Basalt Wheatear breeding recorded in Turkey

Black-shouldered Kite - a rare vagrant also seen the same day.

Basalt Wheatear breeding recorded in Turkey

Male Basalt Wheatear east of Birecik. Photo by Dobromir Domuschiev.

While on a birding tour in Eastern Turkey, we recorded the first known breeding of the Basalt Wheatear in the country. On 27th April, we have visited the area east of Birecik - the site is known to support the last remaining population of Goitered Gazelles in Turkey. Already in the  area for about two hours and beside the very common Finchi’s Wheatear and Lesser Short-toed Lark we have seen very few other species. We were about to leave the site when spotted a ‘black’ type of wheatear along the track. We pulled over and jumped out of the car – the bird was perched on a stone about 100 meters away from us. After the initial hesitation between Black and Basalt Wheatear it became clear it is the latter one.

The bird flew downhill the other side of the road and started to display, pointing a potential breeding crevice to the female which has just appeared. We have approached the pair for closer views and managed to take few record shots. Then two more birds appeared and those were obviously the fledglings of the pair, already fully grown and nearly independent. According to our knowledge (as well as The Birds of Turkey book), there are no other published observations of this wheatear in Turkey, let alone successful breeding.  The Basalt Wheatear is a morph of the Morning Wheatear, known to be restricted to northern Jordan and southern Syria. Some ornithologists even consider it is a separate species.  Along with the Basalts, we have also seen a pair of See-see Partridge and Upcher’s Warbler at the same spot.

Latter we continued towards north of Sanliurfa, on the way to the Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters colony and few km before it we spotted a pale raptor that drop into the wheat crop just next to the road. It immediately went back on the wire, where it became obvious what it is – a Black-shouldered Kite, to our great astonishment. There are only about ten known records of the species in Turkey. The raptor started eating the unfortunate mouse, but it was mobbed by a Hooded Crow, and probably us, so it flew towards the middle of the field to finish its lunch. Already on the bee-eaters site we have spotted only 4 Blue-cheeked among 5 times more European, as it is obviously still early for this species.

Arriving in Birecik we have located the Pallid Scops Owl at the tea garden and had a very good view of it. It was quite a successful day actually as it started with at least 5 Menetrie's Warblers, about 10 Desert Finches, 4 Dead Sea Sparrows, one female Chestnut-shouldered Sparrow and Olive-tree Warbler.