Talk about a precision landing!
Just over a week ago I photographed this American White Pelican as it landed on a canal in heavy overcast at Farmington Bay WMA. I’ll be presenting an unusually large number of images (17 of them) because I want to give readers a feel for the precision of the landing by this huge, heavy bird. Landing White Pelicans always remind me of B-52’s coming in to land because of their heavy weight, incredible wingspan, lumbering maneuvers and relatively slow speed.
- Techs for these images are: 1/500 – 1/800, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender
- I don’t know the sex of this bird but for the sake of convenience I’ll refer to it as male
For reasons that will soon become apparent I believe this pelican had a precise spot on the water where it wanted to end up when it was all said and done so the timing of each landing action and the direction of travel were critical. Here he’s putting his feet forward and spreading his webbed toes…
to begin the “water skiing” portion of the landing. As you can now see there’s at least one other pelican in front of him.
It’s amazing how long and how far these birds surf on the surface before settling down into the water.
It’s beginning to look like he’s on a collision course with the other pelican…
and that pelican isn’t alone. And to complicate matters further the pelicans in the water are swimming to our right so depending on where he’s heading the timing and direction of his travel could be critical.
When I was watching this unfold through my viewfinder I remember thinking I was about to see some really pissed off pelicans when these birds inevitably collide (part of the reason I kept firing my shutter despite the conglomeration of birds in some of the photos).
At this point in the landing a pelican weighing up to 16-29 lbs has an incredible amount of inertia so it takes it a long time and some distance before they settle down into the water and stop moving forward.
To get the timing just right he put on the air brakes by increasing the angle of both wings.
But it’s still looking like this isn’t going to end well.
I’ll let the next five images mostly speak for themselves with very little “narration” – you can see for yourself how this turns out.
Oh, oh – he has an entire flotilla of pelicans to negotiate and he still has some speed!
But he came to a rest right between the two leading pelicans in the water and I believe this is exactly where he planned to end up from the get-go. I also thought it was interesting that none of the pelicans on the water reacted in the least to his intimidating approach. Colliding birds of that size and weight could be a real disaster but they obviously had confidence in the skills of the landing pelican.
Perhaps I’m easily impressed but I thought this was a wonderful demonstration of landing skills. Once a landing pelican has made contact with the water it has very little control over direction so it was an impressive feat to end up right between those two moving pelicans after “water-skiing” for that long. True, at these long focal lengths distances are compressed which likely made the landing pelican look closer to the birds on the water than he really was.
Even so, when it was all over I literally almost applauded his performance.
PS – I left out quite a few photos in this series for lack of space and time. As it is I think these 17 images tie a record for a Feathered Photography post.