Have you ever watched white pelicans soaring? Way high, in a clear blue sky? It is worth a long pause, more than just a quick look just to verify the white flecks are pelicans.
We’re somewhere along Ruh-red Road in the Malheur Basin. Off in the distance, through shimmers of heat waves, a wobbly line of white is out of place in the vast expanse of the Basin. Elsewhere on the valley floor I see a little water, lots of greens and golds, even an empty house which is literally leaning at a 45 degree angle. If I could see farther I’d see a few more houses, most still occupied, cattle, antelope, thousands of birds and miles of refuge. Right here stretches a grey gravel road. A line of dust racing along the road says a rancher is about his business. Birders drive slowly out here.
Near me cliff swallows zoom and zip and a double-crested cormorant hurries by. Earlier this morning the air was filled with sounds of willets, blackbirds, terns, gulls and swallows. Now I hear the wind and a few far off terns. My current world is busy with white pelicans.
Earlier in the morning pelicans flew low and on a mission. There was a steady flow of traffic to and from their distant colony. The colony is still white with birds but morning feeding missions must be over. At least a hundred pelicans soar high above me, sparkling flashes of white, even whiter than the few cotton ball clouds. It is as if someone slowly stirred a great bowlful of clear blue air and sprinkled in slow moving white petals.
The pelicans soar effortlessly in great circling clusters. Some groups are small -- a half dozen; others have 20 or more. A few gulls are with them. They look like tiny out-of-place specks next to the broad wingspan of the pelicans. The pelicans take advantage of a little heat rising from the valley floor. They become a slow moving motion machine. Those farthest off disappear when they angle towards or away from me, barely show when they are backlit, and sparkle white when the sun hits their back. So as the flock gradually shifts position in their slow-mo circles, their brightness shifts with them.
I have to think it would be exhilarating to be a pelican slowly soaring above the Malheur Basin.