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An unusual feathered visitor
Pelican spotted in Nahanni Butte

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Thursday, September 8, 2011

Nahanni Butte had an unusual visitor on Aug. 31.

NNSL photo/graphic

A pelican created a stir in Nahanni Butte when it landed on the South Nahanni River in front of the community. - photo courtesy of George Tsetso

Pauline Campbell, an administrative assistant with Parks Canada, was the first to identify the visitor. Campbell was at her desk in the Nahanni National Park Reserve office in the community at approximately 4 p.m. when she first spotted it.

"I saw something huge and white floating on the river," she said.

Thinking that it was a barrel or something floating away, Campbell pulled out her binoculars.

Campbell then realized the object was actually a bird and at first thought it was a swan until it turned sideways and she saw its beak.

There was no mistaking that it was a pelican. Campbell was so surprised she passed the binoculars to a co-worker to have them confirm the sighting.

"It's something that's never been seen here before," she said.

"It was very exciting."

Campbell took the binoculars outside to her father Raymond Vital and her husband Burton Campbell, who were looking at the pelican from the riverbank.

When George Tsetso came over, Vital suggested they take his boat onto the South Nahanni River to get a picture of the unusual bird.

Meanwhile, Campbell called children who were getting out of school to come over to the riverbank and see the pelican.

The bird eventually took flight and flew in front of the community along the river.

It then moved higher, circling Nahanni Butte a few times before flying away.

Campbell said Tsetso spotted the pelican once more, this time on the Liard River, at approximately 8 p.m. when he drove to the ice-crossing site.

Pelicans have been spotted in the Deh Cho before but this is the farthest west a recorded sighting has been made, said Nic Larter, the regional biologist for the Deh Cho with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

In the North, white pelicans are normally associated with Fort Smith, said Larter.

The most northerly nesting colony of the species is on the Slave River between Fort Smith and Fort Fitzgerald.

Although the Deh Cho is not part of the pelicans' normal range, there were sightings of pelicans in Trout Lake in 2006 and 2007 and three were seen near the papal grounds in Fort Simpson in June 2009. Sightings have also come from Kakisa, said Larter.

The pelicans that were seen in Fort Simpson may have been blown off course while on their way to the Slave River.

Other sightings may be the result of juvenile adults that aren't ready to mate looking at different territory, he said.

Doug Tate, a Parks Canada employee in Fort Simpson with an interest in ornithology, had a different theory.

The pelicans seen later in the season in the Deh Cho, like the one in Nahanni Butte, may be doing post-breeding wandering, said Tate.

It's a behaviour that's been recorded in some bird species when both older and younger birds wander away from their normal area after breeding.

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