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Georgica Flamingo Has Flown Onward

Thu, 06/06/2024 - 12:35
In flight the American flamingo that visited Georgica Pond looks like a child's drawing, long and squiggly.
Alfred Ross

Perhaps the first ever wild American flamingo to visit New York State chose to touch down in East Hampton — Georgica Pond specifically — Friday afternoon. The bird was observed by Cathy Blinken, who was working remotely from a guest house on the pond. 

There has been some confusion about calling this the first flamingo in New York State. While there are historical records of flamingo sightings going back to 1915 (the last in Suffolk was 1978), all were presumed at the time to be escapees, and thus never added to the official state list. This may just be the bird to make that list, hence the title “first.” 

“It’s the first in a very long time, if not the first ever,” said Shai Mitra, an assistant professor at the College of Staten Island. 

“I hope he decides to live here for a while,” said Ms. Blinken, last week. “It will be fun to have a flamingo.” However, the bird was last seen Saturday at dusk; eager birders who showed up before sunrise on Sunday morning left disappointed. The bird was gone. 

“I happened to be looking out onto the pond and thought I saw an interesting looking swan. I thought it was a cygnet,” said Ms. Blinken, recounting the moment she first saw the bird. “As soon as the bird lifted its neck, I knew instantly it wasn’t a swan and realized it was a flamingo. I thought, what’s a flamingo doing here?” 

Not equipped with a camera that could do the bird justice, she phoned the office of The Star and requested that someone come down to photograph the bird. Happily, I grabbed my eldest daughter and in 20 minutes we were at Georgica Pond, and shortly after, spreading the word. In the day and a half the bird was present, hundreds of birders were able to see it. 

“The fact that in this age of digital information and apps, the bird was found and first reported by a local newspaper is remarkable,” said Mr. Mitra. I had phoned Mr. Mitra, an expert birder, to confirm the sighting. His partner, Patricia Lindsay, another expert birder, also sits on the New York State Avian Records Committee. That’s the seven-person group that will adjudicate whether the bird will finally make the state list. (They’ve also seen more bird species in Suffolk County than anyone else; Ms. Lindsay has seen 393 species, and Mr. Mitra, 392.) 

There has been an incursion of flamingos in the Northeast this spring, he said. Some have surmised they were remnants of a group pushed north by Hurricane Idalia, which made landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast on Aug. 30, 2023. 

The bird certainly captured the imagination of the many who viewed it. Taylor Sturm, a professional wetland scientist, arrived at 5:09 a.m. Saturday morning and was able to watch it fly into the inlet from the west. “Its lanky, noodlelike body was hilarious to see in flight, appearing almost two-dimensional, as if little more than a straight line with wings,” he wrote in his eBird report. He also noted that a flamingo had been photographed Thursday evening on a sandbar in Shinnecock. Indeed, the same bird may have been seen on Thursday morning by Barbara Burnside and Paul Gartside at Landing Lane in Springs. Mr. Gartside described a “large pinkish bird, very skinny, almost insect like,” flying high overhead. Donna Schulman got the alert in Forest Hills and ran out the door to head east. “I had to run back in to make sure I turned off the lights and the stove burners. I saw it at 8:30 p.m., with the last glimmer of light. It was sort of glowing.” 

Henry Oreamuno is a caretaker on a Georgica Pond property. He has seen many interesting birds during his time there, including a black swan a few years ago and an albino turkey. “The American flamingo is the most unique bird I’ve seen in 25 years,” he said. 

“Who would believe a flamingo would be on Georgica Pond?” said Jane Overman, who has lived on the pond for over two decades. “I mean, that’s crazy!” 

“I feel bad for him if he’s lonely,” said Ms. Blinken. However, Mr. Mitra put it in perspective. “This flamingo just wanted to go a little further than the other ones did.” Ms. Blinken wasn’t the only one to worry. Kathleen Mulcahy, the executive director of the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center in Hampton Bays, reported nine calls from concerned citizens wondering what the center was “doing about it.” One call even came from Flamingo Gardens in Florida, offering help. But the bird wasn’t injured, just adventurous. 

Not everyone watched him from a distance, though. On Friday afternoon, an unscrupulous man on a sailboat began chasing the flamingo around the pond, causing it to flee his advances five times. Marine Patrol was called, but the man had departed before he could be educated. 

“Pursuant to the New York State Environmental Conservation Law, harassment of wildlife includes pursuing, disturbing and other actions,” said a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. “It is a violation to harass wildlife, with a penalty of up to $250. However, if it is determined that an incident involved cruelty or overdriving of an animal it would be charged as a misdemeanor under New York State Agriculture and Markets Law.” 

On Sunday, the day after the flamingo was last seen on Georgica Pond, a flamingo “with the same basic appearance,” according to Mr. Mitra, was photographed at Chapin Beach on Cape Cod. “Think of how much this particular individual must have wanted to go north and east. It may wind up in Novia Scotia. Something impelled this flamingo, but nobody knows why birds do what they do. People often assume they’re coming from the populations closest to where we are, but that’s not necessarily the case. This bird might have come from the southern Caribbean. I wouldn’t assume that it’s just wandered the shortest possible distance. It could have come from farther.” 

Regardless of why, where, wild or not, the flamingo has added a touch of the tropical to our local ponds. Try to appreciate them as habitat, not just as “waterfront property.” After all, they could play host to a flamingo. 

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