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.