Posted by: atowhee | January 11, 2021


Here’s a trio of shots of Tundra Swans at Baskett Slough–one adult, one juvie born last summer. Photos by Philippe Pessereau:

Then a very surprised friend who lives in Palm Desert sent me this shot:

We all know pelicans are water birds, right? They eat fish, they swim. Are these two lost? In Palm Desert?

Well, I checked eBird and the White Pelican is a regular fall and winter visitor to the Coachella Valley, showing u in modest numbers at parks and golf courses with standing water and fish. They congregate at nearby Salton Sea as well. Desert pelicans, indeed. They also nest in lakes in arid regions. Here in Oregon they nest at Summer Lake Klamath and Malheur–each averages less than 15 inches precip per year.
They also like still, calm waters, feeding from the surface like feathered trawlers. They are far more staid than their athletic Brown Pelican cousins who can cruise just inches about huge Pacific Ocean swells, dive beak first into raging and storm blown water and dodge passes from hungry sharks.

Their nearest breeding area is northeast California, another arid area. The Cornell map leaves out Malheur! here is map from USGS which more accurately reflects what I understand about White Pelicans in Oregon and California.

I have seen them near the coast occasionally. They like the flat salt ponds in the San Pablo NWR between Novato and Vallejo in the Bay Area. Once I saw them on Limantour at Pt. Reyes–protected from the open ocean by sand dunes. You will not find them paddling next to Harlequin at the base of some wave-smashed offshore sea stack.

At the start of the 19th Century Lewis & Clark saw thousands of them on the upper Missouri River. Here is Lewis’s description of their first pelican sighting in August, 1804: “I saw a great number of feathers floating down the [Missouri] river…they appeared in such quantities as to cover pretty generally sixty of seventy yards of the breadth of the length we were surprised by the appearance of a flock of Pillican at rest on a large sand bar…the number of which would if estimated appear almost in credible [sic]; they appeared to cover several acres of ground…They are a bird of clime remain on the coast of Floriday and the border of the Gulph of mexico & even the lower portion of the Mississippi during the winter and in the spring…”

This sighting was near the confluence of the Little Sioux with the Missouri River. That is now on the Iowa/Nebraska border between Omaha and Sioux Falls.

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