Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Brown Pelicans at Half Moon Bay

Is there a goofier bird than a pelican? I'm sure there are some good candidates, but I don't see much of anything around here that fits the bill (literally...). And yet...is there a more graceful flyer anywhere? There are few experiences more beautiful than watching pelicans gliding over the sea, wingtips just inches over the waves. It's strange to think that we almost lost them all just a few decades ago.
The Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) is one of the great success stories of the environmental movement of the 1970s. Many take it for granted today that our air and water are relatively clean and clear, not realizing what a mess things were 30-40 years ago. Pesticides were in wide use with no regard whatsoever to the effects on non-target species. DDT was among the worst. It nearly did in a great many bird species, including especially the Brown Pelican. The bird was nearly extirpated because the pesticide accumulated in the body tissues and caused eggshell thinning. The eggs cracked simply by being sat upon. The pesticides were banned (and businesses complained about how terrible the ban was on their profits), and the birds began to slowly recover. The pelican was the state bird of Louisiana, but it had to be purposely re-introduced there in the 1970s. 

We briefly escaped from the smoke of the tragic wildfires burning in the state interior regions by driving out to Half Moon Bay. We found a few new sites to explore, including the new coast trail at Devil's Slide, the Fitzgerald Marine Refuge, and the Pillar Point Salt Marsh. We observed pelicans at each spot.

At the Fitzgerald Marine Refuge, the pelicans were flying past the napping Harbor Seals. It was a dramatic sight. Brown Pelicans can live to be more than forty years. It's strange to think that some birds living today may remember a time when they couldn't find others of their kind (not that I would be anthropomorphizing again).

I hate to think that we almost made a world that had no pelicans.


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