Thursday, July 15, 2010

Unusual Immigrant

A couple of weeks ago I went for a walk at Lady Bird Lake in Austin.  The Lake was dirty with city grime.  Trash, sticks, algae.  And floating in the center of the mess was a pure white swan.

Then the bird turned its head.  An American White Pelican.  

Austin is about 190 miles from the white pelican's wintering grounds on the Texas coast.  And July is three-to-four months past the white pelican's Texas season.  This bird's flock is now in northwest Canada tending fledglings.

I took pictures and walked on.  The bird sat so still in that scum.  The white pelican didn't belong in my picture.  Something was wrong.  It was lost, maybe injured.  White pelicans are endangered, a legacy of DDT. Every bird is precious.

I lived near white pelican winter grounds in Florida.  They're one of my favorite birds, sparkling in the sun when a flock flies overhead.

You never see a white pelican alone.  They sleep together, fly together, loaf together. And they feed in groups, paddling to herd small fish into close schools where the pelicans stand a good chance of scoring with every scoop of the bill.  They have bird confederates too.  Double-crested cormorants swim beneath the schools of fish, snaring laggards, forcing the schools toward the surface.

A white pelican alone can't herd.

I was fretting as I walked across the pedestrian bridge and down the path toward the rowing center, looking straight ahead, focused on my thoughts.  

But when I turned back toward the bridge,  a single soaring bird crossed the sky in front of me.  It turned in profile and my right brain knew pelican before my left brain caught up.

I watched the sky and got to the bridge in time to see the pelican glide above the water and splash in a headfirst dive, coming up beak raised and shaking, the movement of a bird with a fish in its pouch.

I don't know this bird's story.  How it came to Austin out of place and time.  But I have hope he'll make it to rejoin his friends in Corpus in December.   

We're not the only ones who Keep Austin Weird.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.


  1. Many birds are changing their ranges due to global warming, loss of habitat, or maybe they just want to see what's over the next hill. When I was on the road recently in Mississippi, I saw a pair of White Pelicans at Barnett Reservoir just north of Jackson, where I had never seen them before. So maybe these birds are among those exploring new territories.

  2. I hope so, too. I'm glad your final view of this magnificent bird was in the sky rather than the scummy lake.

  3. I think the birds and the fish and the marine mammals are all confused by the oil and are running.

  4. I think Ms. Moon is right.

    Love you, Kathleen. You and Denny enjoy the weekend.


  5. I try to remember that in spite of the lovely sanctuaries we construct to attract them, birds and other animals have a tough life. Everything in their world is unpredictable and so their behavior is hard to predict, too. We can try to show up for the miracle, but what we see will surprise us.

  6. I too agree that the flight was a sign of hope.

  7. I too am glad that your final glimpse of the pelican was of it doing what nature intended - fishing. I wish it the best.

  8. Hmmmm-I wonder what's going on, here. You were good and pure of heart to be concerned.

  9. Makes me wonder if (a) the pelican was following an instinct and managed to avoid the oil disaster (b) I have seen this pelican thinking it was a swan - or whether the pelican is new to the lake. I hope, too, that the pelican is soaring to rejoin his friends.

  10. This is a haunting slice of life, Kathleen.
    What can be done about that scummy lake?
    x0 N2

  11. N2, it's seldom that bad but there had been recent rains washing city gunk and dog poop into the water. And it had been hot, which predisposes to algae.

    Lady Bird Lake is actually a slow-moving section of the Colorado River. The movement helps push debris toward the shores. On this section, the city cleans the banks periodically, which helps.

    To decrease algae formation, dog owners need to pick up the poop and the city needs to create impoundments to screen runoff. Even so, summer heat may cause algae blooms.


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