HOW FLAMINGOS WORK…
CREDITS: great photos from Inagua, Melissa Maura; vaguely interesting slo-mo movie, Keith Salvesen
FEAT. FINE-FEATHERED FABULOUSNESS FOR FRIDAY
A flock of adult flamingos on Inagua
A flock with some grey juveniles in the mix
It is an ill-concealed secret that I don’t have an artistic bone in my body – I get acute angst if asked to draw a stickman. As I was looking through photos of large pink flamingo groups, I suddenly realised that I was getting some sort of abstract vision of them. Whoooh! Art-talk. Anyway, I wondered how a legion of flamingos might look in B&W. Add a bit of highlight and… does it work at all? Whether yes or no, this may be the only B&W photo of flamingos since the invention of colour film. Why would you? [Impatient reader: ‘Why did you?]
All great photos courtesy of Melissa Maura (1, 2, 3, 9, 10); Mary Kay Beach (4, 5, 6, 7, 8); Michael Vaughn (11), with many thanks for use permission; Cartoon, Birdorable
My favourite bird book, in a fairly large collection, is my treasured 1947 ‘first printing’ edition of James Bond’s Field Guide of Birds of the West Indies. It is not especially rare, and one can still be had for under $200. The price is rising – about 5 years ago mine cost $80, in excellent condition, with intact dust jacket and protective cover.
This renowned reference book has since had many subsequent incarnations – if you are interested, you can find the whole story including how Ian Fleming chose to name his Double-O hero after an ornithologist HERE. I have several later versions, including 1960 and 1985, where the source material forms the basis. However the latest book of the same name, by Norman Arlott published in 2010, is a completely new offering with a wealth of useful detail. It is good – but it isn’t Bond!
The 1947 Bond is commonly described as the First Edition, and sold as such. But as some will know, it is in truth the second edition of Bond’s famous book, which was originally published in 1936. This was made clear in the copyright info to the 1947 edition; but seems to be rather less prominent in later editions.
A true first edition – very rarely on the market – now comes in well north of $2000, unless in poor condition and without the all-important dust jacket (with rare books, the “DJ” seems to be almost as important as the book itself, especially if in “VGC”).
My edition of Bond’s book has a strange quirk in the title. It’s not exactly a misprint, more of a variation that was probably unintentional. The jacket proclaims it to be a field guide of birds of the West Indies, as does the book’s front cover and frontispiece. However the book’s spine and the page preceding the Introduction state that it is a field guide to birds of the West Indies.
One of the great charms of ‘Bond’, besides the elegance of his writing, is that he includes the Caribbean-wide local names for the birds he features. Thus the mangrove cuckoo is variously known as a rain bird, rain crow, four o’clock bird, and coffin bird. The black-faced grassquit might be a blue-black, a see-see, or a johnny-jump-up. And a flamingo could be a flamenco, a flamant – or a fillymingo.
These reflections on one of the great bird books of the 20th century were prompted by a request I received from someone wanting a good image of a Bahamas flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber (the National Bird) to illustrate what is effectively a research paper about Bahamas natural history. Often with such inquiries – I get quite a few – I can supply images from my own archive. Other times I am able to source images from generous people who give use permission (non-commercial) in return for a credit.
For the flamingos, I only had images of a single vagrant bird that turned up at Gilpin Pond, Abaco a few years ago (Birds of Abaco p25). It looks rather sad and lonesome in the photos; within a matter of weeks it was gone.
None has been reported on Abaco since, though once they were plentiful. Before this lone specimen, there was an attempt to reintroduce the species on the brackish ponds at the fishing lodge ‘Different of Abaco’, Casuarina. The lodge is long-since defunct, as are the flamingos (the PEACOCKS are flourishing however).
Luckily I knew who to turn to for flamingo pictures: Nassau resident Melissa Maura, a person deeply involved with the wildlife of the Bahamas and far beyond. Melissa has spent time with the flamingos of Inagua which has one of the world’s largest breeding colonies – well over 50,000 – of these gorgeous birds in its National Park, overseen by the Bahamas National Trust.
The flamingos of Inagua now thankfully receive the protection that was sadly lacking in c19 Bahamas, when their vast numbers were radically reduced by mankind, leading to extirpation on many islands where they had been plentiful. Hunted for meat and for ornamental feathers; taken for trading, for collections, for zoos: there were no limits. CHARLES CORY noted at the end of c19 that masses of chicks were being killed before they even fledged; and that large numbers were sold to passing ships, on which they were simply left to die.
Melissa has been fortunate enough to be on Inagua during the breeding season when banding takes place. So besides the adult birds in their orange-pink finery, she has been able to photograph the strange ‘mini-volcano’ nests (above) and the sweet, awkward-looking grey chicks. And with her kind permission, Melissa’s superb ‘fillymingo’ photos adorn this article. I believe the real James Bond would have been delighted to admire them; I hope that goes for you too.
All great photos courtesy of Melissa Maura, with many thanks
Writing a bird book involves defining parameters at an early stage. Best to avoid working them out 6 months into the project; or (worse) letting them evolve gradually as each obstacle along the stony track to the printers is encountered. Far better to decide the general rules of engagement at the outset, and be able to tweak them later if need be.
And so it was that we stayed for a convivial weekend with Peter and Jane Mantle to discuss the pros and the cons, the whys and the wherefores, the format and the style of a book to showcase the birds of Abaco. And how on earth to get started on the project…
One thing was clear at the outset. It was essential that every photograph in the book would have to be taken on Abaco. It wasn’t to be ‘The Birds of Abaco including Birds from Grand Bahama, New Providence, Eleuthera and Inagua that You Might also Find on Abaco’. Or ‘The Birds of Abaco, Mostly’. And there was to be no cheating.
The project involved the work of some 30 photographers in all, from the prolific to a couple of people who offered a single excellent photo. I amassed a large archive, though only a percentage could be used. For example many fine photos fell by the wayside because resolution was inadequate for high-quality print purposes.
I also collected plenty of folders containing images of birds we desperately wanted to include, that were not all taken on Abaco but were part of a wider field trip. These were ruthlessly (but painfully) excluded from consideration. In fact, to stick within the (self-imposed) guidelines, I set aside all photos that I was not certain had been taken on Abaco. Where there was doubt, they were out.
This post contains a selection of photos from the Aviary des Refusés. We would have loved to have included the peregrine falcon and burrowing owl, for example, but had no Abaco images to use then. Other bird species were in any event disqualified for being unknown on Abaco. A Pearly-eyed Thrasher recently found its way to Treasure Cay, this first recorded for Abaco; yet could be found elsewhere in the Bahamas two years ago.
Credits: Woody Bracey for taking / supplying a most of these great images, with Tony Hepburn, Bruce Hallett, Melissa Maura (the wonderful Flamingos) and all those involved in the joint field trips from which some of these photos originate. And Peter Mantle for having the idea for the book and for being wholeheartedly supportive through thick and thin…