Yesterday, Tampa Bay Times columnist Stephanie Hayes tracked down visual evidence that a flamboyance of flamingos arrived in the area with the storm:
Flamingos have a fraught relationship with Florida. They were ubiquitous in the state until hunted almost to extinction more than 100 years ago, mostly for the purpose of obtaining their vivid feathers to decorate ladies’ hats. After that, flamingos were rarely spotted in the state outside of theme parks and remote areas of Florida Bay between the tip of the Everglades and the Keys.
That said, flamingo visitations concurrent with tropical storms are not unheard of around here. The article mentions a lone flamingo in the Panhandle that is thought to have arrived there with Hurricane Michael in 2018. It has been regularly spotted since then at St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge.
And sometimes, if you’re in the right place at the right time, you might see a flamingo unexpectedly. Back in the mid-aughties, I saw one at sunrise after a sleepless night boat camping with my family on a tiny island in Tampa Bay that locals call Beer Can Island.
I’m too paranoid to sleep well during camping trips, so I’d been up all night tending a small campfire on the beach, drinking coffee and watching the distant tankers and tugboats pass by on their way into or out of the port terminals. I spotted the bird in the first rays of dawn. I disbelieved my eyes at first, but the unmistakable silhouette convinced me that I was really looking at a flamingo.
I wasn’t close enough to tell if it was a banded theme park escapee or a wild bird. It was about 50 yards away, and I didn’t dare go closer because our dog (good old Bart! — our first boxer!) was asleep at my feet. I feared if I moved, Bart would wake up and scare the bird away. So I sat still and watched the flamingo grow impossibly pinker in the strengthening sunlight that burned away the morning mist.
After a while, the flamingo stretched out its astonishingly wide pink and black-edged wings and flew off west, toward the Gulf. I got out of my camp chair and stretched, watching it go. Bart and I wandered over to inspect the spit where the flamingo had stood in the mist, like a vision, just minutes before.
There was a single pink feather on the sand. I picked it up and used it to decorate my bedraggled sun hat.