Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Great Pelican Surround

At the onset I was reminded of a friend in Wyoming’s observation about the ease of herding buffalo.  He’d said, “It’s easy.  You can herd ‘em anywhere they want to go!”  

That comes close enough to describing our mission of capturing an ailing White Pelican from the waters between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers one cold, humid and windy January morning.
To the casual observer this Pelican looks like just another boulder amongst the rip-rap
Even in our prime that for one 80 year old man was realized many moons ago; and from that octogenarian down to the 25-year old lass who finally made the eventual capture with one deft swoop of her net.  Between those two were perhaps ten others of various descriptions and skills, including the person who guided us to the lake where our quarry seemed not overly concerned by our intrusion into his part of the world.  Yet a team we were--and for not having rehearsed such a deployment as a unit, we embarked upon the mission with surprising efficiency, including its successful conclusion.

You could almost smell the fact that it would not be an easy capture.  The bird was about 100 yards off as we exited our vehicles to survey the situation.  And while 100 yards might have been his normal comfort zone to be kept between himself and humans, this particular group of humans did rouse his survival instincts as he eyed us suspiciously.

Perched in the white stone rip-rap of the shore, he seemed to grow uncomfortable when one of us walked out of his line of sight to execute our “Plan A”, which would have been a simple net capture after having sprung from ambush.

As humans we sometimes mistakenly attempt to evaluate the why of a wild creature’s behavior based upon human logic.  Like….did the bird know the human was executing an ambush maneuver?  My personal opinion is that the bird felt no need to analyze; it simply didn’t like what it saw--one human less in a gang of 12 that already had made him less than comfortable--and took action.  That action was to take to the water, which set in motion what had been our original “Plan A”--launch the boats and catch the critter.

Launch all boats!  That white speck to the left is the bird staying just out of reach!
Launch all boats!  Easier said than done.  Those familiar with a 16’ “double ender” canoe drill can appreciate the hazards of the launch site--a gentle slope from shore to deeper navigable water.  This meant getting knee deep wet to gain the necessary depth, or making the mistake of trying to stay dry in the process and thereby getting even wetter than up to the knees when the canoe overturns.   And overturn one of our boats did—dumping two of our stalwart rescuers into the drink.  Thankfully I was just taking pictures, but the sight, sound and expressions made me shiver nonetheless.

Thankfully the mettle of our crew rose to the top and before a thought was given to warmth or keeping dry ~ the chase was on.  Picture if you will, two canoes, one rowboat and seven people afloat in pursuit of one lone White Pelican that swam with ease, speed and purpose as he eluded our capture squad.  All this complete with laughter as the bird, in seeming disdain for our effort, took a moment to attempt to scoop up a fish with its remarkable beak while not missing a stroke with its magnificent paddle feet. 
Naturalist/Trainer Leah Sainz and Director Jeff Meshach extract the bird from the net.
Finally we were successful in executing the capture as our boat crews were successful in driving the bird toward shore, while positioning our young lady in the front of one of the canoes with the net to make the catch.

Safely securing the bird, we took a few pictures, loaded the boats and headed back home to the WBS hospital to see what could be done for our new charge.

While maybe not the norm, still just another day in the life of a wildlife rehabber.

Submitted by Pat Payne, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer

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