Our Latest SB Column: George the Pelican

IMG_7069Jim Wright, who keeps this blog for the NJMC, also writes a monthly column for the South Bergenite. His latest is on the legendary pelican that has now been at DeKorte for at least 97 days. If George sets sail on Columbus Day, it will be Day 100.

How rare can a bird be if people have been coming to DeKorte Park to see it daily for three months?

That’s how long folks have been viewing an American white pelican on the park’s Saw Mill Creek mudflats. In fact, it’s a safe bet that hundreds of birders who live within 50 miles of here  — including many who need this species for their life list — have made at least one pelican pilgrimage to the Meadowlands.

According to eBird.org, the go-to website for bird-watchers, an American white pelican “is rare for this date and location.”  Yet this huge white bird with black wing tips, usually seen out West or along the Gulf Coast, has become such a familiar sight that it even has acquired a name — “George” (after the famous crime novelist George Pelecanos) — and a contest.

By late August, when I briefly mentioned the pelican in a column for this paper, the bird had stayed here so long that the N.J. Meadowlands Commission started a competition to see who could correctly guess when George will leave.

The winner gets an NJMC pontoon boat cruise for two — which will have to be in 2015 at this point. More than 40 people entered the contest, and more than 30 have been eliminated so far.

One of the most annoying things about George is that he likes to hang out in the distant reaches of the mudflats, so few folks have gotten a decent look at him, even with birding telescopes.

Most fortunate was photographer Ron Shields, who happened to be kayaking in the Kearny Marsh when George paid a brief visit one morning in July before a pair of irate mute swans drove him off. Ron’s photo of George accompanies this column.

When will George finally hit the avian highway? A few of us have a theory. Because we always see George chilling with a bunch of double-crested cormorants, some of us suspect that George thinks that he, too, is a cormorant and will head south when they do, probably later this month.

In answer to the question, “How rare is George?,” it’s fair to say that American white pelicans are seen very seldom in the Meadowlands and never before for as long as this.

One was seen briefly in May 2010 and August 2012. And we also saw an American white pelican chilling (literally) in the Kearny Marsh in February 2013, so who can tell how long George will stay?

In honor of George, I’m concluding this column with “The Pelican,” the classic limerick written by American poet and humorist Dixon Lanier Merritt (often mis-attributed to Ogden Nash):

   A wonderful bird is the pelican.
His bill will hold more than his belican.
He can take in his beak
Enough food for a week.
But I’m damned if I see how the helican!


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