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Flamingos. Pinch Me Please.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

One never quite gets used to the sight of a flotilla of flamingos planing into a waste water lagoon.
But for the backdrop of towering mountains, and a glimpse of the nearby Atlantic Ocean, it's quite an ordinary place

with extraordinary birds feeding and prospering there.

I quickly realized that shooting flamingos at Strandfontein Wetlands was a matter of judicious framing.

When they are coming in against the mountain, they create a vision of singular beauty.

You can see the city of Strandfontein in the haze beneath the birds. They're all busy making wastewater for the flamingos.

Not every shot is so poetic. I had to shoot this guy, nonchalantly preening in flight as he dropped into a lagoon. The backdrop, not ideal...

But that's what's such fun about bird photography. You can frame and crop and tell any story you want.

We were able to get out and walk at the wetlands, but we made a point of staying in the van around the flamingo flocks. It's only polite.

I shot this from the vehicle. There's a kind of tunnel vision that overtakes an avid photographer in pursuit of that perfect shot. This person is trying to get as close as possible to a resting flock. You can see that, while some are preening, one head has shot up, and a wing is out. That's like a neon sign flashing, "Back off!!"

Which, of course, he doesn't. Perhaps because he wants some flight shots. It's pretty arrogant, we thought, to put sixty heretofore relaxed flamingos to flight just to score yourself some photos.

This isn't a zoo, and these regal birds haven't been put there just for your amusement. It's easy to forget that the flamingos are busy trying to lead their lives,  even when they seem to you to be doing nothing at all. When they radically change what they're doing because of something you're doing, you're doing it wrong, sir. Seeing that he was going to press the birds until he got what he was after, I thrust my Canon into Leon Marais' expert hands and he got this beautiful shot as the birds fled right past us.

And this one. Just look at the splashes! Thanks, Arrogant Photographer. I guess.

photo by Leon Marais. He was sitting on the right side of the van. But he is that much better than I am.

I much prefer shooting flamingos that are ignoring us. Or mostly ignoring us. In any flock, someone's always got his eye on you.

Artist Mary Richmond, whose wonderful blog, Cape Cod Art and Nature, has been going as long as this one (making us both blogosaurs), has a great Instagram feed. She found this greater flamingo mount in the Harvard Museum of Natural History. I thought you'd like to see what a flamingo does with the standard-issue 14 neck vertebrae all birds have. It uses them all, just stretches each one into a 2" tube. Look at the center bird. You can actually see the individual bones on the bottom curve of its neck. Looove it. You know what else I loved? Mary was on the South Africa trip! She'll be painting, writing and thinking about the million wonderful things she experienced for years to come.

Like the not so small miracle of flamingos at a wastewater treatment plant. 

Looking at this photo, I imagine that this bird is little more than the weight of its feathers, its bill and its long hollow bones. A supermodel among birds, living thin on her shrimp and spirulina protein shakes. 

Such a world we live in, that pink birds stiltwalk on water

fold into sines and graceful elipses

and steam off like a flotilla of sternwheelers on a September day

But this isn't the Ohio River, and it's not the Sternwheel Festival, and I am really seeing this, right over my head. Pinch me moments are what this trip is all about.

I'm going back to South Africa in September 2016. Wanna come along? Click here for details.


Julie, your photos are breathtaking. I LOVE the flamingos and hope you paint them soon. Thanks for the crazy legs shot...Who knew?

Thanks for sharing. I didn't know that the flamingos has 14 cervical vertebrae. Learned something today. I know giraffes have 7 very big cervical vertebrae.

Yes, I have experienced the arrogant photographer. I was listening to Bob Sargent talk about a bird that had just been banded in Ft. Morgan, Al. and a guy with a huge lens butted right in front of everyone and a few inches from Bob's hands and I kept waiting for Bob to say something. He didn't usually mince words. Everyone in the crowd wanted to ping the photographer on the head. Grrrr....

Posted by Anonymous January 15, 2016 at 6:29 AM

Your photos show these lovely birds so well. I agree it is not healthy for the birds or any wildlife to be disturbed for photos. Imagine if one person per hour disturbs a flock, they get no rest and use up energy flying. Thanks for pointing that out.

I'd kill to go. But alas! None of the candidates I can think of would pay enough.

<3 You had me at flamingo. <3

Posted by Gail Spratley January 19, 2016 at 10:10 AM
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