Brown Pelicans – part one

This is a continuation of the posts from my recent trip to California and Oregon. I’ll probably be jumping back and forth a bit between here and there for awhile yet.

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As some of you may remember, last year, while Don and I were tripping along the northern California coast, we encountered many groups of Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) moving southward. When planning this year’s return to the coast, one of the wishes on my small list was to try to be in the right place to see numbers of Pelicans flying by. By luck, we saw many more birds than expected. Just after arriving at Crescent City, the weather turned quite stormy – lots of wind and storm surges. The first morning after arriving, we found many Pelicans gathered on the wharf in a section of the harbour. By the next morning, the numbers had multiplied to the point that almost every square foot of wharf was occupied by these birds (see above – click on image for larger view).

Later that morning, while moving along the shore to film and photograph the stormy waters, we came upon gatherings of Pelicans that were wading about in coves while waiting out the weather. Above and below are photos of these gatherings. The dark-headed birds are juveniles, while the white-headed birds are adults. It seems that when there’s a good-sized gathering of birds, the adults tend to hang out together, with the juveniles forming their own groups.

We spent some time photographing and filming Pelicans over a couple of days. It was a little amusing to see how they behave when wading about in the shallow water of the coves. Keep in mind that these birds are masters of flight and also quite adept at bobbing on the surface of very rough water. However, while wading in water of a few inches deep, they seemed to become very perturbed if it lapped up above their legs. They would wade along, wings raised up as they tried to avoid being splashed by waves. Their movements were quite solemn and fastidious compared to their reckless dives and crashes into the surf in pursuit of fish. I made a little .mp4 movie to show how the Pelicans behave when wading. I’ve removed the sound from that clip as the wind noise was very bad at that point. Here’s a second movie of the Pelicans as they lift off en masse after some unseen disturbance — if I remember correctly, someone with a couple of dogs came along the beach just then. The second clip does have sound — lots of water and wind noise, but you can also hear the fog horn in the background.

I have some more photos and a little more to say about the Pelicans, so will post a follow-up sometime soon.

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12 Responses to “Brown Pelicans – part one”

  1. robin andrea Says:

    Great videos and photos, bev. I’ve never seen them wading, and their behavior is quite interesting in your video. Seeing Brown Pelicans is one of the highlights of being back on the central coast for us. I never tire of seeing them flying by, hunting, and diving.

  2. Robert Ballantyne Says:

    I loved to see all of those pelicans. During a trip to the everglades (early ’70s) I first heard the term, ‘biologically extinct.’ There were lots of brown pelicans, but because of ddt, their eggs broke, and the common wisdom was that the bird was doomed.

    When I lived in Winnipeg, and was involved with aspects of the tourism business, I was trying to promote the concept of the american white pelican as the bird of Manitoba. I didn’t have a chance because the charming and articulate Bob Nero was delighting adults and children everywhere he traveled with his beautiful great grey owl.

  3. neil Says:

    Nice assortment of gulls you’ve got there too! Heermaan’s, ring-billed, Western…maybe a couple of others? It’s rare that gulls look special compared to pelicans!

  4. Dave Says:

    Pelicans on the wharf
    waiting out the storm all face
    the same direction.

  5. barbara Says:

    I love the one of the pelicans in closer range. Their reflections add to the overall effect of? Would chaos be the right word, chaos and busy-ness. Perfectly wonderful.

  6. bev Says:

    robin – Each time I visit the California coast, I think, “I could get used to this.” I love the Pelicans and other coastal birds, wildlife, etc… Wish it weren’t so far from here.. but then, I think the same thing about Nova Scotia. I was probably meant to live by the ocean somewhere.

    Robert – Yes, that’s interesting about the Brown Pelicans. I’m not sure of their numbers now (guess I should do a little research), but they seem to be doing okay on the west coast. The White Pelicans are wonderful to watch too. I love to watch them circling around as they swim in a group rounding up fish. I saw them in the Tule Lake area in n. California last year. I guess their population has been declining around there for awhile, but I’ve heard that the ones that travel up to Manitoba are doing okay.

    neil – I didn’t look too closely at the gulls, but I figured there must be a few species there. Undoubtedly, if I looked through the original image files, there could be more. I’ve noticed that Heermaan’s gulls seem to hang out around Pelicans and have seen them really sticking to them when they’re diving for fish.

    Dave – Nice haiku — and you’re right.. the pelicans are facing in the same direction! Interesting… I think they’re all facing in the general direction of their intended flight route to the south.

    barbara – I was looking through my various photo files of the Pelicans and thinking that I should have plenty to work with to make some nice prints. I really like the reflections too. There is definitely a kind of chaos or busy-ness to the Pelicans when you see large gatherings such as these. There are always bird dropping out of the sky to join the ones on the beach, while others suddenly decide to take flight and move out. It’s all sort of joyful and wonderful to watch.

  7. Laura Says:

    This is such a treat to see so many pelicans up close! I’ve only ever seen them way far away.

  8. pablo Says:

    We have white pelicans that pass through Missouri and congregate at the larger lakes.

  9. Wayne Says:

    As Robert mentioned, it was brown pelicans that featured so prominently as victims of DDT in the 60s. It’s certainly an item of hope that that trend was reversed.

    I wasn’t able to open either movie – quicktime gave me a broken image and when I manually plugged in the url it gave me an error -8971. Quicktime claimed I didn’t need to update software. Nothing unusual here – I’m sometimes unable to see qt movies for no discernable reason.

  10. bev Says:

    Laura – This was the closest I’d seen Pelicans as I’ve not had a chance to see them down around the docks in places like coastal Florida. It was interesting to be able to watch their behaviour and social interaction in a fairly natural setting and without feeling like we were disturbing them too much.

    pablo – I love the White Pelicans — such majestic birds – and so cool to watch them working as a group to round up fish!

    Wayne – Yes, it really is a good sign that the Brown Pelicans have made a comeback. Unfortunately, I understand that the White Pelican populations are have some trouble as they nest on inland lakes and droughts and radical changes in water levels in recent years are having a very negative impact on their nesting success.
    Sorry you couldn’t view the movies. I should probably post them as both qt and .avi.

  11. Wayne Says:

    Bev – I replaced the old version and it works fine now! The movies were quite good. I couldn’t tell which bird gave the signal in the second movie but there were plenty that flew without any indication that they had independently detected anything.

  12. Andrée Says:

    what a fascinating account. thank you very much. of course, the photos are outstanding.

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