The bird watching event on the wetlands of Calis really opened my eyes to just how many birds visit this important service station on the bird migration highway.

The salt marshes in Calis, Fethiye [Map link in a new window] are an important stopping off point for many species of birds as they make their annual autumn migration from North to South in search of warmer weather.  The 2 day event held last Saturday and Sunday was aimed at raising awareness of the importance of the area for wildlife and the need to preserve it.

I had signed up for the 8:00am Saturday morning bird watching session down on the wetlands of Calis after seeing the event advertised on www.fethiyetimes.com. I couldn’t quite make the ‘Dawn Chorus’ 7:00am shift but I did arrive 15 minutes early (in a very British manner of course) and was directed to the group of binocular clad people stood out on the mud flats just down from the State Hospital. This was the keen 7:00am group who I now joined and they were pointing out bird species, taking photos and chatting away.

I was marvelling at the early morning view of Fethiye and Babadag from Calis as well as the various boats bobbing in the bay when someone pointed to the opposite bank of the canal. There was the amazing sight of two colourful Kingfishers diving into the water and catching their breakfast. They darted around so quickly it was only because of their iridescent colours and high pitched calls that eI was able to keep track of them.

I looked around some more and there, in the middle distance, I could see eight white Egrets and a couple of taller Herons standing like statues waiting for tasty morsels to pass their way. I tried to mimic these birds and also stood like a statue by the water. After a minute or so I was amazed to see the number of small fish darting around in the shallow and muddy water. Now I see why this place is so important for the migrating birds; it’s like a service station at the side of the motorway but this one has places stuffed full of free food!

I moved with the group down towards the Calis prom and passed through the area of high reeds that line the canal. I heard wonderful bird calls and then, as I focussed, saw a warblers perching on the tall reeds. By this time I was starting to see and hear more and more birds. What was that, ohh look and other things like a small excited boy!

But the funny thing is, if I had walked through this area on my own as I have done many times, I would have probably only noticed the rubbish that litters the area and grumbled to myself about the mess.  But now, walking with this group of people and having things pointed out to me, I could see that the area is absolutely packed with bird life.

{mosimage}We moved off in the group and headed for the Calis prom where we stopped for breakfast in a small cafe. I sat with a Swiss guy called Heinz (we were the only two foreigners attending) and we chatted away about the event and how important it is that this habitat is protected. Heinz has been living in and visiting Turkey since the early 1980’s and has now settled in Fethiye. He said he remembered when the whole area was marshland but now all that really remained was this small area. Apparently the area is now protected and is called ‘Bird Paradise’ but we did wonder how long this ‘protection’ would last in this world of money and greed.

After breakfast I spoke with Suhenden Karauz of the Turkish Bird Research Association (www.kad.org.tr) who had come to the event from Ankara on the invitation of local animal protection and environmentalist Ali Esan. I asked if the species of birds visiting the area were declining as development sprawls down the coast. She said it is but it’s almost impossible to prevent the relentless development. Turkey is a fast developing country and, at this stage in the country’s development, money is the key driver in decision making rather than wildlife concerns. She also made the interesting point that Britain and Europe did similar things when they were initially developing in the 18th and 19th Centuries but were now trying to put those things right by re-establishing key habitats and species back into their countries.

I only attended the morning activities but later that day the group were planning to walk around the lake of Akgol near to Yaniklar, another haven for migrating birds, as well as view a slide show of all the birds that visit this area of South West Turkey.

I really enjoyed the opportunity I had to explore this ‘bird paradise’ as it is called and to realise that once the superficial littering is overlooked the area is actually teeming with fascinating wildlife.

The event was organised by FETAV and Ali İhsan chair of the Fethiye Nature Society.

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