A New Book Illuminates the Lives of the Elusive, Pink-Plumed Flamingos in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula



Photography

#birds #books

May 6, 2022

Grace Ebert

The fluid that feeds the nestling is called crop milk. Both adults produce this secretion in the upper part of the intestine. All images © Photo © Claudio Contreras Koob and Nature Picture Library, shared with permission

In the Yucatán Peninsula, the rich wetland environment of the Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve is one of the most important sites for flamingos. The pink-pigmented birds flock to the area for breeding each year, with officials registering approximately 15,000 nests and 30,000 adults inhabiting the area in 2021 alone.

A biologist by training, photographer Claudio Contreras Koob has spent years visiting the lanky, big-beaked avians in the reserve and documenting their mannerisms and habits, amassing a broad collection of images now compiled in a book published by teNeues Verla in collaboration with the Nature Picture Library. Flamingo contains 132 of Contreras Koob’s shots spanning from aerial views showing the creatures as rosy dots on the green landscape to intimate glimpses of a chick peeking through its mother’s plumage for a feeding—the photographer shares with Inhabitat that the latter image captures the critically important blood-red crop milk, which parents regurgitate to nourish their young.

Both elusive and widely recognized, the birds are increasingly vulnerable due to pollution, the effects of the climate crisis, and human encroachment, and the photos illuminate the potential loss if they’re left unprotected. Contreras Koob describes the collection as “covering all aspects of the flamingo life cycle: feeding, bathing, migration, courtship, life in the colony, chick rearing, etc. to present a portfolio that allows us to understand the complex life that flamingos go through,” a process that required patience and repeated encounters to encapsulate. He explains:

By far the biggest challenge is to be able to get close to them. They live in muddy, slimy wetlands or in some very salty pools, and you just cannot walk to them and expect to take your images. It is easy to scare them, and once one of them enters in panic mode, all others follow suit. By not taking the time, you could create havoc in a colony.

Flamingo is currently available from Bookshop, and you can find more from Contreras Koob on Instagram.

To incubate their eggs, flamingos build nesting sites in their colonies. They consist of mud cones that must be constantly maintained so that rising water does not wash away the eggs.

Right: An aerial view of flamingos on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula

“Soon, I see a little white head peek out of the orange plumage. I imagine that this little creature must think the whole planet is orange,” Contreras Koob says.

As they grow, the chicks begin to explore the surroundings of the colony, always under the watchful eye of several adult animals who look after them.

The Celestún estuary is a popular place for flamingos and is near the cenotes, underwater water reservoirs that inject fresh water into the middle of a lagoon as if from a spring.

#birds #books

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