Kesubo Swamp: A twitcher's wet dream
Well, it's a swamp, and it's chockful of birds .. so what would YOU call it?
The swamp is located at the northern end of Lake Bogoria, just before the entrance to the park, and thus, no entrance fee is payable. It is a quiet and very picturesque spot, with the delicate vivid greenery of the papyrus forming an stunning counterpoint to the parched brown starkness of the Rift Valley landscape.
The major attraction of the swamp is of course its birdlife. Well over 200 species are resident here, and our superannuated copy of the Lonely Planet guide to East Africa makes mention of the fact that, "The swamp holds the Kenyan record for the largest number of bird species seen in one hour (96!)." That's a different type of birdie every 37.5 seconds, which is more twitching than the sane person can comprehend, and enough to make you feel exhausted at the mere prospect!
Although it should be self-evident, just exercise sensible caution when exploring swamps ... if the crocs don't get you, then the mozzies most probably will!
Geysers, geothermal springs and boiling mud
The Rift Valley is a vulcanologist's paradise - even for a lapsed geologist such as myself - and when you throw in the added attractions of geysers, hot springs and boiling mud pools, we could be excused for wondering whether we've died and gone to heaven!
If you have been fortunate enough to experience the extravagant geothermal delights of Rotorua, Yellowstone or Iceland, the hot springs of Lake Bogoria will probably seem fairly modest to you. However, that doesn't mean that the springs (which are located about half way down the western shore of the lake) aren't fascinating and are well worth a look.
For me, the most interesting aspect was to see the interplay between the hot springs and the flamingoes. I was astonished to see flamingoes blithely feeding within a couple of metres of the geyser vent. In a situation where I would have thought they run the risk of being parboiled, they seemed unperturbed, and I suppose that the tiny shrimps on which they feed thrive in the hot water.
The hot springs are also a drawcard for local 'tourists', who are more probably people from the surrounding area who come in by matutu (mininbus taxi) on the weekends to fill empty soft drink bottles with water from the hot springs. Apparently the water is considered to be good for skin complaints, which given the sulphur content, is probably absolutely true.
And, for the barking mad - such as me - the hot springs also offer a long awaited opportunity to boil an egg in the hot springs: see the travelogue below for a step-by-step guide to preparing Boiled Egg Bogoria!
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 ... we have lift off
I think that flamingoes are at their most interesting when they're taking off, as it is them that you really get to appreciate their extraodinary design.
It has to be said that if you were designing a bird to be efficient in takeoff and flight, a flamingo would not be your preferred design! However light their bone structure might be, that's still a lot of bird to lift into the air, and in order to take off, they need to take a really good run at it - probably at least 30m - which presents problems when they are tightly packed along the lakeshore. As a result, they have to start to take off from the edge of the colony, and those in the middle just have to wait their turn.
When the flamingoes spread their wings, you can appreciate the darker salmon pink of their wings and the striking black border along the edge, which are tucked out of sight when the bird is standing. The spectacle is gorgeous - and highly photogenic - especially when a number of birds take off at once.
Obviously it's not aerodynamic to have those long, long legs dangling down during flight, so the flamingo has a special joint that allows the legs to be locked into position once the bird is airborne.
Even the bloody ostriches are pink!
As we drove through the communal farming areas that link the main road to the entrance of Lake Bogoria, we came across a surprising number of ostrich - usually small groups of two or three males. Other than looking supremely healthy and unfazed by close proximity to humans, we were surprised to notice that the exposed skin of their necks and legs was a robust, rosy pink (unlike the usual greyish colour that we are used to).
As we were about to discover 'pink' is most certainly Lake Bogoria's defining colour scheme, but in this case, I suspect it had more to do with these gentlemen being in hormonal overdrive in preparation for the breeding season!
You've got to question some critter's taste!!!
Nature offers a myriad of ecological niches to be occupied by enterprising critters, but it has to be said that some are more desirable than others!
