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Pelican Reflections

Observations

By veteran riverboatsman Bruce Hogben
I never tire of watching pelicans group for flight to distant places. I recall one horribly hot February weekend when it was 44.5C in the shade in Adelaide. Even on the river it was hot, but the cooler environment near the Murray contributes to air movement in the sky above and the pelicans knew there were thermals to catch up there.
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By journalist Bryan Littlely
It is one of the great mysteries of desert Australia - how do thousands of pelicans know it's time to fly hundreds of kilometres to inland lakes? There are several theories among researchers on how these coastal-dwelling giants of the sky come to be at South Australia's usually temporary inland lakes and waterways including Lake Eyre, Cooper Creek and Coongie Lakes.
Bird talk, in-built magnetic compasses and the ability to hear vibrations from long distances are just three theories which try to explain why the birds migrate when they do.
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By Malcolm I. Cowan
My Dad was born at Paringa. My relatives lived in Renmark - there has been a continuous link with the town for 109 years.
A group of friends spent a week on a houseboat on the River Murray.
A pelican was standing on a sandbar. It was still and its reflection was one that could be reversed.
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Kim Bruce discovers the tourist pleasure of the 5 o'clock pelican feeding ritual at Kingscote on Kangaroo Island.
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See professional photographer Greg Adams’ vision of a pelican at Baird Bay.
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By Sue Hahn
I work at a fish and chip takeaway at Kiama on the south coast of New South Wales. Smoko is one of 12 resident pelicans of the boat harbour on which our shop is located.
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See pictures of the Encounter Bay pelican colony from musician and photographer James Rowbotham. Read more
And for James’s one-in-a-million Port Adelaide pelican shot, click here. "I literally shot this one from the hip as I saw a young girl throw a fish over the fence at the North Arm Fishermen's Wharf. I just waved the camera and bloody long lens in the general direction of the bird and 'click'. What you see represents about 90% of the frame, so there wasn't much margin for error. This sort of thing makes up for the days when you stare through the viewfinder for hours and don't get a thing.”

Martin Jacka is a Walkley Award-winning retired press photographer. See his stunning series of pelican shots near an Adelaide power plant.
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By Beth Hall, a Sydney northern beaches resident
I too hold a fascination for those magnificent, graceful and mesmerising pelicans.
I often see them at Pittwater when I go fishing with my family. They are always waiting for the boats to come in with their "takeaways".
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By veteran riverboatsman Bruce Hogben     TOP

I never tire of watching pelicans group for flight to distant places. I recall one horribly hot February weekend when it was 44.5C in the shade in Adelaide. Even on the river it was hot, but the cooler environment near the Murray contributes to air movement in the sky above and the pelicans knew there were thermals to catch up there.

Two groups formed about a kilometre apart and each formed a loose V as they circled effortlessly, slowly gaining height, as individual birds and small groups emerged from lagoons to join the dozens of others in the exodus. Over about half an hour or less they continued to circle upward without moving far from the area, barely ever moving their wings, with the groups gradually coming together to merge into one.

I had been watching with binoculars for some time, as they became mere specks to the naked eye, when they found the air current they wanted and soared away. Could they have been heading for the Lake Eyre Basin, I wondered. And if so, how do they know when to go? How is it that now the floodwaters are on  their way from Queensland, tens of thousands of  birds already apparently know about it? So much for bird brains.

It is fascinating to often see a group of six or so working in unison to herd fish into the shallows on the Murray River. I can't believe they can see anything in the muck that is the Murray these days and suspect they can feel vibrations with their feet, although I have read that their long beaks are sensitive and can tell them what is going on down there.

Having herded the fish to the shallows, the group forms a perfect circle and their heads go down under the water as one. The lucky ones come up with something in the pouch being jiggled into position to be swallowed.  It's incredible to watch, perfect formation and perfect unison. Again I wonder, how do they do this? What is the cue? Does one bird give the others a nod, a wink or a grunt? It's a superb ballet of cooperation.

Boating on moonlit nights I have seen large numbers of pelicans apparently "netting" the river where it narrows near cliffs. A large group, say 70 or more, fills a section of the river from bank to bank so that fish moving with the usually very slow current can't avoid the
trap if the fish is near the surface (and moonlight draws them from the depths).

We see pelicans living as loners and in small or large groups. It seems they team up when it suits them, like those two groups forming into one for their flight to distant places. In groups, they seem to observe certain etiquette in their behaviour.

With the boat tied adjacent to a shallow lagoon one sunny day, I was observing a group of 30 or so just standing around in the shallows, some of them sleeping.

One pelican detected an annoying tick or whatever and moved about 10 metres from  the group for a grooming session. It thrashed its wings, sometimes splashing itself, and burrowed among the feathers with its beak to rid itself of the nuisance until 10 minutes or so later, finally satisfied, it waddled back to the group and closed its eyes for a rest. The others apparently paid no attention to any of this.     TOP

 

By journalist Bryan Littlely       TOP
IT is one of the great mysteries of desert Australia - how do thousands of pelicans know it's time to fly hundreds of kilometres to inland lakes? There are several theories among researchers on how these coastal-dwelling giants of the sky come to be at South Australia's usually temporary inland lakes and waterways including Lake Eyre, Cooper Creek and Coongie Lakes.

Bird talk, in-built magnetic compasses and the ability to hear vibrations from long distances are just three theories which try to explain why the birds migrate when they do. However, decades of research is yet to produce “hard evidence” in the quest to understand how it is birds know when to set flight for such peculiar surroundings..... but we're happy they do.

The sight from above of hundreds of pelicans taking flight across these fresh waters is something to behold, as is a big old bird coming into land on a swollen Cooper Creek after a long journey. They are adventurous and opportunistic birds - trading the comforts and soothing nature of the coast for the harsh Outback and the chance of an easy fresh water feed.

