Dive bombers: Pelicans fishing in Laguna

A pelican's dive - 2013 © Christopher Martin

While in California last week, every morning flights of Brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) would glide over the water off of Aliso Beach in Laguna.  A few of these would peel off and spiral up into the sky and then widen their circles while watching the water from high above.  The last time I photographed Brown pelicans was in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico a couple of years ago.  I did not have the opportunity to watch those pelicans fish in the ocean so Laguna with its dive-bombing birds was a lot of fun for me.

Flying forward - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Fish finding - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Dive prep - 2013 © Christopher Martin

When a target was found they would point directly down and plunge towards the ocean.

Diving for fish - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Most of these dives resulted in the bird completely disappearing underwater for a second or two.  More often than not a fish was caught between the chopsticks of the bird’s beak.

Resurfacing - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The seals were drawn to the same schools of fish so there were some neat moments with them close to a bird either going for a fish close-by or maybe even thieving one from the pelican.

Pelican flight and seal leap - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I love watching these pelicans glide over the water.  Often, they will skim a few inches above the surface for several hundred yards between wing beats.  They will fly alone, in pairs or larger flocks all following the same path.

Ground effects - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Ocean peloton - 2013 © Christopher Martin

They are great fliers which is most obvious during the exciting dives as they pin wheel and then dive.  When they launch out of the water, the power and skill flying that they command are on display as well.

First flap out of the water - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Into the air - 2013 © Christopher Martin

2013 © Christopher Martin

I could spend a lot of time photographing these birds.  They are graceful gliders, spectacular divers and great fishers.  They present great opportunities for the photographer – including a little hide-and-seek!

Hide-and-seek - 2013 © Christopher Martin

12 responses

  1. I enjoyed every single photo! I love these bird too and I hope one time I can see them in the wild!

    January 27, 2018 at 12:24 am

  2. Absolutely fantastic shots. The first shot is truly spectacular.

    April 13, 2013 at 12:53 pm

  3. Never seen the brown ones nor their diving. but I love the white pelicans’ gracefulness as they come to land on the water. Great shots here, interesting colours on throat.

    April 8, 2013 at 10:59 pm

  4. Great shots!!!

    April 8, 2013 at 8:09 am

  5. The 2nd shot is spectacular. The seal one is very dynamic and the one where 4 are flying in a row is beautiful.

    April 7, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    • Thank you A.V. – I’m glad you enjoyed these photographs. I appreciate your comments.

      April 7, 2013 at 7:46 pm

  6. Wonderful. I love how you caught them just before entering the water.

    April 7, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    • Thanks Lyle. I had watched them for two mornings from a distance before I had a couple of hours on the beach to photograph them. It paid off as I had gained some familiarity with their fishing pattern and the flight positions just before they dove. Really fun to watch.

      April 7, 2013 at 7:44 pm

  7. love these actions shots. amazing work

    April 7, 2013 at 3:55 pm

  8. Wow – what awesome pictures. Love Laguna too. I used to fish there quite a bit off of main beach. Great place!

    April 7, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    • Thanks Marc. Agreed – it is a great place. This was my first time there but we will return. Have a great day.

      April 7, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Your comments are truly appreciated - thank you for visiting.

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