Anyone who has looked at a map of Turkey will realise that it is a very large country in relation to many of the others in Europe and the Middle East. Many trips here therefore concentrate on the South and South-east (if they are here for a week as we were), or also include the North-east if they are here for longer. The itinerary thus needed to take into account the distances which needed to be eaten up in the hire car, and also the main sites which we wanted to visit. Birecik seems to be a favourite with the trip reports, and while there are some good birds to be found there, my impression was that it was a busy place with traffic and people around many of the sites. Yet it has to be included. Another “must see” on reports is Caspian Snowcock in the southern central mountains, but we also found that there was much more to this than one species, including extra good birds and stunning scenery. With the cheapest and most convenient flight being to Antalya along the South coast, we planned the longest journey on the first day to the mountains, then on to Birecik for a few days, and more or less using the Goksu Delta and Akseki as stop off points on the return. The former suited its purpose and added a few wetland habitat birds to the list, but the latter also offered yet more good birding and excellent scenery – Akseki should be considered on any trip if possible.
All arrangements were made independently, although we did get some verbal and email outline guidance from Kerem Ali Boyla (firstname.lastname@example.org). To be fair, they represent a group of Turkish birders who make a living from guiding around the sites, and we made it clear from the outset when we met them at the Rutland Water Bird Fair that we wanted to do the sites ourselves – we know this means fewer species but increases our enjoyment of the trip by finding the birds ourselves. Flights were originally from Glasgow, but Thomas Cook played around with the flights without informing us, and we got them to switch to Manchester the day earlier without extra cost. This proved to be hugely beneficial, since the original flight landed at 1am, meaning a lack of sleep before the long journey to the mountains. The new flight landed at 20:00, which gave plenty of time to collect the baggage and car, and find the airport hotel and have a good night’s sleep before departing. We booked the airport hotel and the accommodation with tractor trips at Cukurbag in advance – the former for better prices, the latter to ensure there would be spaces (as it happened, we were the only ones in the small Ozsafak pension during our stay). We had been informed by Kerem that May and June are amongst the best times of year to visit, and we did see many birds still singing. There will obviously be some species or groups which are better to see at other times, but June seemed to serve its purpose well. Our overall impression was that there were marginally fewer species to be seen on our visit as compared to other reports for the same time of year (an impression only, and some other reports may have been more interested in totting up species lists). For those who need to know what to pack to suit the weather, the only cloud we saw was in the mountains on the first two days (when it was cool on the tractor ride for the snowcocks – about 5°C is supposed to be the average), but everywhere else was very hot – high 20’s to a peak of 42°C in Birecik.
Strangely, there seem to only old guides with maps to the sites – notably by Dave Gosney (Birdguides) and Green & Moorhouse (“A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Turkey”, published by Prion). Despite these being about 20 years old, much of the information is still pertinent. However, there are predictably some changes to those days, mainly to newer roads being constructed, but also to some habitats being lost (such as the sand pits behind the Merkelam Hotel in Birecik). That being said, they should still be considered as a sound basis for touring the area. We also found some of the information from other reports on the internet to be useful, mainly due to more up to date facts.
We hired a car from the UK online, using Budget. They are an interesting bunch to find at the airport, since you have to exit the international arrivals, re-enter the domestic departures (including security screen) to access the car hire firms at domestic arrivals. We had ordered a Renault Fluence to accommodate our cases and equipment, but were offered a Ford Focus as a size equivalent. A bit of haggling bought a Ford Mondeo with a larger diesel engine instead for an extra TL200.
The main roads in Turkey between the sites are from good to excellent – the latter including the new toll motorways. Beware of the latter. Before approaching a toll booth for the first time, pull the car in to the right just before to the service kiosk and buy a card for the duration of the journey. The toll booths seem to ONLY accept these swipe cards. The availability of fuel is at great variance from the reports we read – petrol stations seem to be almost everywhere, and can occur in groups. Fuel cost is not cheap – not far off that in the UK.
Due to some changes in our flights, we landed at 20:30 instead of 00:30 in the morning, which resulted in a much more composed and relaxing search for the IC airport hotel, which is a two minute drive from the airport. Not particularly cheap at 155 Euros, it is comfortable and easy to find, with a price that includes breakfast.
Ozsafak Pension (email email@example.com or website adress www.ozsafak.net)
Ozsafak and Safak pensions are on the opposite sides of the road to each other in Cukurbag (East of Camardi), and are owned by the same family. We sent an email to both, and went for the former since their replies were the only ones we had. These were from Basar Safak, the son of the former owner, Ali. He also doubled as the guide on the tractor trip up to Demirkazik Mountain. The rooms cost us 30 euros per person per night with dinner and breakfast. The tractor trip was an extra 120 euros total for the three people. There is an additional benefit to 21st century of free wifi here.
Merkelam Motel, Birecik
Birecik is a lot larger than expected, and may well have a lot more hotels and motels than when the first reports were written. However, this motel is very easy to find – the last building before crossing the bridge over the Euphrates - so we took the easy way out and plumped for here. We were offered a triple room for TL75 per night for three nights, but managed to negotiate two separate rooms for a total of TL220 for the duration. The rooms are basic but comfortable with temperamental air conditioning.
Hotel Fatih, Tasucu
Tasucu is the best base for the Goksu Delta, since it is only 2km or so from the western access, and offers a variety of accommodation due to its resort status. We plumped for the Hotel Faith, found easily on the left of the main road passing West through the town. The charge was reasonable at TL90 for a triple room. This was clean, had sufficient space, as well as working air conditioning and free wifi. There are also quite a few restaurants a short walk away next to the harbour.
Star Hotel, Akseki
There are a couple of hotels in Akseki, found by driving up through the main street (with pine trees down the centre), then taking a right at the top. We checked the Duruk Hotel first to be offered a triple room for TL200. The Star Hotel, which had ambivalent press in some of the reports, was just as good, but with 2 rooms for a total of TL105 – breakfast included! The son of the owner who dealt with us was pleasant and spoke reasonable English (his dad doesn’t speak much of the language but was also very accommodating). In addition, the rooms had air conditioning, free wifi, and we were okay to stay until mid afternoon the next day. We also tried for a meal at the restaurant below the hotel - the buffet offerings were somewhat limited.