Hart Beat by Hart Rufe

First published November 21, 2012 ... Contact Hart at hartrufe@gmail.com

White Pelicans

American White Pelicans wading at Viera.

on American White Pelicans & communications

White PelicanWhile on a mundane mail mission to the Post Office, the smart phone in my pocket began to ring insistently. Jewel: “Deena just called. There’s a White Pelican just off their dock!” Hurry home; grab gear; rush to the river; and within 15 minutes I join Deena and Dana watching the American White Pelican and record the photograph shown here (right).

Now, American White Pelicans are not rare, nor are they even uncommon in Florida in the winter. They can be found in good numbers as close as Sebastian Inlet, the next break to the sea through the barrier island for the Indian River north of the Fort Pierce Inlet; we see them virtually every time we go to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Titusville, and STA-5, just south of Clewiston and Lake Okeechobee, both places where St Lucie Audubon runs field trips; on the beach at Sanibel’s Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge; and loafing with scads of other shorebirds and waders on the sand bar just off the Visitors Center at Flamingo in the Everglades National Park.

Brown PelicanBut in 14 winters of birding St Lucie County I have never seen or heard of one being seen around here, although it is included on the St Lucie Audubon county bird check list. Having now made that admission, I expect that I will receive emails from one or more of my local birding friends, who will assure me they are here every winter, but it was a very exciting find. For a map of American White Pelican Florida winter hotspots see: http://floridarambler.com/central-florida-getaways/white-pelicans-migration-florida/.

The American White Pelican differs from its Brown Pelican cousin (left) in that the White is half again as big as the Brown, with a wing-span of eight to nine and a half feet compared to the Brown’s six foot wing-span. White Pelicans scoop their fish prey into their cavernous beaks (below, left), while Brown Pelicans plunge dive into the water to capture fish, and White Pelicans frequently soar in large flocks rising on air thermals, while Brown Pelicans fly in single file lines usually flapping and gliding, sometimes just above the surface of the water. And guess what: American White Pelicans are white with black wing tips, while Brown Pelicans are chocolate brown.

American White PelicanIncidentally, have you ever wondered why so many virtually all white bird species have black wing tips? Ah ha, a topic for another article.

This adventure brings to mind the vast changes that have occurred in birding information communication. When John James Audubon or Lewis and Clark made their exploratory expeditions, the world had to wait months or even years to learn what birds they may have seen or discovered. Even as late as the mid-20th Century, birders went to bird club meetings once a month to find out what other birders had seen in the intervening period.

American White PelicansGradually, more active clubs began to develop “phone trees,” so that when a birder found a rare or unusual bird, he or she would call a leader at the top of the “tree,” who would then call two or three birders further down the “tree,” each of whom were responsible to call two or three more until all members of the tree got the word. Unfortunately, most of these phone trees developed before the common use of answering machines and consequently were only successful if the call recipients were home. Thus, there were many breaks in the tree chain.

Sometime in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s the North American Rare Bird Alert (NARBA) was developed by Houston Audubon Society, http://www.narba.org/. This was, and still is, a subscription service for birders to call for the latest information on the location of rare birds anywhere in North America. Many local Rare Bird Alerts (RBA’s) similarly developed and are still maintained by local Audubon chapters, bird clubs and other organizations. For a complete list see: http://birding.aba.org/.

American White PelicanBut now, in the “Information Age,” with the proliferation of smart phones, it is increasingly common for a birder to find a “good” bird, take a photo of it with his or her cell phone through his or her telescope and immediately transmit the image and location information to the internet for the entire world to see. And when my smart phone rings in my pocket, I am always ready and able to immediately decide whether the bird is more important than what I may be doing at that moment.

I can only imagine what John James Audubon or Lewis and Clark would have given for this type of communication ability. Not to mention modern optics. (11/21/2012)


(Click photos for larger versions)