Pelicans make surprise visit to Tahoe |

Pelicans make surprise visit to Tahoe

Birders: Quick, grab your cameras and head to Lake Tahoe.

Early Thursday morning about 20 American white pelicans were 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.”

Last year about this time, the birds were seen on the South Shore. Ornithologist Bruce Webb of Granite Bay 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.

Indeed, the occurrence of the birds setting down in the North Shore is a rare one at best according to the book “Birds of the Lake Tahoe Region” written by Robert T. Orr and James Moffitt.

“The spring migration route of White Pelicans is from inland valleys or sea coast of central California to its Great Basin breeding grounds and passes over the Tahoe region,” a passage reads.

William Dawson, author of “Birds of California” described the prehistoric-looking birds in flight as “a flying circus, in the days before human imitations had made their appearance.”

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