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A MATCHLESS BIRD PARADISE
2002 / FEBRUARY

As spring clothes bare branches with leaves and blossom, it is time to take a break from daily life and do something different. Thirty kilometres from Izmir is a wildlife paradise with a unique ecosystem that is home to tens of thousands of water birds and plants: Izmir Bird Sanctuary. Altogether 250 species of birds, both native and migratory, are to be seen here, and in the winter months the total bird population is 90,000, making the sanctuary a wetland of importance not only in Turkey but in the world.
At the sanctua'sce visitors centre there is plenty to do before setting out. You can take a tea break in the cafeteria, look through the information brochures, go round the museum, and watch birds through telescopes.
If you have the time and energy for long hikes the best route is that through the hills and marshes. Another road for vehicles allows you to watch the birds from your car.

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A MATCHLESS BIRD PARADISE
2002 / FEBRUARY

We chose to walk and headed for the hills along a road leading first through salt marshes stretching far into the distance on either side. With the naked eye we could make out greater flamingos, and through binoculars we could see many bird species. On the little islets in the centre were colonies of avocets, and Dalmatian pelicans, a species that is endangered throughout the world, were winging over the water, barely a span from the surface. To the northwest a clutch of hills could be discerned. The first which we would reach was Lodos Tepe, named after the fierce southwest which buffets its slopes. Beyond it were Orta Tepe and Poyraz Tepe. All the way hundreds of Mediterranean gulls, summer migrants with snow-white plumage and black heads, kept us company. Admiringly we watched the acrobatic movements of the little terns and common terns as they dived into the water in pursuit of fish.

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A MATCHLESS BIRD PARADISE
2002 / FEBRUARY
Arriving at Lodos Tepe we saw the ruins of the ancient city of Leukai nestling amongst lush greenery, the air filled with the scent of thyme. Leukai was founded by the Persian admiral Takhos in 352 BC, and its inhabitants were perhaps influenced by the presence of so many birds when they chose the swan as the symbol of their city. Making our way through the ruins we came to the summit, which plunges in a precipice on one side. From here we looked out over a landscape of sand dunes bathed in sunlight and tiny islands in the shallow lagoons of Homa and Kirdeniz.
After enjoying the view for some time, we set out for Poyraz Tepe which looks out over a broad marsh, noted particularly for its abundance of duck of many species. Walking along we saw anemones and wallflowers beneath the trees, and the marshes below were a mass of camomile. Corn buntings, woodlarks and butterflies added colour and movement to this beautiful scene.
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A MATCHLESS BIRD PARADISE
2002 / FEBRUARY

From Poyraz Tepe we followed narrow paths that led towards the reedy marshes. In the sky above an imperial eagle soared, and at one point we came face-to-face with a fox which was evidently disturbed by our presence and hurried away. Other large mammals that inhabit the marshes include jackals, wild boars, badgers and stoats. As we walked along the edge of the marshes garganeys feeding in the shallow water around us, black-tailed godwits, and a short-toed eagle flying through the sky all made us conscious that the spring migration was underway. On the other side of the marshes we saw black-winged stilts and spur-winged plovers, and stopped for a while to watch these elegant birds. A long walk then brought us back to our starting point at the visitors centre.

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A MATCHLESS BIRD PARADISE
2002 / FEBRUARY
The vehicle route through the sanctuary leads through the kilometres of sand dunes around Homa Dalyan lagoon. If you halt here and start gathering seashells you will soon lose track of time. The mudflats formed by the tide inside the lagoon are home to sandpipers of many different species. Groups of several thousand birds wade tirelessly in search of food.
The late afternoon is the time to see cormorants. As the sun paints the clouds yellow, pink and then red, the cormorants appear by the hundreds to spend the night, reminding human visitors to the sanctuary that it is time to return home to the city.


* Ortaç Onmus and Soner Bekir are members of the Aegean Bird Watching Group
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