Our first bird of 2013 was a Brown Pelican following a barge going upriver early this morning and diving into its wake for fish (probably menhaden one of its favorite meals). This New Year's bird was of the red-pouched form which I like the best, a form more common in the Pacific west, that by my observations seems to make up less than 5 percent of our Brown Pelicans here in south Texas.
A Brown Pelican was also the last bird I saw in 2012, flying downriver last night just before midnight. I quit watching then because I like my last bird and first bird of the transitioning years to be different. But as I walked up the stairs this morning and looked out the back windows at a barge going by, a group of about 15 pelicans were diving into the wake left by the boat. Usually my first bird of the year is on the opposite side of the house, a hummingbird or winter warbler, or a noisy Kiskadee or Altamira Oriole, but these large wonderful diving birds fishing in the Arroyo Colorado were not to be denied, and the Brown Pelican wins both crowns. So congratulations to the Brown Pelican, bird of both 2012 and 2013 in the Baughman back yard!
Last night I tweeted that the pelican's being the last bird of 2012 was especially fitting since 2012 marked the 50-year anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. That book chronicled the effects of poisonous pesticides on the Brown Pelican. DDT, by weakening the shells of the eggs of birds, was especially harmful to Brown Pelicans that incubate eggs in an unusual way, often covering them with their feet. The heaviness of these large birds virtually standing on eggs that were weakened by the overuse of pesticides in agriculture contributed to their demise. Rachel Carson spoke up against DDT and for the birds. Her advocacy caught the attention of lawmakers who banned the pesticide, and the bird is now thriving. It is certainly one of the most common birds in the river behind our house, especially in the winter. (Summer finds them nesting on the islands and spoil banks in the Laguna Madre.) So it's not only fitting that the last bird of 2012 commemorates the great Rachel Carson on the 50th anniversary year of her landmark book, but also that the Brown Pelican is the bird of the New Year -- a symbol for what humans can do that is positive to undo or at least mitigate the destruction already done to our wildlife and environment.
I am reminded of one of my favorite poems, Gerard Manley Hopkins' "God's Grandeur." It celebrates the grandeur of a God that creates and protects, and of nature that "is never spent," that survives humankind's wastefulness and destruction:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.