A Travellerspoint blog


Day 3: Last Full Day in Istanbul, Turkey

overcast 65 °F

Today was yet another day of sightseeing (of varying levels of interest for me) in Istanbul, Turkey with my mom and my sister Pearl.

Istanbul is a nice city and we are getting to know it quite well. Did you know that it has had three (and possibly more) names throughout history? Byzantium, Constantinople, and now Istanbul.

After a nice breakfast at our free rooftop hotel buffet, our first sightseeing adventure for the day was touring Hagia Sofia. Over the centuries, Hagia Sofia has been a church, a mosque, and now a museum!

It is the most amazing man-made structure I have ever been in, and I was personally astounded, which is pretty significant because usually I am only "astounded" by the wonders of the natural world. This building, however, has defied logic by towering over the rest of the city for about 1,600 years, and its architecture to this day is intricate and beautiful.

Like I said, I am only going to show a few photos on this blog, but if you would like to see more photos of our trip to Hagia Sofia, email me at the following address to subscribe to my photo stream for this trip:


Our next stop was the archeological museum of Istanbul. I photographed two nice bird species on the walk to the museum:


LAUGHING DOVE (this species fills the niche that the Mourning Dove occupies in the continental USA):

We finally arrived at the archeological museum grounds.

Suddenly, we all heard a horrific screech. All three of us jerked our heads in the direction of the noise and we could see two cats closely stalking around one another. We hurried over to the cats and crouched down nearby to watch the spectacle. After a few moments of the cats' cries and stalking around each other, a whole group of people, including ourselves, had gathered around the stand-off and was watching intently. The entire time I was thinking, "This is so much better than being in the archeological museum!"

You must be wondering why I don't sound sympathetic towards the cats? Well, I have no reason to be. Cats, especially feral ones, are the primary cause for the death of millions, I repeat, millions, of songbirds each and every year.

It was an interesting twist to our day. If you care, both cats walked away from the fight unharmed, albeit slightly bedraggled.

The probable reason for the fight happening was because instead of Istanbul having a problem with feral dogs like most cities, there are multitudes of feral cats here, so it was probably caused by the overpopulation of these creatures.

The next forty-five minutes or so were spent wandering about the relatively boring archeological museum, and then we were off to get Subway sandwiches.

Pearl and I seized this chance to eat turkey in Turkey, which is something we have wanted to do all our lives:

After lunch, we headed back to our hotel room, and the early part of our afternoon was devoted to resting up.

The last activity of the day before dinner was touring the Grand Bazaar, which is basically a big underground shopping mall with beautiful frescoes and some history behind it, as well.

Here is a COMMON MEW GULL that has chosen its nest site to be right outside our hotel room:

Bird-of-the-day to the GREAT TIT and runner-up to the LAUGHING DOVE, which were the only two birds cooperative enough for photos today. I gained no life birds today.

Turkey was a very nice, quirky country--very different from anything else I've visited this year. It is not my favorite country, but it was interesting getting to know this place for a few days. I gained twenty-four life birds here, which is very good considering that this leg of the journey was only mildly "birdy."

Stay tuned, because tomorrow, my mom, Pearl, and I will fly to Naples, Italy to meet my dad and begin the Italian leg of our travels in Europe.

Good birding,
World Life List: 709 Species (no life birds today)
24 life birds in Turkey!

Posted by skwclar 09:03 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Day 2: Ferry Tour of the Bosphorus River

semi-overcast 72 °F

Hi all,

Today my mom, Pearl, and I took a tour of the Bosphorus River on the city ferry. After another nice breakfast, we arrived at the ferry terminal, and after waiting in one annoying line, we boarded our vessel. It left at the appointed time and we cruised the Bosphorus River, going north from Istanbul all the way to the mouth of the Black Sea. FYI: The Bosphorus connects the Black with the Meditteranean Seas.

On the way there, I didn't sea as much wildlife as I could have because we were sitting in the middle of the boat, which was unlucky, but I moved around a bit and saw some nice birds, such as the ones featured below.

YELKOUAN SHEARWATERS. It was amazing to see these and another species of shearwater which I will show photos of a bit later on in the post, because shearwaters are birds of the open ocean. I did not expect to see them in a river that at its widest is only 1 mile wide. I guess the salty water drew them in since the Bosphorus connects the Black and ultimately the Mediterranean Seas, which are both saline. Another interesting thing about this species is that it is a globally threatened species, so it was great to see and photograph them in the wild.

