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Morning Observations in the Sea of Cortez

pelican in the Sea of Cortez

MV Westward in the Sea of CortezI was lying in my bunk with my head next to an open porthole, listening to the dawn. I had yet to open my eyes.

The quiet darkness had been filled with the tiny murmurs of a large school of sardines sheltering beneath Westward’s wooden hull. The wet scurrying sounds of the fish had been present all night as a faint counter point to the melodious sounds of an old wooden boat at anchor.

I lay, aware, but dozing, and not yet willing to admit the growing light that meant that it was time to begin my day.

Soon, perhaps very soon, our guests would be looking for coffee or tea as they rose to watch the adobe-colored dawn illuminate the mountains of the Sierra Giganta which thrust from the sea to the west of our anchorage.

diving pelicans in the Sea of CortezAt the edge of my waking dream there was a cannon-ball splash louder than those of the fish, and I knew that there was now enough light for the waiting brown pelicans to begin foraging for their breakfasts. In response to the increasing light the sardines would move deeper, making themselves inaccessible to the hungry birds. But the canny pelicans had a business arrangement with the several double crested cormorants that also were waiting for their breakfasts. The pelicans, which seldom dive deeper than four feet, needed to work with the cormorants, who are great divers.

The cormorants dove under the school and attacked from below, their dark color hiding them in the shadow of the thousands of schooling fish, which moved like a single organism to avoid the predators. As the sardines rose nearer the surface in response to the cormorants, they came within reach of the pelicans. Then, to get away from the pelicans, they dove back down to where the cormorants waited. It was going to be a difficult morning for the fish.

a bird swimming in water next to a body of waterNow the wading birds, various herons and egrets, who were also waiting along the rocky shore, began to feed from the edges of the school. Belted kingfishers choreographed this complicated dance, chittering stage directions as they flew back and forth over the melee.

But for now, one hungry pelican was hoping to beat the rush.

I rose from my bunk, climbed down to the deck and thought that there are worse ways to be awakened. And again, gave thanks for this gift of a life on the water, among the wild places of the Pacific coast.

Author: Bill Bailey, Captain