Thirty-seven and snow squalls
Moments of beauty or interest happen in my nature preserve most days. Many are the day-to-day pleasures of observing animals, plants and weather in the city but not all inspire posts.
After 34 years watching nature from my perch, I’ve stockpiled stories like squirrels hoard acorns. So Critter Files was hatched. From time to time I’ll take a story from the stash and pass it on. Encounters with the wild from years gone by that never grow stale.
Early Spring, Late Snow
Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over til it’s over.” He wasn’t talking about winter in the Rockies, but he could have been. Snowstorms in March are common and can stretch into May. Just as likely to be pitching spring snowballs as fastballs.
It was a day such as today when white pelicans came to visit. Late March, cold, with spells of blowing snow. A line of ferocious little squalls skidded down the jet stream alternately dropping visibility to near zero, then sweeping away the clouds.
Snow pellets blasted sideways, rattling against the windows. The house was enveloped in a whiteout, even the driveway disappeared. Then the clouds gusted off as I gazed out my east-facing window, revealing a stunning sight.
A flock of 30 or 40 white pelicans was huddled together on the hillside, all beaks pointed south, away from the northwesterly winds. Forced to ground in the squall, the hill was their port in a storm, far from water. The pelicans were hunkered low to the ground and frosted with snow.
The American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) migrates through Utah. The birds also breed in marshy habitat in the state. I’d seen white pelicans before but never expected a flock to land 50 feet from the house.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes white pelicans:
One of the largest North American birds, the American White Pelican is majestic in the air. The birds soar with incredible steadiness on broad, white-and-black wings….These large, gregarious birds often travel and forage in large flocks, sometimes traveling long distances in V-formations. They soar gracefully on very broad, stable wings, high into the sky in and between thermals.
Pelicans synchronize their movements; feeding, flying, diving, swimming. Pelican behavior suggests choreographers in the flocks.
I watched, amazed, as the birds decided it was time to move on. They rose en masse, wings beating in unison, and circled westward, flying into the brightening sky.