Wildlife around Owlsland

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Many of our happiest times are spent watching the abundant wildlife of the village and the mountains. If we're lucky, we can sometimes catch some of the animals and birds with the camera. But it's great just to sit, observe and watch as they go about their business.

red squirrel in almond tree Everybody has their own favourites, but we are besotted by the red squirrels who first moved into the garden in 2008. The first one found himself a mate, and they built a dray in the great old oak tree, where twins were born in the spring. More babies followed in subsequent years, and now (2011) the garden has seven squirrels!
These are red squirrels, the Persian or Caucasian Squirrel, sciurus anomalus. They can be found all over the Middle East, in Asia Minor, Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Israel, Jordan and Georgia, but not in Europe, except for a few which have found their way into Lesbos, one of the Greek islands. They're related to the red squirrel so beloved in Europe, sciurus vulgaris. persian squirrel
caucasian squirrel They live all over Turkey of course, but up till a few years ago there were none in Bezirgan itself, though you could see them at the north edge of the village and in lots of areas round about.
Then in 2008, for reasons we can't fathom, a few of them moved into the village, and now they have spread all though Bezirgan.
They're a real bunch of little chatterboxes, and can be heard chittering and scolding as they hurtle about the trees!
There's lots for them to eat in the garden - acorns from the big oak tree, walnuts, figs and lots of almonds, which seem to be their favourite. They'll eat them in the unripe, green state, or later once they harden into the nut we recognize. And as if it's not enough to munch our almonds, they've taken to throwing the discarded shells at the head of anyone who stands beneath the trees - talk about insult to injury! persian squirrel in almond tree
hedgehog enjoys dogs' dinner Several families of hedgehogs inhabit in our garden, living on beetles, worms and slugs - but they have become accustomed to adding to their diet whatever food the dogs leave uneaten in their bowls!
We regularly hear them scouting about for food at night and in the early morning, and this year we were delighted to be able to watch as the parents taught their two hoglets how to find a free meal! meandering hedgehog
hedgehog at night Of course, they can be found all round the village. One pair produced around 9 or 10 babies this year at the Cevizdibi, by the cafe, but the tawny owls there also had young to feed - and baby hedgehogs make an excellent dinner for fledgling owls, so sadly not one hoglet survived.
We always leave lots of piles of branches, twigs and leaves around to provide plenty places for the hedgehogs to hibernate, which they do from November to about mid-March. It's well worth not being too fussy about garden tidiness to have hedgehogs to watch - and of course we are very, very careful not to disturb heaps of leaves and twigs in autumn and winter in case a hedgehog or tortoise is in residence. hedgehog seeking beetles water
tortoise Wild tortoises can be found wending their inscrutable way all over the mountains of south Turkey, and Bezirgan is no exception. Many of them find their way into the garden, some staying for many years, and we recognize them as they come out of hibernation each year.
The eggs hatch in June, with the babies being about 5cm in diameter. For about 2 weeks after emerging from the egg their shells are soft, and the babies are vulnerable to predators. baby tortoise beside a 2-euro piece
tortoise in thyme Tortoises have existed on this Earth for some 230 million years, showing us up as wet-behind-the-ears newcomers with a mere couple of million, so though they may seem clumsy, there's no disputing the efficiency of the design.
Though we don't often actually see moles, there's plenty evidence left of their hard-working life! molehills in field
molehills showing some of the large stones thrown out by the mole Because Bezirgan is a dried-up lake bed surrounded by mountains, the fields at the base of the hills are very stony. Despite this, one of these tiny animals can produce a dozen molehills in the space of a night, moving many hundreds of stones, some of which are three times their weight.
A village with no natural running water, no streams, no pools and no lakes wouldn't seem to be the most likely place to find frogs, but they manage to find suitable habitats. We dug a small wildlife pond in the garden, which is proving popular with them. green frog in pond
green frog swimming in pool The males call to find a mate - and the loud, non-stop croaking chorus is one of the first harbingers of spring.
Toads abound too. This is the Green Toad, bufo viridis. green toad, bufo viridis
common toad, <i>bufo bufo </i> And the common toad, bufu bufo. This one has been round our garden for some years, and is quite the biggest we've ever clapped eyes on - not such a common toad at all! He can be seen wandering around the terrace at night, hunting for slugs or other titbits, and he doesn't appear to be the least concerned if there are people around.
Later in the summer, we can hear a loud chorus in the grape pergolas, which amazingly is emitted from the throat of this tiny fellow, the common tree frog, or to give him his Sunday name, hyla arborea. common tree frog, hyla arborea


