It’s probably fair to say that the general publics stereotypical view of a birder or birdwatcher is that of someone sitting in a hide, with a flask peering out at the birds ,twee old ladies peeking through their kitchen windows at bird feeders in the garden, geeks and loners, and groups of middle-aged men with tripods all in a line looking at some distant bird no one else can see. There is probably a bit of truth in all of them, however, birding has become hip, see this link below:
Yep Birding has become sexy. Birding used to be cheapish once you had forked out for a decent pair of binoculars or a scope, you could wander down to your local patch, maybe take out a subscription with one of the two national birding organisations or both and visit their sites, but now, with the grey and hipsters pound, improvements in digital photography, internet sites, and apps for your phone, slick advertising, emotional pulls regarding environmental issues and saving species worldwide and not just in your local patch, yes there’s money to be made and the money men have seriously moved in. A few years ago if you visited a hide or walked around a bird reserve you would hardly have seen a camera, now it’s the next must-have birding accessory and you’ll now find most birders with a digital camera of some sort to capture a spot so it can be noted, posted and shared on social media or international birding sites. I too have fallen into this new form of birding. I probably fall into a few of the above stereotypes and for those of you who know me, you can keep your opinions to yourselves!
It all seems so clean and comfortable. Bird reserves used to have huts selling hot drinks, soup, and maybe subscriptions, now it’s full restaurants and conference centres and this might give the impression that birding is a cosy, modern comfortable hobby which for some it probably is but that’s a misconception by those that have never done birding other than sat in a hide.
I’m sure an hour doing winter coastal birding or winter moorland birding would soon change the cosy perception, then try doing it being out for a full day!
It may come as a surprise to the general public but birding requires stamina, toughness, patience, grit and determination and a willingness to suffer uncomfortableness and that’s just in the lovely British countryside. So whats birding like in an idyllic warm Mediterranean resort-like Dalyan in South West Turkey, well it’s different.
You’d expect birding out here to be as comfortable as anything with sunbeds and a pool to return to after a gentle mornings birding, and that is possible, however, there’s a different kind of uncomfortableness here. Let’s go back to a previous sentence and see what I mean about needing to have stamina, toughness, patience, grit, and determination, with a willingness to suffer uncomfortableness.
On the website, http://www.dalyanbirding.com are several bird species and sites suggested on where to see them. Let’s look at one species and one site to demonstrate what’s required. Let’s say I want to see a Little Crake.
I know that I can achieve this on the Eskiköy Canal Route below
So I make my way down to the canal route and start walking along the canal, however, this approach might let you see several birds but not the Little Crake. As soon as they see you walking along the path they will make their way into the vegetation and out of sight. We need to find a spot and stand still for about half an hour and they will reappear along the edge of the canal. Well, we have come to our first period of uncomfortableness. Here’s a little test for you to try at home. Go into your garden/backyard or look through a window out to your garden/backyard, choose a small area to focus on, and start looking at it. Firstly you’ll need to concentrate, it might take five minutes or so, but your mind will wander, you’ll look up at a passing bird, or turn around if you hear something behind you, and you may have missed your slot to see the Little Crake. You have to remain focused on the small area you have chosen. You’re not going to be able to maintain being still for this length of time without taking a small step forward, backward or sideways slightly to rearrange your stance and relive your uncomfortableness, this is allowed, as long as you keep your movement to a minimum. Now add, 28C, sweat forming on your forehead, insects buzzing in your ears, ants crawling over your feet, and enjoy your glimpse of the Little Crake.
It’s my observation that when birding in Turkey or other countries for that matter, the uncomfortableness experienced can categorised into the following categories; physical, psychological, emotional and financial and at the more severe end beyond uncomfortableness you can add the risk of severe injury or death and that’s just to your equipment!
On the web site, I do suggest some advice that visiting birders may heed.
‘If you are planning to do one of the longer trips, to one of the remote parts a little preparation and planning may be required. Be prepared is a good idea and the following may be useful.
Firstly, apply insect repellant before you set off, mosquitoes are still active first thing in the morning. During the day when out birding in fields, woods, and other undergrowth, there are plenty of other insects that need deterring, take a small bottle of Sin kov (local insect repellant) for times of paranoia and to deter flies as and when necessary. Secondly , take a small hand towel, this is the best birding advice I have ever been given and is useful in whichever country you may be birding in, it has its obvious uses for drying yourself or mopping away sweat, acts as a cushion if you need to sit on an uncomfortable surface while you watch and can act as a support of scopes or camera lens (a little like a bean bag) and many more uses.
