Ambushed!

Okçular-Village-Guide_1This coming year will see the gradual winding down of the Okçular Book Project. It was started by way of giving something back to our village for all the love and support we have been given since we were fortunate enough to land in the lap of this farming community.

Originally conceived as a small booklet that would tell a few stories, that could be sold to raise a few lira that could be used for the benefit of the community, the project mushroomed into two guides that over the years has raised thousands upon thousands of lira. To say that our expectations were exceeded would be a gross understatement!

With the exception of two items, a playground in the village centre and a village photo archive, all other projects funded from the books have centred around the school. The creation of the beautiful murals and gardens with Gülay Çolak and Fiona MacRae that so transformed the formerly drab, utilitarian seat of learning came first.

gulay fiona

Fiona and Gülay

the old geezer

the Old Geezer bending his back . . again!

mural crewthe murals crew

This was followed by wi-fi for the whole school; bicycle racks; a library in every classroom; the restoration of a beautiful old wooden outdoor chess set and making a tiled board; the funding of a complete science cupboard.

chess

Ok school watering sys

Okcular school10

Recently the book money provided an agricultural-grade watering system that will keep the garden plants and young trees alive throughout the long, hot summer holidays. This was followed by steel railings to protect the the system and the plants from over exuberant ball games. And there is still plenty of cash in the kitty to do more as needs arise!

So, you may well ask why we feel it is time to wind the Book Project down – it’s a good question. The answer has everything to do with need for complete rewrites and re-vamping of both guides which would entail a huge amount of time and work and the fact that neither of us is getting any younger and there are many other things/projects we want and need to find time for.

Anyway, moving on – 23rd of April is National Sovereignty and Children’s Day here in Turkey and each year we go down to our village school to show our support for the efforts of the children and teachers in their celebration. Here are a few photos to give you a taste:

Okcular school3

Okcular school4

Okcular school5

 

Okcular school6

Okcular school7

the pre-school class getting their ducks in a row – sort of!

Okcular school8

okcular school9

Part way through the proceedings J and I were startled to hear our names and a summoning over the audio system. Mystified and a tadge embarrassed in front of all the children and parents, we gathered at the rostrum where there followed a fulsome thank you from the head teacher for the support given by us through the Book Project over the years. As I shuffled my feet, J was presented with a wonderful armful of flowers and promptly burst into tears!

Okcular school1

Okcular school2

. . in the national colours of Turkey, too!

Alan Fenn, ‘Ambushed’ but very happy to be part of Okçular Köyü

Ambushed!

Black and White

We had a treat here in Okçular today – a rather uncommon visitor dropped in on Black Lake for a quick bite before moving on. Ciconia nigra, Black Storks stopped by on their way from equatorial regions of Africa to their nesting grounds in northern Turkey and Europe

Ciconia nigra distribution

yellow – breeding range; blue – wintering range; green – year round

Relying, as they do, on thermals to assist their long passage-making, they tend to use three overland corridors – in the West they follow the coast and cross into Europe via Gibraltar; in the central Med they cross from Tunisia and then island-hop through Malta and Sicily into Italy. In the East they use the Red Sea, Sinai, Syrian shoreline before swinging a left along the Turkish coast and then north through the Bosphorus and then spreading out to their breeding grounds across Europe and Russia.

Most of us living here in Turkey are familiar with the Black Stork’s close cousin, the White Stork. The Whites are much more tolerant of us humans. Blacks, on the other hand are shy and wary creatures choosing to live away from human disturbances and so getting a chance to see them is a rare treat. In the past, on odd occasions, we have seen single Blacks and couple of  times there have been two of them feeding up on the lake before disappearing as quickly as they arrived. Today, J set off in the car only to rush back to let me know that there were black birds on the lake. The lens I had available is a 300mm and the birds were a long way off – this is the best I could do . .

Black and White Storks1a White arrives to keep the blacks company

Black and White Storks2

. . here are some pics from serious photographers . .

Black Stork1a couple of adults

Black Stork2

Black Stork juvanile

a juvenile

Such beautiful creatures . .

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

 

Black and White

This’n’That

Life has felt rather full of ‘doing stuff‘ these past 10 days or so. The old back and knee bones have most definitely been ‘connected’ and are feeling the pace and their age. This despite the fact that we have a very good and reliable young man in our occasional employ who does pretty much anything we ask of him whenever we ask. He’s a really good ‘Gopher’ and ‘Dopher’!

