Fascinating flamingoes in the Walvis Bay lagoon

05 April 2013

After our pitstop at Café Probst, we drove down to the vast Walvis Bay lagoon at the southwestern edge of the town.

“As you can see, this is a paradise for birds,” said Reggie, as we began to walk along the promenade, which runs right along the edge of the lagoon. There seemed to be hundreds of birds, some fairly close to the shore, others barely visible in the distance, disappearing into the damp fog that still cloaked the shoreline.

“The tidal lagoon and the wetlands extend a considerable distance south, until you reach the salt evaporation pans and the salt refinery. It also includes the wetland around the sewage works, the dry river bed and dune area of the Kuiseb river, and much of the shoreline to the south. The wetlands were declared a Ramsar site in 1995, when it was recognised just how important this area is for bird conservation.”

“What does Ramsar mean? I’ve never heard of that.”

They are so beautiful - I love the pink colours against the grey fog
The flamingoes are so beautiful – I love the pink colours against the grey fog

“I didn’t know that either, Flat Kathy – I also had to look it up. The Ramsar convention on wetlands of international importance, especially as waterfowl habitats, is an international treaty that is named after the city of Ramsar in Iran, where the convention was signed in 1971. It recognises the importance of such ecosystems, and aims to prevent human encroachment on wetlands, and their pollution and ultimate destruction.”

“This particular area is an important feeding ground for all kinds of migratory birds, including flamingoes, terns, plovers, gulls, pelicans, egrets, sandpipers, herons – some of these breed in the northern hemisphere and then migrate to the southern hemisphere during the northern winter, when it is warmer here. Apparently, there are usually around 20,000 birds here, but in spring and summer, this number can increase to 250,000 – but if the rains inland have been very good, then those numbers may be lower, as they may prefer to remain near their breeding grounds.”

Exquisitely elegant and graceful
Exquisitely elegant and graceful – an adult bird with two juveniles or ‘sub-adults’

“Those birds with their skinny pink-red legs are flamingoes, Flat Kathy. There are Greater Flamingoes and Lesser Flamingoes. The Greater ones are more common, and have a pale pink beak with a black tip. They feed on invertebrates, like worms and small crustaceans and molluscs, but they also eat algae. The Lesser Flamingoes are slightly smaller, with maroon beaks that also have a black tip. They feed mainly on algae, and prefer the so-called blue-green algae, which makes them go bright pink in colour.”

“How do they feed?” I asked, watching in fascination, as the birds seemed to be walking on the spot rather vigorously from time to time, their heads disappearing into the water.

“They use their webbed feet to disturb the silt and mud, and then dunk their beaks in the water, upside down,” explained Reggie. “They suck the water into to their bills, where hairy lamellae filter out the food – shrimps, algae, worms, etc.”

It must take a long time for their bellies to be full, I thought to myself.

“Let’s go back to the car,” suggested Richard, “and see if we can find some seagulls for Flat Kathy!”

(Click on any of the photos below to access the slideshow with captions.)

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