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Graceful Giants: American Flamingos Unveiled!

JVAS member John Carter recounts his discovery of the first recorded American Flamingos in the state of Pennsylvania.

A singular birding moment that I will forever hold close to my heart as a testament to life's beautiful surprises, was the day two American Flamingos became the birding spotlight for Franklin County, Pennsylvania.

On September 7th, 2023, I escaped for a lunchtime bird outing in hopes of finding fall migrant shorebirds at local ponds. When approaching the country pond on Long Lane, little did I know that this would be the most unparalleled experience in my life of bird watching, as I discovered the first recorded American Flamingos in the state of Pennsylvania.

Near the end of August 2023, Hurricane Idalia stirred across the Gulf of Mexico, pushing flocks of American Flamingos from the Caribbean into Florida and well beyond. American Flamingos started showing up in many other states in response to this tropical cyclone, creating a Flamingo mania.

I was as jittery as a caffeinated squirrel, and the enthusiasm bubbling over like a shaken soda can. As I stood alone along the farmland road admiring a once in a lifetime species discovery, I knew this was an unprecedented event that other bird and nature lovers would marvel over. Just as the flamingos flocked to this hidden oasis in the Cumberland Valley so would a mass of people near and far. The news spread like wildfire through the communication channels and fortunately the landowners were accommodating and gracious to welcoming people to take on the observation of these majestic splendors.

The birds had daily surveillance taking in accounts of behaviors and interactions, the state police would help manage the crowds of people so safety and respect would follow suit to help establish appropriate observation etiquette. Another extraordinary, mega rare visitor of a Brown Booby would flyover and be documented on September 14th.

As nature goes, not everything concludes with a happy ending. On September 11th the subadult flamingo was attacked by a resident common snapping turtle, causing a substantial injury to the leg. The bird was quickly and safely captured, and then transported by the PA Game Commission to the Raven Ridge Wildlife Center in Washington Boro, PA. The injured bird was making strides in its recovery, but would perish en route to the next stage of its recovery.

The remaining adult flamingo would remain at Long Lane Pond for another 8 days giving opportunities for bird chasers, nature lovers and just curious individuals a chance to see a once-in-a-lifetime birding opportunity in the wild. The adult flamingo departed the pond soaring on the evening of September 19th.

It was such a joy to see the smiles and excitement of others taking in their encounter of the American Flamingos. I ventured to the pond seven different times and was beyond grateful to share my binoculars and spotting scope with outside visitors so they could have a close-up view.

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