Monday, October 18, 2010


Last week in the pre-dawn darkness, long before I got out of bed, Jerry saw the season’s first night heron on our lawn when he stepped out on the porch to get the morning newspaper. Opening the door usually startles them into flight, but this one apparently was engrossed in finding its breakfast and Jer got a pretty good look at it. They are big, long-legged birds and it’s always exciting to see them.

When Jerry told me about it, he added “Remember Istanbul?” I knew just what he was talking about. He wasn’t talking about night herons in Istanbul but about white storks.

Istanbul lies half in Europe and half in Asia, with the Bosphorus straits running though it, linking the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. And this stretch of water acts as a migration route for hundreds of thousands of birds as they migrate yearly south toward Africa. We had been told that if we “paid attention” we would see two specific migrations, one of storks and the other of eagles.

Turkey itself has resident storks aside from migrating storks and once we got out of the city itself we often saw lots of the white storks. They build their nests on village houses, on mosques and electric poles. We learned that in many countries storks are hunted for food. But in Turkey by and large this doesn’t happen. They are known as “pilgrim birds” and thus are regarded as guests. However, I have read that their number are dwindling.

According to Professor Mehmet Serez the number of storks in Turkey is decreasing every year.
Speaking to the Anatolia news agency, Serez said while there were 900,000 stork couples in Turkey in the 1960s, the number has decreased to 200,000 couples recently. Noting that there are various causes for this decline, Serez said the leading reason is a decrease in houses with tile roofing and chimneys. “In the past, there used to be a stork nest on the roof of every house in Turkey. However, the number of these birds has decreased day by day. Houses used to be built with tiled roofs, and they used to have chimneys in the past. There were not electric wires either, and storks were able to make a safe landing. From the 1960s onwards, these houses started to decrease in number. More electric wires surrounded houses, which made it harder for storks to nest,” he said.

In Istanbul our apartment was on the Asian side and overlooked a park and the Sea of Marmara. We had a fantastic view, unlike many apartments which merely faced the backside of other apartments. So we were in a wonderful position to “pay attention” when the stork migration started. It would have been impossible to miss it. They came flying by, oh how they came! A few, then a few more, gradually building in size until there was an unbelievable amount of them flying high over our heads. Jer and I stood on our balcony, almost gasping as we watched the spectacular sight that was happening before our eyes.

I ran for the camera. It was new to me and I wasn’t sure what the proper settings should be to get a snapshot of this amazing event – it was late in the afternoon and lighting was difficult. While this picture is certainly not what I would have wished, at least it gives an idea of what we mean when we say “lots of birds.” We truly could not believe our eyes. Night fell, the birds disappeared and it was over. There were a few scragglers the next day but for the most part it was over.

We never did see the eagles, as we were told that they passed over a different section of the city than where we lived. Considering that in California the most migrating birds that we’d ever seen was an occasional “V” of geese heading south, we considered ourselves exceptionally lucky to be able to witness such an event.

And in case you were wondering, no, the storks were NOT carrying little bundles

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