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White pelicans arrive to help liven things up at Bolsa Chica wetlands

November 2, 2009 |  7:51 am

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American white pelicans have begun to arrive at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, helping to usher in the winter birding season at the vast wetlands adjacent to Pacific Coast Highway and Bolsa Chica State Beach.

I counted five Saturday afternoon, including the three in the top image, and heard many more have since landed. The large, unwieldy and sometimes comical birds spend their summers in the northern U.S. and Canada. Many winter in Southern California.

As for brown pelicans, they're always around and often amusing. If you have a camera and are patient, you'll be rewarded with exceptional photo opportunities from the footbridge, just steps from the parking lot.IMG_7209 

Most but not all of these dive-bombing birds are adept at catching fish.

The pelican in the photo immediately above emerged from its high-speed plunge with a small fish in its spacious beak. But the poor bird in the image below tried again and again, only to come up empty each time. It became so tired, it began to have trouble lifting off.

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I did happen on another good fish-catcher: the snowy egret in the bottom photo, which nabbed a small morsel and spent 20 seconds carefully turning the fish to swallow it head-first.

The great thing about visiting Bolsa Chica, or any wetlands, is that there's rarely a dull moment, especially at low tide, when feeding is at its height. That's when the avian characters become animated, in some cases almost cartoon-like.

-- Pete Thomas 

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Credit: Pete Thomas / Los Angeles Times

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