Friday 9 March 2012

A Passion for Pelicans

I was fortunate to spend some time in Mexico last month - fortunate because the weather here in southern BC sucks big-time right now (rainy, cold, dark, grey, wet, and downright awful) and the Mexican warmth and sunshine was MOST welcome, and also because I'm grateful whenever I'm lucky enough to travel and spend time getting to know life in another country. I spent the majority of my time in a village called Barra de Navidad, just north of Manzanillo on Mexico's west coast, and was able to slip into a relaxing routine, enjoying delicious fresh-caught fish and just-picked fruit/veg, good meals at what became a favourite local restaurant, afternoon swims, strolls around the little town, more ambitious treks along the 6 km beach (challenging because of the slope and soft sand), and.... best of all... the opportunity to observe an astounding assortment of bird life!

Shorebirds at rest on a sandbar

A nearby marsh was teeming with waders - herons, egrets, jacanas, ibis, gallinules, coots and such (not to mention thick blooms of lush water hyacinths) and the ocean was absolutely alive with pelicans, frigate birds, terns, cormorants, gulls and others, all of whom could be observed fishing just off the beach and breakwater. The beach itself had its own contingent of waders (whimbrels, yellowlegs, and the like, and even a golden-crowned night heron spotted fishing one evening), and skulkers (vultures and caracaras looking for "snacks" that had washed ashore).

Heron and egret at the marsh

But the species that captured my attention and my artistic imagination was definitely the pelican - to be species-specific, the Brown Pelican. And so it these fascinating birds that are focus of the first of what I expect to be a series of blog entries about my time in Mexico.

I have observed pelicans before and have always found them charming. For ungainly looking creatures, they are graceful fliers and astoundingly efficient fishers who dive with arrow-like precision for their prey. But never before had I seen pelicans in such abundance or had this type of opportunity to observe their interactions with other species and their fantastic aerial skills. It was perfect holiday entertainment!

Cruising effortlessly in formation
A page from my sketchbook
There were groups of rowdy juveniles who spent a lot of time trying to steal fish from hapless cormorants. The more stately adults busied themselves honing their fishing skills, setting an example for the youngsters and probably showing off just a little.

Juvenile & adult Brown Pelicans
Like Olympic high-divers, they plummet into the ocean making only a small splash where they pierce the surface of the water.

And sometimes there's a delightful combination of ungainly goofiness and absolute grace about these birds that's uniquely "pelican-esque".

As an artist, I'm not quite certain where my newly acquired passion for pelicans will find expression. For the moment, I'm still pondering their forms and the feelings generated by them, and sorting through hundreds and hundreds of  photos of flying, floating, diving, drifting, squabbling, snoozing, swimming, roosting, resting pelicans. Stay tuned!


  1. You nailed it about the weather here right now, it really is dreary.

    Love the pelicans, especially the dive-bombers! I wonder if they caught their prey and what it was.


  2. When I lived in Fort Smith, NWT, we had colonies of American White Pelicans - it is there most northerly nesting habitat. Next time you visit here I'll show you the painting of them which I purchased before leaving the north to remind me of their beauty.