Incredible Okçular!

Beauty and the Beast

J’s garden in a magical and mysterious place – a place where myth and legend and reality meld together; where beautiful virgin maidens peep shyly from behind trees and share their world with mighty, sulfur-belching dragons!

dragons and maidens

The beautiful virgins used to hang about just outside of our garden in the village graveyard, but the peace and tranquility they enjoyed there was disrupted by landscaping ‘improvements’. Imagine my delight today, to find a whole bunch of them had upped roots and settled in an ‘unimproved’ area of our plot. They join a ever-growing community of refugees from persecution by the dark forces of ‘Progress’!

Not far away, across the garden, can be found a nest of dragons in their lair – we generally peer at them from distance as the stench of their breath is best likened to that which accompanies the putrid smell of a rotting carcass in the hot sun! That said, they are the most stunningly beautiful creatures to behold with the sun light glinting in shades of green and purple and black off their leathery hides. Their only victims seem to be flies attracted by the offer of a free lunch!

Today I was able to capture a picture of the virgins as they danced in the dappled light of our woodland glade. Then, with luck on my side and a following breeze, I crept up behind a family of dragons and captured these shots before being driven off.

Welcome to our fantasy corner in  Okçular.

Vestal Virgins - Orchis sancta - the Holy Orchid




















The Dragon King - Dracunculus vulgaris - the Dragon Arum
The Royal Family - Dragon Arum or 'Snake Plant'
J and me away with the fairies















Alan Fenn, Fairyland ( Okçular Köyü)

Incredible Okçular!

The Rise of the Four Horsemen . .

. . yet another nail in the coffin of Turkey’s bio-diversity.

In a small corner of this beautiful but fading country, in the village of Okçular, Muğla, can be found all that remains of what the locals call Kara Göl or Black Lake. It once stretched over many square kilometres of the Dalaman river flood plain until villagers cut drainage canals in the mid-1960s that made fertile land available and viable year-round. This also eliminated the scourge of malaria that was endemic in the area.

What was left was a small, seasonal lake that appeared with the coming of the autumn rains and faded away with the coming of summer. Small it may be, but what a gem; beautiful in its reflections; beautiful for the wide variety of birds and other wildlife that populate its shallow pools and lagoons; just beautiful!

A recent visit by two biologists, Christophe Brochard and Ewoud van der Ploeg, specialists in dragonflies, has established beyond any doubt the importance of this quiet corner of SW Turkey. They came because 2 years ago I recorded and photographed one of Europe’s and Turkey’s rarest dragonflies, Anax ephippiger the Vagrant Emperor, in my garden. Last year I recorded this beautiful creature at other sites nearby.

Where were they breeding? Black Lake was the obvious choice, but scientists need proof, and now we have it. Christophe and Ewoud spent many hours, over several days wading through the mud in the full heat of the sun, searching for exuviae (the shed skin of the nymph).

They were successful. In fact they were not just successful; they were Spectacularly Successful! They found enough exuviae for their own research and to pass on to colleagues around Europe and Turkey; and the spectacular part? They found several examples of the nymph that were close to ‘hatching’. They were able to take these to their temporary laboratory where the process of transformation into this extremely rare and beautiful dragonfly could be photographed for the first time.

Their research programme covers the whole of Europe, including Turkey, with help from a small army of over 200 volunteers. The results will be published in book form some time next year and with Christophe’s camera skills promises to be a fascinating insight into a little understood and appreciated family of predators.

Okçular has shown itself to be a very special place with incredible bio-diversity. It is the home of perhaps Turkey’s rarest endemic plant, Alkanna mughlae; here too will be found the critically endangered, endemic sub-species of Fire Salamander Lyciasalamandra fazliae and the rare, endemic toad Pelosatus syriacus amongst so much else.

But, much of these will be under threat if plans to drain Kara Göl go ahead. Our village is split between those who want access to their land year round, and those who believe this last vestige of a once great lake should be left for all to enjoy. If the lake goes the frogs, toads, dragonflies, birds and many plants will go too and Okçular, Turkey and the world will be a little poorer. . .

. . . and the Four Horsemen will look down and smile!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü


Here There Be Dragons

My mother kept a dragon – she really did. It lived in a large pot behind the shed in the garden of the very new, post-war council house that we occupied back when I was a very young and impressionable child. She didn’t call it a dragon in those days, she called it a ‘Snake Plant’ and she told me that evil snakes were born from plants just like this one and I believed her. The stem was mottled like a snake and the leaves were shaped like a snake-headed Gorgon with a viper like quality (or so it seemed to me). Although the plant would sprout up each year there was never a flower and mother said that it only flowered every 7 years but when it did there would be snakes all over the place.

Then, one year the plant sprouted and seemed much thicker and stronger that ever before and from the top there grew a great green spike (a biologist will tell you that this is normal plant behaviour – I was not a biologist, I was 6 years old), mother said the flower was coming and so were the snakes! We waited.

When the flower opened it was amazing – and I really do mean amazing! A huge, purple, ‘thing’, of great beauty with a strange black spear sticking out of it. I remember spying on it from the relative safety of the corner of the house – I knew what was inside. Slowly, I summoned the courage to approach and look more closely and as I did so all of my worst fears were confirmed . . . here was a monstrous creature that devoured flesh. I could smell it – the stench of rotting meat was nauseating and flies massed and buzzed around the monstrous creation of evil. My dear mother soon added her pound of suppurating flesh to the mix when she informed me that she had seen the snakes dragging screaming babes down into the plant. Jeez, this thing scared the sh^%e out of me!

Anyway, time passed and we and life moved on and I didn’t give any more thought to ‘Snake Plants’ and those ‘missing’ babes – until I came to live in Okçular village and J and I went for a walk that first Spring. ‘Tanrım!’ as they say in Turkish – it all came back; my mother, the plant, my mother, the snakes, my mother, the missing babes, my mother, death, my mother, the stinking flesh, my mother . . my mother . .

Which brings me to a ‘poem’ by the Poet Laureate Philip Larkin:

They fu%$ you up, your mum and dad,

They don’t mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had,

And then some extras, just for you!

(this, is apparently, the most popular poem in the US which could be a pointer for all the damage the US government does around the world)

Anyway, all of that aside, let me introduce you to one of the most spectacular plants you will ever encounter in our neck of the woods. It is hugely beautiful, very common around our village (and, if you live in SW Turkey, common around your area, too) and deserving of your admiration from a safe distance. Why so? Because it has a ‘scent’ like one of the Orcs from ‘Lord of the Rings’ that has a peptic ulcer and a severe case of halitosis!! It is appalling – I kid you not! Meet Dracunculus vulgaris the Dragon Arum – admired from afar but never truly loved.

That said, it has naturalised itself in our garden and J and I are delighted. We nurture them (for now there are five) and enjoy their company and, because we are so polite, we never comment on their bad breath.

Okçular is a truly amazing place with beautiful flowers like the Dragon Arum; it is also home to one of the world’s rarest plants Alkanna muglae but more of that in another post. You can learn more about the flora, fauna and history of our village by visiting there are also books available that support the Okçular Book Project, find out more from the website.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Village