I took a trip to Charleston, South Carolina with my mother late one February. If you like history, you cannot pick a better place to visit. We had a wonderful, warm time. It was just the break we needed.

Due to a basic economy ticket with intense baggage restrictions, I had decided not to travel with my then almost brand new telephoto lens. I had a few moments to regret it, but I have no doubt someday I will find myself back there, camera at the ready.

Of course, just because I wasn’t ready for a photo shoot, doesn’t mean that all the animals stayed away. We spent the day at Fort Sumter, which requires a boat trip that starts at the mouth of the Cooper River and proceeds out into the harbor. The water is brackish and somewhat tidal, so dolphins are very common, as are Seagulls, Cormorants and other waterfowl.

For me, the Brown Pelicans stole the show completely. They are common, at least part of the year, on both coasts of the United States. But I don’t believe I had ever seen one in the wild before this trip. Between 48 and 51 inches, they are so strange and somewhat awkward looking as they stand or float. Yet when they fly, it is with an unexpected grace, sleek and agile.

For me, the dive was the best part of all. There is this large bird, gliding through the air with ease, getting closer to the water with every second and then kurplunk! Forget about grace now. The splash of the biggest belly float you have ever done erupts from the water. Seconds later a pelican pops up and floats along the water’s surface, like a buoy, bobbing in the waves. Totally unphased.

While I was watching the pelicans from a distance, I never dreamed that I would shortly have the opportunity to see one closer up. Following our boat trip, we had decided to meander down the boardwalk in Waterfront Park. They have a pineapple shaped fountain there which my mother was particularly keen to see. The park did offer a lovely vantage from which to gaze out into the harbor.

As we were looking out over the harbor, we noticed the reeds on the water’s edge were moving. There seemed to be a lot of commotion. We stopped to watch, and finally made out the shape of a Pelican, half hopping, half walking through the reeds. It continued toward us at its rambling pace. We halted our walk and leaned on the railing, wondering just how close it would get. Its movements seemed really odd, and for a while we were concerned it was injured or tangled in line or rope. Finally it emerged from the reeds at a close distance, and we got a good look at it. Not injured at all, we were looking at a juvenile Brown Pelican, unsteady and unsure about the world. It [we decided it was a she and named her Frances] rested for a while in the reeds near the boardwalk, close enough for us to get some decent photos with our point and shoot cameras.

I hope one day to have the opportunity to observe Brown Pelicans more closely, perhaps with a longer lens. However, Frances will always be my favorite Pelican.

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