Take the oxpeckers for instance - wonderful birds whose diet consists almost solely of ticks which they 'harvest' from wildlife and livestock in a symbiotic relationship that keeps the birdies fed and the hosts free of disease. From a nutrition point of view it makes heaps of sense, as ticks are chockful of protein - especially after a good feed of blood - but as a dietary prospect, it leaves much to be desired!
Watching oxpeckers is a delight. They usually operate in groups, so it's not unusual to see half a dozen working on a large animal such as a giraffe, busily seeking out ticks from the most unglamorous nooks and crannies. Their hosts are well used to their tender ministrations, and will even tolerate the oxpeckers operating very close to sensitive areas, such as inside their ears and around their eyes.
The only sad thing is that in countries with more technologically advanced agricultural sectors, oxpeckers are under threat because they are vulnerable to the chemicals used in commercial cattle dips.
Standing room only!
When you think of Lake Bogoria, you immediately think flamingoes. However, whatever you are expecting, I doubt whether you will be prepared for the carpet of pinkness that confronts you as you first catch sight of the lake. I have never seen so many animals in one place at one time, and the fact that their colour is such a stark contrast to their surroundings adds extra drama to an already overwhelming spectacle.
Estimates of the number of flamingoes on the lake vary, but range up to 4 million. That's simply too large a number to comprehend, and whatever proportion of that number we saw in our all to brief visit, it was awe inspiring. The conditions in the lake are ideal for the tiny shrimp on which the flamingoes feed, and if the old adage of there being 'safety in numbers' is true, then these birds are very secure indeed!
The flamingoes migrated to Lake Bogoria in the 1990s during a particularly traumatic El Nino event which lead to the virtual drying up of their former habitat at Lake Nakuru. However, flamingoes are by nature a migratory species, and so it is quite possible that they will relocate again to one of the other lakes along the Rift Valley in the future if circumstances change.
The flamingoes are primarily lesser flamingoes, although there are quite a few greater flamingoes as well (easily identified by their larger size and paler plumage). Despite their enormous numbers, the lesser flamingoes don't breed here, but rather fly over the border to Lake Natron in Tanzania (which is one of only four breeding colonies in sub Saharan Africa).
Once you get close to the colony, the first impression is how closely packed the birds are: truly standing room only! This became amusingly apparent as my husband slowly advanced on foot and accidentally encroached on their 'çomfort zone'. Under most circumstances, birds would simply fly away, but the flamingoes are so tightly packed that they don't have enough space to spread their wings, let alone attempt their characteristic running takeoff. Thus, a sort of evasive 'Mexican wave' swept through the colony, creating a mesmerising optical effect.
Lastly, a word on photography. We were using a new camera on this trip which we hadn't had a chance to get used to in advance (not a very bright idea, I know), and we struggled a bit with focus. With so many individuals present (and particularly if you have something in the foreground, such as a gazelle or maribou stork), cameras with autofocus can struggle to work out exactly what to focus on. So, if you're a serious photographer or a twitcher with a yen to take the ultimate flamingo shot, you might want to do some reading up in advance so that you are properly prepared to take best advantage of this extraordinary photo opportunity.
Things that termites can teach you
I like to consider myself a connaisseur of termite mounds - not an expert, but someone who appreciates a fine piece of insect engineering when they see it!
In general, I have a sneaking fondness termites - except for the time that they ate my garage when I was living in Western Australia, but that's another story altogether! Termite mounds are a unique characteristic of the landscape in the arid zone, and I continuously marvel at their variation in shape to suit local conditions, from the flat 'tombstones' so characteristic of Australia's Northern Territory to this 'design' at Lake Bogoria, with its accentuated 'chimney'.
Termites are clever little buggers, and their mounds are truly masterpieces of natural engineering designed to optimise internal temperature control through manipulation of airflow.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and as ever, there's a lot that we humans can learn from the environment around us. For those interested in the principle of 'biomimicry' (where design principles from the natural world are applied in the built environment), the Eastgate Shopping Centre in Harare (Zimbabwe) built in the 1990s 'biomimics' a termite mound to achieve energy efficient temperature control - as a result, this building consumes only about 10% of the energy of an equivalent building (even less now it's largely unoccupied due to the collapse of the Zimbabwe economy, but that's a sad, sorry tale for another day). The Inhabit website offers more detail on the subject:
"The Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, typifies the best of green architecture and ecologically sensitive adaptation. The country’s largest office and shopping complex is an architectural marvel in its use of biomimicry principles. The mid-rise building, designed by architect Mick Pearce in conjunction with engineers at Arup Associates, has no conventional air-conditioning or heating, yet stays regulated year round with dramatically less energy consumption using design methods inspired by indigenous Zimbabwean masonry and the self-cooling mounds of African termites!
