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Notes from Lake Natron: Flamingos, Infrared, and Footprints

by Dave Burns | Posted in Trip Reports | Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Camp at Lake Natron with Ol Doinyo Lengai Behind
Camp at Lake Natron with Ol Doinyo Lengai Behind
Fuji X-T1, 18-55mm @ 55, 1/350 @ f/9, ISO 200.

We stayed at Lake Natron Camp, a beautiful camp set next to the flats of Lake Natron and with an outstanding view of Lengai. It’s a desert-style camp, designed with lots of shady places, a swimming hole, the Rift Valley escarpment behind us, spacious tents with great views of the lake from their front door, and the food was outstanding (special diets handled well too: my gluten-free meals were excellent).

For wildlife photographers, Lake Natron is best known for its high density of flamingos – about 2.5 million lesser flamingos. There were also plenty of zebra and wildebeest around who left evidence that they even came through camp while we slept. The camp was sprinkled with plenty of desert rose which I think of as a Bonsai version of a baobab but with pink flowers on top.

Desert Rose in Camp
Desert Rose in Camp
Fuji X-T1, 18-55mm @ 18, 1/400 @ f/7.1, ISO 200

The lake was dry and low at this time of year so we found a stream feeding into the lake, took off our shoes, and walked down the water, cooling off as we approached the edge of the water. We had gotten in so late the night before that we had slept in a bit and by this time the light was pretty poor. I have a few shots of the flamingos but nothing to write home about. In fact, at this point, it was warm enough that heat shimmer started to play a significant and detrimental role. Still, with the right conditions, this could be a great spot for shooting flamingos both in the water and in flight. I also encouraged the camp to add a bird blind or two to increase the odds of coming home with great bird photography.

Not a good picture of flamingos
Not a good picture of flamingos
Fuji X-Pro2, 100-400mm @ 400, 1/450 @ f/10, ISO 200.

This was my first chance to put my new infrared Fuji X-E2 through its paces. The combination of tall grasses next to water plus blue skies gave striking results. The entire infrared experience with the Fuji was much better than with my infrared SLR.

Stream and Cabana in Camp
Stream and Cabana in Camp
Fuji X-E2 (Infrared), 14mm, 1/170 @ f/8, ISO 200
Tents and Rift Valley Escarpment
Tents and Rift Valley Escarpment
Fuji X-E2 (Infrared), 14mm, 1/200 @ f/8, ISO 200.

That afternoon, we took two non-wildlife-photography outings: one to a local school where the camp’s owners sponsor a project to supply water and food via a on-site garden. It’s a pilot program and seems very successful so they plan to expand it. They’ve come to a surprising conclusion: they find the kids do better in school when they’re not hungry!

Garden at the School
Garden at the School
Fuji X-T1, 18-55mm @ 18, 1/300 @ f/3.2, ISO 200

The other outing was to the Engare Sero Hominid Footprints site. Although it doesn’t seem a large excavation, it’s actually the largest ancient footprint site in Africa and there’s still more to be uncovered. At this point, the site is not well-known in tourist circles so it’s unattended and we walked around it freely. I imagine, given its value, that at some point they’ll need to do something to protect it.

Lots of Footprints at Engare Sero
Lots of Footprints at Engare Sero
Fuji X-T1, 18-55mm at 40mm, 1/420 @ f/5.6, ISO 200
Footprint at Engare Sero
Footprint at Engare Sero
Fuji X-T1, 18-55mm @ 18, 1/320 @ f/5, ISO 200
Interpretive Sign at Engare Sero
Interpretive Sign at Engare Sero

Afterwards, we stopped at a zebra kill for a while. When we arrived, it was already swarmed by a large number of Rüppell’s griffon vulture. Where most people would just see a group of vultures and that’s that, having quality guides came into play here. I got a lot of info about the interesting dynamics at work as some of the vultures are alphas and take first place at the “table.”

Vultures at a Zebra Kill
Vultures at a Zebra Kill
Fuji X-Pro2, 100-400mm at 400, 1/550 @ f/8, ISO 640
Vultures at a Zebra Kill 2
Vultures at a Zebra Kill 2
Fuji X-Pro2, 100-400mm at 400, 1/600 @ f/8, ISO 640

As we went for sundowners by the lake, we watched a helicopter chasing a flock of flamingos around, presumably to get great angles for photography. It’s not great practice – essentially harassing the birds. I was glad to see my hosts extremely perturbed and calling and texting around to find out who this was and what could be done about it.

After dinner, it was off to bed to prep for the drive to the Serengeti the next morning.


This is the second in my series of posts about my safari in July 2016. You can find all of them here:

  1. Starting My July Safari: Arusha, Mara River Crossings, Fuji X, and Lake Natron
  2. Notes from Lake Natron: Flamingos, Infrared, and Footprints
  3. Through Loliondo: from Lake Natron to Northern Serengeti
  4. Northern Serengeti: Wildebeest and Mara River Crossings
  5. Central Serengeti: Cats, Kopjes, Sunrises, and Infrared
  6. Tarangire: Wrapping up with Elephants, Zebras, and a Toast

About Dave Burns

Dave Burns is a wildlife, travel, and landscape photographer whose passions range from the beauty of the African savanna to the streets of Paris. He created Dave Burns Photo Tours to share his favorite places with other photographers, help them capture unique images, and learn more about photography and digital work flow. His next trip is an African photo safari to the Serengeti in October 2018. Dave’s images are in private collections and galleries. To contact him, use the contact page on this site.

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