After hearing from friends that one of the rarest owls in the Western Palearctic was relatively easy to see in Southern Turkey, I decided to plan a trip over there with my family. My girlfriend is not a birder and my baby isn’t (yet), so we booked into a nice resort in Side, Antalya, which is within reach of the location of the owls, and is a nice place for them to stay while I slope off in the early mornings. The Brown Fish Owl was previously thought to be extinct in Europe, with the last recorded sightings in the 1970’s in Turkey and Isreal. Around 2004 the owl was accidentally rediscovered by a regular tourist sight-seeing boat visiting the beautiful lake and dams of Oymapinar, near Manavgat, Turkey. Brown Fish owls have quite a wide distribution globally, throughout India up to Thailand, but this is probably a subspecies and has some visual differences, such as being generally more pale. So, should this bird be genetically split from the Asian population and become its own species, it could be one of the most rare owls in the world, although its population is somewhat unknown in Turkey, with some believing it is more populous than people think. Since its rediscovery, birders have flocked to the area to get a glimpse of this western palearctic rarity , and currently the main way of seeing it is through a local tour operator.
After a long days travelling we arrived at our hotel at 2am, and I had to be up and ready at 5am to meet the local tour guide. Luckily, my first creature of the trip was a very special one, a Beech Marten crossing the road outside our hotel, an amazing animal that I’ve only ever seen once before in Bialowieza, Poland. The tour guide picked me up, and we went an hours drive into the mountains before arriving at Oymapinar reservoir, where a lot of large tourist boats were moored. There was nobody to be seen and it was a bit of a ghost town. We knocked on a hut and woke the captain up and began the journey out onto the waters, investigating the cliffs and ravines. It was absolutely freezing and extremely windy, I didn'’t have much hope of seeing an owl in these conditions.
We searched and searched in the extreme weather but our efforts were fruitless. To be honest I was so cold that I didn’t even care that we couldn’t find it and was really looking forward to getting back to sea level to warm up. We did just that and we headed back to Side. Money down the drain and we hardly saw a thing apart from Blue Rock Thrush and a load of Yellow-legged gulls. I wasn’t giving up that easy and I decided to contact Vigo tours and book 2 more trips. One of the trips was a cheap 35 euro trip with hundreds of other tourists, which was a general tour of the lake. The other was the same 250 euro private tour, on our last day as a back up in case I didn’t see the owl all week.
My girlfriend and baby decided to come on the tourist boat due to the later start, and the better weather. I was quite shocked at the amount of people squeezed on to all the coaches headed to the boats, and again had little hope of seeing the owl with this many noisy people. I had my big 500mm canon lens with tripod with me and looked like the biggest plonker on the boat, it was extremely embarrassing and Rachel was even more embarrassed 😂😂. Anyway I wasn’t there to make friends, just their to see this mythical owl! The captain however was very confident and told me exactly where to sit, and that he would signal me and stop the boat when he sees them. Here are some photos of the stunning reservoir and the crazy boat. .
The captain then prepared me by whispering in my ear, get ready (highly embarrassing). We approached a narrow, steep-sided ravine and the boat stopped. There it was, sat looking down on hundreds of tourists looking at him. A truly unbelievable and majestic bird; owls that go fishing have always blown my head off.
And that was that. Every single picture looked like this so I have nothing more to show. I’d love to spend a longer period of time around there setting up DSLR camera traps to try get them hunting at night. If anyone is interested then please get in touch. If you would like any more specific information about finding this bird then drop me a line and I will be happy to help.
Thanks for reading and if you are interested in the other places I went birding whilst in Turkey then read the other Turkey blogs.