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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Strandfontein is a water treatment facility in the Cape region of South Africa. It's a series of manmade impoundments that serve as settling and purifying ponds for, oh, OK, sewage. 

Other than some low brick buildings, fencing and pumps, you'd never know it. The waters are teeming with food.

Flamingos don't care. Neither do the hadedas. 

These funny, stocky ibises wail like babies. They're found all over South Africa, their loud cries just part of the everyday scene from Cape Town to Kruger Park. It's neat to have an ibis be so common, a bit like the white ibises in Florida, grazing in everyone's lawn. 

We were here for the birds, and they did not disappoint. What a delight to have a still, sunny day for flamingo indulgence! I have soo many nice photos of them, and I'm torn. Do I show you all the good ones, or keep it to a dull pink roar?

I was so taken by the axillars--the long, filmy feathers in their wingpits, brilliant carmine, fading to blush--imagine how that would look in a hat! After it's been molted, of course. Part of me understands the millinery feather craze of the late 1800's when I look at these feathers. But they would soon fade to white; the color in flamingo feathers is pigment-based, and fleeting. Let's leave them on the birds.

Strandfontein is a sort of unusual setting for flamingos, because the water is so much deeper than what I imagine them choosing for feeding. They swim around like odd, bent-billed swans. You almost forget they have stilts under them when you watch them swim by.

They paddle like antic sternwheelers, their long pink legs making odd angles behind them. They even tip up like ducks and geese, feeding on the bottom, filtering sludge for tasty crustaceans. They must get some pretty good stuff here, because there are a lot of happy looking flamingos frequenting the settling ponds.

I could watch them swim, take off, and land all day long. And we pretty much did.

Like most larger waterbirds, flamingos must run across the water's surface, flapping like mad, for a distance before becoming airborne. 

It's harder to get started when the water's so deep.

Taking off into the wind gives them lift. They throw little rooster tail tracks out behind them.

When the water's glassy, the reflections are incredible. Glassy conditions are rare on the Cape, which is known for its near-constant winds. We were very, very lucky with the weather on our trip--only one day of occasional drizzle and clouds in twelve! There's a severe drought going on, so it was a mixed blessing--more on that later.

 I particularly like this shot of grace going airborne. Don't forget to take in its reflection!

I found myself holding my breath until that magic moment when the feet lifted off the runway.

These are all greater flamingos, which are larger and paler than lessers, also present in the Cape Region. That jet-black melanin in their flight feathers strengthens the feather for the inevitable wear of flight. Many otherwise white birds have black or black-tipped flight feathers, because these are the hardest-working feathers, and subject to the most wear, scraping against the air.

I was so focused on the birds that I kept forgetting to get a longer shot of the mountain background around Strandfontein. Behind that mountain is a large bay of the Indian Ocean.

With these flying umbrellas against a filmy blue backdrop.

Every once in awhile, the water would be still enough for mirrored reflections. I tried to stay conscious of them while composing.

I couldn't resist putting some words on this shot of one bird taking to the air. Might as well add to the inspirational memevalanche.

You were. Me too. Try not to waste a minute.


Your photos help to capture the magic of that morning watching the flamingos take flight. I laugh when thinking about our collective voices gasping and chuckling with delight every time we saw them take off or land.

Wayne, PA

Beautiful shots! What a lovely day that was. Besides Flamingos, we saw some grassland birds, too. Have you seem my post?

I should have known this, but never noticed until now just how short the caudal feathers are in flamingos. Also very interesting your photos showing how they get airborne from such deep water while trailing long legs. I wonder if the guys trying to figure out pterosaur flight have looked at flamingos?

So beautiful !

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