I promised you the back story of the plastic avian lawn ornaments, but I’ll begin with a story about Africa:
LAKE NAKURU, February1995
The layer of pink was like frosting atop the white cake of the soda lake beach. Above the pink line, the air rippled in the African heat and dozens of figures hovered, darted and landed in the scene, flickering like birthday candle flames floating above the lake.
That lake was Nakuru, home of the first national park in Kenya, and the pink frosting was a layer of hundreds of thousands of pink birds, the “lesser” flamingoes that gather at Kenya’s caustic soda lakes to dine on the voluminous algae. Inside the microscopic algae is a pigment that makes the birds’ feathers pink.
Looking out across the lake, especially through a long lens that compressed the100-degree heated air, the scene appeared as a mirage.
But as you walk closer, the harshness of the environment starts to become clear. When you breathe in the white chalky dust from the beach, it stings your nostrils. If we were to step into these waters, the alkaline stew would burn our flesh like stepping into a bucket of lye. But the birds have a coating on their legs and beaks so they can walk in the shallow waters of the lakes and dip down to scoop algae, sifting it in their mouths.
I was there to produce a World of Audubon special, a co-production with the BBC Natural History Unit. My best TV pals Peggy and Greg were there, along with the presenters from the Beeb, who are arguably some of the smartest TV hosts on the planet. They had logged countless hours in the African bush, and really knew their stuff, even deducing which animal had killed the waterbuck behind my tent one night. It was a leopard, they surmised.
We — Peggy, Greg and I — were part of an environment-themed news magazine on Turner Broadcasting, a show that had taken us around the world to rainforests and toxic waste dumps, urban brownfields to wide open spaces. But this was a chance to become instant naturalists, learning from some amazing experts on the ground, and, for me, to see the great African fauna for the first time. Lake Nakuru National Park is fenced in, and features almost all the major animals except hippos and elephants. Lions and leopards lurked in the bush. Driving into the grasslands behind the lake, we would see Rhinos grazing and, one evening, we shined our headlights on cheetahs gorging on an antelope, with jackals in the background, looking for room to nose in and get a bite.
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