Incredible Okçular!

. . of Nymphs and Vagrants and Emperors

6th of June 1944 – D Day! D as in don’t be daft enough to call it ‘I’ for Invasion Day!

6th of June 2011 – D Day! D as in Drain Day! and ‘they’ meant drain Black Lake, a very important, biologically sensitive seasonal wet area just below my house.

Black Lake Okcular
Beautiful Black Lake

Black Lake is home to a number of rare species of flora and fauna and if drained this tiny refuge would be another nail in the coffin of Turkey’s fast dwindling bio-diversity. I wrote for the print media and blogged about the threat that coincided with a visit by two of Europe’s leading dragonfly experts; Christophe Brochard and Ewoud van der Ploeg.

It was to no avail, a few weeks ago, before the rains set in, the job was done. But, done in such a way as to have J and I speculating on how on earth they expected it to work. (Don’t worry, I’m not going into detailed explanations.) Then the rains came and to everyone’s surprise, except smug old us, it didn’t! Well, that’s not strictly true, part of the job worked brilliantly from the perspective of lovers of wetlands, because a new ditch brought even more water to the lake even more quickly!

Time will tell. I just hope the area will stay under water long enough for the landowners to forget how they’ve done the job, the pipes to get blocked and the sumps to fill with mud!

Anyway, back to our two dragonfly experts. Christophe and Ewoud are two of the most enthusiastic people I’ve ever met; they love what they do and they quickly infect anyone around them with the same enthusiasm. It was my pleasure to spend three days with them and facilitate their field work.

In particular they were looking for evidence of breeding by Anax ephippiger the Vagrant Emperor, a magnificent, rare and strongly migratory species of dragonfly. Black Lake exceeded their wildest dreams, not only did they record and photograph the adult, collect more than 70 exuviae (shed skins of the nymphs), but they also recovered living nymphs which had them jumping up and down with excitement!

Back in their hotel room they had set up an aquarium where Christophe, who is a photographer of distinction, could take pictures in a controlled setting. It was here that our rare Vagrant Emperor nymphs were brought and here that the first ever photos of the species ‘hatching’ into the beautiful adult were taken. It was also where the ‘skins’ were dried and made ready for transporting back to Holland (and, as I learned yesterday, all over the world for use by other researchers).

God knows what the cleaning lady thought!

Last year, by way of thank you for the help I was able to give them, the guys sent me what they described as a ‘special’ gift – except it didn’t arrive! Fortunately, three months later it turned up back with them in Holland, so they had another go. A couple of days ago it arrived, it had only taken six weeks this time! At least the PTT delivered it to my house, which is a first, and I only had to pay 5TL for the customs duty, which was not!

When it was handed over I was glad I hadn’t had to collect it because it weighed in at a whopping 4.2kgs! What was it? A book! The title? ‘Die Orchideen der Türkei’, this is the definitive reference to the orchids of Turkey and no, I don’t speak German! Doesn’t matter; the pictures are fabulous and everyone reads Latin, don’t they?

Seriously, this is a book to die for and Christophe and Ewoud knew of my love for these amazing plants. (This is becoming a post of ‘superlatives’.) Sending it cost a small fortune at €27.60; in fact two small fortunes!

With the book were two of Christophe’s superb photos and showing you these is really what this post is about. Although he uses top of the range Canon equipment, stuff that would have J cast me into the wilderness if I so much as look at it, it takes more than good gear to take good pictures. This guy describes himself as an amateur . . you tell me.

These photos cannot do justice to the originals which each had a file size in excess of 1 gigabyte. None the less, beautiful, or what?

Anax ephippiger Vagrant Emperor nymph
Vagrant Emperor nymph
Anax ephippiger Vagrant Emperor male
Vagrant Emperor male

Alan Fenn, 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


‘Oh! You’re into dragonflies, are you?’

Some People . . .

. . . are nice; some are interesting; some are stimulating; some are a combination of all these and much more . . . and some are a right pain in the arse!

J and I had all of the above yesterday evening; pleasant, stimulating, interesting company and conversation that was constantly being interrupted by a couple of tedious, thick-skinned bores.

We had gone to a restaurant with two young Dutch guys who are amongst the foremost specialists in Europe on dragonflies, their nymphs and exuviae (the shed skins of the nymphs). I had been asked to help them with their research by using my local knowledge of the area around Okçular to seek out some very specific habitats. Okçular is a pretty special place with an outstanding variety of flora and fauna, and 3 years ago I had recorded a very rare species of dragonfly Anax ephippiger the Vagrant Emperor in my garden. Our two specialists were after samples of this gem; they were stunned by our local environment and were able to recover exuviae and live nymphs; the nymphs were taken and put into mini-habitats that they have created in their hotel room where they can be photographed as they emerge (this has never been recorded before). I can’t help wondering what their room cleaner makes of all this!

Anyway, back to our evening meal; the interruptions began as soon as we were handed the menus – ‘If you can’t find what you want the chef will cook anything up for you, he’s an expert you know, he trained in London and Germany.’

No, he didn’t! He happens to be a damn good cook who J and I have known for 14+ years; he worked illegally in London and in a fast food joint in Germany before returning to Turkey.

None too subtly we turned our backs and went into a sort of huddle to take our pick from the menu. Orders taken our conversation with our two guests naturally turned to their field work, where they’d been, what they’d found, etc etc. Dragonflies are beautiful creatures that fascinate me and there’s so much I wanted to ask and learn. As we relaxed we settled into more comfortable postures – Big Mistake!

‘Oh! You’re into dragonflies are you(?) I was getting in the washing and there was this buzzing sound and I couldn’t work out where it was coming from then I found that it was from the window we have these special tilt or open double glazed windows and I’d got it on the tilt and it had somehow fallen down and got trapped at the bottom I could only see a bit of its wing so I had to shut the window so I could open it again and rescue it ‘course I didn’t know if it would get squashed but it was only a bit stunned and kept buzzin’ round in circles on the floor when I threw it out . . .’ (my grammar-checker has just capitulated!) and on, and on, and on, and on . . . None of us knew how to shut them up. Their social receptors, along with their hides are thicker and tougher than a rhino’s – and then they started going on about the new mayor; how he wasn’t corrupt like the last one, and . . .

We got out of there fast, returned to the ‘lab’ and the more convivial company to be found there! ‘Nymphs and stir-fries come away; come, oh! come away . .’

anyone fancy a stir-fry?



Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü