September 12, 2008

Ike Chases Away Bahamian Flamingos

The Bahamian island of Great Inagua is known for its old salt plant and its large flamingo flock, but after Hurricane Ike stormed through last week, the flamingos may be gone for good.

According to local officials, the 60,000 strong flock of flamingos left last week just before Hurricane Ike struck, but have not been seen since.

Thirty dead birds were found after the storm passed.  Some were entangled in trees, while a few hundred living birds were found in the mangroves.

According to Glenn Bannister, president of the Bahamas National Trust, all the island birds, including Bahamas parrots, vanished before the storm hit.

The parrots have since returned in search of food, but the flamingos have yet to return.

"Some of the flamingos are now reappearing, but it could be one or two years before they get back to their regular nesting pattern," said Lynn Gape, also of the Bahamas National Trust.

According to Gape, wardens have only spotted a few hundred birds, compared to the thousands that lived on the island before the storm. Gape believes more could be found in the mangroves, and noted the flamingos are sensitive to barometric pressure so they often flee or seek shelter when a storm approaches.

"In a few months, this place is going to look like spring," Bannister said. "But the birds are in trouble for the time being."

Meanwhile, flamingos have been spotted in many southern U.S. States including a recent sighting in Destin, FL.

"His feathers are beat up and he looks like he has been through a hurricane," said Donald Ware, bird count coordinator in Fort Walton Beach near Destin.

Wild flamingos are common is Florida's southern tip, but this was the first recorded sighting in the northern panhandle of the state. Flamingo sightings have also been reported in Mississippi.

"This is the first documented record for flamingos for Mississippi. They are subtropical birds and just don't fly this way," said Mark LaSalle, director of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point, Mississippi. "It has certainly gotten people's attention."

Bannister doesn't believe these sightings are birds from the Bahamas.  "Whenever they seek a safe haven they fly south to Bonaire, Venezuela or Cuba," he said.

Officials in Great Inagua are hoping the flamingos will return during breeding season in January.

Meanwhile, some islanders are fearful for their jobs.

Morton Salt, which employs 60 percent of Inagua's workforce, is not certain it will be able to reopen the badly damaged plant.  


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