Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Padre Island’s Pelican Patrol

©Bert Gildart: Padre Island National Seashore has been designated as being significant for world bird conservation-”a Globally Important Bird Area”-and the reasons become obvious the longer we remain. This narrow but extensive island spans almost 100 miles and attracts about 400 species, and it does so because of varied habitat that includes ocean, marsh, grasslands, and even a small stand of oak. All the birds are interesting (particularly the Crested Caracara we just saw), but right now, the pelicans seem to hold center stage, and that includes both the white and the brown pelican. They’re conspicuous because they’ve congregated into large numbers, and because of their interesting foraging techniques.

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Brown pelicans patrolling the surf for fish

White pelicans are the larger of the two and they congregate on the intracoastal waterway side of the island. With the exception of solid black wing tips, the species is all white. Interestingly, some of the males produce a “keel” toward the tip of their beak and some experts say the structure is associated with the mating season.

GREAT TRAVELERS

White pelicans are great travelers and some populations migrate all the way to the prairies of Montana. Here they find exactly what they need for the security of the helpless young, essentially a flat treeless island, surrounded by a body of water substantial enough to discourage coyotes and foxes from attempting to gain access. In years past I have written about the species for various magazines including the young people’s publication Highlights for Children.

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White pelicans congregate along shore of Bird Island. They "herd" fish rather than dive for them.

Yet another difference between the brown and white pelicans is the way in which they forage for food. White pelicans gather together in large numbers and then “herd” fish into large congregations at which time they simply dip their beaks into the water followed by a quick forward swish of their beaks. The action collects fish into their “gular” pouches where they are held until they decide its time for a meal.

Though the technique is effective, it lacks the drama demonstrated by the brown pelican, which we’re now seeing in large numbers along the Gulf side of the park. Though we see large numbers of them moving north, moving perhaps from areas in Mexico to Aranasas National Wildlife Refuge also in Texas, we also see large numbers of them patrolling the interface between water and dune, searching the pounding waves for schools of fish. And sometimes, as we observed several days ago while driving the beach, they find them.

FEEDING FRENZE

Though we’re not sure the species of fish, pelicans responded with fervor. Typically, they’ll focus on a wave and, then, spotting something beneath them, they’ll fold their wings and dive hard into the water. Other times, they’ll light onto the ocean’s surface and, then, with beats of wings and thrusts of webbed feet they’ll dip and dive, paddle and pound the waves in a flurry and a confusion of bodies, gathering as they do fish into their famous pouches.

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Brown pelican feeding frenzy, gulf side of Padre Island

When we saw they action several days ago, the action persisted for well over an hour and whether it was satiation or diminished schools of fish that caused the frenzy to cease, certainly we never knew. All we knew is that the pelicans moved on, resuming once again their patrol of the surf. That was their job and because they performed it so well, the show was forever compelling. Somewhere along the beach we know it’s still going on, and we’re hoping to see the pelican patrol one more time before departing Padre Island.

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THIS TIME LAST YEAR

*Joshua Tree National Park

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