding birds, whether that be Black Redstarts and Rock Sparrows singing from chimneys, Long-eared Owl chicks begging in the darkness of the night or Eurasian Scops Owls roosting on their favorite branches. Late June has featured some post-breeding dispersers, such as a couple of young Coal Tits or a worn male Semicollared Flycatcher.
Eurasian Scops Owl, Atakent Sitesi, İncek, Ankara, Turkey (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
The first half of July is the time of fledglings, the pond being especially pleasing to hang around with multiple broods of Common Moorhen mixing and Barn Swallows perching on reeds waiting to be fed. 2022 was special as we also had Mallard breeding, with six chicks later reducing to four.
Late July is a bit more interesting as birds dispersing after breeding unpredictably show up at the patch. Song Thrushes do this the most, while several first-year Semicollared Flycatchers also arrive, allowing detailed study of this little-known species. This year's dispersal also starred some patch-firsts – juvenile Crossbills that hung around for a few weeks, and another long-overdue bird, Common Kingfisher.
Semicollared Flycatcher, Atakent Sitesi, İncek, Ankara, Turkey (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
August is, simply, great. The first week sees the arrival of the 'holy trinity' of autumn migrants: Willow Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, and Collared Flycatcher. Soon after, Eurasian Wrynecks, Red-backed Shrikes, Reed and Garden Warblers, Common Whitethroats and Tree Pipits follow. The court area in particular can be very productive with that part alone holding 30 species in some mornings, including Barred, Wood, or Icterine Warblers.
Juvenile Eurasian Penduline Tits also make appearances around this time, no doubt from a breeding location nearby. Post-breeding dispersal also continues to yield goodies in August, such as Western Rock Nuthatch or Cirl Bunting.
Icterine Warbler, Atakent Sitesi, İncek, Ankara, Turkey (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
Wood Warbler, Atakent Sitesi, İncek, Ankara, Turkey (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
September is usually quieter on the ground compared to August, though that's probably due to me not being able to bird during the mornings. However, skies are much louder thanks to the far-carrying calls of European Bee-eaters flocks, passing one after another. Even louder were the Demoiselle Cranes calling at 1 am one fateful 1st September – my birthday – which I heard as I lay on my bed and sound-recorded from my bathroom window!
Barn Swallows also form big flocks in September, and some scrutiny might result in a Sand Martin within such groups. A handful of Whinchats usually appear on the plains, and Red-breasted Flycatchers give their rattling calls everywhere. Surprises might include a pair of Lesser Spotted Eagles soaring over your house as you're having breakfast or a Black Stork making an emergency landing at the pond during a rainy night. Towards the end of September, the tides of migration shift as the first Common Chiffchaffs and European Robins arrive.
Lesser Spotted Eagle, Atakent Sitesi, İncek, Ankara, Turkey (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
October begins the long transition to winter, as thrushes and finches begin to arrive from as close as the neighbouring woods or as far away from the other side of the Black Sea. Willow Warblers slowly bow out and leave the stage to Common Chiffchaffs, which together with Eurasian Blackcaps, European Robins and Common Redstarts become the dominant migrants.
An early morning outing towards the end of October might prove rewarding, if only through heard-only Eurasian Skylarks or Red-throated Pipits. Weather systems can bring gold, such as on 5 October 2021 when I had two Ring Ouzels and a somewhat lost European Green Woodpecker: both patch firsts.
Ring Ouzel, Atakent Sitesi, İncek, Ankara, Turkey (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
One can never be sure what November holds, but usually, it's just like winter. The first Redwings and Yellowhammers arrive while huge mixed flocks of Jackdaws and Rooks make commutes at the fading light. Wintering tits and crests liven up the cold morning with their constant twitterings, as do swarms of Eurasian Siskins seemingly appearing out of nowhere and feeding on birches before disappearing just as quickly.
Firecrest, Atakent Sitesi, İncek, Ankara, Turkey (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
Long-tailed Tit, Atakent Sitesi, İncek, Ankara, Turkey (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
December is tied with June for the worst month. It's basically January but without any of the snowfall. Though perhaps I'm being a bit too harsh – I did find a Green Sandpiper feeding at the pond on the day of writing this, so perhaps December does hold a few surprises. Special mention goes to a group of Grey Partridges a resident of the complex sent me through Instagram – the only patch bird I haven't seen myself!
Eurasian Siskin, Atakent Sitesi, İncek, Ankara, Turkey (Kuzey Cem Kulaçoğlu).
The amount of relief, education, experience, and surprises I've had while birding my patch has been almost unbelievable. Monitoring this place around the year and spending intimate moments with many amazing species has given me an acute sense of the behaviours, movements, vocalisations, and identification of birds. In the end, this was what made me a better field birder than anything I've ever done in the past decade.
Who knows how long I will be able to keep this up, but I will continue my efforts as long as possible. There’s always something to look forward to. Are River Warblers really annual? Will I ever see as many Hawfinches as I did this year? Time will tell.