February 23, 2024
Pelicans put on a show at festive gatherings

By  Mary Reid Barrow

Photos by Gibbs Barrow

Video by Michael Moore

Who would have thought the Harris Teeter store on Arctic Avenue would be the marquee for a very special nature show going on daily last week in Beach Garden Park, just across the street.

Brown pelicans soaring over the parking lot surprised Teeter shoppers on routine grocery runs, but curious customers only had to look across the road to see what was going on. Scores of the big birds, sometimes a cloud of them, hovered and dove into the Park’s marshy areas hidden behind the grasses.

This was no occasional pelican fly-by but a huge pelican party. The festive menu featured a fish buffet in the shallow waters of Little Neck Creek that flows under Laskin Road into the park.

If you go, pop the groceries in the car and head left on Arctic. Take a quick right on Holly Road and the next right on Kilbourne Place and you are in the park! If the party hasn’t broken up, you will see it immediately in a pond on the right.

As last week wore on, great egrets and other big birds crashed the festivities and the caterers seemed to be saying, the more, the merrier!

Then as it turned out, the pelicans also had their choice of  galas at yet another place at the beach. Michael Moore, Sustainability Coordinator at the Virginia Aquarium, took this video on Monday at Marshview Park. The action was in the concrete spillway between the Park’s Virginia Avenue parking lot and the east point overlooking Owl Creek.

“It’s amazing,” Michael said. “Nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

Photographer Robert Brown, who keeps almost daily tabs on Beach Garden Park and Andrew Fine who walks there also said this was the first time they had ever seen behavior like that in the park.

Word has it that the buffet menu is tasty young mullet, both Robert and Andrew confirmed that, in a way. Each had seen small mullet dropped on the park grounds by over-eager birds.

Gizzard shad preparing for a spawning run could be another possibility, Michael added.

Alexis Rabon a naturalist with Rudee Tours, said she has seen large schools of mullet seeking protection in marsh habitats when the water temperatures are cooler. Pelicans and other birds often turn them into a buffet.

As a precaution, Alexis warned that brown pelicans also can suffer from really cold weather more than other species of large birds here in the area.

She suggested that folks who are pelican watching, keep their eyes open for pelicans with “indications of injury or cold-related issues.”  If you see anything worrisome, call a wildlife rehabilitation group for help.

But for now, the weather feels just right for the big birds. Where else, but here, could you combine your grocery run with a visit to a spectacular pelican party?

“Living where we do is magical,”  Robert said.



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