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A bird of a different feather

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Thursday, August 30, 2007

A white pelican caused a flap in Trout Lake when it visited the community.

On Aug. 17 a number of community members spotted the pelican that was staying near the mouth of the Island River and Trout Lake, said Fred Jumbo who saw the bird.

NNSL photo

A white pelican takes flight near the mouth of the Island River at Trout Lake. - photo courtesy of Fred Jumbo

The visit was unusual because pelicans are not common to the area around the community, said Jumbo.

"I've never seen that before," he said.

Jumbo can only remember one other pelican sighting. In approximately 2002, he was travelling back to the community after fish tagging at the Moose River and saw a group of pelicans at Paradise River, which is connected to Trout Lake.

Because pelicans are such an uncommon sight, many community members speculated about what brought this one to the area.

"Maybe it got lost or something," said Jumbo.

Another popular theory is that pelicans are starting to come into the area because of changes caused by global warming, said Brenda Jumbo. Some people also reported seeing a pelican last year, she said.

Although the area around Trout Lake isn't part of the common habitat for white pelicans, the birds have been spotted as far afield as Kugaaruk (Pelly Bay) in Nunavut, said Jacques van Pelt.

Van Pelt has been volunteering since 1974 to monitor the pelican rookery on the Slave River, the smallest and most northern in the world.

The pelican spotted in Trout Lake and others seen outside of the Slave River area near Fort Smith are strays, van Pelt said.

Over the years he's been monitoring the birds, van Pelt said there have been increased sightings of the pelicans moving further and further north. Small flocks have been seen by Fort Providence and also at the Slave River delta near Fort Resolution.

It's impossible to say why the pelicans are moving north, but they aren't nesting, just trying to feed, said van Pelt.

The pelicans who are seen alone have a hard time surviving, he said. Pelicans need running water to feed and locate prey by touch, he said. In groups pelicans are able to form a line to herd fish into a shallow area.

"It's very difficult for a single pelican to find fish," he said.

Trout Lake isn't the only community in the Deh Cho where pelicans have appeared.

In Kakisa, Margaret Leishman said she's seen pelicans for the past five or six years. Last year a group of approximately six pelicans was sighted on the shore of Kakisa Lake. Leishman also saw a pair in front of her house on the Kakisa River.

This year there have also been some possible sightings, she said. Pelicans are not new to the area because there's a Slavey name for them, said Leishman.