January 6, 2017 will now always be a memorable day for me. Today was the day that I saw my first “rare” bird.
Since the beginning of the new year, there have been reports on the E-bird NJ Rare Bird Alert that an American White Pelican was at Stanley H. “Tips” Seaman Park in Tuckerton, NJ. In the winter, eastern American White Pelicans are usually found off the coast of Florida or the Gulf of Mexico, so this bird was pretty far from home. People on various bird groups on Facebook have been sharing pictures of the pelican floating around on Pohatcong Lake at “Tips” Seaman, so naturally I wanted to see it in person.
Tuckerton is in Ocean County, New Jersey, which is the county that I grew up in. My family doesn’t live in near Tuckerton anymore, but my mom, sister, and I had plans around that area today, so we though we should seek out the pelican. This isn’t the first time I’ve looked for on the rare birds from e-bird. In June Dave and I tried to find some Dickcissels nearby but didn’t see them (we did find some other great birds that day, though.) However, I had a good feeling about this pelican.
We arrived at Tip Seaman mid-morning. As we walked across the snowy field towards Pohatcong Lake we saw a large white bird in the distance preening. Could it be?? We made our way up closer. It was….a Mute Swan.
The Mute Swan preened close to the shoreline, surrounded by some Canada Geese and a small flock of Ring-billed Gulls. I scanned out in the distance. A lot of pictures posted online showed the pelican out across the lake by the tree. The Pelican was usually seen with 2 Mute Swans.
And then he appeared! He came from our right, calmly floating along. He wasn’t too far out. He was swimming with a flock of Canada Geese. My excitement grew. There he was! Another birder was standing near us, and we started talking about how amazing he was. She lived nearby and heard about the pelican on Facebook too.
It seems like Mr. Pelican had started to get used to having an audience, because he noticed the four of us standing on the shore and started swimming in our direction. Before we knew it, he was floating not far from the shoreline, in perfect view.
He was absolutely magnificent. His beautiful white plumage ruffled in the wind and he calmly floated around the lake. His large yellowish-orange bill was striking against his pure white body. We watched him preen for a bit and he showed of every once in a while by flapping his huge wings. When he flapped we were able to see the large black patches on his underwing.
There were other birds on the pond, but he seemed to be in the center of it all. Mallards dabbled near the shoreline, Ring-billed Gulls squeaked to each other, and Canada Geese flew in from the air. But in the center of all the activity sat Mr. Pelican, surround by this two friends, the Mute Swans.
One fantastic thing about birding is meeting other bird lovers in the field. We ended up talking to our new birding friend who watched Mr. Pelican with us. We wondered about the pelican’s journey and how he ended up in Tuckerton instead of Florida. Did he have a mate? Did he get lost? He must have an interesting story. We shared birding locations and some of the interesting birds we’ve seen so far. It’s always fun to meet other passionate birders. We also couldn’t believe our luck that he came so close to the shore, almost like he was posing for his admirers.
We watched him for about 25 minutes. Even though he was technically “out of place”, the pelican seemed pretty comfortable with his new waterfowl friends. So comfortable in fact, that after awhile he contently stuffed in bill into his feathers to take a nap. We decided to let him rest, so we all said goodbye to Mr. Pelican and headed back to our cars.
What a thrill the whole experience was. I’m not sure how long Mr. Pelican will stay in New Jersey, but I hope he enjoys his visit. I’m thankful that we were able to spend time with this amazing bird.
Have you experience a “rare” bird? Tell me your rare bird stories in the comments.