San Diego Beauties

Image: Brown pelican, San Diego, CA. Nikon D750, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/5.6, 1/320 sec, ISO 1000

I’m taking a short break in my tales of the Antarctic to bring you a little bit of San Diego’s wildlife. This past weekend I joined some friends in San Diego to explore the abundant birdlife in the area. This is a great time to go visit the Brown pelicans that have changed into the breeding plumage for the next couple weeks. They are quite stunning with the various colors and richness in the reddish-brown skin along their throats and necks. Those with yellow heads and red necks are prime for breeding as shown above. We saw some with white heads and necks and learned that they are considered non-breeding adults, such as in the image below.

Image: Brown pelican non-breeding adult, San Diego, CA. Nikon D750, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 360 mm, f/5.6, 1/320 sec, ISO 1000

We spotted some juveniles in the colony as well. They were easily recognized due to the lack of color change in their feathers around their heads and necks.

Image: A juvenile Brown pelican rests on a cliff, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/1600 sec, ISO 500

It was mostly cloudy both days over the weekend with some rain on the first day, so the light was quite low. Many of the birds spent the morning preening their feathers on the cliff edge.

Image: Brown pelican preens, San Diego, CA. Nikon D750, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/5.6, 1/200 sec, ISO 1000

The way they could contort their heads and necks to reach their backs or under their wings was impressive and allowed me to focus once again on the lines and curves of their bodies in my images.

Image: Brown pelican preens, San Diego, CA. Nikon D750, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 400 mm, f/7.1, 1/400 sec, ISO 800

Even the juveniles were focused on their task to ensure they preened all their feathers.

Image: Brown pelican juvenile preens, San Diego, CA. Nikon D750, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 420 mm, f/5.6, 1/250 sec, ISO 1000

Occasionally, we caught a pelican stretching before take off. This stretch was quite a process and happened so fast that it was hard to capture the full sequence on camera. The series below are different birds that I was able to photograph in the various stages of the neck pull. In the image below, the pelican begins to stretch its head back and push the extra pouch of skin in its throat forward.

Image: Brown pelican beginning a neck stretch, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200mm at 175 mm, f/8.0, 1/1600 sec, ISO 400

It then lifts its head up and fully stretches the pouch of skin as it cocks its head back. This pouch of extra skin is used for scooping up fish that it catches and then swallows.

Image: Brown pelican beginning a neck stretch, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200mm at 200 mm, f/5.0, 1/1600 sec, ISO 1000

As it continues to stretch its head back, the skin pouch begins to cover the head.

Image: Brown pelican performing a neck stretch, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200mm at 150 mm, f/5.0, 1/1600 sec, ISO 1000

Eventually the throat pouch covers most of the pelican’s head before it ends the stretch and returns back to normal. Shortly after this event, we saw each of these pelicans fly away, possibly in search of its morning meal.

Image: Brown pelican performing a neck stretch, San Diego, CA. Nikon D750, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/8.0, 1/400 sec, ISO 500

I’ll continue to share more about San Diego in the next few posts and I encourage you to go visit these amazing birds if you are in the area!

You can view these images individually in my portfolio located here.

Author: Amy Novotny

Amy Novotny is a physical therapist, marathon/ultra runner and nature photographer. She treats patients for a variety of conditions but specializes in chronic pain and calming an overactive nervous system using special diaphragmatic breathing. She has used this technique to help her qualify and run in four Boston marathons! She enjoys the outdoors and can often be found running and hiking on trails in throughout Arizona. She attempts to capture the beauty of nature with her photography both locally in Arizona and also throughout the United States. She is becoming more interested in wildlife photography and attempting to capture the emotion of animal interactions. In her spare time, Amy volunteers as a photo guide for the Arizona Highways PhotoScapes nonprofit and shares her joy of nature with others. Please feel free to contact her regarding her photography, physical therapy or running.

8 thoughts on “San Diego Beauties”

  1. Very interesting, especially the part about the throat stretching, I’ve been where I can watch them for long but seen lots over the years flying around. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had never seen a brown pelican with breeding plumage before. They’re so pretty! And loved that first brown pelican preening photo. The pelican looks so elegant there. My favorite photos, though, are the ones of the pelican stretching and what happens with that throat pouch. Fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person

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