A bit later on in the ride, I photographed this nice building which is the summer home of the political leader of Turkey. I could make a political joke right now, but I think I'll refrain in order to curb an online kerfuffle.

On both ferry rides we saw ships from Turkey, Russia, Italy, and various other countries around the world including this one from Panama! What a funny juxtaposition; our family just visited Panama this past November!

If you are interested, you may read more about that trip on the much earlier posts on this blog.

Shortly before the ferry arrived at our destination, I snapped this shot of an ancient roman castle atop a hill:

When we arrived to the destination, I snapped this photo of a jellyfish in the river:

So THAT'S why people aren't swimming in the Bosphorus...

Then, my family and I took a hike up from the cute fishing village and our destination was the ancient roman castle that is pictured above! My mom suspected but was not sure that the castle was the destination of our hike!

At the castle, I got my lifer ALPINE SWIFTS and LESSER KESTREL (not photographed).

The view from the top of the hill was absolutely fantastic. It was comparable to the view from Cape Reinga, the northernmost point in New Zealand we visited in January. We could sea the Black Sea in one direction and the city of Istanbul in the other, with the mighty Bosphorus River connecting the two. Below is the beautiful view of the confluence of the Bosphorus River into the Black Sea, but you have to notice the two towers on either side of the river. Those towers will very soon hold a suspension bridge, so we were lucky see this view before it is completely ruined by something man made and ugly.


On the ferry ride back to Istanbul I saw more YELKOUAN SHEARWATERS, as well as these life-bird CORY'S SHEARWATERS:

To our immense surprise, we also came across a pod of about thirty dolphins! Not only are these dolphins in an extremely northern locale for their family, but also they were not found in the ocean, but in a river! With the dolphins, jellyfish, and shearwaters combined, I can conclude that this river serves as a microcosm for more typically oceanic species because of its salinity. Very interesting.

EUROPEAN SHAG, juvenile and/or female bird:


Here is the view of Sultan Ahmed, the "old" neighborhood of Istanbul that contains Hagia Sofia, which you can barely make out in this photo. Our hotel is also located in this neighborhood.

We took the CROWDED tram back to our hotel. There were literally one hundred people jammed into each average-sized tram car. I had to mold my body to fit a space that would have normally fit a pencil, and when I barged into the tram car, I needed to hold my arms out in front of me in order to reserve a standing spot for my mom and sister. I certainly got quite a few dirty looks for that daring move. Here is a photo of my sister in her own personal "jail cell" of humanity:

It was an interesting ride. We spent the rest of the day homeschooling, I practiced trumpet, and we had a quick dinner at McD's before Pearl had to go to bed.

Bird-of-the-day to the life bird, globally threatened YELKOUAN SHEARWATERS. They were a nice surprise, along with the runner-up CORY'S SHEARWATERS and MEDITERRANEAN GULLS.

Good birding and stay tuned,

World Life List: 709 Species

Life birds today:
Cory's Shearwater
Yelkouan Shearwater (threatened species)
Pygmy Cormorant
Common Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard
Lesser Kestrel
Black-headed Gull
Mediterranean Gull
Alpine Swift
Eurasian Jackdaw

Posted by skwclar 11:29 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Day 1: Istanbul, Turkey

sunny 63 °F

Hi all,

This is today's promised more thorough post.

Before I divulge into the musings of the meanderings for today, I would like to give a couple heads-ups.

For birders, this trip to Europe is SUPER planned out by my parents with regards to sightseeing, so I will definitely be seeing and getting new birds, but it will be much less devoted to birding than the last two trips.

For non-birders, as you might know, I'm not a sappy blog-writer. If I like something, I'll tell you I like it, and if I don't like something, I'll tell you I don't like it. A lot of this sightseeing is very, kind of "in between" for me so that's how I am going to be writing a lot of the reports. If you want something a bit more insightful for the non-avian highlights of my family's travels, you should probably check out my parents' blog also:

So, my mom, Pearl, and I woke up bright and early in order to get to breakfast before the crowds came (my Dad will join us when we arrive in Italy on Thursday).

