I have visited Lake Turkana thrice, three times more than I ever thought I would. All the trips have been amazing

Far flung and lying in the vast remote arid lands of northern Kenya, the lake is not what you would call a typical tourist destination. It is however a pleasant change from the usual wildlife and beach attractions that the country is famous for.

It is unique in that it is the most saline of Africa’s lakes and also the world’s largest permanent desert lake – a miraculous anomaly of life-giving water in a parched and unforgiving land.

Lake Turkana_birds view

 

Lake Turkana_rocky shore

 

Lake Turkana_perched landParched land near the Lake

 

Lake Turkana_Sunrise

 

Lake Turkana_Sunrise1

 

Lake Turkana_sunsetImage source

 

Lake Turkana region is home to hundreds of species of birds native to Kenya and is also an important flyway passage and stopover for Palearctic (denoting a zoogeographical region consisting of Europe, Africa north of the Sahara, and most of Asia north of the Himalayas ) migrant birds. The birds are essentially supported by plankton masses in the lake, which also feed the fish. A total of 84 water bird species, including 34 Palearctic migrants, have been recorded here.

I took most of these photos on the western shore of Lake Turkana next to a little fishing village near Kalokol.

The black-winged stilt  (Himantopus himantopus) is characterized by its extremely long, red legs, white stomach and, true to its name, jet-black wings . Its distinctive legs make up around 60 percent of its overall height.  Young birds can be distinguished by a dash of dark feathers on the usually white head

Lake Turkana_black winged stilt

 

Lake Turkana_black winged stilt (2)Black winged stilt

 

Lake Turkana_black winged stilt2

 

The greater flamingo is instantly recognizable by its long, thin neck and legs, colorful plumage and distinctive downward-bending beak. It is the largest of the flamingo species and also the palest, with white to pale pink plumage, contrasting red shoulders, and black tips to the wings.

Lake Turkana_greater flamingoGreater flamingo

 

Lake Turkana_greater flamingo2

 

Lake Turkana_Flamingoes

The female is smaller than the male, and juveniles are grey-brown with some pink in the under parts, wings and tail. The legs and beak are mainly brown . The call is a goose-like, honking ka-haunk.

 

The cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), a large water bird, has a long neck, giving it something of a primitive, reptilian appearance. Adults are black with a bluish or green sheen. At the base of the bill is an area of bare, yellow skin surrounded by white.  In the breeding season there is a white patch on the thigh, and throughout the year a variable amount of white occurs on the crown and back of the neck.

Lake Turkana_cormorantCormorant

 

Lake Turkana_cormorant (2)

 

Lake Turkana_cormorant 3

 

Lake Turkana_cormorants in trees

Juveniles are dark brown and have a white area on the under parts. A variety of deep vocalizations are produced in colonies The name cormorant is derived from the Latin ‘corvus marinus’, which means ‘sea crow’

The grey heron (Ardea cinerea)  has a distinctive long neck, a strong, dagger-like bill and long yellow legs. In flight, the neck is folded back, and the wings are bowed.  The sexes are similar in appearance

Lake Turkana_Grey heronGrey heron

 

The yellow-billed stork (Mycteria ibis) is a large wading bird, which is most easily distinguished by its black tail and long neck. It also has a characteristic yellow bill, with red skin at its base that extends onto its face. The bill is long, blunt and slightly downward-curved, perfectly adapted for catching its prey.

The coloration of the yellow-billed stork becomes more vivid throughout the breeding season. Its bill becomes a deeper yellow and the face a brighter red while the feathers are saturated with pink and the skin of the head is retracted, the area of visible red skin hidden beneath becoming larger. The ordinarily dull legs become a brighter red

Lake Turkana_Yellow-billed storkYellow billed stork

 

Lake Turkana_Yellow-billed stork flying

 

Lake Turkana_Yellow-billed stork s

 

It has long, brownish legs, used to stabilize the body while searching in water for prey.

Lake Turkana_Yellow-billed storks

 

The Pink-backed Pelican  is a relatively small pelican though by no means a small bird. The plumage is grey and white, with a pinkish hue on the back occasionally apparent (never  the deep pink of a flamingo). The top of the bill is yellow and the pouch is usually greyish. Breeding adults have long feather plumes on the head.

Lake Turkana_Pink backed pelicanPink-backed pelican

 

It shares habitat with the great white pelican which is generally larger and has white instead of greyish plumage.

Lake Turkana_Pink backed pelicans

 

The Little Egeret is member of the heron family can be identified by its pure white feathers; elongated, sinuous neck; long, black legs and dark, stabbing bill.

Lake Turkana_Little egretLittle Egeret

 

During the breeding season, breeding adults develop two long, slender nape plumes and a beautiful gauzy plumage around the breast and back

Lake Turkana_little egret (2)

 

The distinctive African sacred ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) is characterised by its large size, primarily white plumage and conspicuous black head and neck, which lack feathers

Lake Turkana_African sacred ibisAfrican sacred Ibis with flamingos flying overhead

 

Besides the birdlife, the lake boasts one of the world’s largest population of Nile crocodiles which survive on giant Nile perch, which in turn feeds on a profusion of blue-green algae. This prehistoric lake has also known as the cradle of humankind: its shores having revealed the oldest-known fossil. The area is also home to several tribes who have become masters of wresting sustenance from the harsh landscape.

