MIAMI — When you think of flamingos, the images that come to mind are probably of African water holes, the Caribbean, Florida - or almost anywhere else other than Waynesville, Ohio.
So, when Jacob Roalef saw Facebook posts about flamingos at Ceasar Creek State Park, near Dayton, last week, he rushed to see them for himself.
"I quickly grabbed my gear and told my wife and was out the door," said Roalef, who leads birdwatching tours.
When he got there, he saw two birds - an adult and a juvenile - in the lake.
"The flamingos were just hanging out and sleeping in about a foot of water near the shore," Roalef said. "They would wake up and drink some water or look up if a gull flew overheard."
He said the birds stayed there until about 6 p.m., when a dog scared them off.
Jerry Lorenz, the state director of research for Audubon Florida, says that since Hurricane Idalia blew through, they've gotten reports of flamingos from around Florida, as well as Georgia, the Carolinas, Texas, Kentucky and many other places - and the sightings keep pouring in.
He speculates that the birds were flying between Cuba and the Yucatan and got diverted by the storm.
"It's just really surprising that if you follow the path of Idalia, it (the sightings) really does kind of fall out to the north and south of that central track," he said.
Lorenz said they are still going through the data, so he doesn't know how many birds flew north because of the storm, but it's a lot more than usual.
"We have never seen anything like this," Lorenz said. "We will get a flamingo or two following storms (but) this is really unprecedented."
Boat captain Vinnie Fugett spotted a group of 17 flamingos walking in the surf and eating on the beach at Treasure Island, near St. Petersburg
The birds finished eating and flew away around sunset.
"I've never seen a flamingo here after living here my entire life," Fugett said.
Lorenz urged people to give the flamingos lots of space because they've been through a lot.
"These birds are stressed right now. They just went through a terrible ordeal no matter how you look at it," he said. "So don't get close enough to startle them to frighten them or anything else, but enjoy their presence."
Flamingos are native to Florida, but they were hunted to near extinction near the turn of the 20th century for their beautiful feathers, which were used in hats and other fashion.
The population has been growing worldwide, but most of the Florida flamingos were believed to be descended from birds that escaped from various animal attractions.
Recently, scientists have seen flamingos that have flown here from Cuba, Yucatan and the Bahamas.
Lorenz said flamingos are capable of flying thousands of miles over open waters, so the Ohio birds should have no trouble flying home when it gets too cold for them.
He's been working with a group of experts to restore the Everglades and the Florida Keys and create proper habitats where flamingos can thrive.
"Perhaps these birds will feel more comfortable and, we will have a population again, and people will be able to come to South Florida and come to the Florida Keys and actually see flamingos in the wild," he said.