Moving on: Living with us we have very beautiful teenager by the name of Platanus orientalis, who also answers to the name of ‘You Gorgeous Thing’, YGT for short. One day, all things being equal, YGT will grow to over 30 metres in height and attain an age that Methuselah would have been proud of had he lived that long! Methuselah, of biblical fame, lived (so it says) for 969 years. He obviously got tired of swimming against the tidal wave of ageing because he popped his clogs just seven days before the start of the Great Flood. It’s likely that Mr Noah would have denied him passage anyway on the grounds that he was well over the reproductive hill . .

methuselah_syndrome-ianlome

. . and not very pretty, either! (artwork from Ian Lome)

The other Methuselah is a splendid old Grand Basin Bristlecone Pine aged around 4850 years and YGT, with its ‘live fast, love hard, die young’ mentality, does not expect to be around long enough to get that bored!

METHUSELAH bristle cone

trust me – this Methuselah fairly bristles with health

Dredging up these snippets of mostly useless information gives me great pleasure – especially when I find myself standing with creaking joints, gazing into cupboards and wondering why I’m there!

Anyway, getting back to YGT, like most teenagers these days it’s been getting a bit too big for its roots and causing some upset and cracks around the fabric of the family home! The very foundations of our life together were being disrupted. Something had to be done!

roots

Now, we love YGT and have no intention of giving it the ‘bonsai snip’ – no, we decided that the answer was more freedom because, as they say, with freedom comes responsibility. The responsibility not to be a bloody nuisance and cause any more upheavals for at least the next ten years! I mean, there was masses of concrete that had to be lifted and recycled into usable rubble for extra ‘blinding-off’ . .

rubble

. . a new retaining wall to be built, new concrete to lay followed by relaying of the stone paving.

brick terrace

Knowing how I feel right now, today I informed YGT that we now have a new social compact (as Old Labour liked to call any new bit of anti-union legislation) and if I’m faced with a repeat performance before I shuffle-off this mortal coil then YGT will become Fx4 – ‘Free Fuel For the Fire’ in very short order!

In between laying bricks and feeling knackered J and I were ‘hosting’ some 60 young students from the International School in Istanbul for part of a day. They have been coming to this corner of Turkey for about three years now and the organisers like to bring them to Okçular where we take them on a visit to our beautiful Kocadere Valley and give them some idea of the value of these places and the need to protect them . .

students in Kocadere

. . before they end up at our village primary school. There these children, usually from a privileged background, intermingle with the kids from our school who mostly come from a very different background. It is a formula that has proved to be very stimulating and very constructive. This year the visitors brought a gift of loads of footballs and basketballs bought with money raised from a cake bake and sale.

international students at Okcular primary school1

international student in Okcular2

international chess game Okcular

there was even an international chess match

Finally, adding to the ‘stress’ of fitting everything in, we went to our bolt-hole to check out a promising plot of land – it was pretty good, just didn’t quite light the blue touch-paper. This is what pushed all the right buttons . .

 the perfect place

. . the view from this relic of a bygone time. If it all comes together, and it is a big ‘if’, then this really is worthy of a proper restoration job – right down to the last cow pat and straw brick!

Dungroamin

For a name I thought ‘Dungroamin’ was as good as any!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

This’n’That

Martens

Martens have attitude! Like the boots of the same name, they have a reputation to live up to that has ‘if you see me comin’ better step aside!’ written all over them. Weighing in at 21 inches and three and a half pounds they are the equivalent of a gang of skinheads on speed!

skinheadsdon’t make eye-contact!

Just as your average skinhead is some mother’s son, so Martes foina – the Beech or Stone or White Breasted Marten (thanks for the heads-up, John) has its admirers too – J and me, for a start! We have a family of them living somewhere nearby and they visit us every night. Actually, it would be more accurate to describe their visits as visitations because we have never actually seen them!

We became aware a few years ago that something or other was raiding J’s compost bins and, as well as eating a lot of the stuff, was lining things like half-oranges, egg shells and coffee filters along the wall. An infra-red, motion detecting night camera soon had the culprits in the frame.

Over time their brazen kleptomania has had them doing Olympic-style gymnastics to get at the food on our bird tables amongst other things. (click here for other videos of these rogues) Lately, we have been awoken in the dead of night by the sound of burglars throwing stuff about downstairs. We’d come down to a scene that has become typical of the way that the ‘modern’, degenerate young thief doesn’t just nick the family silver but chucks stuff about before crapping in the middle of the carpet or sofa!

pine marten crapbiologists tell this is ‘spraint’ – territorial marking – I call it mindless vandalism!

