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Brown Pelican - April 14, 2011

Brown Pelican at Boone Reservoir, Washington County, PA
 
As long as I live and have my wits about me, I'll never forget the indescribably mind-bending picture of a Brown Pelican winging around a tiny reservoir in suburban Pittsburgh and hunting fish, just a stone's throw from a heavily commercialized zone featuring everything from dentist's offices to bicycle repair shops to multiple Starbucks Coffee outlets with their impossibly pretentious and overpriced menus. Boone Reservoir is less than 150 yards across at its widest point near the dam, and the deep portion of the reservoir at the same end by the dam, where a pelican might effectively dive for fish, isn't much longer than that. So imagine standing beside a little municipal reservoir jammed into a shopping/residential district 400 miles from the coast, with a deep end about as big as two football fields put together, where mallards and atrocious barnyard goose hybrids run the show, and seeing an adult Brown Pelican plunge-diving for fish as if it were in the Atlantic Ocean. It just doesn't compute. But it happened on April 14 anyway.

pelican_brown_boonerespa_20110414_1d4_1_e9h2538w.jpg
Canon 1DMkIV, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/1250 sec. at f/5.6 (manual), ISO 1250, tripod

The bird was first seen April 13 at the reservoir by Kate Rodgers, following an impressively strong storm system that also brought Allegheny County its first Snowy Egret just five miles to the north at Wingfield Pines. Both from Kate's pictures on the 13th and from my own initial observations of the bird on April 14, I suspected it was in pretty bad shape. It seemed more than a little haggard and totally exhausted from a long flight across land, the length of which can only be guessed. It just sat on the water with its neck resting on its back and its bill resting forward on its chest -- the typical zero-energy posture of a resting pelican. So it was gratifying to see it pick up off the water about an hour after first light and actually start to circle the small area around the dam looking for fish. Before long other birders were reporting successful plunge dives and by the end of the day it was carrying itself with much more energy, flying frequently and swimming with its head up in the classic pelican pose. When I returned in the afternoon I got to see a few plunge dives for myself, and could only shake my head at the incongruity of it all.

pelican_brown_boonerespa_20110414_1d4_1_e9h2532w.jpg
Canon 1DMkIV, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/1250 sec. at f/5.6 (manual), ISO 1250, tripod

pelican_brown_boonerespa_20110414_1d4_1_e9h2584w.jpg
Canon 1DMkIV, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/1250 sec. at f/5.6 (manual), ISO 1250, tripod

pelican_brown_boonerespa_20110414_1d4_1_e9h2544w.jpg
Canon 1DMkIV, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/1250 sec. at f/5.6 (manual), ISO 1250, tripod

pelican_brown_boonerespa_20110414_1d4_1_e9h2526w.jpg
Canon 1DMkIV, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/500 sec. at f/5.6 (manual), ISO 1250, tripod

pelican_brown_boonerespa_20110414_1d4_1_e9h2675w.jpg
Canon 1DMkIV, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/400 sec. at f/5.6 (manual), ISO 1250, handheld

I stayed with it until last light, and it stayed in place on the water near the dam until I couldn't see it anymore. But it was nowhere to be found the next day. We can only hope that it chose to go southeast and will find its way back to the coast. It would be really cool to think that it will make it, and that tiny little Boone Reservoir gave it just the break it needed to rest and refuel before the long journey back to the ocean. That said, interested birders in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and inland Maryland would do well to be on the lookout for an out-of-place pelican for the next little while.
 
(As an aside, I do give Boone Reservoir a bit of an unfair shake above. It's true that it has its share of Mallards and sundry barnyard atrocities, but it is also remarkably clean and full of fish, and thus attracts it share of migratory waterbirds seeking a stopover point. For example, large numbers of cormorants can be found there this time of year, as you can see in one picture above, and Ospreys have been seen in the area deep into the summer as well. In the past it's held Tundra Swans and everything from dabblers to scoters. The pelican was perhaps a bit lucky to crash out on Boone for a few days instead of on some disgusting mine discharge pond, to be sure.)



Unless explicitly indicated otherwise in the photo caption, all photos on this website were taken by and are 2003-2013 by Geoff Malosh. Unauthorized usage of these photographs for any purpose is strictly forbidden. If you are interested in using any photo for publication or if you are interested in obtaining a print, contact me at pomarine -AT- earthlink -DOT- net.