In the middle of the afternoon, I took a break and slipped off the Baylands Nature Preserve. A light breeze, gusting to a moderate breeze, came from a little west of north, and brought the smell of salt water of the bay with it. I felt a little cold, and thought about going back to the car to get my fleece vest, but decided to keep walking. The tide was just beginning to come in, and there were so many shore birds all over the mudflats — American Avocets, Marbled Godwits, Willets, Western Sandpipers — that I spent most of my time looking down at the mud, not up at the sky.
Then a huge something flew overhead. I looked up in time to see a big white bird with black wing tips gliding low over the salt marsh. I didn’t even need to look at its head to know that it was an American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos). I’ve seen plenty of Brown Pelicans, but somehow I had never seen a White Pelican before today. And I didn’t just see the one; as I got farther out the dike trail, I saw half a dozen more gliding overhead, and after I had walked about a mile I saw more than twenty more sitting in the marsh about two tenths of a mile away from the dike.
The American White Pelican was the three hundredth species of bird that I’ve positively identified. I’m not a very good birder, and the main reason that I’ve managed to see that many species of birds is that I’ve lived on the east coast, on the west coast, and in the midwest. And I have to admit that it has taken me more than forty years to see that many species — I can positively remember seeing a Rufous-sided Towhee for the first time in July, 1967, when I was six years old, so I can date the beginning of my birding career no later than then. Nevertheless, I certainly felt a little thrill go through me this afternoon when I realized that I was indeed seeing an American White Pelican, a bird I had never seen before.
I spent a good ten minutes watching one White Pelican feeding at the edge of one of the sloughs in the Baylands Preserve: sticking out its neck as it floated along and running its long peach-colored bill through the water, then putting its head back so I could see its somewhat distended throat sac. And I spent a fair amount of time watching three or four of them flying together: these huge birds with a wingspan of up to 120 inches in close formation, gliding along and barely flapping their wings. It was certainly a dramatic way to reach the three hundred species milestone.