Walvis Bay is a rather shabby, depressing-looking harbour city about thirty kilometers from Swakopmund on the west coast of Namibia. On entering the city from either side, one is greeted by waving palm trees, but these soon fade out and you are left with the somewhat drab houses and buildings that immediately make you wonder why it’s on your list of places to visit. But don’t be fooled by appearances, especially if you are a birder. Walvis Bay has significant wetland areas that have received recognition by Birdlife International and been declared one of the “areas of global significance for bird conservation.”
Make your way down to the lagoon and you can immediately see why this area received Ramsar Site status in 1995. (Wikipedia definies a Ramsar Site as follows : “The Ramsar Convention (The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat) is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of wetlands, i.e., to stem the progressive encroachment on and loss of wetlands now and in the future, recognising the fundamental ecological functions of wetlands and their economic, cultural, scientific, and recreational value. It is named after the town of Ramsar in Iran.”)
Stretching for about seven kilometers, the shallow waters of the lagoon are filled with palaearctic (migratory) birds of every description. Depending on the tide, one gets to see both the waders and the shoreline birds feeding vigorously in the rich waters.
The incredibly beautiful Greater Flamingoes live on a diet of invertebrates, whilst the Lesser Flamingoes can be seen shuffling their feet to shift the algae on the sea bed. Other key species are shown on the photograph below – click on the photo to enlarge it.
At any given time, the lagoon hosts a minimum of about 20 000 birds, but this figure rises during spring and summer to anything up to 250 000, influenced also by the rains inland. (Walvis Bay is one of the driest cities in the world, receiving less than 10mm of rainfall per annum.)
The wetland area extends beyond the lagoon to the mudflats and the nearby salt refinery, and different birds frequent these areas for the food that they offer.
It’s magical spot, and if you choose to dine at The Raft restaurant in the lagoon (where the food is excellent), you can watch scores of birds flying past as you eat. Look out too for the different jellyfish that are found in the water – all shapes, colours and sizes.
For non-birders, Walvis Bay bay offers Dune 7 – a marvelous dune climbing experience; boat trips for fishing, seal and dolphin viewing; kayaking; quad-biking and trips into the desert. Plenty for everyone really but a real delight for twitchers!