Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Flamingos: Some of the Toughest Birds on the Planet

To most, flamingos are tall, even delicate looking birds. But did you know that these fabulous creatures inhabit – and even thrive in – some of the most inhospitable places on the planet?

Lesser flamingos, for example, live in the Rift Valley soda lakes of Africa. Here they drink water from volcanic springs with temperatures near the boiling point! And temperatures can soar up to 154 degrees F – a harsh environment, don’t you think?

In fact, naturalist Leslie Brown who was the first person to discover a lesser flamingo breeding area, attempted to wade through the caustic water and mud to get a closer look. He received chemical burns on his legs that required three skin grafts and left them scarred for life.

On the other side of the spectrum are the flamingos found in South America. Chileans, Andeans and James’ flamingos can all be found living high in the Andes, where they survive temperatures that can dip to minus 20 degrees F - Yikes! In fact, a recent PBS show (Nature) which featured the Andes in one of their episodes, had incredible footage of a flock of flamingos roosting in one of the high altitude lakes. At night, temperatures plummet and the surface of the water freezes trapping the flock until morning when the sun rises and melts the surface of the lake.

These three species spend much of their time living on the Altiplano salt flats feasting on the brine shrimp and algae that flourish in the caustic waters of the volcanic lagoons. Amazingly, the flamingos’ long, skinny legs are completely unaffected by the burning and destructive waters, though they take care to rinse their feathered bodies in the nearby freshwater lakes. They also drink heavily from these freshwater sources because their feeding lagoons are not suitable.

In addition, the flamingo’s beak is highly specialized with bristles on their tongue and lamellae (or comb-like structures) on both the top and lower beaks. This allows them to efficiently filter out the tiny nutritious food particles from the caustic waters, thereby minimizing their ingestion of harmful substances such as sodium hydroxide.

So next time you visit the park and see our flamingos on exhibit, instead of thinking palm trees and sandy beaches, perhaps you might think volcanic springs and freezing lakes!

To check out more incredible footage on these amazing birds, visit the PBS web site featuring Nature’s episode, Andes: The Dragon’s Back.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this second installment of our "Pink Link" series!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Everyone's "Buzzing" Over the Grand Opening of Phase II

Today, Park staff breathed a huge sigh of relief after the grand opening of our "Phase II" expansion area. All of you can finally see for yourselves, the results of all the construction that has been going on for the last several months. In the northeast corner of the Park, the state’s first wheelchair accessible tree house is now complete. Stop by and get a bird’s eye view of our natural wetland area from our beautifully built tree house. Along the path there, keep your eyes peeled for native wildlife. Already today, visitors spotted a pair of bobwhite quail strolling through the forested undergrowth.

On the way to the tree house, you’ll find a building that not only houses our new restrooms, but also displays three new exhibits: native frogs, carnivorous plants and…BEES! If you’ve never seen a live beehive before, but have wondered what one looks like on the inside, you’ll love our new honey bee exhibit. Over 25,000 bees have settled into their new home and visitors can watch them busily building honeycomb and storing honey through a glass partition. You might even try your luck at finding the queen (hint: she has a tiny green dot on her back!)

More exhibits are planned for our newly expanded area, so come back often…you might be surprised at the new animals you find!

To view WNCT’s piece on the grand opening, you can visit the video section of our web site here.