Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Day 13: Walvis Bay Flamingoes

Driving from Sossusvlei into Swakopmund takes you over some quite rugged country on gravel roads. It’s about 380kms and takes most of the day. Hard, hot, nervous driving if you are not familiar with unsealed driving conditions. Twenty kilometres from the coast you suddenly hit black top – it’s a weird experience as the vehicle suddenly stops complaining and the tyres run virtually silent on the smooth surface. The main road passes through Walvis Bay (pronounced in Africaans, 'Vaalfish' Bay) so we pootled into the town to check out the flamingoes that were supposed to inhabit the only natural harbor on this part of the coast.  

Soon found ourselves sitting on the board walk in front of 50,000 flamingoes feeding on the mud flats. It’s an impressive site. We even found a spot where they came close to the shore so we could get reasonably good snaps of them feeding. Drive south out of Walvis Bay and you end up in the salt pans – hectares of low lying ponds full of sea water slowly evaporating to form salt beds that were being commercially harvested. There were a few flamingoes here – and at the salt pans north of Swakopmund too, but it was also a sad place. There is ample evidence of predation – loads of dead flamingoes amid multiple jackal tracks.

For a predator, the massed formations of birds wading in six inches of salty soup must be heaven on earth. One can only wonder how the salt, piled high in glistening mountains waiting to be trucked out of town, is cleaned of all the dead bird carcasses, droppings and goodness knows what else before it appears on our supermarket shelves. The smell of decay around the edges of these briny lagoons was quite unpleasant.  I’m considering a salt-free diet from now on.
There are two types of flamingo visible here: the greater and the lesser flamingo. Standing at one metre and 60-70cms respectively, these birds are naturally white in colour and only attain that typical pinkish hue from ingesting large amounts of algae in the food chain. It’s weird because some birds look like Barbie accessories they are soooooo pink, almost red in colour while others, presumably sickly or undernourished specimens, appear ghostly white in colour. The birds in the salt pans were significantly more wary than those in Walvis Bay (presumably because of the jackals) so we couldn’t get that close for a good shot, even with a 300mm + 2X Extender.
We drove back into town and spent an hour or two watching them from the seafront as they snuffled up and down the shoreline in the mud and algae.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Robin, I really love those flamingo photos & they really made me wish I'd been there. The one with the wings out reminded me of a brolga or jabiru as it was such an unusual pose. Awesome photos!!! Anne