Horny Pelicans

American White Pelican Taking-Off

American White Pelican Taking-Off

And that’s why birds do it, bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love
By Cole Porter

The American White Pelican’s “horn” is a fibrous, epidermal plate, found on the upper mandible. The exact function of this structure is not known, but probably it is used in courtship or in territorial conflicts. The White Pelican is the only pelican specie to have a “horn”. The “horn” appears in the early spring and is lost after breeding. Both sexes have the “horns,” which are quite variable in size. Males tend to have larger “horns” than females, at least compared to the female with whom he mates. The plumage of the two sexes is similar. Males tend to be slightly larger than females, but identifying pelican sex by size is unreliable.

A wonderful bird is the Pelican.
His beak can hold more than his belly can.
He can hold in his beak
Enough food for a week!
But I’ll be darned if I know how the hellican?
By Dixon Lanier Merritt

Ursa Major

The Big Dipper

Anne and I enjoyed an unusual date night on Friday. It started out fairly conventionally, with dinner at Flaco Cocina, in U-City. Afterwards, it sort of digressed from the norm. We went up to the Riverlands, winter home for many water fowl. Our sponsor was the Audubon Society, so we kept the bird motif going. The theme for the evening though was star-gazing, a prurient interest of mine. You can ask the twin-headed Annes about that one.

The astronomy club affiliated with the Science Center had loads of telescopes setup for looking at the heavens. The big hit of the evening was Saturn. You could see it and its rings quite clearly. You could also see Saturn’s moon, Titian. It was further from Saturn than I would have expected a principal moon to be, but so I was told. The weather was perfect and I have not seen Saturn so well since college and that was through the university’s much more expensive telescope. The Science Center guys did alright.

I tried some night photography there. A crescent moon was setting and you might see shots of that in the future. The picture with this post is a long exposure shot, 20 or 30 seconds. The camera was tripod mounted. Looking beyond the seven bright stars one can see fainter red and blue stars. At least I believe that they are real stars. Why they are so distinctly color code is a mystery to me. Look for further experimentation in the future. And no, I do not believe that these red and blue spots are just dust on the lens.

Riverlands Conservation Area

Student: Happy Martin Luther King Day!
Teacher: That was Monday.
Student: Every school day is Martin Luther King Day.
Teacher: Okay … Glad you enjoyed it, because it’s time to go home.
Student: Three at Last!  Three at Last!  – Frazz, by Jeff Mallet

Monday was the Martin Luther King holiday.  Anne had it off.  I had to go to work.  Tuesday we both went to work.  It has been grey, cloudy and very foggy here for almost a week.  Tuesday was no exception.  Tuesday morning on my way into work, I pass under the airport’s approach path.  The airport’s approach lighting system, the so-called running rabbit, was not turned on.   This sequenced series of flashing lights gives the landing pilots much needed depth perception cues.  This meant that the airport was closed and Saint Louis was socked in. 

On Monday, Anne and Joanie went on a road trip.  They drove up to the Riverlands Conservation Area near Alton.  They went there in Joanie’s brand new Toyota Rav-4.  The weather was rather grey, but above freezing.  Both Anne and Joanie had problems with their cameras, so there weren’t a lot of good photos taken.  Anne took today’s header.  It shows four Trumpeter Swans.  The three to the right are juveniles.  The fourth, the one on the left is an adult.  It is also sporting some bling-bling, a conservation tag about its neck.  Anne got close enough to confirm that the mysterious water fowl of last month, were indeed Goldeneyes.  They did spot a few returning pelicans.

The picture with this post is of the Clark Bridge.  This picture is from my last visit to the Riverlands.  The Clark Bridge spans the Mississippi from Riverlands Conservation Area in Missouri to Alton, Illinois.  The Clark Bridge was named after William Clark who, with Meriwether Lewis in 1804, commanded exploration of the Louisiana Purchase territory up the Missouri River to the Pacific Northwest. The Lewis and Clark Expedition set off just a few miles south of the bridge near Hartford, Illinois.

The Clark Bridge is a cable-stayed type bridge.  Cable-stayed bridges look like suspension bridges, with both having roadways that hang from cables and towers. But the two bridges support the load of the roadway differently. In suspension bridges, the cables ride freely across the towers, transmitting the load to the anchorages at either end. In cable-stayed bridges, the cables are attached to the towers that bear the load.

The Rivers’ Confluence

Anne and I went birding again on Sunday and returned to the Riverlands Conservation Area.  This is one of the areas that we had visited last week on our Bald Eagle expedition.  The weather on Sunday was a lot colder than the last time.  The high that day was only fourteen.  The sky was clearer than last time, no snowstorm and even some blue sky.  Our bird count for the day includes Bald Eagles, Trumpeter Swans, Canada Geese and a Cooper’s Hawk. 

We also went to Ted Jones State Park and shot today’s header.  We’ve seen this park many times from across both of the rivers, but this is the first time that we have been to this point.  It gives a nice view of the two rivers as they come together.  It would be nice to come back there in the summer and put one foot in the Missouri River and the other foot in the Mississippi River.  It would also be nice to put same said feet immediately afterwards into two pails of disinfectant.

The river’s had iced up considerably since our last visit.  The following picture graphically demonstrates this condition.  I had heard on the radio that two of the ferries in the area had suspended operation due to the ice.  Even so, there was a lineup of tugs along with their barges on both the upstream and downstream sides of Mel Price Lock and Dam.

Some of you might think that Anne and especially I have become real bird brains, what with chasing around in the cold, always trying to find new species of birds and such.  Well you should meet some of the people who we meet on these expeditions.  Take Gus for example.  He lives in Edwardsville, Illinois and comes to Riverlands several times a week to buy gas.  Gasoline is about a quarter a gallon cheaper in Missouri compared to Illinois, because of our lower red-state taxes.  There is a large gas station situated just across the river, just at the entrance to the Riverlands.  I wonder if his wife wonders why it takes him three hours to buy gas?

When we stopped at Mel Price to look for birds we met Gus.  Actually, he came up to us and started talking.  He is a talker and loves to talk.  While we were speaking those unidentified duck-like objects that we had seen before were spotted again.  Gus thought that they were Coots.  If you ask me he was the coot.  He did spot the Bald Eagle that flew over us and made it into a picture for this post.

He did give us a steer to another birding spot, Dresser Island.  The parking lot is situated off of Brick House Slough and is just down river from an Ameren-UE power plant.  All of the warm water coming from the power plant keeps a portion of the slough ice-free.  As this cold snap continues, open water will become a rarity and will attract hundreds of Bald Eagles into single spots.  This will create a birders delight, one that we have not seen for more than twenty-five years.