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Bayram, Turkey 13th - 15th November 2004,
Three days hectic travelling in Turkey, from Istanbul to Demirkazik, Cappadocia and Uludag provided some interesting birding and exhausting driving.
The end of Ramazan in Turkey is marked by three days' holiday (Bayram). This year Ramazan ended at dusk on Sunday 14th November with the Monday and Tuesday being national holidays.
With a total of four days off work and based in Istanbul I decided to hire a car and drive south, I had no clear plan just a general desire to see some mountain birds. I knew that distances in Turkey are vast but I wanted to see just how easy a long drive across Anatolia would be.
I live in Etiler, a wealthy suburb of European Istanbul, my apartment is less than a km from the second Bosporus bridge, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet, known as the FSM bridge.
On the evening of Friday 12th November I picked up a 1.4 Renault Clio (The saloon version with a big boot, which is, I think, not available in the UK) from Arti Rent-a-Car, a local company with offices at the airport and another just 5 minutes walk from my apartment. I had agreed a price of USD160 for 4 days rental, unlimited km and full CDW. Car hire is reasonable in Turkey especially given unlimited mileage and the car was newish, nippy and easy to drive.
In my Turkish trip reports all costs unless stated are in millions of current Turkish Lira (TRL) which correspond to units of YTL (Yeni (New) Turkish Lira) from January 2005.
8pm saw me cross the FSM bridge into Asia. You pay 3 to cross over to Asia but it is free coming back. The traffic was very heavy as expected before a holiday weekend, I followed the signs for Ankara and after 20 minutes I reached the main toll at the start of the 0-4 TEM (The one and only motorway to Ankara). I don't understand the naming convention for roads, 0-4 seems a pretty silly name for the main motorway. On Turkish toll motorways you take a ticket on entry then pay on exit. After about 180km the motorway suddenly runs out at Junction K17 west of Bolu. The traffic is all funnelled through toll gates where I paid 4 for driving from Istanbul and then backs up at a junction where all the main traffic to Ankara has to do a left turn at traffic lights onto the old road.
The next 20km are along the old dual carriageway, this road is bordered almost non-stop by stalls, cafes and filling stations. This old road then climbs what must be nearly 1000m on to the central Anatolian plateau. The Turks have obviously left this tricky section of motorway till last.
Having got up the hill I rejoined the motorway at K18 and sped towards Ankara. It is about 420km from the FSM bridge to the outskirts of Ankara and I was feeling somewhat tired by now so I stopped for 4 hours sleep in the car at a service area.
Saturday 13th November 2004
5.30am saw me driving on the motorway south past Ankara. I have the full set of Ryborsch 1:500,000 maps but I was also given a 2002 road map from the hire car company, this showed a toll motorway all the way from Istanbul down to Adana and onto Gaziantep, my plan to follow this was somewhat spoilt when I realised that the slightly narrower border to the motorway meant this bit of the road had not actually been built!
To make matters worse the truth of the non-existent motorway only really dawned on me just south of Ankara when the motorway abruptly ended and I was on the old D750/E90 route heading towards Konya and Adana.
I decided to press on south, by now it was getting light and 8am saw me approaching Aksary with the wonderful volcanic peak of Hasan Dagi beyond. I decided to try to skirt round the south of the extinct volcano and head east towards my goal of Demirkazik
My Ryborsch map 3 clearly shows a yellow road skirting Hasan Dagi to the south joining the villages of Karacaoren, Akcakent and Kecikalesi. However the only road off to the east I could find ended abruptly in a dirt-poor village. It was at this point that my faith in the Ryborsch maps began to wane.
It was now a sunny and warm morning so I wanted to start some serious birding and get off the main road. I took the first major road east after passing the volcano; the road clearly signed to Nigde.
This autumn in Turkey has been unusually dry and warm and even in mid November some trees are still retaining a little green in their leaves whilst most display autumn colours more typical of mid October. The downside has been the extreme lack of rain which means that the hillsides are just shades of brown.
After a few km I found a few crested larks by the roadside and a little further I found a flock of Rock Sparrows coming to a roadside wet patch to drink.
I continued on, eventually reaching Bor west of the main D805. From here I wanted to get to Camardi and as I believe the route is promising for summer birds let me tell you how:
Travel south from Bor until the dual carriageway ends. You then cross a railway, immediately after turn left sign posted Roma Hamani (Roman baths) this road then gets you to the main D805. The map now shows the road to Camardi as straight across at this junction; the map is plain wrong! Turn left (head north) for over 2km until, just past a filling station there is a road right with lots of places signed including Kilavuz; this is the road to Camardi.
