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Where We Live by John Silveira and Richard Blunt. Photos and commentary from Oregon and New England.

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Archive for the ‘Pelicans’ Category


Pelicans in Oregon, Part 2

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Pelicans are my second favorite birds, just behind ospreys. Unlike ospreys, which I like to photograph because of the way they dive into the drink feet first and pull fish out with their talons, pelicans dive in head first but, when they surface, you don’t see their catch. However, if you watch closely, you may see them throw their heads back and observe a little lump move along the pouch that makes up the lower part of their bills. That’s the fish being swallowed.

A week or so ago, I discovered something else about pelicans. I was on the south jetty at the mouth of the Rogue River, here in Gold Beach, Oregon, and I saw pelicans doing something I’d never seen them doing before. What I observed is explained in the cations to the photos.

All but the last photo were taken with my Canon 5D Mark III and either my EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM lens or my EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens. (You can figure out which lens I used by looking at the focal lengths beneath the photos.) In the last photo is my friend, Earl Yager, holding a pelican. That photo was taken with a cell phone.


I was on the south jetty of the Rogue River, and saw scores of pelicans flying parallel to the jetty as they flew into the river’s mouth.

Shutter speed 1/1000     f-stop 5.6     ISO 100     focal length 400mm


The pelicans were heading for a small pool that has formed in the middle middle of the spit of sand and gravel that is all but strangling the mouth of the Rogue. Scores more of pelicans were either already in that pool or on the spit. The pool itself is filled and drained by the changes in the tide as sea water seeps through the sand and gravel.

Shutter speed 1/1000     f-stop 7.1     ISO 320     focal length 70mm


The tide was high and the arriving pelicans headed straight for that little pool, as the pelican in the center is, before going to the spit itself.

Shutter speed 1/1000     f-stop 7.1     ISO 320     focal length 200mm


The pelican in the center of this photo is also a new arrival.

Shutter speed 1/1000     f-stop 5.6     ISO 200     focal length 400mm


Before heading for the spit, each of the pelicans bathed and splashed in the pool. Twenty or more at a time were busy splashing around while the pelicans that had already visited the pool were resting on the spit. I suspected those splashing in the pool, they were washing away mites and other parasites, but I had no other evidence to support that hypothesis.

Shutter speed 1/1000     f-stop 5.6     ISO 200     focal length 400mm


I watched as each bird “bathed” then took the short flight to the spit to join the others, as the pelican at the center of this photo is doing.

Shutter speed 1/1000     f-stop 5.6     ISO 200     focal length 400mm


This is my friend, Earl Yager. He works for the Port of Gold Beach. He had rescued the pelican he’s holding, after it had landed between a shed and a fence near the port’s offices. Because of the limited space the bird had landed in, it was impossible for it to spread its wings far enough to take off, again. That’s when Earl stepped in. The photo was taken by his boss, Port Manager Debbie Collins, just before he released the bird. What I found interesting is that Earl said that, a while after he’d let the bird go, he looked down and his jacket was covered with thousands of mites. It was enough evidence, for me, to confirm my suspicions that the birds were washing away as many mites as possible while they were splashing around in the water of the pool.


Cell phone photo.



Pelicans of Oregon, Part 1

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Ever since I was a little boy, pelicans have reminded me of what pterodactyls were supposed to look like. I know, I’m not the first to say that. They look like something that accidentally crossed the K-T boundary that marks the extinction of the dinosaurs. Like many others, I’ve always found them to be funny looking – until last year, that is, when I began to photograph them. It was then that I began to think of them as beautiful, and even regal. There’s an imperious look to them even though they have an anachronic appearance. To me, they also look like they should be hopelessly awkward, however, they are anything but. When skimming over the waves, mere inches above the water, they are as graceful as any creature that ever roamed this earth, and when they’re diving out of the air from 50, 100 feet, or more, they do so with miraculous precision.

At the moment, I can’t decide which is my favorite bird: the osprey or the pelican. Both are hunters. The bald eagle, our national symbol, is more a combination of hunter, scavenger, and thief.  Ospreys are hunters and will also steal from each other. But pelicans are, as near as I can tell, pure hunters. They don’t scavenge and, though I’ve seen other birds try to steal from them, I have yet to see one try to steal from another.

Like ospreys, pelicans make dramatic dives to catch their prey. But, unlike ospreys, they can alight on the water and swim. Often, after they make their catch, they float on the waves and let the water drain from their bills.

There are eight species of pelicans and, though the brown pelicans, here along the coast of Oregon, are the smallest, they’re still pretty big birds. I’d love to, and will in the future, see other species.

I have frequently gone to the mouths of the Rogue and Chetco Rivers, here in southwestern Oregon, and watched the pelicans hunting in groups of 15 or 20 individuals. They’ll fly above those estuaries looking for fish and, when one sees a target,  it will suddenly roll over in the sky and plunge toward the water from 50, 100 feet, or more. They remind me of the World War II dive bombers I read about when I was a kid.

The following sequence was shot just the other day with my Canon 5D Mark III, using a Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM lens. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Shutter speed 1/640     f-stop 8     ISO 250     focal length 400mm, for all photos in the sequence.





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