Sights & People from the North Rift_Turkana girl (1)

 

Lake Turkana_Fisherman

 

Regrettably Lake Turkana and its inhabitants now face an environmental catastrophe. The lake could start drying up due to its main source, the Omo River being dammed.

In 2008 Ethiopia begun building the Gibe III dam along the Omo river. The Omo river contributes about 90% of Lake Turkana’s inflows. Despite several objections to the building of the dam due to environmental concerns construction has still continued.

During the first year of the filling of the dam’s reservoir, 60-70% of the Omo River’s flow will be held back. Levels in Lake Turkana are expected to fall 2 metres in the first 1-2 years of the dam being filled.  Furthermore irrigation projects in the Lower Omo could contribute to further lowering of the lake’s levels. It is predicted the level of the lake might fall to 22 metres. Currently the average level is around 30 metres.

Lake Turkana_Fishing

 

Lake Turkana_Fishing1

 

Lake Turkana_Village

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Studies have also shown a positive correlation between lake levels and annual fish catches. Around 100,000 people live on the lakeshore and it is estimated that around 300,000 people depend on the lake for their livelihood.

Lake Turkana_Fishing2

I would love to visit the lake again and would advise anybody looking for adventure off the beaten path to visit the Lake Turkana region.

Shout out to Dave Cole whose post on the birds of Amboseli  inspired this post and made me a keener observer of birdlife in my surroundings.

 

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9 Comments

  1. July 7, 2015 at 2:08 am — Reply

    Such a beautiful lake and beautiful pictures to match! It’s unfortunate that warnings regarding dam construction aren’t being heeded. I love that your blog is bringing all of these conservation issues in Kenya to light. It definitely makes me think about how tourists like me can best support the environment there.
    Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans recently posted…Why I’m Sick of Travel Blog FluffMy Profile

  2. July 7, 2015 at 8:54 am — Reply

    I didn’t realize that a lake could exist in a desert. It’s beautiful. Did you have a birding guide with you? I learned so much reading this, and I can’t believe how many different species you captured in your photos. That’s really awful about the dam’s impact on the lake level. It reminds me of an article I read in National Geographic of the damming of the Mekong and how it will affect the levels of Tonle Sap lake in Cambodia which people rely on for their livelihood. I suppose that in the quest to benefit “the greater good” someone ends up on the losing side.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted…Castello di Amorosa: Medieval Castle in Napa ValleyMy Profile

    • October 5, 2015 at 9:18 pm — Reply

      I did not have a guide. I spent lots of time on Google looking up birds, I learnt on the ‘job’. My friend lives in Laos and we had a discussion about the damming of the Mekong. Nobody ever cares about those who depend most on the rivers/lakes for their livelihoods.

  3. Manesha
    July 7, 2015 at 4:02 pm — Reply

    The birds in this area are so diverse! Its disheartening to imagine the lake might die 🙁

  4. July 9, 2015 at 6:26 pm — Reply

    Oh.. I love the flamingos and pelicans. So graceful. I fear for the lake. .. I hope there us some workable way to keep it going. So many peoples lives would be destroyed if the Omo river is dammed. Omo means child in Yoruba. Does it jean the same for you? Great pictures as usual. 🙂
    Kemkem recently posted…El Retiro Park- an oasis chock full of beauty in Madrid, SpainMy Profile

  5. July 10, 2015 at 2:04 am — Reply

    Hi Rachel, what an interesting post. I’ve never seen a pink backed pelican before. I noticed a few Ibis in with the flamingo, we have heaps of ibis here in Australia. I do feel sorry for the people living around the lake and those depending on it. It has some big fish in it. Thanks for including the photo of the girl in red – she’s beautiful.
    budget jan recently posted…The Blue Cave Biševo Island CroatiaMy Profile

  6. July 15, 2015 at 6:03 am — Reply

    Wow…just stunning photos, Rachel. I learned so much about the diverse birds here. I love those greater flamingos and pelicans. You did such a great job capturing their movements. What a beautiful region to visit! It is sad to hear about the plight of the lake. Here’s hoping something turns out for the people around the lake.
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted…Bora Bora: Island Excursion and Jeep Safari TourMy Profile

  7. October 10, 2015 at 10:11 am — Reply

    […] Fun fact:T he final scenes of the movie  The Constant Gardener, based on John le Carre’s novel, were filmed on the shoreline of the lake, when in fact the location in the story was Lake Turkana. […]

  8. Bob
    May 16, 2016 at 8:48 am — Reply

    Awesome stuff. I just added L. Turkana to my list of places I have to go to soon.

    Some questions:
    1. How did you get there?
    2. Hows the security if I were to go by road?
    3. Any travel companies you would recommend that do trips to L. Turkana?

    Thanks a lot for your stories.

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