Sunday, May 30, 2010

Waiting for the pelicans

Unusually, at the cusp of June our crescent of slough - a backwater of the Cosumnes River - is still brim-full and providing a rich habitat and food-source for a wide range of birds and aquatic mammals. Numerous fish - from the large, lumbering carp to smaller minnows - are visible below the surface.

Yet to come is the almost-annual spectacle of the American white pelicans descending to forage on the densifying population of fish as the slough shrinks. Pelicans, with a body weight of 20 pounds and a wing span of 8-10 feet, are North America's largest bird after the California condor. The flocks of pelicans fish like a chorus line, herding the fish to the water's edge in a very coordinated fashion, often under the watchful eye of groups of highly animated great egrets - seemingly sensible of the loss but ill-equipped to challenge the invaders.

Large, roving flocks of pelicans must have been a common and predictable feature of the Central Valley in late spring and early summer, cruising in as the rivers receded and left isolated backwater ponds full of tasty protein.

The white specks in the photo are clumps of cottonwood seed, some aerial and some floating on the water. With a good wind, they'll be pushed to a shore, and with luck - and direct contact with moist soil - germinate and become fast-growing trees.
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1 comment:

  1. When will they become as popular as the Sand Hill Cranes? Looking forward to a tour soon!