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Gopher Gulch: Very different drama unfolds on the water

While whales in the Klamath river are unusual and a bit scary for fear Mama will be trapped, I hope you weren’t so busy watching whales that you missed the flight school taking place in the harbor.

I may not have known of it if Barbara hadn’t shared her experience. Her account was so evocative that I had to dash right down and see it, and so beautiful that I asked her permission to share it with you.

“After breakfast at Good Harvest, we went over to the harbor to see the progress. We parked on the far north side to soak up the sights and smells. I noticed a huge pelican, who seemed to be swooping aimlessly around. Then I noticed a tiny bird flapping wildly, just barely keeping airborne, trying to catch her.

“At first that fit my experience of a smaller bird chasing a larger bird away from the nest. But pelicans don’t raid other birds’ nests — they eat fish they catch fresh. On closer observation I realized that it was her baby, flapping desperately to keep up with Mama. She was teaching him to fly! 

“After much flailing, he fell into the water and bobbed up, clearly resting. She made one last swooping circle, and plopped into the water right next to him, clacking away in soft mothering tones.   

“After awhile, she flew again, looked back over her wing, and made several encouraging calls. He worked himself up by paddling and flapping frantically, and finally got into the air.

“This time the lesson was in how to turn. She made wide, gentle turns, while baby flapped panicky behind and turned so sharply that his momentum had him flying backwards for a moment, then stalled, and then got to flapping again just before belly-flopping into the water. She alternately encouraged and scolded him as he slowly learned to turn and circle.

“We drove onto the fishing pier, and off to the left, well protected in the shallow water, where at least 60 pelicans, each with a miniature version of herself, paddling around and enjoying community life. Never in all my years by the sea had I seen mother and baby pelicans, much less getting to watch flight school!”

The show was every bit as good as its reviews. The babies are getting larger now, but their heads still have soft, brown baby down. They’re now a perfect model of our beloved prehistoric looking bird. They float effortlessly inches above the water and dive like they've been thrown off the dock.

Young cormorants were also getting flight lessons. All cormorants stretch out their elegant necks and fly rapidly, but youngsters flap so fast their wings are a blur.

At-home flight lessons continue. Baby jays now look like unmade beds, with fluffy down sticking out all over. Some are so young their heads and capes are still brown.

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. Fish are jumpin,’” and there’s so much to watch!

Reach Inez Castor, a longtime Triplicate columnist, at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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