These two Brown Pelicans met in the mangrove shortly after sunrise. Perched alongside one another, they looked identical. A few minutes later, they were splashing in the water nearby, breaking the silence of the early morning. Were they competing for fish, or showing territorial behavior? I honestly don’t know, but I said to my friend Marjorie, “It’s a Pelican Party over there.”
I’m not sure who blinked first, but I do know that my camera shutter clicked before this handsome Brown Pelican looked away. I followed this Pelican for several minutes through a 600mm lens at a significant distance, tracking his behavior at a comfortable distance, not disturbing him. Yet he saw me watching!
There are so many reasons to like the Brown Pelican. I love to watch them dive for fish along the Gulf Coast of Florida. They are so big with a length of a meter and wingspan of 2-3 meters, yet they are docile and quiet.
Yet another important reason to love brown pelicans is the important role they play as an indicator species to help humans monitor the effects of climate change. We can monitor their numbers and migration to help understand the changes in fish population.
As I captured some action shots of the Brown Pelican flying low along the Gulf, I was able to sequence the glide, the “wheels down” position and the soft landing on the water. Today, I combined the three photographs into one to illustrate the sequence. In reality, this sequence would happen over a greater distance.
The brown pelican is a family favorite. They fly in a V formation, and they never bother people. They just enjoy fishing and flying and make our time on the Pelican Bay beach entertaining.
“A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure. “
Book of Sirach, The Bible
Those words defined my father, and they were invoked at his funeral Mass. My father was a sturdy shelter to me and many others.
When I reflected on the sturdy foundation of this pier, the reference to sturdy shelter came to mind. This sturdy pier brought the first settlers to Old Naples, Florida many years ago. In this millennium, it withstands the hurricanes and tropical storms and supports hundreds of individuals who enjoy it.
In these trying times of the Coronavirus pandemic, a faithful friend is a treasure, showing his greatest value in supporting those around him. As the hectic pace of life slows to a pause, meditate on your faithful friends.
“A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth.”
(Book of Sirach)
During the Covid-19 pandemic when our mobility is suddenly limited, I think about the enviable mobility of the birds around us. Here in Florida, we often see brown pelicans soaring through the sky and flying low across the Gulf of Mexico. For birds, mobility equals escape from danger, or the slightest perception of danger. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could fly away from the virus that threatens our health right now?
Pelicans are fun to watch. They fly in V-shaped formations with numbers ranging from 3 to 20 or more. They are silent, and they never bother people, given us the impression that they are gentle creatures.
When they forage for fish, they fly close to the surface of the water and then make a steep climb and nosedive to stun the fish with their beaks. Then, they scoop up the fish and a gallon or more of water with their stretchy pouch. Keep watching to see them tip up the beak and swallow the fish whole.
Watching and waiting, and watching and waiting some more is a practice that is rewarding in wildlife photography. As you will see here, some behaviors happen so fast, that a photographer will only capture them if he or she is already poised to shoot.
It’s certainly a challenge to photograph birds in flight. Your shutter speed must be fast enough (1/1000 second) and your depth of field sufficient to keep the birds in focus (f/20), as they won’t stop for you to capture your photograph. I used an ISO of 800 on a bright sunny day, to allow me to shorten the shutter speed and dial down the aperture. It helps if the birds are flying roughly parallel to your focal plane, rather than toward or away from you. And it takes practice. These beautiful birds look amazing as they come in for a landing, too.
I have often tried to photograph the Brown Pelican in action: taking off, landing, flying, fishing but they are so fast moving that it is difficult to track, focus and release the shutter in time to capture a crisp image. But you know what they say: stick with it, and “luck comes to the well prepared” photographer.
I have always loved the Brown Pelican, because their grace belies their large stocky body, and they are quiet birds who frequent the beach. It is fascinating to watch them dive-bomb fish by careening straight down into the ocean to stun the fish and later scoop them up in their large beak, letting the whole fish glide into their ample pouch.
This bird photography adventure took place at the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida.
Word on the street is that these White Pelicans migrated to Florida from the Great Lakes region. Anyone who has driven that distance can appreciate how long that journey is. While they have flown a long way from home, they enjoy huddling together, wing to wing, beak to beak on this sunny evening.