A Parley of Pelicans

Summer is here.  The park is fading from green to brown.  The masses of migrating shore and water birds have gone up north to breed.  All that was left of bird life on the North Basin, I thought, as I started my noontime walk, was sea gulls and crows.

Wrong!  I hadn’t gone twenty steps when a Snowy Egret flew in, and then another, and then (as if beamed aboard) a Great Egret, and another, and more snowies.  Although I’ve photographed and taken videos of these characters before, they’re so beautiful that I imaged them again.  I walked eastward the whole length of the Virginia Street Extension to the mouth of Schoolhouse Creek looking at and photographing egrets.  Then I turned around and looked west.  What was that large dark lump in the water?

Camera zoomed and focused, the lump revealed itself as a Brown Pelican, standing in the shallow water and preening.  I could hardly believe it.  It’s not unusual to see pelicans on the North Basin, but they’re usually up in the air, diving for prey, resting a few seconds, and taking off again.  I’d only seen pelicans sitting quietly on the water there once before, just three of them, months ago, and they took off before I could get close enough and zero in my gear.

This pelican had itself a leisurely preen and groom session.  That extra long bill made an easy task of grooming the side and tail feathers.  But how to groom the neck?  This bird repeatedly rubbed the back and side of its neck on its back.  As for the feathers on the front of its neck, no way.

While I focused on this bird, I wasn’t paying attention to the surroundings.  Suddenly there was a second pelican.  And then a third.  Within minutes there were seven of them.  Grooming was over now.  It was feeding time.  The birds hopped, skipped, and flapped short distances to plunge their bills in the water.  I saw them catch nothing big, but what they got was enough to motivate them for a quarter of an hour.  Then they rose up, one by one, and flew up over the hotel to points west.

(There was a brisk breeze blowing all this time, which left me with a sound track of nothing but wind noise instead of the highway roar and train whistles that are the real ear environment here.  That’s why the YouTube video, above, has background music.)

How do pelicans communicate?  Do they have an inner appointment book that tells them to come to the North Basin a bit after noon and gather?  Or does the first bird have some feathery cell phone it uses to call others and let them know that little fishies are running here in shallow water?  I’ve seen them gather before, in an area where you rarely see more than one or two, suddenly forming a squadron of dive bombers 35 strong, pouncing on a herring run.  How do they know?  Mysterious are the ways of birds.

And so my first-of-summer walk brought in an unexpected good harvest of bird pictures and videos, some of which I’ll post later.  Of course, gulls and crows can also be interesting.  But seeing a parley of pelicans was very special.

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