Bezirgan is a brilliant place for bird watchers. It's not necessary to be an expert - the joy is in watching the birds go about their everyday business, with the added thrill of sometimes spotting a rare bird or a rare event.
Two hawks wheeling in the sky, screaming in an aerial dogfight....baby swallows demanding food....the crash! of a sparrow hawk hurtling from the skies into the rose arch after a sparrow....

little owl on traditional farmhouse We're often asked "why Owlsland?" And here's the reason!
Three kinds of owl can be found around us, and this is the commonest, the Little Owl, athene noctua. He can often be seen perched on the chimneys of the old traditional farmhouses.
Since they don't migrate, it's possible to see them all year, even in daytime, on the rafters of old buildings, on telephone poles, trees and fences. little owl on telephone wire
scops owls in plane tree Scops Owl, otus scops, is the smallest of the owls to be seen here, only about 8" high with a 20" wingspan.
He's a summer visitor, coming here from Africa to breed. This pair have nested in a bole of the great plane tree across from Owlsland for the past few years and raised chicks. pair of scops owls
tawny owl in plane tree The largest of our owls is the tawny owl, strix aluco. In the great old plane tree beside the Dervish Cafe, a pair nest every year.
The robin redbreast is surely the world's favourite bird, and here he is in Turkey, too. Whenever anyone ploughs or digs, there he is at their side, hoping for worms. The Turks call him "kina", which is "henna", for his red breast. robin in winter
black redstart in winter Some birds are welcome winter visitors, like this black redstart, which is easily recognized by the vivid flash of red from his tail as he flies.
Like the robin, he will stay close to a gardener, knowing that a tasty grub may be his reward. Here, he's on one of the ancient pieces of carved stone which litter the village, legacy of the Lycians, the Greeks and the Romans. black redstart on an ancient piece of carved stone.
juvenile sparrowhawk There are lots of birds of prey in the valley, but most are very rarely garden visitors. The exception is the sparrowhawk. Usually when he comes, all you see is a flurry of feathers and a crash as he falls from the sky onto a hapless small bird.
Recently, this young female sparrowhawk, with her brown feathers and and barred chest, and her eyes still of yellow not yet turned to orange has taken to paying us a visit. She doesn't just swoop down on her chosen prey, but will follow it on foot into cover, as she is doing here. juvenile sparrowhawk in winter
male goldfinch in spring A male goldfinch is a spectacular sight, with his glowing colours. They're seed-eaters, eating seeds of the thistles which are plentiful by the edges of the fields.
They especially love sunflower seeds, and we've found that the smaller-headed varieties like "Moonwalker" and "Teddybear" stand better than the common huge sunflowers, giving lots of smaller seeds, and attracting lots of goldfinches.
One of the loveliest songs to be heard must surely be that of the black headed bunting. Another migrant who leaves us for the winter, he likes to sing perched on the highest branches of small trees and large shrubs. male black headed bunting
bluetits nesting in postbox There's a postbox in the centre of the village, where we can post our letters. But this pair of bluetits found a much better use for it!
It's right beside the Dervish Café where all the men sit for hours, but people coming and going didn't seem to bother them in the least. bluetits nesting in postbox
bluetits nesting in post box They flew in and out with food for the chicks, and successfully raised a whole brood last year. We hope they'll come back next year - only problem is that no one could post anything till the fledglings flew!
We love to listen to the "coo COO coo" of the collared dove, and there are three pairs regularly visit the garden. collared dove
pair of collared doves They happily mix with the garden's huge flock of resident sparrows, sharing the barley, bulgur wheat and seeds we put out for them.
Possibly our favourite summer visitors are the swallows, who arrive every year about mid March. Despite being tiny creatures weighing about 20 grammes, they have flown all the way from Africa.
And even more amazingly, they find their way back to the same nest! Groups of them can be seen collecting mud for necessary repairs, or to build new nests.
swallows gathering mud for nesting
swallow chicks in nest A nest in our garage is home to one pair who happily raise a brood of chicks every year, apparently not even slightly concerned by our moggies.
The chicks have a constant state - hungry, hungry, hungry! swallow chicks in nest
swallow chicks in nest Their harassed parents are kept busy from morning till night feeding them.
Being faced with an array of wide open beaks and ceaseless demanding shrieks can't be easy. swallows feeding chicks
swallow chicks being fed What they do is always feed the middle chick.
Then when the parent flies off to seek more insects, the fledglings shuffle round the nest, ensuring that a different baby is middle one next time.
Which is pretty clever when you think about it!
Chaffinches stay with us all year. They're birds which perhaps tend to be overlooked, which is a pity, because their brightly coloured plumage is quite spectacular and their song is varied and lovely (and loud!). male chaffinch singing
willow warbler on bronze fennel Bronze fennel is a great favourite with small seed eating birds in autumn. This is a willow warbler.
