A fuchsia forest of legs and with long elegant necks tucked into their pink chests, the abundant flocks of flamingos are almost synonymous with Swakopmund and especially with the Walvis Bay lagoon. Walvis Bay is one of the best places in the world to see these gorgeous birds and annual census of both greater and lesser species combined average over 65 000 birds.
With their curiously back-bending knees, they can often be seen roosting on the sandbars among the mudflats, but are mostly found feeding in the shallows of the lagoon at low tide. Each species has a unique food they filter, both using their huge tongues to pump water into their upside-down beaks while walking with measured pace a thousand strong. That’s a lot of legs!
At low tide the mudflats are dimpled with circular mounds of mud surrounded with little ‘moats’ – the aftermath of the curious circular feeding dance of the greater flamingo as they stamp the mud to disturb brine shrimp. Their lovely pink colouring is derived from a carotenoid found in their food. The smaller lesser flamingo is the pinker of the two species.
Image right: those curious back-bending knees! Resting on a sandy patch on Walvis Bay Lagoon
We are lucky enough to come across both lesser and greater flamingos as we end our Namib Desert Safari as we canter along the beach, sometimes disturbing these fuchsia beauties into flight. The mouth of the Swakop river almost always has some briny water in it, so a small flock of feeding flamingos can be seen along with an assortment of other water birds including pelicans.
Some wonderfully mysterious instinct tells the birds of inland rain and suddenly, overnight, 27 000 birds will depart the coast on their 500 km journey to Etosha and beyond. Those tuned into the sensitives of nature might hear their goose-like honking in the dead of night as they pass overhead, flying low and using the coast as a marker. Once they reach the delta of the Huab and Ugab rivers, they turn sharply right and head straight for Etosha. Scientists are still not sure why they fly at night, a practise that unfortunately results in high power cable collisions.
Their breeding dance is a sight to behold as thousands of birds march in solemn procession, flashing their brilliant wing colours and then standing tall with necks high and beaks waving from side to side. Breeding sites in this part of Africa include Etosha Pan (Namibia) and Sua Pan (Botswana) as well as lake Natron in Tanzania.
Recent satellite tracking has revealed a female lesser flamingo’s (dubbed No. 27) incredible nocturnal flight from the Northwest Province of South Africa to Mozambique. But she did not stop there, taking off on Sunday 10th June she continued to fly all the way to Madagascar, arriving at noon the following day. A remarkable feat for so large a bird. Wonder if she will come all the way back to breed?
Image left: No 27 taking off before her incredible flight to Madagascar
We revel in our wonderfully diverse Namibian environment and Namibia Horse Safari Company is dedicated to participating in environmental outreach programmes and creating awareness through our actions. Our recent Facebook share of the open letter by the NCE to the Chinese Ambassador regarding the wildlife crimes by Chinese nationals reached an incredible 45 000 people. Thank you to all those who responded – China has responded and we hope for a favourable outcome of suggestions given by the Namibia Chamber of the Environment (NCE)
Enjoy this short video on the flamingos in the Swakop river mouth.
Reference: Roberts Birds of Southern Africa, PAR Hockey, WRJ Dean and PG Ryan