This is the twelve in a series by Joh Henschel of EnviroMEND about the Namib Desert.
Photographs by Joh Henschel
The nightscape looks eerie from the sky. Flap, flap, flap, flap… We slowly pass dark contours on both sides as we follow the dimly discernible line of a riverbed below.
The soft honking and muttering gives reassurance that our group is still together, with the others being just ahead, next to and behind me. I warble a reply and keep on steadily pumping my wings. We are the flame-bearers, taking our rosy-glowing selves from Etosha to Walvis Bay.
Six months ago, Flam and I had built a nest on Etosha Pan to raise a chick, which we named Ingo. In the last week, Flam, Ingo and I realised that the pan no longer provided sufficient food. Dreams of juicy pickings waiting for us at Walvis Bay made us more and more restless.
Yesterday afternoon, I took off from Etosha with Flam, Ingo and a thousand companions, going west into the setting sun to get to the coast as quickly as possible. After dark, we trailed the riverbed, and dropped the flying height, but still comfortably clearing tall trees. And here we go, flap, flap, flap,
We fly into a cool night breeze, which turns chilly and becomes laced with fog, so the lead flyer needs to drop even lower, with the rest of us following. The river runs out of trees, and is now traced with dark blotches of shrubs until these also disappear. Now the headwind is our best orientation.
The sound of tumbling surf announces the coast as we approach halos of light: Henties Bay. Our flock rises slightly, mumbling communications to each other to be careful and keep close together as we pass over the roofs. I see a person’s head popping out of the window to follow our passage.
She is communicating this to firstname.lastname@example.org, 081-855 1456, so that future developers are familiarised with our highways and avoid disruption.
In the meantime we have reached the beach. The coast is clear, and we turn south, now flapping with a crosswind. The hours of continuous exercise are telling, and I notice that Ingo is tired, even though he is slipstreaming Flam. We’re all tired, but need to push on.
Not all youngsters persevere. Some are too exhausted to continue flying and land on the beach, so exhausted they can barely walk.
We fly on along the beach until the shimmering of early dawn and we fly above the surf. We pass Swakopmund and make for Pelican Point, which embraces our flock. We make for those broad, shallow mudflats at the mouth of the Walvis Lagoon, which I remember from three years ago, when I was last here.
There is already another large flock here, which arrived yesterday from Makgadikgadi Pan, but there is still plenty of space for us.
We land in a pink-white-grey flourish. Flam, Ingo and I test our limbs and feathers and find that, although knackered, we’re still intact. Now, there is nothing like a bit of food, and these shallow mudflats are writhing with tiny worms, maggots, shrimp-like amphipods, all spiced with tiny greens.
These are our best feeding grounds, and I’m hungry! Pardon me while I dip my head upside down into the water to filter these goodies from the mud. Flam, Ingo and I – indeed all we flamingos – are thankful that our flightpaths are still clear so we can breed and feed.
This article was originally published in the September 2012 Flamingo edition (Air Namibia's in-flight magazine).