It is two o’clock. We are standing in front of the ruins of antique Bargylia city, one of the most important ports of Byzantium era. I met Brian under the wish tree erect at the end of the istmus dividing the Milas Tuzla Lake into east side and west side, to go birdwatching. To tell you the truth, I think at this time of the day only ‘lazy’ birdwatchers could go and watch ‘lazy’birds.
Contrary to this, Brian Stoneman is a dedicated and active birdwatcher. He is a member of RSPB. The focus created on the existence and importance of Tuzla Wetlands is the direct result of his unending efforts. Following a visit to Bodrum 15 years ago, he discovered the area and settled here after subsequent visits. In co-operation with The Society for preservation of Native Life (DHKD), WWF and Nature Society he succeded in creating a mechanism to observe the important bird sanctuaries of Turkey where , surprisingly, %75 of the recorded bird species of Europe, African Sahara and Asia to the North of the Himalayas can be seen.
We start our expedition from the western side, next to the future golf course to be connstructed, which is considered to be the best bird watching post in Tuzla Wetlands on Brian’ four wheel drive. Here, under the initiative of Bodrum Volunteers Association, a Birdwatching house is projected to be constructed. On the way, we stop to watch a few Spoon Bills and 3 Dalmatian Pelicans settled in the few rocky formations in the Eastern side of the lake. After issuing each of us with a binocular in order for us to see the birds at the same time, Drian quickly constructs his telescopeon a tripod and and snaps a few shots of a couple of Audouin’s Gulls which are amongst the native fauna. As we get going, a Caspian Tern, similar in apperance to a lirge sized gull, escapes the objectives of our camera as it flies away.
This is a semi-salty swamp. This semi-salty nature gives the lake its name ‘Tuzla’. The port has become a shallow swamp over the years and offered a new trade product as of the beginning of 19th Century. In 2001, the borders of bird protection areas was exetended to cover Güllük area too and in Januarey of 2005 the area was officially declared a Wetland nature conservation area. We halt again at the rear section of the heavily regulated lake to take a look from this perspective.
Apparently, Redshanks and Greenshank have just arrived. My favourite coloured birds, Ruddy Shelduck laze about in the lake. This shallow wetlands (less than a metre in depth) is an important resting post, especially for the migratory birds in winter, because of its moderate climate. The wetlands is an area abundant with seaweed, fish and planctonic animals, which contains all the nutrients the migratory birds need in order to continuee their journey to the North; Russia, Gronland, some sections of Europe or to further southin to Asia.
Bird watching in this sanctuary becomes more excing between September and April months usually attracts city dwellers. Brian Stoneman is ready to guide and share his knowledhge of birds with anyone who speaks English. Birdlovers from Ankara, İstanbul, WEngland, Holland and Portugal find him just to have a taste of the excitement even if it is a one day experience.
Patience and silence is a must for a birdwatcher just like it is for a hunter or a rock fisherman. İt is unknown whether the purpose is to be amongst natural habitat or just to relax for the day, but it is definately not an experience of idleness. It is necessary to be all ears and eyes just like an art historian or a detective. You need to discover the details in each species and find out which type of Plover; Kentish or Great Ringed you are watching. Did you know that a subtle rivalry is felt when a group of birdwatchers go birdwatching? Who will see the red ring around the gulls beak, in other words the rare Audoin’s Gull first? Who will take the first Picture?
Watching the water nesting birds is different to observing the land nesting birds, may be even easier. Remember, ‘we are the lazy observers’ I had said. Because the Redshanks, Greenshanks, woodcocks, ducks, Ruddy shelducks, pelicans, spoonbilles, various species of herons flamingos stand without moving a feather or changing their spot for hours, just like the birdatchers themselves.
Pink Flamingos, about 245 in the beginning of October reaching up to 3000 in numbers in winter, stand knee deep in the swamp and collect their favorite little pink shrimps with gracious movements of their necks, even so that they can even turn their heads upside down to search through the mud. Dalmatian pelicans stay slumped like a grey-white bag until it stretches one of its wings first and and than the other, and slumps back to its original position. Alas, it was flattering to see the giant feather ball with its scoop like beak, flying away when scared by our approaching photographer.
