From coastal wetlands to high plateaus and rugged mountains, the vast and varied landmass that forms Turkey is a crucially important area for birds. It is also popular with people who love bird watching. However, Turkey’s wetlands, like many others in the world, are increasingly at risk from human development.
RAMSAR has made February 2nd World Wetlands Day and this year to mark the event we are visiting some of the few wetlands that survive in Fethiye and meeting some of the birds for which these are such important habitats.
But first of all, what is RAMSAR, why are wetlands so important and where can they be found in Fethiye?
“The Convention on Wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.”
Many bird species spend their lives in Turkey, some come to breed, whilst others make use of the country’s coasts, wetlands, marshland and mountains as useful stopovers on their long migrations.
Ornithologists have recorded more than 465 different species of birds in this geographically and climatically diverse country.
Why are wetlands so important?
Coastal wetlands, such as those in and around Fethiye, are complex ecosystems, significant resting areas on the migration routes of numerous species of birds, and they also play a vital role in maintaining the health and cleanliness of the coastal waters and sea beyond.
Historically, Turkey’s wetlands were regarded as dangerous and home to contagious diseases such as malaria. As a result, draining wetland areas was long regarded as unproblematic and even a civic duty.
Not that long ago – certainly in living memory – the whole of the coastal plain that now forms many districts of Fethiye was mostly wetlands.
A bird’s eye view of Fethiye
The Fethiye region is rich natural environment for wildlife. There are coastal plains, agricultural areas, wetlands, forests, mountains, highland pastures and high plateaus that become lakes in the winter, as well as several reservoirs.
These areas play host to more than 222 species, ranging from raptors – eagles, kites, kestrels, hawks and Ospreys, to the regular visitors such as bee eaters, European blue rollers, swallows and house martins, the languid marsh birds, such as purple heron, crane and stork through to the prolific song birds such as larks, nightingales, and thrush.
However, all these birds as well as their habitat are becoming increasingly vulnerable to development.
Bird Watching in Fethiye
If you like spotting birds you will be sure to be rewarded if you come to Fethiye. Here are a few places that are particularly popular with our feathered friends.
A very important ecosystem in the area, Akgöl lake and surrounding wetland is sometimes a little brackish, especially when the water level drops in the summer months. Nonetheless, the sweet water attracts many marsh birds in the spring. They congregate to feast on the rich algae, plant life, frogs and insects.
Some are the same birds that later fly to Girdev (see below).
A few years ago visitors to the lake in May recorded 26 different species of birds in one day!
There are a variety of habitats here, from open water to reed beds to coastal margins. As a consequence, the diversity of bird species makes this an excellent place to go bird watching, and there are good places for cover so that you can get really close sightings.
Make a point of going there if you haven’t already.
Küş Cenneti (Bird Paradise)
The Küş Cenneti or Bird Paradise is one of the few remaining areas of salt marsh hereabouts. Situated between Fethiye and Çalış, the reserve is similar to Akgöl, but more accessible and therefore developed.
There are many species of birds here, waders, coots, moorhens, cormorant, stork, hoopoe, ibis, to name but a few.
Sadly, although some of the area has been fenced not enough has been done to stop it being used for fly tipping.
Loss of wetland habitat
In the last 40 years, 1,300,000 hectares of wetlands* have been destroyed in Turkey and turned into agricultural, touristic, residential, or industrial areas.
Only 1,250,000 hectares of wetlands remain, less than 50% of the original amount and 40% of this has been destroyed in the last 20 years.
All these areas are resting places, restaurants and nurseries for birds, and we can only hope that they will continue to visit for generations to come.
This high plateau in the Ak Dağ Yaylası – the mountains between Fethiye and Antalya – lies at 1600 metres (5,250 feet.)
It is usually approached from the village of Temel – off the Antalya road, although there is an alternative route through the villages around Dereköy.
Access is via a two thousand-metre pass – 6,560 feet).
During the winter the high plateau roads are sometimes closed from snow, ice, rain and mud slides.
But in the late spring and early summer it is a different story.
Storks, hoopoes, crane and heron fly up to this area, studded by ancient twisted juniper, firs and jagged rocks, to plan their nurseries and to make new, or repair old nests for their summer accommodation.
Nurseries with altitude
Come the warmer, longer days of May and June there are up to 80 pairs of nesting storks in Girdev and altogether 90 species of birds have been identified in this area.
At this time you can also see Ruddy Shelducks, Cranes, Purple Herons,
Hoopoe and high above your heads kite, buzzards, eagles and hawks.
Girdev fills with snow during the winter months and when it melts this, together with the spring rains forms a massive lake, which slowly empties during the early summer through a series of cavernous tunnels in the limestone, rather like a plughole, leaving a marshy area, laced with streams, at the lowest slope of the plateau.
Froggy feasts and watercress
A seasonal wetland area, Girdev is an ideal habitat for frogs, dragonflies and damselflies, assorted
insects and plant life, providing a rich diet for the parent birds that can be seen feeding their young from late spring.
There is also a wonderful crop of wild watercress, which can add a tasty supplement to any picnic!
The storks nest directly above this area in the juniper trees.
Even at the height of summer when Fethiye is a sweltering 45 degrees, up in Girdev a blanket is a nighttime necessity.
This means the area is becoming an increasingly desirable location for ‘summer residences’ not just for the birds.
Bird watching trips
If you would like to learn more about birdwatching in and around Fethiye call Ali İhsan Emre on 0532 524 93 95 or email: email@example.com
Just a few of the birds that visit Fethiye
1) Scops owl**
2) White stork**
4) Woodchat shrike**
6) Crimson-winged finch*
10) Horned lark
11) European blue roller**
13) Rock thrush
**Photos courtesy of Ali İhsan Emre