A pair of masked shrike breed in the garden every year, and the male has to spend much of his time chasing jays, which would eat the eggs or the chicks, away from his nest. Though but a fraction of its size, he flies above the jay, then drops on the larger bird like a stuka dive bomber, succeeding in seeing off the would-be thief. masked shrike
masked shrike with a caterpillar In between fighting off predating jays, the pair of shrike have to find time to feed the growing chicks. Here, he has caught a caterpillar...
....and here he lives up to his nickname of "butcher bird" as he finishes it off. masked shrike with a caterpillar
male blackbird singing in tree Surely if there is one thing guaranteed to brighten the day, it has to be the song of a blackbird in the early morning.
You maybe can't repay the beauty and sheer joy of a blackbird's song, but you can offer him some food to see him through the hard days of winter. We save apples and quinces from the fruit trees, and get lots of blackbirds coming to eat them. blackbird eating windfall apples
syrian woodpecker Syrian woodpeckers are abundant here. You can hear their unmistakeable loud "drumming" on a tree trunk from a long way off, and spot their very distinctive wavy flight.
Another bird which stays all year is the great tit. Several families of them nest in the eaves of the house, and they're our best customers at the bird feeders!. great tit
whinchat This is a whinchat in the early spring.
Hoopoes are fairly uncommon in Bezirgan, though you do see them occasionally. A spectacular bird, called "Baltali" in Turkish, from "balta", meaning "axe" because of his axe-shaped crest.
Cretzschmar's bunting on a rock It definitely isn't necessary to be an expert to enjoy birds.
But if you can casually throw a mention of a Cretzschmar's Bunting into a conversation, it's sure to convince listeners that you're David Attenborough!
Another migrant, these return here in early spring.
Another migrant which returns in early spring is the Sardinian warbler, pictured here in the acacia tree. sardinian warbler in acacia tree
ortolan bunting in spring Spring is a busy time for returning migrants! This is another, the Ortolan bunting.
One of the sweetest singers of all is the skylark, whose song would make the most downcast of spirits soar.
They're common around the edges of the village, where they nest in the large expanses of flat cornfields.
skylark in a field
a rock nuthatch on a telegraph pole And speaking of sweet singers, another is the rock nuthatch.
Because of his song, he's locally known as "bulbul", the word for the nightingale.
The rock nuthatch nest is an astonishing construction of mud, sometimes built against a house wall, as here, but often on a rock. the nest of a rock nuthatch
bee-eater in may Probably the most spectacular spring migrant of them all, the Bee-eater.
With his vivid colours, his long delicate beak designed for picking bees from the hives, and his distinctive warbling cry, he is unmistakeable.
Probably our favourite bird in the garden is the sparrow, because they're real survivors.
A huge flock of them takes up residence in the big rambling rose arch, which protects them against cats and hawks alike.
flock of sparrows in rambler rose
sparrows eating from dogs' dishes They'll eat anything - insects, bulgur wheat, barley, fruit, cheese, birdseed, anything we put out for the birds, and even what we put out for the dogs!
And they'll nest anywhere - every gutter-end has a sparrow's nest, and they happily take up residence in the nest boxes.
If you look closely you can see one of the chicks demanding food!
sparrow feeding chicks in nestbox
sparrow chicks in nest box The pair which nest in this box generally have two clutches every year, so they're kept endlessly busy feeding babies like these ones.
Another summer visitor is the oriole. The flash of bright yellow amongst the trees is unmistakeable, but it's quite difficult to catch him in one place long enough to get a picture. oriole in spring
collared flycatcher in olive tree The collared flycatcher is a perfect example of camouflage in action.
There are lots of wheatears around, sometimes quite difficult to tell apart. This one is a male black-eared wheatear.
oenanthe hispanica
black-eared wheatear in April
pied wheatear Another wheatear, this time a pied wheatear, oenanthe pleschanka
The villain of the piece! Though the jay is a beautiful bird with his colourful plumage, he is a feathered thug who will steal and eat the eggs and young chicks of the other birds. Unfortunately, their numbers are growing, since they have very few predators.
pied wagtail The pied wagtail is a striking bird, and easily spotted by his distinctive gait and long wagging tail.
Lots of warblers to be seen, too, and again, often quite hard to identify. This one is hippolais pallida, the olivaceous warbler.
olivaceous warbler
chiffchaff Another little warbler, the chiffchaff is very like the willow warbler to look at, but can be told apart by his song, which gives him his common name. In latin, he is phylloscopus collybita.
We know that summer's drawing to its end when the swallows start to mass on the wires prior to migrating south for the winter.
swallows gathering on telephone wires
Booted Eagle in flight Magnificent birds of prey abound in the mountain, and sometimes they soar down over the valley. This is a Booted Eagle, Heiraaetus pennatus, one of the smaller eagles, which swoops down to catch small mammals, reptiles and small birds on the ground.

