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Flamingos flock Lake Bogoria in millions, earlier than anticipated

By Caroline Chebet | June 22nd 2019
Flamingos at Lake Bogoria in Baringo on June 18,2019 .Photo:Kipsang Joseph/Standard

It is a breathtaking sight. Pops of pink, red and white beautifully float on the vast mass of water, signifying the return of flamingos to Lake Bogoria.

The grunts and growls from the thousands of flamingos spread across one of the world’s extreme and hyper-saline lakes, defining the peak tourism season.

The juveniles are yet to turn colour - they are still spotlessly white, gracefully gliding on the shallow water by the shores, the adults watching by at a distance in deeper spots.

The flamingos, currently estimated at over 1.5 million in numbers, up from 600,000 from the latest water bird count in January at Lake Bogoria, are back from Tanzania’s Lake Natron after a season of nesting.

“This is one of the greatest spectacles in years, the current flock is larger than last year’s peak season. There are also a large number of juveniles, signifying a successful breeding season at Lake Natron where the birds often go to nest,” said James Kimaru, Lake Bogoria National Reserve senior warden.

The return also marks the peak season for the lake that boasts springs and geysers and over 373 other bird species. The park recorded slightly over 200,000 visitors, which signifies a rising visitor trend over the years.

This year, the flamingos returned to the lake earlier than anticipated, a phenomenon which often occurs in July through to August every year.

“This year’s spectacle came earlier than expected. Although we are yet to get the actual numbers, we will be conducting the annual water bird count in July to ascertain the population,” said Kimaru.

Like other lakes within the Rift Valley, Lake Bogoria has also experienced increased water levels which the administration said has not impacted its quality.

The lake has enjoyed serenity with less impact on siltation. The only challenge, however lies in the drying up of the main tributary, River Weseges during the dry season. The lake has aggressively over time defined tourism within the Kenya Lake System and has recorded an increase in flamingos despite the rise in water levels that led to a reduction of bird species in Lake Nakuru.

The return of the birds to Lake Bogoria, Kimaru said, has also seen stop-over points including Lake Elementaita, Lake Magadi and Lake Nakuru recording a rise in number of migratory birds that survive in extraordinarily saline water.

The birds feed on algae blooms and cope in extreme conditions with minimal competition for food, which makes Rift Valley’s salty wetlands superb where massive flocks thrive.

The flamingos' rose-pink and red colours come from pigments found in its food. The birds eat by holding their bills upside down in the water.

Flamingos live up to about 40 years old but only breed every five or six years. Non-breeding flamingos do not return to breeding sites until they are ready to breed again and that is why there are often flamingos that remain behind when others flock to Lake Natron to nest.

The lakes in the Rift Valley including Bogoria, Nakuru, Elementaita, Magadi, Logipi and Natron, are homes to one of the world’s largest populations of lesser and greater flamingos.

Johanna Karatu, an elder and member of the Endorois, an indigenous community living around Lake Bogoria, said the lake is culturally significant to the community.

“When flamingos return from the nesting season, it signifies a peak season for businesses around here,” Karatu said.

Lake Bogoria Spa Resort General Manager Lydia Dentewo said the season has seen an increase in customer bookings and visitors making stop-overs.

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