Apart from those slow gliding beast of pray, it is rather more difficult to observe land nesting birds. Timidly they hop from one shrub to another.
It is not an easy task to spot the differences amongst the Crested Lark, Tit, Rufous-tailed-Scrub-robin, European bee-eater, the blue feathered Kingfisher and European Roller. No matter how attentive you are you, must have knowledge of what you are observing. As such, we keep a copy with us of ‘Birds of Europe and Turkey’ published by The Society for Preservation of Native Life..
We leave Tuzla and following the new road, constructed for the new loading port, we arrive at the new marshes on the eastern side of Güllük, which is the closest birdwatching area within Bodrum vicinity. Exposing the most beautiful of greenery, the marshes simply enchant us by its contrary nature to the dry Bodrum climate. We couldn’t have enough of the the talk we had with the fisherman in the shelter about the nature.
Another area Brian and his team regularly observe is the Uyku Vadisi National Park situated in Hamzabey Valley, on the South eastern side of Güllük Delta. It is said that the porcupines, thought to be extinct in Bodrum Peninsula, can still be seen there. In addition, prohibition of lights being used in the caves resulted in the local bat colonies`` survival. The birdawtchers not only observe the birds but also scientifically count the bird population and make notes of any other details they think important. At times they were not able to hide their excitement from us. ``we stopped at Akyol Village bridge in order to see the snakes, frogs, tortoises and turtle-dove `` `` …when we got there we saw hundreds of Nightingales but they were disturbed and flew away…`` or `` One of the storks in Ekin ambarı has returned to its nest after three weeks of absence..`` they note in their logs. They feel an overwhelming sadness when they see `` rubbish hasbeen dumped there, sewage collector trucks emtying their loads in to where our fish live, the bushes where Rufous-taled Scrub-robin, Black-heasded Bunting and Shrikes nest have been cut down.`` They regret to see that the bird population has not been counted for the last two years, since no civilian pasenger is allowed to enter the Milas-Tuzla Airport zone, situated at Gulluk Delta, because of international security rules…………….In order to call oneself a dedicated birdwatcher, apart from binoculars and telescope, one needs non-tearable trousers and shirts, water-proof and comfortable shoes and if you would like to feel well equipped, you may need a GPRS equipment (Tuzla: 37°.11N / 27° 33E) to be able to determine the exact spot you are standing at on earth. And a good camera if you would like to photograph what you see..
Those of you who happen to take notes on what they observe in this natural wonder can forward such details to the Birdbank. Birdbank is a Project on bird populations carried out by the Nature Society in co-operation with Erciyes University. You can also forward any data to www.kusbank.org or www.tustr.org . There are many web sites on the net providing the curious with information on birdwatching and encouraging the people to visit such natural wonders as Tuzla Wetlands. Don’t take the ‘swamps’ lightly. Apart from the shrimps you could have in Boğaziçi Village, situated at the end of the road going Northwards, there is something which attracts birds such as Eleanor’s Falcons, Red-Footed Falcons, Audouin’s Gulls, Dalmatian Pelicans, Red-Breasted Geese, Night Herons, İzmir Kingfishers, Spurwinged Lapwing and Dotterels amongst 21 different endangered species to this ‘swamp’. Certainly a visual feast for those native villagers as well as those who come to the area to visit. A native of the area underlines ‘ Tuzla lake and the surrounding marshes, where Gokbük River, the mainstream of thousands of creeks, meet the Aegean Sea in Güllük Bay is a wonderful catchment area where the birds, fish, tortoises, insects and humans have been living in harmony’.
We can only hope that human needs will not drive this area into extinction and we won’t have to recite the birds’ names in our songs.
We hope to see a future where the birds and shrimps are abundant!
(Translation Published in Bmagazine)