Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

A Pelican Briefing

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Last year I witnessed something extraordinary. In Davenport, along the cliff edge as the sun set, a continuous stream of brown pelicans flew north. Hundreds, probably thousands. I was there for at least 45 minutes and they kept coming.

I like pelicans a lot. And I like photographing them, especially in flight, but, sadly, the results are usually disappointing. However, that special evening provided unusual light, angles, and perspective on this great bird. And there were many, many repeated opportunities to click the shutter.

Pelicans are the iconic sea bird; they are the salty dogs of the avian world.

What’s so captivating about them? Their large size and comical face, distinguished by the preposterously elongated beak with its hidden stretchy pouch. That elegant broad wingspan and its ability to soar effortlessly along the sea, sometimes just a few inches above wave and water. The brown pelican’s fishing technique with its head long aerial dive, piercing the water like a spear. Their patterned plumage is a designer’s delight, featuring textured body feathers with a head of white, orange, yellow, red, black. And besides all that, they remind me of their ancient ancestors, the pterodactyls.

Most of the photos here are from that evening on the cliffs. But I have added a few other choice shots from other days. (Did you know that the collective noun for pelicans is “a brief of pelicans”?)

I just discovered this new documentary about pelicans, “Pelican Dreams” by the filmmaker who did “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.”

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