Thirdly, take a small first aid kit including something for stings.
Fourthly, apply sun cream and have headcover, obvious maybe, but the sun here is very strong.
Last but not least, Mobile signals are not reliable up in the mountains, let people know where you are going and your expected return time.’
Let’s start with applying sun cream, you’re going to need it if you don’t want to burn and look like a beetroot on your return from your trip out. It has its downsides though, mixed with sweat and dripping into your eyes it stings like hell. There is another problem, it might feel rubbed in but there will always be some trace on your fingers and it gets on all your lenses and if you’re like me and wear glasses then that out of focus image may well be a thin film of cream covering your lenses. You’ll need to apply suncream even in the early spring months as here during the day the temperatures can reach the low twenties. Indeed the temperatures here in Dalyan in spring are delightful during the day but drop back to a chilly six degrees at night. Temperature drops have caught out several birders who have taken to the hills to do their birding. A pleasant twenty degrees allowing shorts, T-shirts, and sandals allows for comfortable birding here in Dalyan only to find that when you get to your destination up the mountains the temperature has dropped to six degrees or so and if you’ve not brought a fleece your not going to enjoy it up there.
As mentioned above a trip up the mountains or further afield to Pamukkale or Tuzla Gol requires a little preparation, food/meals, drinks, toilet needs, clothing and footwear, directions and birding equipment. So that’s the bins or small spotting scope, the field scope and tripod, small digital camera to capture landscape shots, digital DSLR and telephoto lens to capture bird shots, rucksack, camera bag, phones, etc, that’s a lot of gear to be carrying around, indeed I was once out with friends birding up near Çöğenli Yaylasi and one commented jokingly ‘all the gear and no idea!’ . It dawned on me at one point the comment my friend had made about ‘all the gear and no idea’ that he was right I had no idea where I had left my small spotting scope. In our excitement, spotting birds and changing scopes and cameras on tripods I had inadvertently left my small hand scope on the ground as we moved to the next vantage point, the question was when and where! We spent what felt like an age retracing our steps until it was located at the base of a shady tree. That covered a few of the uncomfortable categories, emotional, in shock and embarrassment and the thought of financial loss, these things aren’t cheap. Indeed I’m lucky to still have the small scope, I once left it on a seat of a Dolmus and had to cycle to the bus terminal only to find the driver holding it. When I hire a car I usually keep the scope just under my front seat for quick access in case we see passing raptors or other birds whilst driving. On one occasion after a full day out I unpacked the car in a hurry in order to return it to the car hire company on time only to realise the next morning my small scope was missing. Frantically searching the house I eventually realised I had left it under the seat of the rental car. The rental company is excellent and always checks the pockets, glove compartments and boot for any belongings left by customers so I wasn’t too worried. To my horror they told me the hadn’t looked under the front seat, this would normally be done by the valeting company who clean the car before the next customer rents it, but on this occasion, the car was needed first thing the next morning in another town an hours drive away so would have been valeted by them. Fortunately, the scope was returned the next evening, but not without psychological damage to me, it’s like an extension of my body and always by my side. Phew, that was lucky.
There are not just birds here in Turkey, there’s plenty of other wildlife which we will discuss now. It’s difficult when in Dalyan not to notice the dogs especially if you’re a light sleeper, they bark a lot, mainly at night. There are two types of annoying dogs when you are out birding, friendly dogs and unfriendly dogs.
This is BB a friendly dog. She befriended us when we went birding at Kaunos, determined to be our friend she even followed us across the river and then every inch of ground we covered, disturbing all birds in her path before we could get a chance to view them. However, she was a nice friendly dog and we forgave her, she even hitched a lift back in the rowing boat with us.
