This pelican took slow boat north to Seacoast

STACEY COLE February 21. 2014 10:08PM

Will wonders never cease? In all the years of writing about birds, I have never before received a letter from the wife of a commercial fisherman whose husband casts his nets into the ocean!

Ellen Goethel of Hampton, wrote on Jan. 25: "We have been reading your column in the Union Leader for years. We thought that you might be interested in this bird sighting: On the morning of December 13, 2013 my husband, David, and his mate, Mike Emerson of Seabrook, were hauling in the net and noticed that they had an audience. A very unusual seabird was waiting in the water as they hauled their net. The seabird was a brown pelican from southern climes. The pelican spent the better part of the afternoon exploring the 'Fishing Vessel Ellen Diane' and munching down on their catch. The crew enjoyed the company but the pelican decided he'd filled his bill and flew off into the Gulf of Maine.

"The sighting was at 42 degrees 47 minutes 70 degrees 20 minutes in the Gulf of Maine in the area identified on the nautical charts as 'The Cove, Jeffery's Ledge.' When they hauled the net up they had several lobster traps in their net. When my husband went to go back into the wheelhouse to get a knife, he first saw the pelican on the wheelhouse roof. He had no idea how long the bird had been sitting there before he noticed it. He had to get his glasses to identify that it was a pelican. While they were cutting the traps out of the net the pelican flew down into the water and swam around the net. After approximately about a half hour, they were finally able to retrieve the fish from their cod end (net). The pelican was still beside the boat so they tried to feed him a fish. They did not have many species to choose from. They tried a searaven, but he wasn't interested, then an undersized cod, but the seagulls beat him to it. Finally they threw him a full-sized monkfish. It sank about six inches into the water then the pelican opened his beak and scooped it up. Later you clearly could see the monkfish outlined in his pouch. He then flew away and they continued to get the fish out of the net. About a half-hour later after they had reset the net and resumed fishing, his crewman came into the wheelhouse and told him that the pelican had returned and was sitting on the deck watching him eviscerate the catch of cod. Mike said that he had tried to feed the pelican some of the cod guts but the pelican was unable to scoop them off the deck. David then used his cell phone to take the photos of the pelican standing on the traps and walking on the deck. (Photos enclosed.) If you look carefully you can see the outline of the monkfish in his crop. You can also see that it is banded. Unfortunately they could not get close enough to get a look at the tag. The pelican stayed on the boat until Mike was finished cleaning and boxing the fish. He then flew off and they didn't see him again. From the time that David first saw him on the wheelhouse to the time he flew off was about an hour and a half."

In a telephone conversation with David Goethel following the receipt of his wife Ellen's letter, he said that periodically birds land on his boat in the fog. They are usually exhausted, need rest, and are hungry.

During the warbler spring migration these small birds frequently land on his boat especially for a rest break as they travel from their winter homes south of us, to their nesting grounds in northern Maine, New Hampshire and Canada.

One year, 17 different warbler species visited his boat at one time, he said. Once rested, the warblers came into his wheelhouse and alighted everyplace, including his fingers. While aboard ship, the warblers fed on the flies and spiders that are common to a fishing boat. When they left neither David or his crew could find an insect of that sort anywhere on his "Fishing Vessel Ellen Diane." David told me that he would let me know of other interesting bird visitors and I am looking forward to receiving his reports.

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A note from a Manchester reader read: "I never seem to attract many birds here in Manchester, though this year, this falcon (photo enclosed) has harvested a dozen pigeons (rock doves) that we know of last month. Thanks for reaching out to us and showing us nature's gifts."

Peregrine falcons are noted for their appetite for rock doves or common pigeons, and Manchester appears to have its share of these birds. The city also has nesting peregrines, and I am told their young are well fed.

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One of our long-time readers wrote in a recent note: "I am sure you have heard about the influx of snowy owls to the area. My daughter Melodie and I went to Rye Beach on January 15, and were pleased to find this owl in the marsh."

This has been a great winter for snowys in N.H.

Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey 03446.

Nature Talks

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