The free breakfast buffet was at the roof-top restaurant right above our hotel room. Here is the view from breakfast:
(Hagia Sofia, pronounced Aya-Sofia, on the left, with the Blue Mosque on the right)

Close-up of the Blue Mosque. Notice it has six minarets (towers), which is unusual for a mosque.

If I showed you every single architecture photo I took today, this blog post would probably fry your electronic device, so if you would like to be invited to the photo stream I have started, called "Europe 2014 Non-Bird Photos," simply email me at:

Email me at the same address if you would also like to subscribe to my photo stream called "Henry's Bird Photos."

Anyway, back to today. Our first stop after breakfast was at the ancient Topkapi Palace Grounds, the former seat of the sultans during the Ottoman Empire. The architecture was beautiful but I got a bit bored after a while. Here is one of the photos I took:

The only reason why I didn't expire in boredom was because there were actually a number of birds on premises, including the ones featured below:



GREAT TIT (actual bird species name, no joke):


HOODED CROW, very common bird here:

Fly-over GREY HERON:

Then, we had lunch alongside the Bosphorus River. Since Istanbul is a major port, I saw these three cruise ships docked there:

I saw this EUROPEAN SHAG in the river:

After lunch, my mom, Pearl, and I all headed back to the hotel to rest up for the activities later in the afternoon. Here is a photo of my little sister Pearl sleeping, with her new blindfold from Turkish Airlines :-)

Our first afternoon activity was touring the Blue Mosque. It was wonderful! Again, if you would like to see the many architecture photos I took/will take, email me to subscribe to my photo stream, but here is one of the best ones:

On the way to our next stop, I paused for a moment to photograph the beautiful Hagia Sofia:

Our next and final sightseeing destination for the day was touring the Basilica Cistern, which was basically a gigantic underground series of passageways dotted with huge pillars so that the ground above wouldn't cave in. The cistern, which had about three inches of water in it complete with fish, has been around for about 1,500 years (it was excavated during the rule of Emperor Justinian the Great during the ancient Byzantine Empire)! The cistern reminded me of the Chamber of Secrets from the second movie of Harry Potter.

After that, we had dinner at a lovely outdoor restaurant and headed back to the hotel room for a quiet evening. The last two noteworthy birds of the day were an EURASIAN MAGPIE and this lovely LAUGHING DOVE:

The funny thing about the magpie was that the only other time I have ever seen this species was when I was looking out the window at a brief layover at the Beijing International Airport on the way home from Singapore to Chicago, which also happened to be the only time I have ever been in China. Therefore, I will give the EURASIAN MAGPIE the bird-of-the-day award. Runners-up to the ALEXANDRINE PARAKEET and the GREAT TIT, and while the latter has a slightly disturbing name, they were the most photogenic bird species today.

Good birding and stay tuned,

World Life List: 700 Species (13 life birds today)
I have finally made it to 700 species, which was my goal for the END of this trip, so it is great I achieved it so quickly. I wonder if 800 species is feasible by the time I arrive home from my trip in May...?

Here are the life birds I have obtained since I arrived here in Turkey yesterday:

  • **note: this list is not in taxonomic order

Common Swift
Pallid Swift
Common House Martin
Mew Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
European Turtle-dove
Laughing Dove
Alexandrine Parakeet
Rose-ringed Parakeet
Hooded Crow
Purple Heron
Great Tit
European Shag

Posted by skwclar 10:25 Archived in Turkey Comments (1)

Travel to Turkey!

semi-overcast 66 °F

Hello all,

This post is brief because I am VERY tired because of jet-lag.

My mom, Pearl, and I flew a Turkish Airlines A330 to Istanbul, Turkey today. My dad will join us when we travel to Italy on Thursday.

Also, here are some photos from a neighborhood bird walk I led yesterday:




It was a productive walk with about thirty species in total and four participants.

Today in Turkey I saw common urban birds including HOUSE CROWS and two life birds: EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVE and ALEXANDRINE PARAKEET.

I promise a longer, more detailed post tomorrow!

Stay tuned and good birding,

World Life List: 647 Species (2 new life birds today: European Turtle Dove and Alexandrine Parakeet)

Posted by skwclar 09:21 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

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