Here is a picture of her returning down the hill after disturbing every bird about, the only plus side is, she flushed a few birds up we wouldn’t have seen. To deter a friendly dog, you need to bend down and pretend to pick up a stone this usually works, sometimes though, don’t pretend, if pretending didn’t work, then actually pick a stone up and toss it in the dog’s direction. You may need to do this a few times until it gets the message you don’t want it around. Then there’s the other group of dogs, unfriendly dogs. Unfriendly dogs can be put into two groups, annoying snappers and dangerous guard dogs. Annoying snappers are those who try and nip your ankles whilst you walk past their patch or those who will chase you whilst cycling past putting you at danger of coming off your bike. Dangerous guard dogs tend to be farm or mountain shepherd dogs, Kangol dogs and should be treated with caution, though in the main they too will only be aggressive whilst you pass through their territory, none the less protection may be required. Both categories snappers and guard dogs require a stick and a handful off stones. Once you have a done a route on more than one occasion you know when to be ready.
The other group of animals is domestic animals, sheep, goats, cattle, donkeys and horses. This group usually only cause psychological uncomfortableness, which I will discuss later, though horses once nearly caused me financial uncomfortableness. Once whilst at Eskiköy Rocky Outcrop I had set up my scope with a camera attached waiting for Short Toed Eagle which favoured a particular perch, once the bird had settled I intended to take a remote control photograph. I moved away from the set up to gain a better view of the bird’s approach and whilst there I heard what I thought was distant thunder. It was not thundering though it was a heard of horses galloping around the corner of the rock and heading straight for my tripod! Luckily they saw it and ran either side, a close call for my equipment and my nerves.
Talking of nerves we should discuss the next group of animals, wild animals. Most of the wild animals I have encountered are harmless, Foxes, Badgers, Hares, Pine Martins, Porcupines, Red Squirrels, However, they are also wild Boars.
Let’s revisit the Eskikoy Canal Route.
Have a look at the track above. This is the track along the Eskikoy Canal. As you can see there is not much visibility on either side until you reach an open section shown earlier for the Little Crake. You have to go down this track for about two hundred and fifty meters before you reach the end and some good sections for birdwatching. Now once you’re in about fifty meters your imagination starts to kick in. First, it’s bird sounds, no that’s a frog, no that’s an insect making that noise, no that’s too big a rustle to be a bird, so what is it. This is when you hear the breathing and the crashing and snapping of twigs and reeds moving either in front of you or immediately to your side. Nows the time to use logic, it’s either a cow, a sheep, a goat or a horse. The first three pose no problems they’ll just move out your way and into the reed beds on the right, Horses, tend to like to stay on the track, which is not too bad if they are going in the same direction as you as they’ll keep ahead of you until they reach the end and then via right into the marshes. However, if they are coming towards you they have no choice as they will be walking in single file and they are too big to turn around and unlike the cows who will just crash through the reeds the horses want to keep on, so you need to find a small gap and step into that to let the horses pass. Sounds simple enough but they are wary of you and get nervous when about two meters from you. They panic slightly and suddenly sprint past where you are stood hopefully without trying a sidekick as they go. They won’t all go at the same time, each one takes its turn, each one stopping, small panic and a sprint and then you’re good to carry on. There’s another sound though, a sigh, a sniff, an expelling of air, a grunt, it’s a wild boar. The problem with birdwatchers is that they tend to walk slowly and quietly so’s not to disturb the birds. This approach also means you can inadvertently sneak up on a wild boar even if you had no intention of doing this.
Here’s one I saw when I was on the Eskikoy Rocky Outcrop overlooking the canal down there. I could hear a rustle in the reeds, but could not see anything but the reeds swaying as the animal approached, a cow, a sheep, a goat or a horse, no it’s a wild boar. As you can see they can be pretty hefty, about the size of a small fridge on legs, weighing a ton and with two nasty tusks to cause damage, you don’t want to mess with these. The good news is they are very wary of humans if they see you and run, tails straight up in the opposite direction from you crashing through the reeds no problem. I have found the best thing to do when I think I have heard a wild boar and to be quite honest as soon as I hear any large animal not visible and nearby, is to clap loudly and give a shout. sheep, cows, goats and horses, on the whole, will ignore this unless you are right next to them when they will move on. Wild Boars, on the other hand, tend to up tails and sprint away, hopefully, they have the sense to sprint away from you and not towards you. So far this approach has worked on several occasions.
Now if you see one of these cuties, you definitely need to be wary, it is a young boar and mothers will be protective. I saw this one casually cross the track at the Kavakarasi Forest, I never did see or hear its mother, but I made sure my walk was deliberate and noisy as I carried on.
