Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Pink Mirage-The Pink Flamingo

Have you ever seen a mirage, only to realize you didn’t? But isn’t that what a mirage is all about, not seeing something? So, you ask me, how can I not see something, when I am seeing it? We are getting into Edward de Bono territory here, but surely if you can see it, surely it has to exist? Well, no goes the argument, you only think you can see it.

Surely that is not logical? You can think something or not think something, that is up to you. But if you see something, you either see it or you don’t. Eyes do not tell lies.
A mirage is defined as an image, produced by very hot air, of something which seems to be far away, but does not really exist. Here again the definition is ambiguous. The whole thing revolves around the word ‘really’. Surely it either exists or it does not exist? Can it really not really exist?!

Well, you are thinking, what has any of this got to do with flamingos? Well, because flamingoes are the most perfect mirage in nature. Colonies of them create a mirage. You do not see a lone flamingo taking a walk by himself in the sunset. These guys stick together. They understand they create mirages. We have all seen the iconic images of flamingoes. But the flamingoes stick together because they are better together. To understand this better we need to take a closer look at a flamingo.
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If you look at the head of a flamingo, as the picture on this page shows, you will be surprised at how awkward, and dare I say it, somewhat ugly, the flamingo is. You have a beady eye and beak which seems to have been broken, and then crudely stuck back together again. It is bent in a somewhat awkward way.  But you always thought they were beautiful right? Lots of flamingoes together do look beautiful, but individually they are quite ugly. This is the effect of the mirage. You see something quite ugly, but you see lots of them, and they appear really beautiful. The effect they make does not really exist, but it is stunning.
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 Now if you were to look at the body of a flamingo you would be surprised at how geeky they look, with their awkward, stick-thin legs, and incredibly long necks. They look like real nerds. You would be probably feel quite happy to invite the flamingo guy to help you with a problem on your computer, but you would probably not be overjoyed if the guy invited your daughter out for dinner!
This is not least because the flamingo eats upside down! It’s not like they are bad mannered or anything. It is just the way they have been designed. They place their long necks in the water and stir up the sediment at the bottom of the lake. They then use their long tongues as a pump to push the water and algae into their large bills. Large bills in any walk of life, are probably not a good idea, especially if your daughter was asked to pay half of it. But in this instance, each half of the bill-the upper and lower mandibles-are lined with flexible plates which are lined with hairs. This acts as a sophisticated filtering system. The system works and the flamingoes enjoy good dinners. With or without your daughter.

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Flamingoes also enjoy very good food, generally algae and shrimp. Quite sophisticated food really, so they could, for example, take your daughter to a seafood restaurant or a Japanese restaurant. You can imagine their curved necks and enormous long legs being very useful for grabbing one of those plates of food that rush by on conveyor belts in those Japanese restaurants. If you missed anything they could reach out and grab the plate from the other side!
Flamingoes have an unusual body structure. In proportion to their body, they have longer legs and necks than any other bird. Their very thin legs and web feet mean that flamingoes can wade in water which is too deep for other birds. Their very long necks mean they can search for food at the bottom of the lake. Individually the flamingo looks ungainly and gormless. Together with other flamingoes they look majestic and serene. Such is the effect of the mirage.

Another reason why you would not want your daughter to marry a flamingo is that they live in very extreme habitats, where other birds and creatures do not dare to venture. Flamingos’ favourite food is algae and shrimp which thrive in saline water in shallow lakes. Africa’s Rift Valley provides the perfect conditions for these lakes, which often appear and disappear with the rains in the area. Flamingoes often appear or disappear according to the lakes.

Flamingos are highly gregarious birds which move around in large flocks. They know they are more beautiful all together. They honk incessantly, and dance and move all together. If you ever wanted to go to a party, it would surely be to a flamingo party. Your daughter would certainly enjoy this part of the flamingo lifestyle. They look as though they are constantly having fun. Their mating dances are regimented and they look terribly arrogant with their noses in the air, as though they are more superior. They probably are more superior if they can still have such fun all together in some of the most extreme habitats in the world. 
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If you have ever seen the flamingo in flight you would see how effortlessly graceful they are, with their long flapping wings, and long legs trailing behind held closely together. The designers of the Concorde airplane must have had their imaginations fired by the flamingo because the design features in both seem eerily similar.

Firstly the large wings on both beasts, and then more importantly the nose. The concord’s nose was tilted down to enable the pilots to see the runway, given the acute angles the aircraft landed at. The flamingo’s nose also points down, not just for landing, but also for feeding. The Concorde used to take off with a skip and a jump, landing was much the same, a few gentle calm steps and it would come to a standstill. The flamingo operates in the same fashion despite landing generally in water.
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So where can see this mirage in pink, one of the true wonders of the natural world? Lake Nakuru in Kenya is the place to go.
These majestic birds really make us think, and appreciate their collective beauty and grace. They are one of nature’s most pure and iconic images, in image and mirage. This is really one of nature’s little tricks. Think! A mirage in pink. How really cool is that?

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