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Birdsong Among the Ruins

From the Aegean coast of southern Turkey, a narrow valley ascends into steep mountains. Rising through pine woodlands, it leads to a small plateau overlooking bare peaks and precipitous drops. For countless ages, this valley and its forests were secluded and filled with birdsong.

Sometime around 2400 years ago, local people began establishing a fortified settlement in the upper valley. The high plateau afforded a naturally unassailable site, which they reinforced with walls built from massive blocks of local stone. The city of Termessos grew, its impregnable position saving it numerous times during the following centuries from some of the most rapacious armies of the age, who were unable to breach its defences.

Meanwhile, the birds and wildlife found new opportunities; picking over tilled fields, raiding orchards, nesting in stone wall crevices and exploiting food scraps.

Then came a great earthquake. It destroyed the city's aqueduct, and shortly after, the citadel was completely abandoned. Nature reclaimed the valley.

This recording lets you hear what the valley sounds like today. It begins near the ruined Temple of Artemis, its remaining gateway silhouetted against the approaching dawn. The first birdsong swells till the valley echoes with a rich dawn chorus. With daylight, the soundscape settles into ever-shifting patterns of birdsong.

Later we hear the rasping calls of jays, and it is fascinating to consider they may be birds descended from those that once lived alongside the cities' inhabitants. We conclude with the song of a wren drifting across the well-preserved amphitheatre, which is situated spectacularly in the upper city with a commanding view of the surrounding mountains.

"To visit Termessos today is to find its ancient ruins overgrown with mature forest and alive with birdsong. Jays prowl among fallen columns and wrens hop among collapsed walls. Nightingales sing from dense vegetation that has reclaimed the valley floor. Tits and chaffinches flit among the trees that overhang broken pathways and pavements.

"When we visited, I was struck by the effort that had gone into constructing the place. As a work of civilisation it was impressive, but ultimately, nature overtook human effort. Something that could not be foreseen - an earthquake - devastated the city.

"I feel that we are in a comparable situation today, where the processes of nature threaten to overtake us through the global threat of climate change. Except that we are in a position to foresee and act. As I listen to this recording of a landscape reclaimed, it reminds me that nature is resilient and adaptable. To stabilise our climate and preserve our way of life we need to adapt too, not so much our way of living as our core beliefs and ideas.

"Perhaps this album may be heard as a meditation on impermanence, and renewing our relationship with the natural world. Or it may simply be a lovely morning of birdsong."

This recording begins in the predawn, with the first birdsong, and concludes later in the morning as activity quietens down.

Several Scops Owls call distantly with a regular piping (from beginning, through to around 10.15, and then distantly throughout the dawn chorus). Tawny Owls are also vocal, including one relatively close (2.20- 4.10). Far off, a few Nightjars are barely audible giving trilling reels (try around 3.43, just as the Tawny Owl calls, and shortly after).

Meanwhile, the first Nightingale is singing (from beginning), soon joined by a Blackbird (from 1.30), their voices echoing down the valley.

A Rüppell's Warbler begins calling (4.25), soon joined by another (5.40). Before long, quite a community of them are singing, forming the foundation of the dawn chorus, and continuing right through until finally going quiet again around 41.00. Several Blackbirds are prominent throughout the chorus, and the Nightingale also continues.

Chukars live on the rocky slopes that frame the valley. Their communal chorus of 'chuckling' cackles are first heard distantly around 6.10, more noticeably around 11.25, and one seems to take alarm at 14.37. The Tawny Owl returns (14.00), and there seems to be some interaction (between a pair?) giving rise to an excited variety of calls (18.20...) for the next few minutes.

A Common Cuckoo gives an unusual grunting call variation (20.39), then a more regular call (22.29) followed by more agitated calling (23.40). By around 30.00, the remaining dawn chorus is almost exclusively given by Rüppell's Warblers.

With the conclusion of the chorus, a diversity of other birdsong is heard. A Serin begins calling from a treetop nearby (41.17...), there are other calls (including Blackbird, Chaffinch, Nightingale, Jay and Tawny Owl), plus a Rüppell's Warbler takes a prominent solo.

Great Tits (one prominently) begin calling back and forth with their see-sawing song (51.41...), while Chaffinches are also heard (such as at 53.08). A Blackbird gives agitated clucking (52.48...). In the background are Serins, Coal Tits and a Turkish endemic species; the Krüpper's Nuthatch (a rapid yodelling song most noticeable around 57.08-58.49, and later at 70.38).

A Nightingale has been in the background and now comes closer to sing beautifully (61.21...). For those with reasonable high frequency hearing, a tiny Goldcrest can be heard at 64.38. A Eurasian Jay gives a call imitative of a Buzzard around 65.36... and 66.14.... Throughout this period, a pigeon-like, three-note call is given repeatedly which I think is a Common Cuckoo call variation, but not one I recognise from elsewhere. If it is, he seems pretty convinced he has the right call! The Nightingale returns at 73.06.

The harsh cries of Eurasian Jays have been audible occasionally previously, but are more noticeable now, beginning around 79.58. Coal Tits are also closer than before, and are heard along with Chaffinches. Chukars return (85.25) and from 85.07-86.15, a Jay repeatedly utters its 'buzzard' call. A Willow Warbler appears, giving its sweet descending song (87.08...89.05...), while the loud, piping notes from 89.15 are from a Chaffinch.

A mob of Jays get vocal (91.46...), and you can hear them fly past calling together. They continue calling socially, while a little later, a Winter Wren begins singing (98.05...), followed by 'short' calls of a Serin (102.57...). Finally, a small flock of Greenfinches fly overhead, twittering amiably (105.27...), and as they depart, a distant clatter of stones suggests rocks dislodged, possibly by a deer or mountain goat.

The ruins of Termessos are situated in a rugged and wild location. As much as the archaeological site is of cultural value, so too is the natural landscape in which it is situated. This has been recognised, and the whole area protected within the Gulluk Mountain (Güllük Dagi) Termessos National Park.

To have both cultural and natural values recognised as heritage of equal value, is not just relevant in terms of management. For me, it is an acknowledgement that the two - our own history, and natural history - are both of great worth and fragility. So often we see our human values as of prime significance. Stepping beyond that anthropocentric view, and seeing ourselves as part of a living and far greater whole, is the urgent shift of perspective that our times require.

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