"Oh, a wondrous bird is the pelican!
His beak holds more than his belican.
He can take in his beak
Enough food for a week,
But I'm darned if I know how the helican."
Dixon Lanier Merritt
1879 - 1972
My dad, who had a poem or a joke for any occasion, used to quote this rhyme frequently to us as children, so when I was lucky enough to see these Australian Pelicans at Brett's Wharf on the Brisbane River, it brought back happy memories of my childhood.
Perched on the wall and boardwalk outside our lunchtime restaurant was a flock of distinguished looking pelicans, milling around and taking absolutely no notice of passersby. I've never been so close to these magnificent birds before, only seeing groups in the distance across the waters of a bird sanctuary, so I was in photographic heaven.
From our restaurant table we could look straight out on to the boardwalk and soon the explanation for the avian gathering became clear. Buckets full of raw fish scraps are regularly taken outside out to feed the birds and it's quite an unnerving sight to see them flocking around and pursuing the unlucky designated waitron, beaks snapping and wings unfurling in an eager rush to get a share of the goodies.
These Australian Pelicans are gregarious birds who, when not on the scrounge, hunt in groups herding fish into shallow waters where they are easily scooped up. Contrary to common belief, they don't store fish in their pouch but simply use it to catch them and then tip it back to drain out the water and swallow the fish immediately.
Feeding frenzy over, the pelicans retired to their poles for a spot of grooming. With such long beaks (a record sized one measured 19.5 inches) this is quite a delicate process. Think of trying to pick up buttons with a long, unwieldy pair of scissors.and you'll get some idea of how tedious the preening process must be. I was fascinated by the short, almost crew cut plumage on top of the head, contrasted with the soft black and white feathers on the rest of the body. The hessian like texture of the pouch is offset by the shell pink colour of the beak and the large yellow ringed eyes.
A cold, beady eye made sure that I didn't invade too much personal space. Apparently the collective nouns for a group of the birds are a pod, a squadron or, most apt of all, a scoop of pelicans.
Having stayed put just long enough for the photo session, the pelicans took to the water, eventually landing up at the City Cat ferry landing, where we boarded to return to the city.
Browsing through the day's collection of photographs.
Returning to Eagle Street Pier, we passed beneath the Story Bridge.
Paddle wheeler river cruisers contrast with the distant skyscrapers.
Mooring posts, reminding me of Venetian gondolas.
Riverside Centre, an impressive collection of cutting edge architecture, near the Eagle Street Pier
Back into City rush hour ... yellow buses, yellow bicycles and yellow taxis.
Momentary shelter from the rain ...
... and the perfect ending to a wonderful day.