Last spring I was at the Sacramento State Wildlife management area with my camera in hand. (Sacramento is in south central Nebraska a short drive north of the Harlan Co. Reservoir) Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a formation of large white birds gliding in from the south. This was in April so it was possible that they could be whooping cranes so it really grabbed my attention! I put my binoculars up to see a flock of georgeous white pelicans i decent to one of the flooded areas at WMA. They reminded me of a jumbo jet making its way in for a landing! They are a sight to see and the folks from Harlan County are inviting you down for a front row seat!
Hit the jump to read on...
Each spring, American White Pelicans by the thousands return from their winter hunting grounds along the Gulf of Mexico and other tropical areas to take up temporary residence at the Harlan County Reservoir in south-central Nebraska, usually throughout March and early April, and sometimes as early as late February. Indeed, local residents have long looked to the arrival of the White Pelicans as a cheering symbol indicating winter is almost over, and that sandals, boats and beach chairs can soon come out of storage.
The Pelicans arrive in photogenic, follow-the-leader flight lines and land on the surface of the reservoir to feed. Unlike Brown Pelicans, which dive individually for their prey, White Pelicans typically hunt in groups, working together to herd fish into a circle and then chasing them to each other. They often sit single file on rocks and boat-dock pilings in shallow water, and on rare occasions they are bold enough to land in residential areas, swaggering through front yards and along the streets of Alma and Republican City.
Currently protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, American White Pelican populations have recovered significantly since the mid-20th century when environmental regulations regarding pesticide use came into effect, and they are considered to be stable or slightly increasing today. An estimated 100,000 or more adults exist in the wild.
Beginning in 2011, the Harlan County community is for the first time formally inviting wildlife enthusiasts and the general public to join in observing the spring White Pelican migration in south-central Nebraska. The Harlan White Pelican Watch will run from the first of March through early April, and a White Pelican Homecoming Celebration will be held in Alma from March 20-26, with a "Spring Fling" on the evening of March 25. The public is invited to all of these events to help welcome this stunning harbinger of spring back to the local community and the state.
The American White Pelican is one of North America's largest birds, weighing 10-20 pounds. They have wingspans of up to nine feet, and a mature adult's beak can be 13-14 inches long. The plumage is almost entirely white except the black wingtips visible primarily only in flight.
The Pelicans can be easily observed from many shoreline locations around the Harlan County Reservoir, including marinas, camping areas and walking trails. There is no fee to enter any of these areas and no state park permits are required, as the lake is a federal project managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Harlan County Dam and Reservoir are primary early spring stopovers not only for American White Pelicans, but also for migrating ducks and geese including Ross' and Snow Geese. Over 300 bird species have been observed in the area. In winter months, hundreds of Bald Eagles can be seen roosting and hunting around the edges of the reservoir and near the spillway east of the dam.
Visitors to the migration viewing areas are asked to observe posted regulatory and safety information, to refrain from attempting to approach the birds, and to be courteous of other birdwatchers in the area. Harlan County Reservoir is approximately 70 miles southwest of Kearney.
For more information on the Harlan White Pelican Watch, the 2011 White Pelican Homecoming Celebration, and the 2011 Spring Fling, contact the Harlan County Tourism office at 800-762-5498, firstname.lastname@example.org, or the Alma Chamber of Commerce at 308-928-2992.