Pelican Spring

An American white pelican comes in for a landing on the St. Louis River, MN. The bump on its bill denotes that it’s a breeding bird. The bump falls off after the birds have mated and laid eggs.

Last week I took the long way home from work. My route took me past Chambers Grove Park, which is in the far western part of Duluth, along the St. Louis River. I had heard that the pelicans were back, resting there on a stopover during their migration north, and I wanted to see them.

I brought my camera in case the birds were close enough for me to photograph. Alas, the experience reinforced my thought that I really need to buy a more powerful telephoto lens! Also, the light was right in my face, harsh and white, fading out everything on the far side of the river where the pelicans rested.

Luckily, a few were flying around, and I was able to get at least one good shot.

According to the Duluth News Tribune, pelicans were “virtually unseen in Minnesota between the late 1800s and 1960s. Fishermen destroyed them out of the erroneous belief that they competed for game fish, and pesticides took a toll.” They mostly prefer nongame fish and do not compete with anglers.

No pelicans in this shot (but they are nearby). I just liked the cloud and water patterns. St. Louis River, MN.

Thanks to environmental reforms and protection, their numbers have recovered. Minnesota boasts one of the largest populations of nesting white pelicans in the world. I thought I’d share my photos from my sojourn with you.

If you’d like to see some better, close-up images of the birds, please visit Richard Hoeg’s blog, “365 Days of Birds” for some great shots.

Despite the snow we’ve been having lately, their presence is a sure sign that spring is coming.

The Music of Nature

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Nature isn’t just what we see. It encompasses all our senses. Think of the vanilla essence of Ponderosa Pines, the rough grains of sandstone, and the sound of a dolphin’s exhale as it surfaces. We’re so used to the visual it’s challenging to remember other senses, especially in environmental and scientific work. I recently learned there’s a field that specializes in sound and the environment. It’s called acoustic ecology.

Acoustic ecology explores the relationship between living beings and the environment through sound. This can take many forms, from delving into what a forest sounded like 70 years ago when different species of birds lived there, to the affect of car alarms on the urban environment.

On a blustery day this past October I had the chance to talk with an acoustic ecologist. Chris Bocast is a talented musician who specializes in the field. He just finished producing a podcast about Lake Superior for our joint employer, Wisconsin Sea Grant. The series isn’t an example of acoustic ecology per se, but it does show how sound can illustrate environmental topics.

Because I’ve worked around Lake Superior for many years, Chris wanted to include me in the series. And of course, I couldn’t let him get away without covering the St. Louis River Estuary, too.

We met during a Sea Grant conference in downtown Duluth. For the interview we walked next door to the historic Greysolon Plaza Hotel. We sat in the hotel’s ornate and quiet mezzanine lounge.

In the middle of our conversation, Chris asked, “What’s the function of an estuary in an ideal ecosystem?” I replied that I happened to have written a poem about that, and darned if the poem didn’t make it into the series. It’s “Two Sisters” from my last entry.

Click here to listen to the Lake Superior podcast series. My poem can be found near the end of program #7 (Superior’s Sister).

The piano-based ambient music Chris created for the podcasts is unnamed. He told me it’s designed to evoke a sense of the pristine. I don’t know about you, but I could bliss out on his music all day.