Monday, May 16, 2011

The Kite And The Brown Pelican

I held the 500 foot reel of string while my nine-year-old son Matthew restrained the tugging kite. At my signal, Matthew released the kite and it leapt out of his hands. Matthew and I took turns letting the kite fly higher and higher until almost no string was left on the reel.

I bought the kite on my family’s first visit to North Carolina’s Outer Banks in the early 1990s, and I have flown it on each return trip. This was a perfect day to fly a kite. The wind coming in off the ocean was steady; there were a few high clouds. The air was warm and the sand was not yet hot.

Scanning the skyline I saw that the pelicans were flying parallel to the shoreline, as usual. Unusually though,
they were flying over the beach instead of the ocean. I noticed one flock of pelicans was gliding in our direction. Who had ever heard of a pelican flying into a kite string? I jiggled the line to make it more obvious. But they kept flying straight toward it. I wondered how they would avoid the line, flying in wingtip-to-wingtip formation as they do. They couldn’t. Despite a last minute course correction, one of the birds’ wings grazed the line, jarring the bird out of formation. Within a few flaps of its wings, though, the pelican was back on course.

Several minutes later I saw another flock of pelicans gliding south to north over the beach. This flock continued in our direction, seemingly oblivious to the kite string, a common hazard. I later counted nine kites flying in the four miles of beach I could see. These birds were also in a tight diagonal formation. It was clear this line of birds would cross my line. At the last moment, the bird closest to the ocean veered, but it was too late. Its left wing struck the string solidly. The pelican pivoted 180 degrees while the string wrapped around its wing. Unable to control its flight, the bird’s momentum forced it beak first into the sand. I froze for a moment, then dropped the reel and ran toward the pelican.

The teenaged lifeguard climbed off her perch, but offered no assistance. She looked more discombobulated than I did. I approached the stunned bird. It was much larger than it appeared in the air. Its wingspan was at least six feet. The pelican was very upset. I watched as it as it struggled to flap its wing and then throw up a half-eaten fish.

The string was wrapped ¾ of the way around the wing. I believed I could unwrap it without too much difficulty. I approached slowly. When I got close enough to unloop the string, the bird hissed and snapped at me. Apparently no one told the pelican I was there to help it. I jumped back and reassessed my plan. I did not have anything to cut the string. None of the many onlookers had any suggestions, so I approached again, quickly this time, and unlooped the string. The bird stood there a few moments, and then hopped into the ocean. It floated there briefly, and then clumsily flew about 50 feet away. It rested there for ten minutes, gathering its wits and its strength, then flew off for good.

The next day, one of our condo neighbors asked where my kite was. I grinned and replied that I had packed it away since I had bagged my pelican limit for the year.

No comments:

Post a Comment