Jan 28, 2017

Fabulous Flamboyance

Both optimists and pessimists contribute to society.
The optimist invents the airplane, the pessimist the parachute.

George Bernard Shaw

Flamboyance of Flamingos
Layers upon layers of them throughout the estuary
Think bright pink. Think whimsical feathers.  Think long beautiful necks with black tipped open wings. Think dancing slender extended legs with ‘backward’ knees.  Think rosy water ballet.

A group of flamingos is called a flamboyance and that is just what we saw today and it was FABULOUS!  The word flamingo comes from the Spanish flamenco, a derivative of fire or flame…

Taking flight, from Yucatan Today
When we first arrived, we had to get past the sad looking brownish red color of the shallow water, recent rains adding to this blurred unappetizing soup.  We had to remind ourselves that this brackish liquid is indicative of high levels of life able to feed and support large colonies of birds.  The small boat we were in was meandering in only 1-3 feet of water, at times hitting bottom but eventually moving on.  Our local guide knew his way to the thin glowing pink horizon we saw far yonder.
Wading in the brackish waters

Imagine for a second the three layers of a normal mangrove horizon, the bottom layer is the water, the middle section are the trees, and the top is sky.  Now add a fourth line just below the deep green of the mangrove trees, a line so bright it looks almost neon, a line so pink you think it is fake, a line so distinct you cannot believe it is natural.  That line is a flamboyance of thousands of gorgeous flamingos.

They are so colorful and with thousands of them wading around the Ría de Celestún (Celestún Estuary), part of a large biosphere in the Yucatan, it was also very noisy, incredible and humbling. 
Celestún is home to a large colony (upwards of 30,000 individuals) of American Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber), sometimes called Caribbean Flamingos. 
Not that graceful of flyers but they are fast, from biosphere site
With such handsomely colored feathers, why didn’t these birds disappear like so many others?  The color of their feathers fades quickly once plucked so the early 20th century feather traders didn’t exploit them.  I picked one off the water before I knew this but now I can use it to see how long it’s rosy color will take to fade away. I am still waiting.
Celestún is not only the home of flamingos but of approximately 300 other types of birds.  We saw our very first stork here.  We also spotted frigates, brown and white pelicans, white egrets, gray herons, roseate spoonbills, ospreys, the ubiquitous seagull, and some white ibises.
Little gray one...  We were not there during that season so this is from zoo
Flamingos are quite an interesting critter and I will list a few of the things I learned today:
  • They are born gray and it takes them up to 3 years to turn pink.  Their coloration comes from their diet.
  • They are not born with a crooked bill.  It becomes crooked after about 3 months.
  • Only one baby is born at a time and the parents take care of it for up to 6 years.  The nest is made of mud.
  • Their predators are usually other birds but sometimes raccoons, jaguars, or crocodiles.
  • They live up to 40 years but one bird in captivity was recorded as living to the ripe old age of 70!
  • What looks like their knees (and many people refer to them as backward knees because the bend the ‘wrong’ way) are their ankles.  Their knees are way up under their bellies and cannot be seen with all the plumage.
  • Many zoos had problems keeping their flamingos pink until they figured out the very important diet element (brine shrimp and blue-green algae) that kept them that color.
  • They do not like to live in smaller flocks, preferring to be in groups of hundreds or more.
  • The male is more colorful than the female and becomes even more colorful during the breeding period.
  • Male can be 1.5 (5 feet) meters tall, female 1 (3.3 feet) meter.  Even as tall as they are it only weighs 6 pounds, she only 5 pounds. 
  • Their size (wingspan of 3.5-5 feet) and lightness allows them to fly up to 37 miles per hour!
  • Their wings are black at the tip and underneath but you cannot see the black at all when they are not in flight.
  • The males are the ones mostly making noise and they sound like geese. 
  • They spend 15-30% of their time preening – got to keep these feathers in good shape.
  • They wade in shallow salty water, stirring the mud with their feet to bring food up.  They filter the water for small food particles while their heads are upside down. 
  • They are one of the oldest birds in the world, about 50 million years in the making.
  • It is thought there are about 40,000 American Flamingos in the world today, about 3 times more than what was found in 1956 which is good news but they are still not out of the woods…
  • There are more plastic flamingos in the US today than there are live American flamingos in the world…
  • They are a non-migratory bird but will fly 300 miles or more to find food.
We were lucky that everything worked in our favor.  To see the flamingos, the tide must be just right.  Too high and they are not present, too low and the boats can’t bring you there.  November to February is the time they have their courtship and mate so they are very active in this area.  They go somewhere else nearby to make mud nests to have the babies.  We were also very lucky that it was partially cloudy and a tad windy so it wasn’t too hot nor did we get attacked by hordes of mosquitos.  As we like to say when things fall into place like this: ‘We live well’…
What you see floating in front of the flamingos are feathers.  All that preening!
Our guide, Juan, was very attentive to giving us information about each bird we saw and had an answer for each of our questions.  He loved our little Nikki as well.

At the end of the trip when I asked him about the name of his boat so I could talk about it on our blog he said that this wasn’t his boat.  He usually fishes.  He was just helping a lady who had just lost her husband.  By giving tours with her deceased husband’s boat, she could make some money to support her family.  We were very happy to be able to help him help her. 
The weather was just perfect and in parts the waters just as pink as the birds they feed

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