Making majestic memories: Pelicans in flight over Auburn

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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It was one of those rare but beautiful sights over Auburn. And an Auburn-area resident was on the button with her camera to record it. A flock of American White Pelicans flew overhead and then circled near Bowman resident Jan Muff’s home for a few minutes last week. Muff spotted their reflection in the glass of her coffee table and quickly grabbed her camera after gazing skyward at the majestic birds in flight. Using a 300 mm telephoto lens, Muff was able to zero in for some spectacular shots of birds that have as much as a 10-foot wingspan. Muff said she must have taken 200 photos. Many of them are now posted at the web site. Muff talked to one birder afterward, who said they were possibly migrating to Pyramid Lake from the south. The birds travel as far south as Central America in the winter months and then fly north again in the spring to nest on freshwater islands as far north as Canada. Intrigued, Muff did some research and discovered, among other things, the pronounced knob on their bills is present only during breeding season. Muff estimates that the flock numbered at least 300. “At first I thought they were Sandhill Cranes but as I saw them through my lens, I realized that they were pelicans,” Muff said. “I have never seen pelicans over Auburn. I feel very fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time.” Roger Strahle, owner of Auburn’s Wild Bird Station, said you normally have to be looking skyward to catch pelicans in migratory flight over Auburn. “You can’t hear them,” he said. “If you don’t look up, you could have 500 flying over you and you wouldn’t notice.” Pelicans do migrate through the area, particularly in late April and early May, Strahle said. Pyramid Lake in Nevada is one favorite destination but others fly farther north into the North Dakota lake country and Canada. Typically, like Muff, people will see the birds flying fairly low and then watch them form a vortex as they gain elevation. “They’ll circle higher and higher and then form a ‘V,’ and then off they go,” Strahle said. Strahle added that migrating birds fly very high and aren’t always immediately visible to the naked eye. But with patience and time – and possibly some binoculars – migratory-bird watchers can get a good gander at the yearly trip north for North America’s winged wanderers.