The flamingos of Lake Logipi
In a helicopter, in remote northern Kenya, on track to photograph the flamingos of Lake Logipi, my excitement was sky high. For more than 90 minutes we buzzed along verdant rivers, over forested mountains and between canyons before, finally, we reached the Great Rift Valley where flamingos paint the waters of Lake Logipi pink.
When I’d asked how many flamingos we should expect, the pilot said “thousands”, but now, looking down at the red and white carpet of birds that furled and unfurled in waves above the algae green lakes, tens of thousands, or even millions of lesser and greater flamingos were dotted in the brine filled lakes.
“The lake’s split in two… I’ve never seen quite so many birds in one place,” our pilot said, above the rattle of the blades.
I half expected David Attenborough to lean over and whisper in his soft and singing tones … “and here is an event like none other, an amazing congregation akin to the great wildebeest migration, the fruit bats of Kasanka or the humbacked whales of the Indian Ocean.” We felt as if we were on the set of National Geographic and Planet Earth and after we touched down on the shores of Lake Turkana and dipped our feet in the salty waters we joked that the chopper would not get off the ground with all the images we’d taken.
Our journey began at Sarara, an eco-lodge on the steeply-sided and densely-forested Mathews Range in the 850 000 acre Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy of Northern Kenya. It’s joint project between the Bastard family and the local Samburu and its strong focus on sustainable community tourism has captured world attention. We stayed in a private villa – and relished the fact that members of the British Royal family had been previous guests at our private dinner table. Inside the lodge there was a guitar, which had been played by musician Dave Mathews who has raised awareness for Reteti elephant sanctuary wildlife orphanage or RESCUE.This is an amazing initiative which is unique in that it helps sick and abandoned baby elephants back to health and then attempts to reunite them with their own herds.
During the dry season when Northern Kenya is dry, wild dog, lion and leopards crowd the waterhole in front of the lodge and the same “singing wells” where the Samburu collect water each day for their cattle and bathe. Even in the wet Sarara showed its magic easily and we were never disappointed. There were purple flowers and yellow and white butterflies everywhere and the bush was thick and lush. We were rewarded with great sightings of the dramatically patterned reticulated giraffe and also elephants, which stood proud against the wonderful backdrop of the Mathews range. We watched delicate dik-dik and curious gerenuk, which stook on their hind legs like an impala and giraffe cross. And in many places we came across Samburu warriors tending their goats, cattle and camels.
The Samburu are proud Niolotic people who tend goats and cattle as they have done since making their way down the Great Rift Valley from the Sudan centuries ago. They decorate themselves with using all manner of things from bobby socks to plastic flowers and are truly spectacular people. Its taboo and bad luck to photograph them, but the lodge arranged for us to photograph a traditional dance in a riverbed. I smiled a little noticing one of the villages taking a small pink mirror out of his pocket before the shoot and figured that photography was fine as long as it was on their terms. I would also like a little time to prepare if someone was going to take my pictures. Even so, such was the mystery of seeing the young men and women dancing round the fire, that photographers in our group decided not to photograph the dancers at all, while others chose slow shutter speeds and to add mystery to the event with the blurred shapes.
One of the most surprising finds at Sarara was on our last day when the four year old son of one of the managers lifted a trapdoor in the lounge and revealed a family of porcupines living under a trapdoor in the living room. Such were the secrets of Sarara. Why not visit there with us?