It is summertime and that means one thing, well for me at least, pelicans in flight over the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. The american white pelican is a summer resident to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, actively feeding on the carp and other fish in it’s shallow waters. I have personally seen groups of pelicans on the refuge in large pods searching for food which possibly numbered near a thousand birds. Quite a sight to see when that many birds are in one location.
Photographing pelicans in flight takes high precedence for me when I visit the bird refuge. In fact, many trips during the summer are devoted mainly in search of pelicans where I can get in flight and take off images of them. They are such graceful birds in flight and make for a superb subject to photograph. Photographing flying birds isn’t always an easy proposition but the american white pelican is one of those species where the beginning photographer can have some success in photographing them in flight. They are common and relatively easy to find where an in flight image can be obtained. Their large stature and size makes for a much easier target to focus on when in flight.
My favorite images are pelicans gliding very low above the water, just inches away from their wingtips touching the water. I am not sure how they can fly so low to the water and glide for such a long period of time between wing flaps but it does make for a very impressive image when it has been achieved. It is one of the pelican shots I do find the most difficult to obtain but I love the challenge. Usually when I find them they are in either take off or landing mode so the gliding behavior is one I don’t get to photograph very often but is one I always keep an eye out for in hopes of being successful.
It is summertime and even though the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge has some low water areas which has altered the patterns of the american white pelican feeding habits it is still a great time to visit the refuge to see it’s abundant wildlife. The american white pelican can still be found on the refuge during this low water period so make plans to visit the wildlife refuge and see what it has to offer in the way of bird watching, great scenery and quite often very dramatic sunsets.
It’s time for the boys of summer to return. No, this isn’t a baseball reference per say but a mention of another summer pastime I look forward to each year, photographing the american white pelican. I often refer to them as “the big white bird” and they are a true staple of summer photography for me as I love to watch them glide high on the summer thermals. This particular image was taken on the Bear River Migratory Bird refuge on a very familiar place but one that was altered from a storm this past winter. The tree had blown over from high winds last year. It was a common place for many birds to roost during the day and now it looks like in its altered position it may still offer its services to a different clientele.
The american white pelican is a very common visitor on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge during the summer months. This large white pelican, one of the largest birds in North America with a wingspan up to 9 feet long, is commonly viewed on the Bear River Refuge in large groups fishing for carp and other species of fish found on the fresh water marsh.
The american white pelicans have been studied and observed to favor isolated islands for nesting. This is quite true for this Northern Utah population as it has been said most if not all of the birds are found to nest on one remote island in the far reaches of the Great Salt Lake, gunnison island.
Gunnison island has been mentioned to be one of the three largest colonies in western North America. This northern Utah colony of american white pelicans has been estimated to have around 18,000 nesting birds on the Great Salt Lake and an average population of around 25,480 in July and August with a peak number of birds occurring at an incredible 85,834 in 1997.
I spend a lot of time on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge watching and photographing the american white pelican. They are easy to spot and easy to watch on the refuge, making them an ideal bird to come see on the Bear River Refuge. Photographing them can also be a fairly easy task as they are often feeding close to the auto tour route, making them an easy target for the bird watcher as well as the bird photographer. Keep an eye out for the american white pelican while visiting during the summer months. I have sat and watched them for hours in one spot, watching them fish, preen, rest and interact with other pelicans and bird species. My favorite is when one comes in for a landing, using those long white wings to effortlessly glide down to the water and make an splash landing. They have been described as being very awkward on their feet but very graceful in the air.
During the summer months the american white pelican can often be seen splashing around in the open water, taking a bath and cleaning their plumage of white feathers. They are also been known to try and steal a freshly caught fish from other pelicans. I have observed this behavior many times as one pelican makes a great catch of a large carp and needing a few minutes to swallow the large fish gives other pelicans the opportunity to try and make the successful fisherman drop his catch.
What ever your interest, bird watching, photography, or both, the american white pelican is a great bird to get to know and enjoy on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and other wildlife management areas in northern Utah along the Great Salt Lake shoreline.
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