|White Pelican - Photo by Eric Weislogel|
Kellie and I were in Cape May to enjoy a fantastic fall weekend of birding - not to mention a little more time on the beach, a last grasp at the summer gone by. Although we had heard the text-messaging chatter about a White Pelican in the area, we did not have it as one of our aims to see it. After all, this was not like the rare but very cooperative Brown Booby, who was quite content routinely to pose on a specific channel marker so you could ride the Osprey right up to her and snap photos as long as you’d like. The White Pelican was one moving bird reported over a relatively large area. As still-beginning birders, our goals for this trip (besides just having a wonderful time) were to try to see some fall warblers and to brush up on our raptor identification. We had not been thinking about the White Pelican.
We had just finished our first guided walk of the weekend, the Friday morning stroll around Higbee Beach with Mike Crewe and the great volunteer naturalists of the Cape May Bird Observatory, and we had decided to spend just a little more time on our own in the field. As there were a lot of hawks moving around (and we had already been buzzed by a low-flying adult Bald Eagle) we were looking up as much as we were scanning the trees and fields.
At first when the big white bird cruised into view and circled lazily overhead, we weren’t sure what we were seeing (having forgotten about all the reported sightings). But we finally snapped out of the trap of expectations, and realized what we were enjoying: the White Pelican. Although its scientific name, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos, suggests its most distinguishing feature might be a “red beak” (erythro = “red”; rhynchos = “beak, snout”), its bill actually seems more yellow and pinkish. Much more striking is the beautiful figure it cuts in the air, a bright white bird with deep black primaries. It is quite graceful while soaring. We were able to have good, long looks at this magnificent creature, before it finally glided away from our view.
Photo by EW October 7, 2011, 9:50 am, over Higbee Beach, Cape May, NJ.