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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Any birder will tell you that the best birding is often in the weirdest places: dumps and the like. When I was 12, I spent a summer in the northeast corner of Montana, just south of the Saskatchewan border, where I observed at length my first blue-winged teal, shovelers, American avocets, marbled godwits, and long-billed curlews at the sewage lagoon for an Air Force base in Opheim. I had to be told it was a sewage lagoon, and not to wade in. To me, it was a wonderland. 

I feel the same about Viera Wetlands near Titusville, Florida. Magic. I'd happily spend a whole week there birding and photographing and sketching with zeal. 

Strandfontein "Wetlands" is no different. The birds are so magical you quickly forget that these lagoons have a not-so-beautiful function. 

There are black-winged stilts... (as above)

great white pelicans (different from our American whites)

black-headed herons

blacksmith plovers

Egyptian geese...well, those are everywhere, but still lovely to look at, delightful to hold

and lots of WHAT ARE THOSE?



Honking like geese and gangling all over the place??

OK. I'm not in Ohio any more. There are GREATER FLAMINGOS in the sewage lagoons here. 

Lots of them.

And one cool thing that happens here happens because the water is so deep. 

Flamingos normally feed in shallow water, not much above their ankles. Shallower than this. Their bills have that distinctive down-bend. That's because when they feed they turn their heads upside down (imagine if these birds simply dropped their heads until their heads were upside down). 
Then they sweep their bills back and forth, rapidly clapping their mandibles and taking up globs of mud. They use their strong tongues to squeeze the mud back out through comblike projections along the bill sides called lamellae, and by so doing strain out small crustaceans, shrimp, amphipods, insect larvae, bivalves--that kind of thing. The carotene in the blue-green algae and crustaceans they take in give them their rich color. And all those little wrigglers I listed, they keep and swallow. I would imagine they have to raise their heads to swallow...

Here, the water's so deep that the flamingos take off like so many swans or mini-sternwheel paddleboats and swim!

It is quite amazing. I like to imagine those long coral legs thrashing under the water.

And this time I got to see them! The flamingos were tipping up like so many mallards, probably to reach the muddy bottom of the lagoon, and all the delicious things living there. What a sight to see.  File all this under: Things I hadn't known flamingos do.

More flamingos anon. I know you love 'em. 

I'm headed back to South Africa, leading a trip for Holbrook Travel, in September 2016. Wanna come along?

Details HERE


Totally cool.

Reading this just before hitting my pillow, perchance to dream dreams of pink flamingos dancing in synchronicity.

Posted by Gail Spratley January 12, 2016 at 8:42 PM
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