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Published: April 19th 2010
Having heard several times about the white pelicans around Lake Chapala I decided it was probably a good idea to pay them a visit before they all flew north. Glad to have a destination so close to Sahuayo I enjoyed a Saturday morning lie in and didn't set off until later in the day. Unfortunately Colin and I soon discovered that meant we'd missed the last bus and had to get a taxi. We took the taxi to La Palma, one of the many small towns and villages around Lake Chapala where one can view the pelicans at the right time of year. A very small town La Palma barely gets a mention on the internet, nor is it ever listed as a place for tourists to see the pelicans, but we set off on the word of the principal that it was as good a spot as any.
The taxi left us on a road beside the mandatory church and plaza of every Mexican town and we paused to look around, wondering where exactly these pelicans were supposed to be. Spying a patch of murky grey that had to be the lake we marched across a deserted basketball court and
arrived on a dusty grey bank overlooking the lake. The surrounding mountains framed the lake, their shadowy humps visible along the horizon like the backs of sea monsters. The overcast sky coloured the scene equally dim shades of brown and grey and a small group of pelicans bobbed soberly on the dull waters. A couple of locals looked on curiously as we shuffled as close to the water as we could and pointed cameras on full zoom at the bobbing white shapes.
A large four wheel drive pulled up in a cloud of grey dust and a Mexican couple, presumably tourists themseves, got out with their driver. They stopped a scant four minutes, took a couple of photos and moved on to wherever it was they were visiting. However a man did throw a crate of fish bits into the lake and for the benefit of eager photographers and hungry pelicans alike. The group of pelicans suged forward and more white shapes dropped out of the sky to join the group. The birds stopped just short of the man with the crate but no sooner was all the fish in the water and the biped at a safe distance then
pandemonium broke loose. The birds noisly enjoyed their food and for a few moments the water was a jumble of beaks and wings and splashing water. Then the birs slowly dispersed and we were left looking at more or less the same group of individuals as before, slowly bobbing in the grey water.
We decided to walk along a bit further and see what there was. Further along we found what we'd really been looking for. A large flock of pelicans, sitting on rocks, bobbing on the water, swimming, snoozing, grooming, a large splash of white punctuated with streaks of orange and black. We took photos to our heart's content and tried not to breathe through our noses as the stink of fish was at times overwhelming.
I was really happy to see such a large group of the birds. The American white pelican is certainly a magificent bird and although I was supposed to be excited about seeing the white pelicans I have never seen pelicans up close before and wouldn't have cared if they'd been brown, or any other colour. The American white pelican has a wing span of up to three metres, weighs around 5-8 kilograms and
lives for up to 15 years in the wild. Unlike it's brown cousin it does not plunge into the water from the air, but is known for its co-operative foraging, encircling and driving fish into the shallows where they can more easily catch them. An adult bird eats about 2 kilograms of food a day. The young are born in early May and although clutch size is commonly two it is rare that more than one survives to fledging. Both parents incubate the egg for a period of 32 days and the young remain in the nest for 21-28 days following, before joining with other young in a group.
The pelicans are long distance migrants and leave Canada and United States to winter in Mexico, and parts of California. In early October they arrive to Lake Chapala after a 3000- 3800 km. voyage. It´s believed that close to 8000 of these magnificent birds are scattered around Lake Chapala, concentrating mainly at Petatán Island and surrounding areas. The birds remain in Mexico till early April when they fly north.
Finally we left the pelicans and walked further. We found a nice restaurant overlooking the lake and got into conversation with a
man washing cars in the car park who turned out to be from Sahuayo himself. Realising there was nothing more to see along the lakeshore we backtracked towards the plaza and decided to visit the church. La Palma has a nice church and a pretty little plaza and we enjoyed relaxing in both for a time. I still love how every tiny town here has an impressive church, and how every one is unique. Back outside in the plaza we exchanged greetings with a local dog who then proceeded to follow us about while we searched for a taxi. We saw the bus we should have taken from Sahuayo but it was parked beside the plaza with no sign of a bus driver. We walked around before finally arriving back at the plaza where we found a taxi, minus its driver. I asked a local woman for help and she walked to the edge of the plaza and yelled in the direction of a nearby cafe where the driver was apparently taking his lunch. The poor man must have either abandoned his food or wolfed it down because two minutes later he was starting up the taxi and we were
heading home for Sahuayo. Our driver was very talkative and I had a good chance to practise my Spanish as we bumped along the road past tiny villages and fields before reaching the outskirts of Sahuayo. It has been a nice day out, and I'm glad I was here in pelican season as they were magnificent birds to see, especially in such a large group.
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