. . and this is the culprit!

beech marten

‘Fagin’ aka ‘One -Eye’ aka Beech/Stone/White Breasted Marten – Martes foina (leader of this gang of four or five tow-rags)

Pine-martens

together with the apprentices The Artful Dodger and Charley Bates

Pine Marten

the better-known European Pine Marten – Martes martes (stunning photo from markcauntphotography.com)

beech marten 3the SAS in action at the Iranian Embassy siege (Martes foina)

cap_badge_of_sasWith semi-retractable claws like a cat and a set of dentures that owes its lineage to Tyrannosaurus rex these little cuties are the SAS of the animal kingdom and, just like the real thing, it is not a good idea to underestimate what you are dealing with – unlike a certain Swiss footballer by the name of Loris Benito who, to protect him from ridicule, shall remain nameless . . .

fool1

pine attack

fool2

The score was 1-0 after injury time – ‘Who Dares Wins’? – nah! ‘Who Dares Is Stupid’!

Finally, here’s a bit of video I’ve strung together of our pitiful attempt to distract the vandals:

Things That Go Bump v3.0.2 from Alan Fenn on Vimeo.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Martens

Adieu Provence

. . with apologies to author Peter Mayle – not that I think he ever wrote a book of that title, but just in case!

‘Adieu’ is not really appropriate; ‘RIP Provence’ would be a title more to the point. J and I have lost a friend, a Provençal Lady of great, if delicate, beauty who lived her life very close to the edge. We would visit her every year without fail at about this time – an assignation that we kept secret from everyone else for fear that her uniqueness (certainly around here) might lead to her violation.

Now it is over and she is gone – swept away in a terrible landslide that carried off her and her home, leaving nothing behind but loose scree and the tracks of a bulldozer. We were there today to fulfil our promise made several years back to visit each year, pay our respects and compliment her on her new Spring outfit. It was not to be. So sad!

landslip1

the new track above her home . .

landslip2

. . and the devastating consequences!

Her demise could have been avoided had some petty bureaucrat paid attention to her situation before sending a bulldozer to drive a new road into the mountain above her home. The machine dislodged great amounts of rock and soil which crashed down the mountainside carrying everything before it.

We are devastated! Here are a few photos – ‘In Memoriam’, if you will. Try as we might, we never found another like her and that valley where she lived will never be the same. She is gone but will never be forgotten!

Orchis provincialis 03_1

Orchis provencalis – Provence Orchid  It was never possible to get really close, living where she did on the edge of a near-vertical cliff – these shots were taken with a long lens and a lot of knee-trembling!

Orchis provincialis 06_1

her trademark green and brown polka-dot skirt is visible

. . one of her distant relatives was there to shed a few tears, too

RIP0006_1

Alan Fenn, (in mourning)

Adieu Provence

. . It’s A Duck!

The last post (blogging as opposed to bugle calls) had J and me diving out of the house for a breath of fresh air between the downpouring, monsoon-like rains. We decided to wander around to our beautiful Kocadere Valley and check the water flow situation and see what we could see along the way. Flowing water is only visible in the valley after heavy rain as it generally flows underground so it would be a chance to get a few photographic impressions.

Kocadere is, in my opinion, an impressively beautiful place and it’s hard not to feel a sense of deep satisfaction at having been instrumental, along with many others, in helping to preserve its uniqueness whenever I walk there. It is, after all, the home of many rare or beautiful species of flora and fauna.

Iurus dufoureius ssp asiaticus (4)_1

Iurus dufoureius – Europe’s largest scorpion and one of the rarest

Alkanna muhglae

Alkanna muhglae – in all its glory

Lyciasalamandra fazliae

Lyciasalamandra fazliae – Fire Salamander

kocadere0043_1

rushing water and towering cliffs

kocadere0044_1

Whilst we were poking around inside the valley we spotted these beautiful Horseshoe Orchids . .

Horseshoe Ophrys

Ophrys ferrum-equinum – Horseshoe Ophrys

Horseshoe Ophrys

. . amidst masses of Crown Anemones.

crown Anemone

We also gathered an audience who were very curious about what we were up to . .

kocadere sheep
The real highlight of the day happened on the way to the valley when we had to divert off the track and through an olive grove because of flooding. There, under a couple of the trees lay a group of Ophrys (a large family usually referred to as Bee Orchids) of a species that I had not seen before.

Orchids in general and Ophrys in particular can be notoriously difficult to pigeon-hole because of their ‘life-style’ which is best described as promiscuous! Here is a quote from the research unit at Reading University;

‘Orchids can often generate great taxonomic challenges due to interspecific and even intergeneric hybridization. However they are often eye-catching and something people want to be able to identify with confidence. With Ophrys, at least, the more specimens you see the more convinced you become that the plants are not following any rule book when it comes to behaving as species, and genes flow between one species and another to form recognizable hybrids and sometime these give rise to new species.’

