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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Pelicans at Pismo Beach

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth’s Resident Explorer, Mark Seth Lender, writes about an encounter with one of the animal kingdom’s most skilled fishermen: the Brown Pelican. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Living on Earth’s Resident Explorer Mark Seth Lender watches the Brown Pelicans that gather at Pismo Beach in California to fish and preen, and finds them oddly graceful.


CURWOOD: From the gentle lapping of waves on the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific we head now to the California coast, between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. That’s where our explorer in residence Mark Seth Lender watched some remarkable birds on the beach as the sun set.

A Brown Pelican stretches its neck, showing off its throat pouch, which it uses to capture fish. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Pelicans at Pismo Beach
Brown Pelicans
© 2017 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved

LENDER: On a narrow stab of Pismo Beach the waves come in a palm-flat wash, all gold in the tops, where the green sea meets a dazzle of sand. Over the long swell, low as a breeze brown pelicans arrive as is their custom. They land running on their feet. They turn into the wind. And then begin their evening preening.

Screening their feathers for the least unkempt, the slight misalignment that might deflect their path of flight. When it matters most. That tight control, wings in an origami fold as they plunge, headlong, into the wide-ranging ocean; when whitecaps are torn free and they disappear into the foaming; or the calm so flat it shatters into shards. Oh the little fishes pooling beneath, drawn into a tangled ball to confuse what upwells from the blind deep; they had no idea how easy it would be for pelicans to unwind the Gordian knot of them, sharply from above.

A Brown Pelican heads towards a safe roosting spot, out of view from the shore. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

The sun is lower now, and lower still. Pelicans blink in the horizontal light. They stretch each disparate part:

- Legs as long as ballerinas and even the toes of their webbed feet pointing.

- Wings like awnings cranked out as far as they will go.

Pelicans preen themselves on the beach. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

- Their mouths agape like inflatable funhouse doors, yawning, the strange translucent pouch slung from the hard lower bill stiff as the gaff on some imaginary sailing ship, one that sails on air…

Now the short takeoff into the wind. Brown pelicans, low over water, as the night settles in like wetted silk. Sure as a binnacle compass they will find a safe roosting place, a shoal of rocks, somewhere out, that cannot be seen from the high point of the shore.

[MUSIC: Pete Siers Trio, “Mood Indigo” on Those Who Choose To Swing, composed by Duke Ellington, PKO Records]

CURWOOD: That’s our explorer in residence, Mark Seth Lender. And for his photos, glide on over to our website – loe dot org.



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