White Pelicans At Dawn

In my three years of Lagoon exploration I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen white pelicans. Actually, I can count it on just two fingers.

While scouting locations for a field trip program late last year I happened upon an enormous flock of white pelicans and cormorants treading water on a placid backwater near red mangrove islands. The drop off here was steep, the mullet and pinfish were staying in deep water, but as the cormorants drove the fish up from the benthic layer the pelicans would snare them at the surface. Unlike the oh-so-common brown pelicans, whites don’t seem to make spectacular aerial dives for dinner. I never saw them wing up into the blue only to crash back to the inky water. Perhaps they do, perhaps they do not.

I found them again this morning, in a mild collection of birds, floating like a stark armada against the backdrop of dappled green and brown in mangrove and buttonwood and saltmarsh. With so few sightings to speak of I spent a solid half hour attempting to take photographs and failling miserably. I need to become a better photographer. Or learn Audubon’s skills with the color plate.

Paying attention at this level of detail, my eyes were drawn to a bird that didn’t flutter his wings in the same half-arch as the others. A glint on the shoulder joint spelled out the problem: monofilament wrapped at the hinge and probably slowly tightening. I imagine he’ll lose the wing eventually, or lose his game of sruvival when he can no longer fly away from predators or move fast enough to catch his fish dinners.

I hate feeling so helpless when it comes to wildlife. But by the time I had punched the keys on my cell phone to call the proper hotline the flock had decided to take off on their elusive movements through the Lagoon. I havent seen these giant white birds in an entire year. Here’s hoping the next time I see them that entanglement doesn’t ruin the beautiful moment.

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