Thursday, September 25, 2008

American White Pelican

On this day in 1943, Fletcher Street found an American White Pelican in Beverly, Burlington County. To quote the report in Cassinia, "The bird was in perfect health and able to fly. The Philadelphia Zoo was called and stated that no birds had escaped" (Ross 1944).

The statement in Cassinia that it was the first record of the species in eighty years leads to an interesting paper chase. The statement appears to refer to a report from C. C. Abbott of three pelicans that he saw at Sandy Hook in February 1864. Stone (1965) mentions the report without other comment under the species, while in the bibliography he says, "...Dr. Abbott has recorded many species as breeders in the state which occur only as migrants. In later publications...he endeavors to substantiate some of these statements but presents no satisfactory data while he corrects or contradicts other statements." Griscom (1923) didn't mince words, stating, "Dr. C. C. Abbott claimed to have seen three of these birds flying off Sandy Hook in February 1864, but his observations are known to have been so unreliable that this cannot be accepted as a definite record. The date renders the suspicion unavoidable that the birds were Gannets." Fables (1955) concluded, "Old records [of the species] seem worthless."

Luckily for present-day birders, American White Pelican has since established a less checkered history in the state. Late summer has become the typical time of year to check for the (now expected) pelican at Brigantine NWR, though the last time I was there turned out to be a lesson in how inconspicuous a big white bird can be as it loafs in the impoundments.

An interesting side note to the original record is this passage on life (or rather, birding) during wartime: "War conditions naturally have continued to restrict the activities of the Club. The absence of some thirty younger members who are serving in the armed forces, the exclusion of observers from some coastal and other areas, and restrictions on the use of binoculars have been factors which cut deeply into the number of records reported" (Ross 1944).

Ross, C. Chandler, ed. 1944. Field notes for the 1942-1943 season: October 1, 1942 to September 30, 1943. Cassinia 33:31-34.

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