Butterflies and Moths

We love watching the birds in the garden, but another whole dimension is provided by the marvellous glory of the butterflies.
We've been gardening organically at Owlsland for 14 years now, and are rewarded by a huge increase in both the different varieties and the numbers of butterfly. The best months to see them are April, May and June.

Of course, you don't need to be able to identify these gorgeous, fragile creatures to enjoy their beauty, but it is satisfying to be able to put a name to them. For anybody interested in Turkey's butterflies, there's a marvellous book called "A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Turkey" by Prof. Ahmet Baytas, published by NTV, which will tell you all you'll ever need to know!

Green Hairstreak butterfly A Green Hairstreak.
These beauties are Eastern Festoons, showing the lovely markings of both sides of the wings. a pair of Eastern Festoon butterflies
Eastern Steppe Festoon butterfly A truly gorgeous Eastern Steppe Festoon on rosemary. These are very similar to the Eastern Festoon (above).
Blue butterflies abound in April & May. This one rejoices in the name of Green-underside Blue! Green-underside Blue Butterfly
Comma butterfly on cherry blossom A Comma on cherry blossom in April. These butterflies can survive by hibernating all through the winter, which explains the rather tattered state of its wings.
Another comma, again the hibernating form, but this one seems to have passed an easier winter! Comma Butterfly
Powdered Brimstone butterfly A Powdered Brimstone, another species which overwinters as an adult. It's one of the first species to fly in early spring .
Painted Lady butterflies can be seen all through the summer and autumn, even into December on occasion. Painted Lady butterfly
Southern White Admiral butterfly on pyracantha A Southern White Admiral butterfly in May on flowering pyracantha.
A Southern White Admiral again, this time showing the lovely markings on the underside of its wings. Underside of Southern White Admiral butterfly
Common Blue Butterfly May and June sees clouds of these wonderful sapphire butterflies, which may well be the Common Blue - but since there are dozens and dozens of species which all look terribly similar, then again it may not!
Whatever they are, their sheer numbers are breathtaking. You just have to touch a lavender bush or a valerian plant to release clouds of them. cloud of butterflies on lavender
It's only the males which are blue, whilst the female common blue is brown - but still lovely!
Probably the commonest butterfly in Turkey is this one, the Large White.
Cleopatra butterfly The wonderfully named Cleopatra is a variety of the Brimstone butterfly, but is restricted to the coastal areas of the country. This one is a female.
There are four very similar Wall Brown butterflies, so called because they are most frequently to be seen basking on rocks and walls. This one is the Large Wall Brown, and can be distinguished from the Wall Brown by the little satellite spot beside the large spot on his forewing. Large Wall Brown Butterfly
Scarce Swallowtail butterfly on lavender One of the most spectacular of the butterflies to be seen in the garden has to be the Scarce Swallowtail (which is actually not so scarce as the swallowtail itself!) A new variety of lavender which we started to grow a few years ago seems to be irresistible to both species, and we've seen as many as five individuals on the bush at one time, which is a most unusual sight.
And this is the Swallowtail, arguably the most beautiful of them all, certainly the showiest. Swallowtail butterfly
Swallowtail butterfly This photo shows the underside of the swallowtail's wings, as he feeds on thistle flowers.
This butterfly always rests with closed wings - he's a Dark Clouded Yellow, one of the commonest of the eight different clouded yellow butterflies in Turkey. Dark Clouded Yellow butterfly
Anatolian Skipper butterfly There are lots of butterflies of the Skipper family in Turkey. This one is (appropriately enough!) the Anatolian Skipper.
One of Europe's best known butterflies, the Red Admiral, and here he is in Turkey too. Red Admiral butterfly
Syrian Rock Grayling butterfly Perhaps not as vivid as some of the others, but attractive just the same is the Syrian Rock Grayling.
Valerian is one of our favourite plants in the garden - not only does it not need watered often, even in the driest weather, it flowers continuously for about 9 months of the year. And best of all, it attracts bees and butterflies galore! These are Powdered Brimstones and Common Blues. Powdered Brimstone & Common Blue butterflies on valerian
Emperor Moth in April A rarity in these parts, and one we've seen only twice in all our years here is the magnificent Emperor Moth. With a wingspan of 15cm, it's one of the biggest moths to be seen here, with beautiful velvety markings giving it superb camouflage against woody, earthy ground.