So what else is there, ahh yes those pesky insects ants, spiders, flies, wasps, bees and numerous other nipping biting bugs and of course mosquitos! Standing or sitting still will attract ants, they’ll find their way into your shoes or sandals, over your feet, up your legs and head north, need I say more. In the main, they just itch, but some do bite. Flies for whatever reason will want to land on your face, an irritant. Spiders are generally not a problem, but again if you sit still for long enough you might find one crawling on you or if you accidentally trap one with you body parts some may bite check shoes left outside overnight before putting them on. When out early in the morning walking through invisible newly made webs can be annoying. If walking barefoot on the beach in September/October you may need to be wary of bees and wasps that, on their last legs, can be found crawling or are half dead on the sand and if stood on sting the sole of your foot, which I can vouch for, is very painful. There are numerous beehives scattered around the countryside and you may, from time to time, have to walk past them on your birding or you may suddenly find you’re walking through vegetation that they are collecting pollen from. On these occasions, it is generally best to just keep walking calmy at the same pace until you pass through the area, keeping disturbance down to a minimum and you’ll be fine.
Wasps at the end of September will gather near cafes and any food source, and given the chance will sting, so be prepared to put your food away and move on. Sometimes the numbers just force you to move on and abandon where you are. That leaves Mosquitos. One bite can itch for a week, get several and it’ll drive you mad. Usually known for coming out at dusk and during the night they are still present early morning and so if you’re out birding especially near any waterways, so that’s most of Dalyan, apply Mosquito repellant before going out.
Snakes and Scorpions
Scorpions like the one above seen on the road to Kaunos are mainly nocturnal and although present is rarely seen, snakes too are occasionally seen as they are active during the day and you do come across them
Here’s one at Kaunos which actually landed on the road from a tree, being chased by a rat, look carefully at the snake’s mouth holding one of the rat’s offspring. Not all Scorpions and snakes give a venomous bite or sting, but that said you don’t want one anyway. You need to be careful when climbing /scrabbling over historical sites and hillsides where snakes and scorpions may be beneath loose stones or wood debris. the main point is looking where you are putting your hands before climbing or your butt before you sit down!
Plants, yes plants, the prickly sort can cause uncomfortableness.
The temperatures in Turkey from spring onwards favour wearing walking sandals. Can you believe some people still choose to wear socks with open-toed sandals! This doesn’t go down well with the fashion police who might ‘out you’. Socks or no socks spikes will get to you and socks have the disadvantage of collecting millions of spikey burrs from the burdock family of plants which can destroy a pair of socks when you try to de-fleck them. It’s not only socks that can get destroyed, skin and fabric on trousers or shorts or your T-shirt for that matter are at the mercy of sharp thorns if you’re not careful.
Bougainvillea is a wonderfully beautiful flower, but it hides the very sharp thorns that cover its branches, ducking under hanging flowers may lead to rips in your clothing. Take a look at this other nice flowering plant.
A closer look reveals thorns that have a resemblance of a fishing hook with the sharpness of a razor and these can deliver a nasty cut to skin and clothing alike if you are unaware and brush past it.
We finally come to the biggest irritant to us birders, other humans! Paul Hope in his book ‘Walking and Birdwatching in South West Turkey’ begins with two quotations which strike accord both locally and globally in observations on mans ability to wreak nature. The first one by E.B.White ” I am pessimistic about the human race because it is too ingenious for its own good. Our approach to nature is to beat it into submission. We would stand a better chance of survival if we accommodated ourselves to this planet and viewed it appreciatively instead of sceptically and dictatorially.” The second quote is by Albert Schweitzer ” Man has lost the capacity to see and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.”
It is true humans are ingenious and inquisitive, look at air flight, without it there would be few Europeans and others visiting Turkey to bird watch. Our ability to take to the air has many forms two of which are annoying to this birder anyway, microlights and hot air balloons, mainly hot air balloons. Why they can’t be content drifting over scenic areas mid-day beats me, but no, they have to set off as the dawn arrives at the very site I’m birding at and to make things worse they don’t have a day off, they go every morning and spoil the best time of day to be out birding .