In other words, they sleep around a bit and not just with their own! (if I may be permitted such a politically incorrect term) Anyway, when we got home out came my various reference books and for me it has to be Ophrys isrealitica so-called because it was first recorded and tagged in Israel in 1988. I sent photos to various (orchid) groups who did not dissent and also put it up on Facebook for those who are interested because, although not rare for the Eastern Mediterranean or several of the Aegean Islands, it has not been recorded this far west here in Turkey.

There was one person who questioned the ident, but as a non-academic enthusiast without access to sophisticated DNA analysis equipment – if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck – it’s a duck!

Ophrys isrealitica

Ophrys isrealitica

Ophrys isrealitica

And it’s another new species for Okçular – I think that is 39 now!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

ps the stormy weather seems to have done many strange things including messing up my previous WP theme. I’m not that enamoured of this one, but it will have to do until I summon up the will to do something about it.

Image

Fun Guys

It’s been a bit wild and woolly down here in Okçular these past few days – howling gales and torrential rain – fairly normal for the time of year! I can often be found, book cast aside, standing with my nose stuck to the window feeling glum.

stormy Okcular

the aftermath

Being shut in with J for a few days can lead to some interesting, usually suppressed, behaviour surfacing. Scrabble is a good example and is a sure indicator that life is not normal!

Okcular after the storm

the aftermath of the aftermath

Anyway, even stormy weather passes eventually, the sun comes out and we are able to venture out into the verdant, green, dripping forest that is our backyard. So, bank the fire, put your wellies on and join us, as it turns out we met some really fun guys . .

Fruity Brittlegillhere’s the first of the fun guys by the name of Fruity Brittlegill

Common Puff Ball

and his sidekick Common Puff Ball

Gilded Brittlegill

Gilded Brittlegill

the Gilded Brittlegill twins

fungi

any idea who this fun guy is?

Meanwhile the sun continued to shine . .

Okcular in the sun

fungi

some of the fun guys wear beautiful, frilly petticoats

slime fungiwhilst others are really slimy types

cup fungi

don’t know who this guy is

Crested Coralone of the nicest of the fun guys, Crested Coral

Hope you enjoyed meeting the guys. Whilst none of them are magic, they can have some really interesting effects on you if you join them in a meal – I wouldn’t take a chance on any of them.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Fun Guys

Our Family Trees

There is an area just behind our house that once was a source of pocket money for a less than creditable muhtar. He would oversee the removal of trailer-loads of rock that was ideal as a base material for tracks and small construction jobs. Over time the removal created a mini ‘Red Cliffs of Dover’ with the wall to the village graveyard perched on top. When he started to dig out behind my garage/workshop I threatened him with a complaint and put a stop to his activities in this area at least.

We knew from experience and plain, common sense that the ‘cliff’ was unstable and told him so – ‘Problem yök, (no problem) profesyonal, profesyonal!’ (professional) pointing at the digger driver. Two days after we got rid of him and his bloody digger the first collapse occurred, not too serious, but an indicator of what could follow. That was when J and I began a programme of planting young trees and collecting seeds from trees all over Turkey.

Acer cappadocicum ssp divergens

seedling of Acer cappadocicum ssp divergens (seeds from L. Van)

Common sense and a man from the Forestry Authority told us that most of the seedlings that ‘hatched’ wouldn’t make it but we nurtured them anyway. Our idea was to try and stabilise the ground and discourage anyone else from digging stuff out.

A few years later a second small collapse left parts of the wall undercut and we thought that the big one couldn’t be far away. More years passed by, we continued planting and nurturing and the trees continued to grow. The ugly red cliff was almost forgotten as the trees screened it away from view. In the rainless summer months I would drag out the hose and keep the young trees alive. Gradually a mini climate developed and other species settled in and made themselves at home. The dozens of Red Pine seedlings that we planted began to seed and produce young. The Toros Cedar thrived despite being a couple thousand metres too near sea level. The Eucalyptus must be fifty feet high now and the Carobs are doing great. Of the seeds of the Cappadocian Acer from Lake Van that we planted, two survived to be potted on and eventually set in place. They are slender and fragile but one day they will grow into beautiful, graceful adulthood. Here are some photos of adult trees of species we have planted near the house wherever there was space. We even have an English Horse Chestnut that we grew from a conker!

