Discovering Turkey’s wildlife

A loggerhead turtle.
A loggerhead turtle.

Someone has been looking after me over the last few weeks.

I was on holiday, sailing in Turkey for two weeks, then on the day that we came home, the glorious week’s weather started here in the North-east, so I have had three weeks of sunshine - lucky me!

Turkey was a lovely country, with very friendly, helpful people and although I did not see many birds, the insect and marine life was fascinating.

The sea water was beautifully clear (and lovely and warm for swimming) and so I could see down into quite a depth of water when we were anchored. The shallows supported masses of fish of different sizes, shapes and colours from tiny little milky white fry with two vertical black stripes, through those a few inches long, orange in colour with a maroon blue ridge along the top of their bodies; in the deeper parts, predator like barracudas, sea bass and bream and huge groupers. The shoals of smaller fish would suddenly erupt from the water all at once, leaping out in quicksilver slivers, desperately trying to escape a predator.

Terrapins in the streams running into the sea, hauled out onto rocks and banks, baking themselves in the hot sun, yellow and green striped necks stretched upwards and eyes constantly watching for the slightest hint of danger, whereupon they would dive back into the water with a loud plop.

Well out at sea, we came across their much bigger relative, the loggerhead turtle, swimming gently along near the surface. Everything they do seems to be in slow motion - even when he raised his head out of the water to have a good look at us as we sailed past, he did so slowly and steadily. His head was a mosaic of patterns of dark brown on yellow, set with dark sad eyes and an amazing beak-like mouth. These turtles have the most amazing patterns and colours, their shells sporting white barnacles, are full of oranges, golds, browns and greens and they are huge! We also saw one in a marina, swimming effortlessly and languidly between the boats.

Also out at sea, we had two brief encounters with what I think was a pilot whale, which lolled on the surface, waving a slim black fin at us for a moment or two before diving down again.

On shore, insect life was amazing and prolific. The ground was alive with everything scuttling, skittering, leaping and flying. I watched with interest bees with copper-kettle, shiny, abdomens and stainless steel bodies, visiting the flowers of the herbs. Incidentally, the honey bees here along the coast produce the most amazing tasting honey from the pine trees. Everywhere you walked in the dry dusty countryside, grasshoppers by the hundreds spring away from your footfall, some of them strongly patterned, with red back legs and measuring an inch and a half. Swallowtail butterflies flitted among the flowers but most interestingly, on several occasions, we passed one of these lovely butterflies far out at sea, as it was blown past like a scrap of butter muslin, the sun shining through the sections of its lemon wings divided by black lines, making them almost luminous, like sunshine through stained glass.

Back on dry land, large spiders, a black and white patterned snake and lots of lizards caught my attention. I spent about ten minutes playing peek-a-boo around the trunk of a tree with a lizard. It had been on the ground and had scuttled off when I walked past, shimmying up a nearby tree, where it side stepped around the trunk, always ensuring that it was on the other side of the trunk from me, although allowing itself a quick peek around to check my position. Eventually it flattened itself against the trunk and relied on its camouflage, which I must say, was very good.

One afternoon, while tied up alongside a small pontoon, a huge cricket or grasshopper like insect landed on the boat. It had huge, muscly, hind legs and a small movement close to it proved that its jumping prowess was great. I was concerned that it would leap to a watery death off the side of the boat, so I carefully “herded” it along the boat and down the gangplank, across the pontoon and into the nearby vegetation. “It could only be you, Jane” my husband commented.

A walk high up into the dry, dusty hills revealed some spectacular views across the islands and gloriously-coloured sea, Huge, pale, rocky cliffs towered above me and there I spied goats, in ridiculously precarious positions, halfway up the cliffs, nonchalantly walking (and even jumping!) on ledges so narrow that they seemed almost non-existent, making my heart drop every time they moved. One stood on a rocky outcrop in ‘Monarch of the Glen’ pose, but without the grandeur or presence of a stag. Scruffy billygoats just do not have the same royal demeanor.

Frustratingly, I could also hear the calls of young birds of prey high up among the cliffs, but could not see them, until much later that evening, when two large eagles flew out from the tops of the cliffs and glided across the bay, high above our boat. They were too high and against the sun, so sadly, identification was nigh impossible.

A walk up the hill in the company of the chef from an isolated family restaurant also introduced me to the selection of wild herbs growing on the hillside. We exchanged Turkish and English names of them. Sage grew everywhere, like a weed, alongside thyme, marjoram and a few other that I couldn’t identify. On returning to the restaurant, he made me a fresh herb tea using the herbs we had collected.