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Life on the Sultan Marshes

Turkey’s Sultan Marshes are a veritable magnet for countless flamingos, teals and other winged visitors, all of them enriching these wetlands with colour and sound. Chris Hellier moves in for a closer look

By midnight, the flat expanse of the Sultan Marshes, dominated by the extinct volcano Erciyes, was glowing with an ethereal purple hue in the moonlight. It was mid-October, and the warmth of the day had given way to a bitter chill. I was several miles from the nearest ramshackle village, but far from alone. In the distance, ten thousand greater flamingos sang their night-time chorus, a loud honking which echoed across the otherwise still and deserted marshland.

I had been playing hide-and-seek with the colourful flock all day. But they had kept their distance, a narrow line of white and pink feathers protected by the acres of glutinous mud left behind by the lake when it shrank in the summer to a few broad, shallow pools. Hours earlier, I had watched the flamingos through binoculars as they strutted to and fro or perched on impossibly thin legs. Only now, in the depths of night did they seem close.

At first their narrow serenade kept me awake, but the repetetive honking soon induced sleep. When I awoke the following morning the birds were silent, and still a distant smudge of white. The loudness of their earlier calling, I thought, had been due to the sound drifting on the night breeze, but telltale footprints within metres of where I had lain suggested that the marsh flamingos had paid a closer call.

The number of flamingos on the Sultan Marshes, one of Turkey’s most important wetlands for migratory birds, had passed its autumn peak. Many had already left for warmer climes in Africa, and other groups were rising in ungainly flight to join them. Others stood motionless with their heads buried in the shallow lake, feeding on minute mollusks and algae.

These remarkable creatures are the only birds that filter their food. Holding their heads and bills upside down in the water, they use their tongues as plungers to push water and mud along their long, shallow bills. Filters known as lamellae catch any unwanted grit and mud, but let tasty morsels pass into their gullets.

Up to 70,000 greater flamingos have been recorded at the marshes, and they have been known to breed here. Some 250 other birds also spend part of the year in Sultan Sazlığı, as the marshes are known in Turkish. The International Council for Bird Preservation estimates that around 40 per cent of all water-fowl wintering in Turkey head for this central Anatolian marshland…

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Issue 5, 1993/94 Palaces of Diplomacy I
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Other Highlights from Cornucopia 5
  • Palaces of Diplomacy, Part 1

    The former embassies of Ottoman Istanbul have more of a consular role today but they still evoke the diplomatic rituals of their nineteenth century heyday. In the first of two articles Patricia Daunt traces the history of these spectacular winter palaces, and Fritz von der Schulenburg assembles a unique photographic record of the treasures they contain.

  • A Case of Regency Exoticism

    In 1983 Fani-Maria Tsigakou of the Benaki Museum in Athens found five volumes of late 18th-century drawings of Ottoman Empire subjects by Thomas Hope. David Watkin assesses Hope’s orientalism and its place in the development of Regency style.

  • Soul Fruit

    Long enjoyed for their succulence and their inner beauty, pomegranates have been credited with uplifting properties. Berrin Torolsan presents a selection of recipes using these fascinating jewelled winter fruits

  • Art from a Distance

    Vanmour and the Guardis, by Jean Michel Casa. An exhibition at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice, on Jean-Baptiste Vanmour perhaps the earliest Orientalist painter.

More in the Guide
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Issue 5, 1993/94 Palaces of Diplomacy I
£12.00 / $15.50 / 512.95 TL
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