Acer cappadocicum ssp divergens

adult Acer cappadocicus ssp divergens

Pinus brutiaRed Pine Pinus brutia

I should say ‘were’ for some of these because a few days back the inevitable happened after some heavy rain and a biggish section of the cliff has come down bringing the cemetery wall with it. Our mini Special Forest has taken a real knock. We have lost at least half of our beautiful trees and shrubs, buried under a small landslide that feels bigger than it really is. The Toros Cedar has survived – part buried and so a few feet ‘shorter’ than it was. The Acers have survived, one unscathed and the other was dug out from under and set upright. Only two of the carobs and two of the pomegranates made it and a lot of Red Pine, wild avocado and Maltese Plum, et al have gone together with a lot of shrubs like Cistus.

IMG_7201

a young one we dug out from under and propped up

toros sedir

Toros Cedar – one day ours will look like this

IMG_7198

most of the fallen blocks cleared

IMG_7197

but so much is buried and lost

old Eucalyptus

really old Eucalyptus – one day!

Melia azedarach

Indian Bead Tree – Melia azederach

Indian Bead

and its flowers

There is no point in being too despondent, we’ll carry on planting and try and stabilise things again – who knows, with a bit of luck, the next landslide will be someone else’s mess! For anyone interested there is a comprehensive list of ‘our’ trees and shrubs below. Some in the garden, many, in fact most, outside – a lot of them collected as seedlings or grown from seeds.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Yucca flamentosa; Pinus brutia; Vitis sylvestris; Aesculus hippocastranum; Acacia retinoides; Acacia cyanphylla; Cercis siliquastrum; Albizia julibrissim; Ceratonia siliqua; Paliurus spina-christii; Planus orientalis; Persea americana; Rosa canina; Eriobotrya japonica; Liquidamber orientalis; Capparis spinosa; Cistus salvifolius; Eucalyptus camaldulensis; Punica granatum; Clematis sp; Schiaus molle; Pistacia lentiscus; Melia azederach; Lanicera caprifolium; Catalpa bignonioides; Jacaranda mimosifolia; Plumbago aumiculata; Olea europaea; Morus alba; Morus nigra; Acer cappadocicum ssp divergens.

Our Family Trees

Judgement Day 2.0

rup winners

By way of an update on the previous post, here are the photos and names of the three winners of the ‘Okçular Village Guide’ book. These three entries were considered to be ‘most promising’ and I hope that the books will encourage the recipients to explore the beautiful countryside around my village where they will find lots of wonderful subjects to fill up the hard-drives or storage cards on their electronic devices!

For any of you reading this post who are curious about the book and the ‘Okçular Book Project’, you can click on the tab at the top of the page, or the ‘Okçular Book Bazaar’ tab where you will find information about our secure, worldwide order/delivery service.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

 

Judgement Day 2.0

Judgement Day

photoc-camera_w2Several moons ago friends, fellow nature lovers and environmental activists from Dalyan asked me to join a judging panel for a photo competition they were organising. The logic behind our Okçular Book Project has always been to encourage people to get out into the beautiful countryside around here, use their eyes, and discover some of the amazing flora and fauna, people and views to be found. That being the case I was delighted to accept the invitation, not least because it is always enjoyable to see things through the eyes of others.

Each month the panel would sift through the entries in three separate categories and select winners and runners-up. These were then printed out and put on public display.

jury2(credit: Co Jonker)

Dalyan photo comp jury

Finally, the panel gathered yesterday to select the overall winners and runners-up in each group. We were not looking for the most professional photos, this is after all a competition for enthusiasts and total amateurs. What we were looking for were moments in time that captured the essence of Dalyan, its human and wild inhabitants and the surrounding area. It was interesting how few photos that had been ‘colour enhanced’ or otherwise ‘fiddled’ with made it through the earlier rounds.

Here are the category winners and runners up:

Flora and Fauna

1st flora and fauna

‘Squacco Heron’ – John Codling – a great capture with terrific detail

rup3

‘Jay’ – Mark Mills

Village Life and Scenes

1st village life

‘Crocheting Lady’ – Serhad Özsoy – the detail of the scarf oya really draws you in

rup2

‘Honey Colours’ – Quentin Alder

Landscape

1st Landscapes

‘Foggy Iztuzu’ – Monique Boon – this beautifully balanced, moody shot of Iztuzu Beach captured the eye of more panel members than any other and was judged the best overall picture in the competition

rup1

‘Serene Köyceğiz Lake’ – Carla de Cuijper

Generous prizes donated by local businesses will be sent to the category winners and the runners up will receive a copy of the Okçular Village Guide Book courtesy of yours truly. It was a lot of fun to see so many excellent photos and it has spurred me on to ‘see’ stuff around me in a different light.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Judgement Day