The first village you go through is Kaynarca (contrary to the map), the only doubt about which road to take comes at the next village where there is a fork, the left fork goes up into the village, you want the right fork to Camardi. It was here that I needed help with directions, unfortunately the first man to come up to the car was clearly the village idiot; on pointing to the left and saying Camardi he nodded and smiled, on pointing to the right and saying Camardi he nodded and smiled, on saying Camardi a third time with no prompting he just nodded enthusiastically.
Top Tip: If you want directions in Turkey never ask a pedestrian passer-by, ask a lorry driver or someone who has their own vehicle who might actually have left their village in the last year.
The road is sealed all the way but closer to Camardi it is a little rough in places. The views of the mountain range ahead are stunning and the road is often bordered with plantations lower down and cultivated fields higher up. I feel sure that this road would prove fruitful in the summer as an approach to Demirkazik. The last km down the hill into Camardi is the roughest bit and it may prove difficult to find the road from the Camardi end.
From Camardi I drove to Demirkazik arriving at the mountain centre around 1pm. I had travelled 800km from Istanbul and had arrived at the site for mountain birds but I felt nothing but disappointment staring up at the barren, arid mountainside knowing that way up there were birds such as Caspian Snowcock but I had no realistic chance to get up there and see them.
I had three choices :
Option 3 was the obvious no-brainer so I drove up the track to the right of the mountain centre which goes round the back of the football field. This is quite rough but I managed to drive up without too many nasty-sounding crunches from going over big stones.
After about a km you get up to an open area of stones, this is the roughest bit of track, I nearly gave up here but could see it continue on downhill before zigzagging up a grey/green hillside. I persevered with the road but as I got to a wider bit before the zigzag climb I could see large water-filled ruts in the track ahead. Twenty years of driving on some of the roughest roads on the planet have taught me a simple rule; if it is dry, two-wheel drive will get you just about anywhere where the ground is firm but mud or soft sand spell trouble. I had no problem in deciding to turn back.
On the way back, just below the highpoint I noticed an overflowing water trough with the water streaming down away from me. I got out of the car and walked towards the damp area; about 15 white-winged snow finches flew away. Stupidly I thought they had all gone but realised too late there were some left; these too flew off high.
I decided to stake the area out from the car and await their return. The altitude, tiredness, and hot sun combined with a throbbing headache were getting the better of me and I dozed fitfully whilst awaiting the return of birds.
By 3pm I had seen a few wary Rock sparrows but no sign of the snow finch and realised I had only until 5pm to find somewhere to spend the night as in my knackered state I was not going to drive after dark.
I looked at the map and decided that I was not going to go any further south this trip so instead decided to drive to the town of Nevsehir which was next to a national park in the hope of finding a hotel.
Little did I realise that Nevsehir is in the heart of Cappadocia and therefore a tourism centre; life would be so much easier if I read my Lonely Planet guide before going somewhere!
The journey to Nevsehir was uneventful and I checked into the first hotel I saw with a car park. This was the Viva Hotel, a twin room with phone, western toilet, balcony, TV and breakfast included for 25.
I had driven 950 km since the previous evening, enjoyed really good weather, experienced the delights of the Istanbul/Ankara motorway, but not seen all that much, however I had discovered at least one good road for the summer; the Kaynarca-Camardi road.
No water birds at all due to the lack of fresh water; the giant saline lake Tuz Golu appears to have shrunk well away from the usual edge.
An orangey juvenile flew over whilst staking out the water trough at Demirkazik, either Monty's or Pallid, I find harriers above me very difficult.
A bird madly chasing a pigeon across the main road north of Aksary early morning.
The only raptor regularly seen, about 4 during the day.
Excellent views of a roadside bird on the road to Nigde.
Small group just east of the E90 on the road to Nigde.
The common lark of fields.
A few near the high point of the Kaynarca-Camardi road.
Pair calling east of Kaynarca.
A few around Demirkazik
Flocks in fields.
* White-winged Snowfinch
About 25 birds flushed from the water trough above Demirkazik. My only world-tick of the day, missed them in Turkey back in 1987 and I've never gone skiing in the Alps.
About 20 birds 5km east of the E90 on the road to Nigde. About 15 birds in a wary flock at the water trough, Demirkazik. One of my target species as I have not seen them since 1987, the yellow throat patch is surprisingly difficult to see unless they put their head up.
Small flocks on the road to K-Camardi road.
At least two birds in with linnets on the K-Camardi road.
Excellent close views of two birds feeding at the roadside on the K-Camardi road.
