Phenomenal flamingo movements in the Okavango Delta

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In Africa the unusual is usual. An example of this is that there have been some highly unusual flamingo movements in Ngamiland and even into Chobe Districts of Botswana over the last few weeks, which are hard to explain.

Map Ives reports that in his more than 30 years of living, working and wandering the Okavango Delta he has only seen two straggling birds, both lesser flamingo, and both at Xigera Lagoon in the early 1980s.

This year, since about mid-July, Map started receiving anecdotal reports of flocks overflying Maun from south west to north east on four days, all in the early morning. Lake Ngami is holding incredible bird numbers right now so that is probably the ‘source’. But where they might have been going early-morning in a north-easterly direction remains another question.

In the last couple of weeks there have been even more reports: a flock seen ‘with elephants’ in the Savute Marsh; another in the Xo Flats north west of Tchau; and two sighted on exposed sandbanks along the Okavango Panhandle.  The most dramatic recent sightings though were those reported from Abu and Xigera Concessions in the Okavango Delta. The first image below was taken by camp manager Cayley Christos in front of Abu Camp on Friday 31st August 2012. They circled for a couple of hours before landing and left the area after a few days.

The second image was taken by Nic Proust as they were viewed flying in a north-east direction on Saturday 1st September 2012. They were seen over the southern end of Xigera Lagoon in the Okavango Delta, later even settling in the Lagoon. This was the first of two flocks viewed 10 minutes apart and seen at about 9:30 am. The second flock was much larger and consisted of approx. 800 birds.

The last two images were taken along the Zambezi River in the Livingstone area of Zambia where, also in late August, a flock of lesser flamingo was seen at the River Club. This spectacle was enjoyed for over an hour. Brett Wallington also noted a lone bird in the same area.

There is no real explanation as to why these lesser flamingos are using the Delta and other wetlands in northern Botswana, especially considering that they have not apparently done so (at least in such large numbers) in the past few decades.

A quotation from Doug Adams perhaps sums these aberrant sightings up the best: “If ever anybody discovers exactly what the universe is for and why it is there, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something equally bizarre and inexplicable“

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By Martin Benadie

Martin is our birding expert and shares his wealth of avian knowledge with us, as well as tips on photography, safari optics and environmental news.

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