Shuswap Lake becomes important layover for flight of pelicans

A group of American White Pelicans sits on a sandbar near the mouth of the Salmon River and preens in July 2020. (Glynne Green photo)
Preening and resting is the order of the day for a group of American White Pelicans sitting on a sandbar near the mouth of the Salmon River in July 2020. (Glynne Green photo)
These American White Pelicans are actively and enthusiastically feeding on what appears to be a school of fish near the mouth of the Salmon River in Shuswap Lake. (Glynne Green photo)
American White Pelicans feed together near the mouth of the Salmon River in Shuswap Lake. (Glynne Green photo)
A single American White Pelican sits just west of Peter Jannink Nature Park in Salmon Arm in July 2020. (Glynne Green photo)
The bump visible on the bills of these American White Pelicans swimming near the mouth of the Salmon River in Shuswap Lake indicates their breeding maturity. (Glynne Green photo)

Shuswap Lake’s popularity as a layover on the flight path of pelicans appears to be growing.

A couple of avid birdwatchers say the number of American White Pelicans stopping in Salmon Arm Bay on the way to and from their nesting ground near Williams Lake has increased this year.

“I’ve seen more this year than the past few years,” said Glynne Green, who loves to watch and photograph the snowy white birds with their bright orange bills.

He said they don’t all move together but move in bunches.

A few weeks ago he estimates he saw anywhere from 30 to 50 near the mouth of the Salmon River.

They like to dine on the coarse fish, he said, probably because they’re easy to catch.

The coarse fish aren’t native to the area. He said they were introduced from the Okanagan and he surmises they’re a reason the pelicans come to the lake.

Photos of pelicans aren’t always easy to get. Green said they’re a private bird and, as a rule, they won’t let you get near.

“They watch pretty closely and they’re fairly wary.”

Green speaks with enthusiasm about their beauty and uniqueness.

Close up, he says they look as big as a swan.

He notes that they grow a lump on their bill which indicates their breeding maturity. Once they’re through breeding, it falls off.

“They’re gorgeous flyers to watch,” he says. “The mating rituals, the males will do circles and loops. If you see a big flock coming in, it almost looks like a roller coaster… They fly real close to each other.”

Sometimes when the pelicans fish, they fish cooperatively. He says they will stand in a big circle in the shallows and corral the fish, slowly moving in to make the circle smaller.

Green said he’s been seeing pelicans in Shuswap Lake since he started birdwatching about 15 years ago.

He said one of the best places to see them is from Peter Jannink Nature Park, if you look west towards the mouth of the river. Sometimes they can be seen near Christmas Island.

Read more: Pelicans spotted in Peachland

Read more: ‘Peli’ the pelican, found injured in Oliver, reunited with flock after lengthy rehab

Ed McDonald, president of the Shuswap Naturalist Club, also admires the birds.

The last week of August he saw about 60.

“Today, another 30 out by the mouth of the river,” he said on Sept. 3.

He agrees with Green that in Shuswap Lake the number of pelicans, which are listed as an endangered species in B.C., seems to be increasing.

McDonald said in April and early May they’re on their way to Stum Lake, which is within White Pelican Provincial Park, west of Williams Lake, their only nesting area in B.C. He said the lake has no fish, but they will carry them 60 kilometres back to the nesting area.

The pelicans also stop at Shuswap Lake on their way back to California where they spend the rest of the year. He said there are more nesting areas in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

McDonald also comments on what a unique bird they are to watch. He said they have a wing-span of 109 inches so they’re amazing gliders. By comparison, an eagle’s wingspan is usually about 80 inches.

He estimates the first time he saw a pelican in Salmon Arm Bay was probably in the mid ’90s.

“Most make their way on the other side of the Rockies. It’s unique we have this one group that comes through. It’s exciting. They’re well monitored and well protected.”


marthawickett@saobserver.net
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