"Termites in Zimbabwe build gigantic mounds inside of which they farm a fungus that is their primary food source. The fungus must be kept at exactly 87 degrees F, while the temperatures outside range from 35 degrees F at night to 104 degrees F during the day. The termites achieve this remarkable feat by constantly opening and closing a series of heating and cooling vents throughout the mound over the course of the day. With a system of carefully adjusted convection currents, air is sucked in at the lower part of the mound, down into enclosures with muddy walls, and up through a channel to the peak of the termite mound. The industrious termites constantly dig new vents and plug up old ones in order to regulate the temperature."
Follow this link for more on this fascinating topic: http://inhabitat.com/building-modelled-on-termites-eastgate-centre-in-zimbabwe/eastgate-centre-biomimetic-architecture-biomimicry-biomimetic-design-biomimicry-of-termite-mounds-green-building-with-termites-eco-building-sustainable-design-harare-zimbabwe-africa-sustain-2/)
Lake Bogoria Hot Springs
Lake Bogoria is located about three hours north of Nakuru in Bogoria National Reserve. It is one of the three famous rift valley lakes in Kenya; the other two being Lake Baringo and Lake Nakuru. There are three gates to the reserve, turning right just before you get to the main gate will get you to the reserve via the Loboi gate.. The soda lake is about 30 sq km in size and is quite shallow. Most soda lakes have outlets that allow foe evaporation. The high levels of evaporation have left behind high minerals and salts. Because of these very high mineral levels, the lake can not contain any fish and is not healthy for swimming. However the lake attracts large numbers of flamingos because of the rich blue-green algae that flamingos like.
Lake Bogoria is well known for its hot springs. The Loburu hot springs erupt along the lakeside and create such an attraction. Not do be deceived, these hot springs as attractive as they are, can be extremely dangerous because of the extreme boiling temperatures of the springs. At Lake Bogoria camp, they have created a hot spring bath that guests can soak in and enjoy the healing powers of mineral waters.
The hot springs and geysers are located on the western shore and are over a sizable area erupting at intervals of 3 minutes and go as high as five feet high. The minerals from the water have an ashy color that makes the ground around whitish-gray. The local people believe that the water has healing powers and that inhaling the vapors cleanses the internal organs and leaves the outer skin smoother/healthier. I believe it is the properties of the minerals produced by the hot waters coming from deep within the earth’s crust.
Do not forget the flamingos that are the other attraction around the Lake.
- National/State Park
Spend the afternoon in the Northern Hemisphere!
You may or may not be aware that Kenya straddles the equator - and this happy quirk of geography is a golden opportunity for you to capitalise on in terms of pretentious utterances!
If you are travelling to Lake Bogoria from Nakuru, Naivasha or Nairobi, you will have to cross the equator en route - in truth, little more than a couple of brightly coloured signs and a posse of curio sellers hawking underwhelming wares, but The Equator nonetheless. Which is just begging for you to casually throw the phrase, ''And we just popped over into the Northern Hemisphere for the afternoon ..." into your narration of your holiday experiences ...
I should contextualise this by saying that for the first couple of years of my career, I was dying to excuse myself from a meeting with the explanation, "Please excuse me, but I have a plane to catch ..." and this is the logical extension!!!! But then probably you're not as pretentious as I am!!!
For the bird lovers you can take a bird walk with one of the resident naturalists where you get a chance to see woodland kingfisher,Northern white headed buffallo weaver, Rufous crowned roller and many others. It's such an eye opener for a starter like me being taught how to identify the bird by the sound they make.