Meeting the birds of lake Bogoria


Flamingo at lake Bogoria.

Nestled in a narrow basin, Lake Bogoria is dominated by towering cliffs.

Some call it the most beautiful lake in all of Kenya, and as the three of us descend upon it in our pickup truck, we can easily see why.

It has a shimmering, pea-green color, the result of a rich supply of algae.

These tiny plants thrive because of abundant sunlight and the warmth of the multitudinous hot springs that feed into the lake.

Lake Bogoria is thus a popular feeding ground for the dozens of pink, algae-eating flamingos that adorn it.

Picture of flamingos at lake Bogoria.

But flamingos are just the first of many feathered wonders that Paul, his wife Paula, and I will observe on this camping trip.

We drive slowly along the rocky, arid western shore.

Steam jets shoot their white plumes skyward.

Just beyond, perched on a rock jutting up from the water near the shore, sits still another feathered benefactor of the rich algae supply: the African fish eagle.

“There are no fish in this alkaline lake,” explains Paul. “So why do you think the eagles are here?” he asks.

The answer comes flying over—another fish eagle carrying a flamingo clutched in its sharp talons!

Now I understand why these pink beauties keep a safe distance from those perched predators!

The fish eagle is easily identifiable from a distance.

Its pure white head, back, chest, and tail contrast sharply with its chestnut abdomen and brownish-black wings.

When found at alkaline lakes where there are no fish, the eagle feeds almost exclusively on flamingos, a pair of eagles killing one every two or three days.

In freshwater lakes, however, the fish eagle truly is a fish-eater.

Picture of a fish eagle.

Imagine, though, walking along the shore of an African freshwater lake and having a fish dinner drop from the sky in front of you!

Impossible?

Not at all.

This white-headed fisherman has slippery talons and is known for dropping its fish catch—to the delight of local residents!

Nevertheless, the fish eagle is a distinguished flier, putting on stunning displays of aerial acrobatics.

A pair may soar at 200 feet [60 m] and then abruptly clutch each other’s talons.

With wings held out stiffly, they will go into an exciting spin, which ends only 30 feet [9 m] above the water!

Pulling out of the spin, they resume soaring, catching the rising thermals.


Winged Dancers


The dusty, rocky road around the southern edge of the lake becomes increasingly hilly and difficult to navigate.

As we climb the final stretch, we pass a pair of crowned cranes quietly picking insects off blades of grass.

Picture of a pair of African grey crowned crane.

It is now late afternoon, and with a sigh of relief, we reach our destination—Fig Tree Camp.

Situated on the extreme southeastern edge of the lake, it is a welcome oasis for tired travelers.

After a night’s rest, we sit around a morning fire, sipping hot coffee.

Then, suddenly, there it is!

Just a few feet [a meter or so] overhead, the male paradise flycatcher is hovering, busily building his nest in a tree only a few feet [barely a meter] from our campsite.

Picture of a paradise flycatcher.


“What a beautiful, long white tail!” exclaims Paula.

Long indeed.

The length of the male without tail feathers is only seven to seven and a half inches [18 to 19 cm].

But its two tail feathers may reach an astounding 16 inches [40 cm] in length.

Though relatively small, the paradise flycatcher is quite a fighter.

Even when much larger birds of prey venture too close to the family nest, the male does not hesitate to attack!

“It’s going to be difficult to get a good shot of this one,” says Paul as he sets up his camera.

Not sitting for long in one place, the busy nest-builder makes frequent trips to an abandoned leaf-clogged cobweb high in a tree.

His purpose?

To collect the sticky substances that he uses in building his nest.

Anxiously searching for the best parts of the web, he hovers first here, then there, executing rapid sideways body motions that send that spectacular tail whipping about furiously.

We enjoy his showy dance!

Finding his choice pieces, he returns to the nesting site, his graceful tail flowing behind him like a wave.

Later that morning we spot another pair of crowned cranes.

 Picture of pair of crowned cranes.

They have decided to feed in the grassy meadow in front of our camp, between the lake and the fig-tree forest.

One of the tallest East African birds, the crowned crane stands over three feet [almost a meter] on stilt-like black legs.

Its plumage is a beautiful blend of white, maroon, black, and gray.

But the remarkable features are seen above the neck.

The velvety black forehead is bordered by white and scarlet face wattles—large fleshy lobes.

And the crown?

A regal tuft of straw-colored, bristle-like feathers.

No wonder it was chosen as the national bird of neighboring Uganda!

“Have you ever seen a crowned crane dance?”

Paul calls out to me from a distance. I immediately head in his direction.

 “What do you think of that?” he whispers as we approach them.

The cranes face each other, those elegant heads bobbing and bowing as if participating in some bizarre royal ceremony.

With both wings open and raised high above the back, a span of some four feet [over a meter], they dance and pirouette in a solemn fashion for several minutes.

 “Is this the mating dance?” I whisper.

“No, they do this anytime,” he replies.

“In western Kenya I’ve seen a flock of a hundred or more dancing.”

During the mating season, the male really puts on a show.

(How could he ever hope to impress her with just his everyday dance?)

Standing hunched up and stooped over, with only one wing raised, he proudly throws his head back and, with bill pointing skyward, utters the booming bass mating call.

Impressive indeed!

Our trip has been far too short to see all there is to see in this area.

However, it has stimulated our appreciation for this animals and makes us eagerly look forward to the time when all earth’s animals will live together peaceably in perfect ecological balance earth.