The winding road from the spa town of Kizilcahamam leads to Soğuksu Millî Parkı, literally translated as Cold Water National Park, a remnant patch of old pine forest that covers the steep hills. The protection may have been to safeguard the precious water, but the forest also holds petrified trees as the area was volcanic some 10 million years ago. Whatever the rationale, protection commenced in 1959.
At the entrance to the National Park, a huge banner of a black vulture, its most famous inhabitant, spans the road. Myriad restaurants compete for the passing trade. The road narrows and follows a stream up through the woodland; it becomes increasingly cramped by lines of parked cars; under the adjacent pines, families set fires at the many barbecue installations, many with huge but elegant iron pots that gush out wood smoke from their tall chimneys. The ritual of the family meal cooked on an open fire is a clear sign that the long, cold winter has passed.
Eventually a gate blocks the route; beyond it, the track is little used and snow-covered in sheltered sections. The pine is filled with the bare white branches of leafless aspen groves. Willows grow by the stream and heathland and scrub in areas where the forest gives way to openings. The ground is dominated by bare earth or a short turf and dead grasses are flattened by the recently thawed snow. Pieces of lichen and mistletoe litter the ground and may have been blown from the trees in a recent gale. Plants are emerging and crocuses are up with both a distinctive yellow and a mauve species, also alpine squill and grape hyacinth. Overwintering butterflies appear in periods of warm sunshine; a fast flying Camberwell beauty, a brimstone and small tortoiseshell.
The birds are active and full of song; forest passerines include finches, thrushes, tits, short-toed treecreeper, nuthatches and woodpeckers. Mistle thrushes sing their plaintive fluting song from the slopes; male greenfinch, goldfinch and, higher up the hillside, red crossbill and serin sing their various metallic jingles from the tops of trees. Krüper’s nuthatch ringing song is common and far-carrying in the higher pines. These are small with a distinctive chestnut breast band; they work the high branches and also the clumps of long pine needles like coal tits, which are also common. There is no sign of a black vulture or imperial eagle but a pair of noisy ravens patrol the skies and twist and flip like a display at an airshow. A black woodpecker gives its extraordinary calls and loops through a block of old forest. Here petrified trees, which appear to the untrained eye as large lumps of striated rock, are given a new fence for protection and boardwalk with information boards in Turkish and English.
Wood ants are massed on a tree trunk above an old and part collapsed nest. Spiders run across the forest floor and sprawling webs cover the leaf litter. The cloud comes over and rain arrives. On the way down, a huge, newly constructed viewing platform for the black vultures is visible high on the ridge. White storks are hunched motionless on a line of artificial nest platforms that surround the local garage at the edge of town; these have only returned from eastern Africa in the past few days.