Yesterday, during my lunch break, I went to the Andree Clark Bird Refuge, just about a mile from my office. It's a wonderful place to stop and rejuvenate when you feel world-weary, or suffer from a touch of ennui.
The landscape is wild, the air - fresh and salty. You'll find ducks,
terns, coots, cormorants, geese, egrets, heron, and a host of other birds to watch - both local and
migratory. When I arrived, I found a group of pigeons at the water's edge. Yes, pigeons. There were six or eight of them, standing in the water, splashing and bathing, feathers glistening, pink eyes beaming with delight.
There were a couple of them, however, that worried me - they stood in the water up to their little knees, with a pronounced list, some leaning to the left, some to the right. I wondered if they had a bird disease, or an inner ear thing that set them off-balance. Their feathers stood out all over. They appeared frazzled, disheveled and wild-eyed.
Eventually, the entire group of them waded out from the water, even those jiggly puffs of feathers that had concerned me so. They wandered away from the water to a mulched and grassy patch in the sun. Some of them appeared to be marching, some walking with a cockeyed swagger.
They joined another group of pigeons, about a dozen of them. I must say, they were quite the motley crew. They arrayed themselves in the sun and grass and woodchips, and all of them were leaning to one side. Their feathers were fluffed, their wings slightly outspread and askew. I was convinced this was a new form of pigeon blight, a rampant and quickly spreading scourge on the species....
But apparently, this was like a pigeon spa experience or something. After some minutes, I saw one after the other of them stand up, shake it off, and immediately return to the crisp and familiar pigeon posture had I longed to see.
Then, as if nothing were amiss, they began searching the ground, cooing with delight when they came upon a fresh morsel.
I found it very disconcerting.
I needed a moment of beauty and grace, evidence that the natural world had not lost its balance after all. Ah! A lovely little snowy egret. I turned my attention to this small and delicate bird. It seemed almost ethereal; it's feathers were so downy and soft that it appeared just slightly aglow. I was beginning to lapse into reverie.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear.....but a big old brown pelican without any landing gear. Indeed. He splash-landed on the water, a few feet from shore, with a flourish and a skid of water spraying on all sides. Then, self-satisfactorily, he tucked his head back on his shoulders as pelicans do, and began to swim back and forth, his eye scanning the shore to make sure he had the attention of all.
The little egret hustled into the tules.
Pelecanus occidentalis californicus - the California Brown Pelican. On land, they are kind of awkward looking, with big old webbed feet, an ovoid body above which balances a tiny head with an enormous beak. But in the air - they are elegant. Pelicans fly in formation, sometimes so close to the ocean it seems they must skim it with their bellies. Other times, they fly parallel with the edge of the cliffs. If you are riding on the Pacific Surfliner, the Amtrak train, or if you driving next to the ocean along Highway 101, you might find yourself right at eye level with them, and it's magic.
Or, you can watch them from the wharf, or the shore. When they are fishing, they fly above the water, and suddenly, without warning, pull their wings back and dive, ferociously, head first toward the ocean. They pierce the surface with fanfare and splash.
And that's how they catch their favorite fish - anchovy and sardines.
But not this guy.
Okay, so he's swimming, swimming, back and forth. Then he pulls his wings up on his back a little, and plunges his head under water.
When he raises his head again, just a moment later, it's evident that something
Suddenly, he flings his head back, droplets of water flying in the sunlight.
It's very clear that he's caught a fish, because it is wiggling all the way down his throat! Then the pelican resumes his haughty demeanor, and begins patrolling the waters again. As he found success to be so easily attained, he repeated this activity over and over for at least 20 minutes. No high flying and then diving to a dramatic finish. Just a cruise in the lagoon, and easy lunch on a Thursday afternoon.
And wasn't I the lucky one to have been there to see it all....
If you would like to learn more about California Brown Pelicans, these two websites are great:
from Cornell University:
And the National Parks Service: