And the bush has friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him, In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended, And at night the wonderous glory of the everlasting stars.

Banjo Paterson (1889)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Istanbul - The Birding Tour

It was time for our long-awaited Istanbul & the Bosphorus Migration birding tour with Naturetrek. The history part of the holiday was on hold, now it was time for some proper birding. We met the group of 11 keen birders, including our local guide Kerem Ali Boyla, excellent guide, nice guy and a great birder that we can recommend for an birding in Turkey.

 The next day we were up in the Büyük Çamlıca, a great raptor watching hill that overlooks Istanbul. Groups of Levant Sparrowhawks were the only things moving through that area in the morning.


It's a popular spot with Istanbul locals, so birding there on a Sunday morning can be interesting.

The migration may have been occurring in another area, so we headed towards the Black Sea and decide to bird at Lake Terkos. A wonderful birding location with Pygmy Cormorants, Little Egrets, Marsh Harrier, Redstart, Reed Bunting, Golden Oriole, Squacco Heron, Snipe, and even a Grass Snake.

Next stop, a fish lunch at Riva on the Black Sea, and view of Red-backed Shrikes, a Hoopoe, Green Sandpiper, Kingfisher, Short-toed Eagle, Red-rumped Swallows and a migrating flock of 50 Common Cranes.

More Black Sea birding.

I had to go and feel the waters of the famous Black Sea.

It was time to head to Bursa the next day, so another wonderful ferry from Eskihisar to Topçular, beautiful trip. Good birding along the way as well, Honey Buzzard, Short-toed Eagle, Bee-eaters, Kingfisher, Mediterranean Gulls and Baltic Gulls.

We arrive in Bursa.

The view from the rooftop restaurant at our hotel, the nice Burcman Hotel in the centre of Bursa. Time for a quick wash at the hotel, then it's off to explore Bursa with our guide Kerem.

The inside of Bursa's Great Mosque.

The Green Tomb of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed I, built in 1421.

Wonderful artworks, mostly of blue-green tiles cover the tomb.

The next day found the group birding on Mount Uludağ. The mountain has a number of vegetation zones with their different birds. Here we are in the Black Pine forest zone, having just seen 3 Kruper’s Nuthatches (new and must-see bird for Liz and me). We are very happy!

Kruper's Nuthatch.

The ski resort near the summit at 2500 metres.

A beautiful day for watching Water Pipits, Black Redstarts, Willow Warblers and Stonechats.

We hunt for our main target bird in this area, Red-fronted Serin.

The Serin hunt went on, but alas we ran out of time.

The following day, a journey to Lake Ulubat and the village of Gölyazı. The area had some wonderful birds such as Marsh Harriers, Squacco Herons, Pygmy Cormorants, Bee-eaters, Water Rails, Ferruginous Ducks, Lesser Grey Shrike and 3 Little Bitterns! 

Interesting rustic buildings in the village, including some ancient Roman baths (that were closed, damn it).

We were back in Istanbul and time for the history part of the Naturetrek tour. It was good to see the obelisk at the Hippodrome on a sunny day.

Something I had not noticed on the obelisk base last time, a carving of how the obelisk was moved there.

A visit to the grand Tokapi Palace, the main residence of Ottoman Sultans for nearly 400 years.

A newer and different style ceiling artwork, compared to the other buildings we had seen in Istanbul.

The Sultan's widow must have been small!

While standing here, we saw an amazing flock of 250+ migrating Levant Sparrowhawks.

After Tokapi, the rest of the group went on to explore the Basilica Cisterns, but seeing Liz and I had already seen those, we explored other areas of Istanbul, such as the nice coffee shops!

Time to catch the ferry back to our Hotel Harem. It had been a long but enjoyable day.

The last morning before the group flew out, we decided to go back to a good migration birding spot we had visited some days before, the hill of Toygar Tepesi. By lunchtime we had seen 319 Lesser Spotted Eagles, 50 Short-toed Eagles, 19 Booted Eagles, with double-figure counts of Steppe Buzzard and Levant Sparrowhawk, two Black Storks and to cap it all a sub-adult Steppe Eagle.

At the end of the 8 day tour, we had logged 122 bird species. We are looking forward to our next Naturetrek tour, probably in Peru.

After another couple days in Istanbul by ourselves, it was time to head back home via Dubai. We had a fantastic birding holiday, seen lots of history, visited family. On the flight home we were already planning our next trip, yep, maybe it's time to head towards South America!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Istanbul - Chora and Galata

The birding tour was almost upon us, but there was still time to see a few more of the ancient places of Istanbul. Chora and Galata were sites I hadn't thought about visiting, but I'm so glad we did, even though the day turned into quite an adventure.

The remains of the great Palace of the Porphyrogenitus.

Our walk began near the Golden Horn in the Western Districts of Istanbul. A word of warning, don't fall for the dropped brush by a shoe-cleaner trick, we did. It's in the big Loney Planet guide to Turkey, but not in our smaller Istanbul guide. A shoe-cleaner guy walks by and drops his brush, offers a shoe clean for picking up his brush, then bingo, tries to charge you a huge amount for cleaning you shoes! We didn't give him much in the end, but it was an unpleasant start to the day.

The palace complex was built in the 13th century, now theres a lovely little park at the base for the local residents.

The wonderful Byzantine palace after the 1453 conquest was used to house wild animals, a brothel and as a poor house for the Jews.

Amazing brickwork, as in many Byzantine buildings.

The Theodosian Walls, with restoration work. The walls are vertical and very high as you can see, something I would dread shortly!

The old and the new. I like this photo of a modern children's play area set in walls built around 400 AD.

This is where my dread of the walls really began. As I have become older, I now have a fear of heights. To get on top of the walls (which we wanted to do) there are steps, very steep narrow ones, with no rails. You can see them past the trees, they look like a vertical section of the wall.

I'm smiling, but I'm not too happy, I have to get down yet.

Liz has no problem, but either side it's a 4 storey sheer drop onto the road below.

Great view of Istanbul, but 'Stay away from that edge!'

These are the steep crumbling steps. Beyond that edge you can see, the steps are narrow, short and at about an angle of 70 degrees. It was worse going down, but I didn't die, so it was a good day!

'Get out, I'm not doing that!' The next section of the walls was higher and even steeper with smaller steps!
We went to Chora Church instead.

The amazing Chora Church, tucked away in the back streets of Istanbul.

A fantastic looking brick church built in the 5th century.

For a small church, the amount of wonderful mosaics and paintings is staggering.

'Reflection'. I like this photo of Liz at Chora.

Another of our destinations, The Galata Tower, across the Golden Horn in the crowded Istanbul suburb of Galata.

Narrow winding streets lead to the top of the hill and Galata Tower.

The beautiful and interesting Galata Tower.

It's 67 metres tall, has a shop, restaurant, observation deck and lots of stairs.

The bridge we had to cross to get to Galata from the main part of Istanbul, with the Aya Sofya, Blue Mosque in the background, and smaller New Mosque in the foreground.

Looking down the Golden Horn. Wonderful 360 degree views form the observation deck, which is almost 52 metres above the ground. I have no height worries if there's a good rail!

The Golden Horn entrance into the Bosphorus, looking towards the Sea of Marmara.

Our hotel somewhere on the other side of the Bosphorus and the Camlica Hills, where our birding tour would take us tomorrow.