“There's an idea around that the pelican breeding colonies act as information centres for pelicans, each bird passing on information about good feeding grounds,” Adelaide Zoo research scientist Greg Johnston says. “A bird stumbles across news of good grounds and sets off for them. It's a hypothesis at best, but how the hell does a pelican sitting on the coast somewhere know to head for the desert?

“Scientists spend their entire lives trying to find reason for bird migration and it's just not known,” Mr Johnston says. “We don't understand.”

“To try and understand Australian deserts and their ecology, research programs must be decades long. There are theories but no hard evidence but birds, including the white pelicans at Lake Eyre, seem to respond to environmental conditions.

“Several mechanisms - including birds having the ability to hear sonic vibrations and pick up on waves lapping at the shores and masses of water in creek systems, and magnetic compasses in their brains working on the magnetic forces on Earth - are theories for bird migration.”

Mr Johnston has studied the habits of pelicans for 14 years and is always keen to learn how often do the birds which congregate at these desert surrounded water wonderlands breed in the wet times. What is known about the white Australian pelicanis that they do not find it hard work getting to the inland lakes and rivers.

The pelicans can fly more than 600km in a day without flapping their wings for hours - using thermals the same way as gliders fly.    TOP

 

Malcolm I. Cowan   TOP
My Dad was born at Paringa. My relatives lived in Renmark - there has been a continuous link with the town for 109 years.

A group of friends spent a week on a houseboat on the River Murray.
Early one morning, just as the sun was coming up over the river, I was sitting out on the back deck with my closest friend, Elizabeth. The river was as still as it can be at that time of the morning.  The cliffs were reflected in the river and all was still.

A pelican was standing on a sandbar. It was still and its reflection was one that could be reversed!

Then there were two pelicans.
Then there were three.
Then there were five - six - seven!
They were there and they were not.

They did not fly in.

It was a magical moment. I asked Elizabeth for a collective noun for pelicans. Her response - as only a writer could do - was "A panache of pelicans." So I used this for the title of a piece of work that I created in ceramics for an exhibition held in the Prospect Gallery [South Australia] in July, 2005.  
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Kim Bruce TOP
It is one of the island's sweet attractions and one of the pelicans'
favourite things. They linger around Kingscote waiting for the big moment and the competitive sport of catching the flying fish. It is a favourite photo opportunity for both the proud pelicans and just about everyone with a camera. These are Kim's shots.

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A visual reflection contributed by professional photographer, Greg Adams - simply entitled Pelican at Baird Bay:

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By Sue Hahn
I work at a fish and chip takeaway at Kiama on the south coast of New South Wales. Smoko is one of 12 resident pelicans of the boat harbour on which our shop is located. Originally it was the cargo shed. I came across your site because I was trying to find out how to tell the sex of pelicans. Now I know Smoko is a she. We cut our own fish cocktails, and occasionally treat the pelicans to the leftovers. Sometimes they get a bit cheeky and try and find their way to the source of this treat. Some customers are terrified but more than often the cameras are clicking like crazy. The name Smoko came from the fact that she was always at the back door when we went for a smoke break and the only way to recognise her is from a small hole in the web of her feet.

 

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Below are the pictures of the Encounter Bay, South Australia, pelican colony taken by James Rowbotham.

James knows that the secret for getting brilliant photos is to be ready at all times - and never leave home without a camera. This photo of a Port Adelaide pelican is proof: "I literally shot this one from the hip as I saw a young girl throw a fish over the fence at the North Arm Fishermen's Wharf. I just waved the camera and bloody long lens in the general direction of the bird and 'click'. What you see represents about 90% of the frame, so there wasn't much margin for error. This sort of thing makes up for the days when you stare through the viewfinder for hours and don't get a thing.”

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Martin Jacka is a Walkley Award-winning press photographer, retired. He is famous for his studies of dolphins in the estuarine waters of South Australia and has a book of the same. On the side, however, he has been doing a spot of pelican-snapping – each and every image singing loud and clear the difference between the professional camera artist and the amateur. He explains this series:

“This is one of the pelicans that lives just opposite the power station, near the fruit and vegetable market. I believe it is one of the pelicans that was originally at the zoo and was given its freedom, but that’s only a nice thought. Some of the pelicans that I photographed have orange tags attached to their wings.”

Right on targetLining UpLanding flaps downTouchdownEnjoying a sunset flightCircling

Open SesameAnd shut...

Inside out

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Family dayThe syncronised swimming teampeliswamp

The above picture is Martin Jacka’s portrait of pelicans at Lawrence "Swamp" in northern NSW.

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Beth Hall
Sydney northern beaches resident
I too hold a fascination for those magnificent, graceful and mesmorising pelicans.
I often see them at Pittwater when I go fishing with my family. They are always waiting for the boats to come in with their "take aways".
They are in abundant numbers on Narrabeen Lake as well. There is never a time when I cross the bridge on the main road there that I don't see the gigantic "guardians of the bridge". They sit high up on the tall posts at both sides like soldiers atop their turrets looking down on the mortals below. I have to remind myself to concentrate on watching the road and not to look upwards for too long least I have an accident. I cannot imagine their absence from their realm.
At Woy Woy on the central coast of NSW the pelicans drop in at a certain time every day to the fish co-op to be feed. They are there in vast numbers and I'm sure the locals could set their clock by them.
I am a "would-be painter", and I love to sketch them and paint them. I find it unbelievable how beautiful they can be, the wings, the grace, the effortless flight, and yet at the same time I think they look rather awkward and unco-ordinated.
They are one of the great delights of nature and I will never tire of looking at them and being continually fascinated.

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