Gunnison Island is a protected pelican nesting island in the North Arm of the Great Salt Lake. I was recently asked to help band juvenile pelicans this July with Utah's Department of Natural Resources and a few other non-profit groups. Here's how it went...
"Hug a Pelican?! Of COURSE I want to hug a pelican! Oh, er...BAND a pelican. Yes, that's what I meant." As I hung up the phone I was still picturing the opportunity to hug one, of course. Seeing pelicans on Gunnison Island, a protected island upon which few feet have trodden, is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I was definitely going to take advantage of that by doing all the hugging I could.
My alarm went off at 3:30 am, and after a 10-minute period of groggy confusion, I remembered that today was pelican-banding day! The morning dawned bright as Karri Smith and I (both representing Great Salt Lake Audubon) pulled up to the meeting spot to meet the other banders and biologists working on the project. We hopped on boats to Gunnison Island, watching the sun come up over the pink waters of the North arm of the Great Salt Lake. Birds flitted past us in sun-streamed flocks, and tinted clouds spanned the morning sky. The island became bigger and bigger as we made our approach, and so did our excitement.
|Pink bird morning copyright Jennie Burns|
|Gunnison Island copyright Jennie Burns|
|Pelicans, pelicans, everywhere!|
|Herding pelicans copyright Karri Smith|
|Hugging pelicans copyright Jennie Burns|
|Biologist George Oliver banding pelicans copyright Jennie Burns|
|Juveniles copyright Jennie Burns|
Four hours later over 300 banded pelicans make their way down to the water to regroup. These banded pelicans will offer biologists more knowledge about the migration and nesting patterns of a bird that is close to becoming endangered. The Great Salt Lake offers critical nesting habitat for these birds, and companies that wish to expand mineral mining on the lake is a huge threat to the species. I felt honored to have spent my day with these birds, and to even have set foot on this beautiful bird haven. Thank you to John Luft for letting Great Salt Lake Audubon be a part of this critical effort.