I decided to make a quick trip to Burton yesterday to play Santa and deliver Christmas and birthday presents to my sister. As with most people at this time of the year, time is short and tasks to be done are many. But the visit also enabled me and my sister to take a quick drive to Lake Somerville to check out any birds that may have preceded the arriving winter blast. And as anticipated, we enjoyed a large pod of American White Pelicans. All the old regulars were present of course…Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, a plethora of Killdeer, the ever-present black vultures and American coots. A short time shared with my sister enjoying the beauty of hundreds of American White Pelicans as they rested on the shores of a choppy lake prior to the blast of arctic air that blew through late last night.
We left the lake and the 80 degree temperatures and returned to her home where Burton Ernie was strutting about keeping my nephew company as he covered tender plants to protect them from the arriving freeze. We enjoyed a wonderful meal at our favorite Mexican restaurant before settling in for a quiet evening of camaraderie. As we visited, her warm snug house was blasted by the arriving storm. Within minutes the temperature plunged and winter had finally arrived to our small part of the world.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and wishing everyone Happy Bird Searching!!!
This past weekend I traveled to Burton,Texas to visit my sister. We had a lovely weekend doing sisterly things together and as usual I superimposed on my loved one my birdwatching passion. And my passionate flame was fanned by the revelation from one of her neighbors that they had spotted a Pileated Woodpecker hammering away at a dead pecan tree in their back yard.
The only time I have seen one of these birds was courtesy of the Cornell Live Bird Cam in Ithaca New York. I keep one of the live bird cams open as my screen saver while I am working because it gives me a window to the outside world. The day he popped into view I almost fell out of my chair. He was one of the most beautiful birds I had ever seen and I found myself salivating with the desire to see one in person. Pileated Woodpeckers are the largest woodpecker in North America. Approximately 17-20 inches in length and with a wingspan of almost 30 inches, they are quite impressive to behold.
Then more recently, a friend of mine who is wintering in Alabama emailed me the news that she had spotted one in their area. So I was encouraged to know that when I visit her this coming April, I might be able to catch a glimpse of her Pileated Woodpecker.
So I was delighted to know that there was one living in Burton. My sister told me she had seen him many times during the summer when he was visiting her pear tree to help himself to its bounty. She didn’t realize how special he was to me. So I spent a large portion of Saturday scouting for this bird. I was successful only because he flew to a telephone pole across the street and began his clattering again. The neighbor managed to capture him on a cell phone camera but I was too late with my camera to capitalize on his appearance. But in the birding world, a visual sighting or being able to recognize a bird by its call counts. Do I want my own photo of this beautiful bird? Most definitely, so the game is still afoot.
Walking a few blocks around town I spied other species. Starlings, white wing doves, cardinals, blue jays, mockingbirds, red bellied woodpeckers, a ladderback female woodpecker, black vultures perching on the town’s water tower and the cedar waxwings had arrived and descended to begin their strip-mining operation of any berries in the area. A Red Shouldered Hawk sat high in a tree just behind my sister’s house. We later spotted him sitting on a neighbor’s fence with a squirrel running around on the ground perilously close.
On Saturday morning we drove to Lake Somerville to see what birds we could find. I love the countryside during the winter months. The trees are stripped bare of their leaves and the tree branches are much like skeleton arms and fingers reaching for the sky. We were rewarded for our efforts when we came upon a large squadron of American White Pelicans, a Belted Kingfisher, Mallard Ducks, American Coots, Great Egrets, and a Black Crowned Night Heron lurking in a marshy area created by recent rains which caused the lake to move beyond its boundaries and invade surrounding forest.
So once again, I am reminded that birds are everywhere. And if you want more in your own backyard it is as easy as providing food and water for them and they in turn will reward you with much entertainment. So as the saying goes….”Build it and they will come!”
Pelicans have always been of special interest to me. It might be because during my childhood, the pelicans were the birds that I most remembered seeing on our family day trips to Galveston. I have wonderful memories of those day trips. My Mother would rise early and begin frying chicken, making potato salad, bread and butter sandwiches and brownies to take with us for our picnic lunch. In the car my mouth was watering the entire trip from the enticing aromas drifting out of that basket.
Once we crossed the causeway bridge onto the island and made our way to the beach, my Father would rig a tarp from the side of our car to give us some shade from the intense sun. The ocean breezes cooled our skin making us unaware of the sunburn we were incurring. And I doubt seriously that we knew about sunblock in those days.
I spent much of my time chasing the little clams that washed onto shore and instantly buried themselves in the wet sand, splashing in the shallow waves and building sand castles. Those visits to the beach are some of my most precious memories.
As an adult, I still seek the beach on a regular basis to recharge my soul. And now, my beach combing passion has expanded to bird watching as well. There are many shorebirds that I enjoy watching but the Pelicans are part of my childhood memories so that makes them special. And as an adult I have now learned the differences between the Brown Pelicans and the American White Pelicans.
Brown Pelicans are plunge divers. They cruise low over the ocean and dive straight into the water when they spy a fish. They are frequently seen flying in a line over the beach and shoreline. When DDT was used as a herbicide, the run off into the ocean contributed greatly to their demise. Brown Pelicans use their feet to help incubate their eggs and the DDT caused the shells to be too thin and fragile which lead to them breaking before hatching . Their numbers dropped dramatically which placed brown pelicans on the endangered species list. Thankfully, when DDT was banned, they rebounded and are once again patrolling the skies on the Gulf Coast.
American White Pelicans work cooperatively with each other and while swimming on the water they “herd” the fish and then feed. They do not plunge dive. They are one of the largest sea birds and may weight as much as 30 pounds and have a wingspan of nine feet or more.
Aptly enough a group of pelicans is known as a squadron of pelicans. It definitely is a sight to see if in the Galveston area. The Brown Pelicans are always on beach patrol and the American White Pelicans fly in groups but are often seen bobbing together in the water or hanging out on a sand bar. Both are magnificent to behold.