Saturday, February 27, 2010
Ugly Duckling NOT
Pelicans were in abundance as we canoed the fingers of water between various mangrove marshes during our recent trip to Florida. For some reason they do not seem as exotic or interesting when found in my back yard! It is hard to believe that pelicans were almost wiped out by pesticides a few decades ago. But you cannot sigh with relief as Florida is slowly becoming one mass of suburban gated communities outlined by golf courses and fringed by shopping malls which put increasing pressure on the birds' habitat. This brown pelican was sitting peacefully on the top of the mangrove tree as we coasted past just below him. The weather rarely got above 60 C and there was usually a cold wind on the water so it felt like 55 C or colder. We never removed our jackets or our jeans in our pursuit of the tropical feeling. Last month's cold weather which reached south Florida had resulted in a major fish kill which had cut the food supply for these birds and other water birds. Wind seems to have impacted water levels as well; we were told that the rare storks may not even nest this year due to this crazy weather!
We, like so many others, fled from the snow. (I do not think I met anyone actually from Florida during this trip, except for some friends we visited. ) Many other pelicans including the white pelicans below could be seen from the walkways in the preserves and sanctuaries. They nest in pairs of over one hundred on the islands. They catch their prey in the shallow waters rather than the dramatic diving seen with the brown pelican.
This canoe trail below was a few miles long in the Corkscrew Swamp area of southern Florida and we saw only one group of kayakers, one other canoe, and a small electric bass boat with two die-hard fishermen. Fighting the cooler wind gusts on the non-lee sides of the islands was challenging. If the wind was behind us, I could sometimes lift my paddle and it would act as a tiny sail scooting us fairly rapidly across the water and even faster if the tidal current was in our favor. When the canoe trail took us between a path in the mangroves, the wind was blocked and the sun would take charge and warm our bones. Even though the tops of the highest mangroves had brown die-back from the harsh winter, we could pretend it was spring.
The above photo is not very good as we were moving past fairly fast in the canoe to avoid startling the birds, but it does show the brown die-back in the tops of the mangroves from this cold winter that reached even South Florida.