Sunday 14th November 2004 (The Turkish big holiday of the year)
Awoke at the Hotel Viva, Nevsehir, refreshed after 12 hours sleep and ate a decent buffet breakfast at the hotel before driving off to Gureme in the centre of the national park. All those birders who come to Turkey for a mad tick'n'run fortnight are seriously missing out on Cappadocia.
TRUST ME, YOU REALLY SHOULD VISIT CAPPADOCIA FOR AT LEAST HALF A DAY.
All those thousands of tourists can't be wrong, this really is a must-do place.
I won't go on about the weirdness of the place, you have just got to come and experience it yourself.
Driving towards Urgup there is the famous place with the huge boulders balancing on top of eroding cones, 200m below where everyone stops there is a lay by. I stopped here in the wonderful warm sunshine and heard birds in the trees. I had a brief view of two or three sombre tits moving quickly through, another target species for me as I can barely recall the views from 1987.
I then drove south east from Urgup on the 767 road. This road was another real discovery with lots of good habitat and for the first time, large numbers of birds.
Just east of the village of Karacaoren I came across lots of birds flying around the orchards by the side of the road. These birds were very elusive and constantly on the move. I realised I was watching a big flock of fieldfare with a few mistle thrush, however they didn't seem the same as autumn flocks on the English coast. Back home they look like big thrushes flopping around on hedgerows, here, in the bright sunshine they darted around like altogether smaller birds. In addition the chacking didn't seem as loud or harsh as I am used to; it was all rather weird.
At one time I had 2 fieldfare in the scope with a perched rock sparrow, an unusual combination.
Driving further south-east I found the best site for rock sparrow, if you really need this species come here and you are bound to score. The site is on the 767 road 1km west of the village of Basdere just where there is a turn signed to Demirtas. There are plenty of rocky areas around and a small stream is right by the junction. I counted 36 rock sparrow perched on wires before they flew off with another flock of around 25 birds.
The road then goes over the Topuzdagi pass, from the top you get a great view of lakes north of the Sultan marshes. Or at least you would if there was any water left. I can report that as at 14th November 2004 the lakes shown on the map as Col Golu, Sobe Golu and Yaygolu simply no longer exist. From the top of the pass there is only a small trench of water visible somewhere near where Yaygolu is marked.
I drove down the pass and crossed the main 805 to check out the lakes. With respect to Col Golu, the southern side was completely dry, the northern side had a lot of piles of salt and a tiny stretch of water left. I did not bother with driving to check out Sobe or Yaygolu as I knew the situation would be equally grim.
I decided to drive straight down to the famous Sultan Marshes. I followed the information as per Gosney, which is perfectly accurate except that it fails to mention that Sultan Marshes is now completely dry.
I drove through the entrance gate, passed a guy in a hut to whom I waved, then drove along a track following the sign for "Boat trips". Forget boat trips, there is no water here at all. The reed beds were being harvested, the ground under the reeds was bone dry. Something has gone seriously wrong at Sultan Marshes, it cannot just be this dry autumn, it looks to me like the place is finished.
In the twenty minutes I was there I failed to see a trickle of water or even a damp patch, but I did get good views of a ring-tail Hen Harrier and a little owl.
I then decided to drive back to Urgup on the road from Yesilhisar (marked as 38-54 on the map). This is another road with promise for the summer but is not as good for birds as the road through Topuzdagi pass.
At the southern end of the road there is a lake called Akkoy barrage, it was extremely low and surprisingly for such a decent-sized body of fresh water it did not have a single bird.
Further north towards Urgup is another lake called Damsa barrage, this one has a welcoming approach road at the northern end. I drove in, a guy was taking money for entrance and as the only birds I could see were coots I decided to drive out promptly. It may be worth trying this lake at other times of the year.
I decided to drive north to Kirsehir to find a hotel. Unfortunately I could not find a single hotel so continued on towards Ankara. I then decided to make for the Sogusku national park north-east of Ankara. It was dark as I drove round a completely deserted ring road, this is the Turkish equivalent of Christmas night and everyone is at home enjoying a feast to mark the end of Ramazan. I arrived at Kizilcahamam at 8pm to find every hotel completely full. The top-notch Cam hotel just inside the park had a room but wanted 100 for the night. I decided there was nothing for it but to drive straight back to Istanbul. I arrived back at my apartment after midnight, completely exhausted having driven another 950 km that day and vowed not to drive again in Turkey.
Water birds :
none seen bar some coot at Damsa barrage.
Female at Sultan Marshes.
Some very good views of an adult and a juvenile on the road towards Sultan Marshes. Several others seen during the day. The only raptor regularly seen.
One bird hunting from the concrete fence posts just past the entrance to Sultan Marshes.
At least 8 with Fieldfare near Karacaoren.
