Bird watching

Bird watching is an activity like no other which is relaxing but at the same time expands a person’s knowledge. Bird watching, which doesn’t mean merely observing birds but learning more about their ways of life and behavior, can also point us in the direction of other hobbies such as keeping records of the observations we make, making drawings, taking photographs and even recording the songs of birds.

Together with Gibralter, Turkey is situated at one of the most important points in the Old World for observing birds en masse, in other words, monitoring their migrations. Dependent on seasonal cycles, thousands of birds use Istanbul and the Dardanelles Straits in particular when they migrate. Birders from around the world come together on the Çamlıca hills and the ridges of Sarıyer to monitor the migrations. Not only that but birds from Europe and Asia head for Africa using the Arhavi-Borçka and Hatay-Belen passes in Turkey’s northeast and south respectively. The current season is a period when predatory species such as the Lesser Spotted Eagle, Black Kite and Levant Sparrowhawk have already started their migrations, which can be easily observed from the hills above Sarıyer.

Some of the best spots for starting to bird watch are the parks and gardens near where you live. Later you can branch out into woods and forests, seacoasts, rocky areas and estuaries, as well as lakes, dam reservoirs and rivers (wetlands). When we start observing birds in earnest, we discover that contrary to what we may think many more species than mere sparrows and pigeons are found around us. One of these species is the robin.

Another bird almost certain to come to you if you sit on a bench and scatter some bread crumbs is the dove, which is known in some areas as ‘Yusufçuk’ (turtledove) for its soft cooing call. Doves usually travel in pairs, which explains the origin of the Turkish expression, ‘like doves’. Other urban birds you will frequently come across are crows, a family that includes diverse subspecies such as the magpie, the carrion crow and the jackdaw.

When you to go a larger area with denser tree cover, you will finally meet up with some new birds. Heading the list of species you are likely to encounter in such a habitat are the finch and the tit. Constantly flitting from branch to branch, tits often perch upside-down. Foremost among the birds you will encounter in parks meanwhile is the blackbird, which darts from bush to bush making a cackling sound.

Coots, ducks and herons appear in habitats like lakes and riverbanks, where you may observe such species as the Grey Heron, Little Egret, Night Heron, Squacco Heron, Purple Heron and Cattle Egret either at rest or hunting. During the migration season, coastal birds such as the Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper may be observed.

If you look at the tops of trees, poles, pontoons and buoys, or on breakwaters especially, you will see cormorants lined up like soldiers drying their feathers. While not as varied as the seagulls, there are nevertheless several different species of cormorant. Another bird you will see on the Bosphorus is the shearwater.

When you’ve developed your birding skills, you will want to visit Turkey’s Important Bird Areas (IBA). IBA’s provide refuge to a significant number of bird populations and to bird species that are under threat of extinction on a world scale. There are 184 recognized IBA’s in Turkey, covering 14% of the country’s surface area. A UK charity called the RSPB holds title deeds to all of Britain’s IBA’s, which goes to show how effectively organized bird watching is in the west.

The following are Turkey’s important bird areas where you will be able to observe a large number of species: The Meriç Delta, and Lakes Manyas and Uluabat in the Marmara; the Kızılırmak Delta, Kelkit Valley, and the Kızılcahamam Forests in the Western and Central Black Sea region; the Eastern Black Sea and Karçal Mountains in the Eastern Black Sea; the Gediz Delta, the Büyük Menderes Delta, Dilek peninsula, and Lakes Maramara and Bafa in the Aegean; the Göksu, Seyhan and Ceyhan Deltas in the Mediterranean region; the Amanos, Bolkar and Beydağları Mountains in the south; Tuz Gölü (Salt Lake), and Lakes Akşehir, Eber, Kulu and Seyfe, and the Sultansazlığı wetland in Central Anatolia; the Munzur Mountains, Bulanık and Malazgırt plains, Lakes Arın and Erçek, and Ardahan Forest in Eastern Anatolia; and Karkamış, the valley of the southern Euphrates, and the Birecik Steppes in Southeastern Anatolia.

When a person who wants to go beyond merely admiring natural life and actually see it and be aware of it takes up bird watching, this is tantamount to stepping into a brand new world.

BINOCULARS: These are the sine qua non of bird watching. When taking long bird walks, climbing in rocky terrain or trudging through wetlands, it is useful to choose a pair of light-weight but high-magnification binoculars that will not obstruct your movement. The plethora of binoculars with different features on the market today may make your choice difficult. To make it easier, let us see through an example what binocular values mean: In a pair of 10x42 binoculars, the first value is 10. This value indicates the magnifying power.

A pair of 10x binoculars enables you to see the object 10 times closer than with the naked eye. The second value, 42, is the diameter in millimeters of the lens at the front of the binoculars. The higher this value the more light the binoculars will gather, thereby making it possible to distinguish colors more easily. Detail in the object being observed increases as both these values get bigger.

FIELD TELESCOPE: Those who advance in the art of bird watching will want to visit different wetlands to see even more species. More powerful than binoculars, telescopes can be used in areas where it is relatively difficult to get close to the birds. The ‘ocular’ or eyepiece of the telescope is a lens that brings things 40 to 60 times closer. When choosing an ocular, it’s a good idea to choose one with 20-60x magnification and with a zoom. Those who prefer to use a telescope will have to get a stable tripod on which to mount it to minimize the effect of the wind.

NOTEBOOK: Taking good notes is essential to being a good birder. The following data must be included for every observation: the date and time of the observation, the name of the area and, if possible, its GSP coordinates, the characteristics of the habitat, and the weather (temperature, cloudy/clear/rainy/windy). You need to count the number of species you recognize and record how many of each you observed.

In case of a species you cannot identify or are unsure about, the first thing you need to do is immediately note its important characteristics in the notebook you carry with you. Later you can use these field notes to figure out which species is the correct one from your guidebook.