Rare chance to see American White Pelicans at Crystal Bay | NevadaAppeal.com
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Rare chance to see American White Pelicans at Crystal Bay

Andrew Pridgen
Nevada Appeal News Service
Emma Garrard/Nevada Appeal News Service A flock of American white pelicans sit on rocks off the shore of Lake Tahoe.
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About 20 American White Pelicans have been spotted on Buck’s Beach in Crystal Bay.

The pelicans, listed by the California Department of Fish and Game as the highest priority species of special concern – a step below an endangered species, were perhaps making their way north to their familiar nesting ground along the Oregon border.

That they’re stopping in the basin for awhile is both perplexing and a pleasant surprise to local birders and ornithologists.

“They seem to go right over the Bay area, over Tahoe/Truckee and down into the (Pyramid Lake) region and on up,” said Deren Ross, an Auburn resident and president of the Sierra Foothills chapter of the Audubon Society. “I just think they don’t put down very often in Tahoe. For them to do this is pretty unusual.”

Ross said the birds, as a general rule, like open bodies of water with large beaches.

“Tahoe’s a wooded place,” he said. “Because it’s been an exceptionally wet year and the beaches aren’t as prevalent makes their arrival even less normal.

“It’s possible to see White Pelicans on nearly any body of water along their migration route, but the North Shore of Lake Tahoe is not as common as the other local lakes and reservoirs. It’s quite possible that they need to rest or that they were looking for a good area to fish.”

Ornithologist Bruce Webb of Granite Bay, Calif. said he cannot recall having seen the birds in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

“I know they (migrate) through the area, but as far as seeing them specifically on the lake, I cannot recall any sightings,” Webb said.

Some Tahoe residents and birders were simply “stunned” to see the large white pelicans, which remained in the area on Friday.

“I noticed them at 5 this morning,” Brockway resident Gale High said Thursday. “Blue jays and geese I’m used to, but I’ve been coming here for 62 years and living here for 12 and I’ve never seen anything like it. I was wowed; they looked like a bunch of huge white buoys floating out there.”

Kay Edwards, a Cave Rock resident and birder, said she saw a single white pelican near the lake’s East Shore this week.

“I live right on the lake and have since ’93 and this is the only time I’ve seen a pelican,” Edwards said. “It’s incredible …”

Birders and curious on-lookers may want to seek out the birds while they’re in the basin, ornithologist Webb said, as the migration “may just be a one-time thing.”

Despite the birds’ apparent durability, their population has been dwindling since the turn of the 20th century, said the California Department of Fish and Game’s Web site. At the time, the species nested on large lakes the entire length of California, but a decline was already underway in the 1920s, both in numbers of breeding localities and populations within surviving colonies (Grinnell and Miller 1944).

Today, the only remaining nesting colonies in California are along the Oregon border. Destruction of nesting islands and breeding habitat are probably the main reasons for the birds’ demise, the Web site said.