Active mobile flocks totalling over 150 birds near Karacaoren.
At least two birds near the famous balancing boulders at Urgup.
A few seen during the day, Cappadocia is obviously a good area for this species.
At least two seen by the road.
Small flocks near Karacaoren and on the Topuzdagi road.
Cappadocia is clearly the area for this species, with the best site I found being on the 767 road half way between Urgup and the Topuzdagi pass, 1 km west of the village of Basdere, just by the junction with the road south signed to "Demirtas 1 km".
At least two birds at the rock sparrow site.
A few small flocks encountered during the day.
A big-billed female sitting in a tree at the rock sparrow site.
Yellowhammer One bird at the rock sparrow site.
Monday 15th November 2004 (Big national holiday)
Awoke at my apartment in Istanbul, forgot all about the tribulations and hard driving of the previous two days and decided to head straight for Uludag mountain near Bursa.
The route to Bursa takes at least 4 hours on a quiet day, I left Istanbul at 9:15 and got to the top of the mountain road at 3pm. So I had only an hour of good light left as it was cloudy with heavy showers.
The road to Bursa follows the shoreline of the Sea of Marmara, it must be the deadest shoreline for birding anywhere. Because there is no tide there are no areas for birds to feed, the only birds are occasional cormorant or the brown pale-breasted shag.
The common gull of the Marmara Sea is the yellow-legged gull of the race cachinnans, known to British birders as Caspian Gull. However all the adult gulls around Istanbul have very yellow legs whilst those Caspian gulls I have seen in Britain have shown pale straw or pink/greyish legs. Leg colour apart these gulls show all the plumage and structural features we associate with Caspian. If you want to study gulls in the area you could do no better than the rubbish dump near Yalova.
On the south shore of the Marmara Sea the road to Bursa goes south from Yalova, about 5 km south of the town the dual carriageway passes an obvious rubbish dump on a hill to the west of the road. You can turn right onto a road next to the dump, drive up 300m and then turn left straight into the dump. This being Turkey there are no officials or rules about who can go on a working dump site. I drove in and was met by four things simultaneously:
1. More gulls than I had ever seen in one place, literally thousands of birds fighting over scraps and forming a huge dense mass in the air.
2. Several inquisitive children, mangy dogs and a herd of goats.
3. Some angry looking shepherds and other tramp-like individuals wanting to know why I was there.
4. A smell that was so bad it would affect your eyesight on a summer's day.
It was all too much for me and I rapidly turned round and fled back down the hill.
If you have a strong constitution and are a gull-nut this is the place for you otherwise best give it a wide berth.
The city of Bursa is huge and although Uludag is well signed the route through the city is somewhat circuitous and can be very busy. The road winds up to the national park entrance where you pay 5 to drive on a further 10 km to the hotel village at the top.
Drive uphill past all the hotels until you go past a garish green hotel with a very wide road/parking area at the front. Drive on for another 300m until you get to the last hotel on your left. In front of this last hotel the road forks, take the un-surfaced road to the right.
This road is fairly rough but I had no trouble driving it on a cold damp November afternoon so you will no doubt be fine when you do it on a fine late spring or summer morning.
The road goes up and forks off left towards another much higher new building, I kept right and drove on along the ridge top, past several snow fences and eventually ended up at a wide parking area at the top of a hill. The cloud was low and the wind cold, very reminiscent of being on the top of Snowdonia in mid winter. Indeed the contrast with two days earlier and the aridity and sunshine of Demirkazik was very marked.
The high tops were completely devoid of birds and the low cloud obscuring the surrounding peaks meant no chance of my most wanted bird; a soaring Lammergeier.
I decided to spend the last hour checking for Kruper's Nuthatch on the way down. I stopped every few hundred metres and checked the pine trees, I heard 'crests and tits calling but saw very little. Eventually I got down to the big, open picnic area full of families working on barbecues. This is apparently a good site for Kruper's and I may have had one fly over calling but I can't be sure. The one good bird I did see here was Brambling. In with a flock of perhaps 120 Chaffinch were at least 8 Brambling, a good Turkish tick.
It was now 4:15 and practically last light for birding. I set off on the long and tedious drive for Istanbul. If I ever come this way again I will use the ferry to cut the corner off the Marmara Sea. I got delayed by heavy traffic and thunderstorms going into Istanbul and didn't get home till 9:30.
I then decided to chuck in driving and gave the car back the next day, this was lucky because Tuesday was wet all day with the traffic truly horrible around Istanbul.
So in summary what did I learn from my three days of constant driving?
I hope you found this report interesting.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bayram Holiday Turkish Trip report, 13th - 15th November 2004 by MJ Grunwell