Home Sweet Home for the Winter
This is a snippet of the 500 or so pelicans who annually converge on Saracen Lake for the winter. They select our milder winters in lieu of the arctic-like chills they might endure on their home stomping grounds in the Great Plains and as far north as central Canada.
Sunday, December 7, 2014
Pine Buff, Arkansas
Several years ago, some American White Pelicans, while migrating south for the winter from their summer digs in the Great Plains to as far north as central Canada, spied Saracen Lake in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. They circled into a landing pattern over the lake, smoothly splashed down, and apparently liked what they saw because they stayed for the winter. The next spring, they boogied back north. Lo, and behold, the next fall they returned. After that they went into the “repeat if necessary” mode.
Dinner Comes Easier Down South.
Though winter winds sometimes ruffle their feathers, these pelicans prefer the Pine Bluff waters. Chances are, the ponds they love in their summer homes are now frozen as hard as a brick, which tends to diminish the probability of eating if you are a pelican.
No Rules for these Flights
Sometimes you will see these pelicans skimming the surface all the way across the lake. They could care less about FAA altitude rules.
Now from mid-to-late September the pelicans return to Pine Bluff. (Eat your heart out Capistrano). As of now, those in the know conservatively estimate that around 500 of these giant birds are visiting with us this winter. Some say that the American White Pelican is the nation’s largest bird. At a tad over five-feet long with a wing span up to nine feet, it’s hard to argue with that proposition. Once they are on the wing, their ungainly looks turn to grace and glory in flight.
'Our wings are covered with silver,
our pinions with shimmering gold!'
This appears to be the pelican preacher, exhorting his feathery brethren and sisters to tread the paths of righteousness. And then again, it could be a pelican good ol’ boy showing his audience a good belch.
They clump up in colonies and venture forth during the day. During pelican business hours, you can see them all over the lake, but a good-sized gaggle of birds always stays in the colony. Around 3 p.m. they begin to fly in from all corners of the lake to spend the evening in their colonial territory along the south side of an island in the lake.
Sometimes they straggle in and sometimes they come in flocks. Some will circle and land and some will dive in and do a perfect landing just a few inches in front of the colony. Some will skim just a few inches above the water all the way across the lake on their homeward flight. Depending on the weather, sometime between 4:30 and 5 o'clock they are settled in for the evening.
Birds of Another Feather
We depart from our regularly scheduled program to observe the evening departure of our day-time Canada Geese neighbors.
The Feast Becomes Frenzied.
A week or so ago, while I was at the lake, the flock went on a feeding frenzy — and it was a sight to see.
These pelicans are not divers. They feed from the surface and have been known to herd food fish near a shoreline where they can do the pelican-pig-out. I personally observed this. Think five-foot-long feathered army ants that can swim. They moved with precision to round up the fish and then disbanded into their disorganized fire-drill mode, breaking formation to wolf down their prey. When the prey scattered, the flock reorganized and the chase was on again. I watched this for about 20 minutes, after which, one can presume, they had their fill.
Nothing Boring about this Feast
There’s nothing like a good feeding frenzy to break the cycle of boredom in a neighborhood. In this case a few of the flock leaders got the ball rolling by chasing prey into the shallow waters along the shoreline. The rest of the gang joined in and the feast was on.
After the table was empty at this location, the flock changed directions to pursue the second course.
Hunger Inspires Determination.
Up close and personal with hungry and determined pelicans.
Time to Regroup
The rapacious crowd begins to gather for the second act of the smorgasbord melodrama.
Pass the Biscuits.
Time to dig in. Pass the biscuits please.
Make Way! Here We Come!
The fashionably late guests begin to arrive.
Not Done Yet
Time to dive deep for the second course.
Dessert in a New Light
For dessert, the pelicans and the light shifted locations.
The Satiated Pelican Parade
After a successful two-course feeding frenzy, the flock forms-up for a parade to swim home. The rest of the neighbors stand and observe.
'Coming Home from Work'
A few days later, I went for a late afternoon shoot and recorded the pelicans “coming home from work.” The day was slightly overcast as the sun set.
'Honey, I’m home.'
The forced perspective of the long lens gives you the impression that the bird has overshot the landing. Not so. It was spot on.
A Reconnoitring Fly-By
This dude decided to circle the neighborhood prior to landing.
Better late than never.
The Race Is On.
Last one home is a rotten egg!
You’d think as much space as there is in the skies, there’d be no air traffic problems. Go figure!
We have no idea how or why the first pelicans decided to peruse our lake. And we are not losing any sleep over the mystery. We are, however, grateful that they singled out our lakes for their winter home. Though you sometimes have to endure a windy chill to watch their antics, it is a small price to pay for the entertainment and edification you soak up at Saracen Lake.
GOOD GREBE CHARLIE BROWN....
See a couple more pelican pix,
some Pie-Billed Grebe pix,
and your friendly white egret pictures
at Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind.
More birds. More pheathered phun. Click and go.