Just a few days before the official start of Summer it was unusually cold with a stiff wind blowing off the ocean. If I saw one I saw at least fifty Brown Pelicans. For this time of year I had never seen so many of the birds before. It makes sense though, as most of them were headed North coming up from Mexico on their way to cooler climates. What was a little more unusual was that several of them were quite content to hang around and fish. Then there is the thing that I had never ever seen before and it is in the photo above.
For those of you who may not know the Brown Pelican is the only Pelican that dives into the water to feed. They can hold over two and a half gallons of water in their bills, filter out the fish and swallow them. Usually they fly in a triangle pattern about three to five feet above the water, roll over and dive in. With the strong wind there were a couple of the Browns that were diving from a distance of at least twenty maybe even thirty feet. I had never seen a Pelican dive from those distances not even off cliffs. They did it over and over for hours. Not particularly successful in my estimation though, it seemed as if they were eating about as much fish as on any other day but for me it made for one very interesting session. One thing I noticed about the Pelican high dive is that they start the rollover with the neck recoiled and as they approach the water extend till at the point of entry are straight as an arrow causing only a minor splash. In all honesty I don’t know how common this behavior is, the only thing I can say is that I have been observing and photographing the Brown for coming up on five years now and it is something I had never seen before.
Exactly how did I photograph these guys? Well, there was a fair amount of “spray and pray”. For being a big lumbering creature the Brown Pelican makes the decent at a really fast speed. Having the shutter speed at around 1/1,000sec just wasn’t getting the job done. As they approached the dark (in shade) water the speed dropped dramatically so the only real solution was to open it up and keep the minimum shutter speed around a two thousand. Pretty fast, but then who wants to miss this action? The other thing was I shot in portrait orientation most of the time, that increased my chances of getting the entire body in the frame close to the point of splash down.
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