The light and roar of the gas burners frightening all birds away. In the picture below I was just focussing on some Turtle Doves in the trees when they up’td and left as the basket clipped the top of the trees. There were only fifteen ballons on this occasion so I guess I was lucky
There was no bad timing in the example above as I pointed out these balloons go up every day, however, there was one occasion I decided to go up Göğü-beli Geç to try and pick up red-fronted Serin. This involves a two-hour drive from Dalyan to get to Seki and then an ascent up the mountain along winding roads to the summit and a descent down the other side. Normally this is a good birding route but on this occasion, the ascent had numerous cars parked on the side of the road and fast food trucks scattered up the mountain perched in some of the most inaccessible places possible for a burger van! So no birds on the way up. At the very top of the summit a huge electronic timer and the words ‘Finish Line”
We had only chosen to go up on one of the televised legs of the ‘Tour of Turkey’ cycle race. The decent was no different with all the watering holes we had chosen to view the Red-fronted Serin at packed with spectators. Still, it did make us change our route home and we picked up a Cuckoo on the way a first for us in Turkey so some small consolation.
There are two other types of human activities that have the potential to cause harm to birders. The first is those humans with shotguns or rifles. Despite shooting birds on Lake Köycegiz being illegal you can guarantee that come September the first you’ll start hearing shots ringing out around the reed beds (so maybe some species of ducks is allowed) if your doing the Eskikoy canal route this can be quite disconcerting. Recently I have taken to birding at the Yuvalk cay / Köycegiz gol entrance which appears even more dangerous. Standing in a small clearing amongst the high reeds at the lake edge keeping out of sight to minimise disturbance a local fishing boat slowly sailed by not noticing us when he sporadically discharged his rifle at who knows what, and who knows at what height, I doubt he considered there were humans tucked away behind the reeds that obscured his vision, one to think about before I go again! The second human activity is Turkish drivers! The one thing whilst driving in Turkey is to expect the unexpected! Unexpected stops or turns without signalling, by cars, buses, trucks and motor bikes in order to manoeuvre or pick up or let off passengers or just stopping for no apparent reason.
At night expect, Tractors, horse-carts and farm vehicles travelling without lights at slow speeds on highways and driving the wrong way down dual carriageways at the same time! Trucks parked on the highway at night without lights rather than on the side of the road. Watch out for herds of sheep, goats and other animals and Tyre-shredding potholes once you leave major roads. Be ready for Turkish driving habits, drivers that overtake on blind corners, drivers that attempt to pass you while you are passing another vehicle, drivers who tailgate within millimetres of you, it’s a sure sign they want you to move over. Be aware that drives that flash you are telling you they are coming through and not giving you permission to proceed at junctions or at any other time. It is not uncommon at night to have drivers with no lights on, either going in the same direction as you or heading straight for you in the wrong direction usually to take a short cut. Not strictly driving or or birding related but fits into the category ‘moments of danger’ , pay no attention to Zebbra crossings if you are a padeastrian , pretend they don’t exist and cross it as if it wasn’t there because believe me the Turkish driver approaches Zebbra Crossings as if they don’t exist , do not and I repeat Do NOT expect cars to stop ! However, the most dangerous driver on the roads is the birding driver who has to train themselves to keep their eyes on the road and not the sky and adjacent landscape , especially going up mountain passes like Göğü-beli Geç !
A final piece of advice to visiting birders to Turkey is to have a small toilet roll in your backpack. It’s a known fact that some people are affected by the change of water in Turkey often attributed the higher mineral content or possibly tap water used to make ice cubes for drinks or maybe the oil used in the cooking, whichever it is, it can have an affect on your gut. So on one occasion out birding in Gayic Canyon, a whole group of birding uncomfortableness amalgamated into one instance. Gayic Canyon proved not to be a good birding spot, after all, an hours drive away in sweltering temperature only to find it even more baking in the canyon, with heavy tree foliage, and poor conditions underfoot meant you could hardly enjoy the surroundings never mind look up to try and look at birds. We spent about half an hour walking through the canyon undergrowth with millions or irritating insects and flies buzzing in our ears and nibbling at us and sweat running down our backs when it happened, Mick looked grey and said he felt unwell. To top it all he was experiencing that unexplainable moment when a solid stool state turns into something resembling blended soup, he needed to go and quickly and dashed into the nearest undergrowth. He emerged from the undergrowth, pale, shaking a little and sweating like a pig. “you alright?” I asked. Referring to the flies, he said ‘It’s was horrible they were on it before it hit the ground!”. Ahh birding in Turkey how idyllic!