There is s omet hing pleasing to the sensibilities watching brown pelicans as they glide along our Gulf shores in twos or threes or often in much larger groups, 20s, 30s or more. In lines, they gracefully undulate with wings barely moving over the waves, over the dunes and sometimes over the condominiums that line our beaches.
Yesterday, while admiring a group gracefully approaching on Mustang Island beach, I witnessed a pelican with an itch; and when you have an itch, you must scratch. So, scratch this bird did, in flight, slowing down with bill pointing down and one foot extended toes scratching its neck while all the other birds behind it had to break ranks, almost colliding with each other until the itchee stopped scratching and resumed his position in line, while the others sorted themselves out and resumed their elegant flight.
It is the season on the beach when courting birds are displaying in their various ways, and now the courting is culminated with mating. You might avert your eyes if you don’t want to witness the most intimate moments of bird life or read about it here, but the other day, a low-flying helicopter caused several cases of, forgive me, coitus interruptus, with bewildered terns and gulls put to flight, suddenly denied their moments of bliss.
On a more human scale of romance, I found another message in a bottle today (Monday, April 9). It had great promise of being another tale of long oceanic journeys: A glass wine bottle, corked, some marine growth on the glass and a date visible from the outside, showing a lapse of several months from when the missive was penned. Unfortunately for deciding how far the bottle had traveled, the message was a statement of the love of a man for a woman, signed by both and the only clue was that their love lasted from “The U.S. to Cozumel and back again.” Most inconsiderate of them not to tell the world what ship they were on and where it was and who they were, so I could tell them where and when I found their message.
One way we learn about the currents that move floating things like bottles and sargassum weed in the oceans is to follow more sophisticated drifters than wine bottles. A company called Horizon Marine that makes satellite drifters just celebrated its 30th birthday with a party in Richmond, and Lynn and I were invited to the party. Not that I own shares or even have any of their drifters, but I have found them washed up on our beaches for almost as long as the company has made them. Each time I’ve found one, I have returned it to the company and may have the record for returning their equipment: 13 or 14 of them so far. Each time, they have given a monetary reward, which I have requested that they send to the Animal Rehabilitation Keep (ARK). Over the years, thousands of these drifters have been deployed, revealing the complex nature of ocean currents. In the Gulf of Mexico, they have revealed the existence of large oceanic eddies that break off from the Loop Current entering the Gulf through the Yucatan Straits. These eddies slowly move westward and can exist for months, eventually impinging on the continental slope and our Gulf beaches. They have been given names like Nelson Eddy, Fast Eddy and Eddy Murphy. Dozens have been identified and tracked over the years, and attendees were invited to name the next eddy which, like hurricanes, are named alphabetically, the next starting with “J.” Not only are the eddies important in understanding the Gulf scientifically, but they can produce currents of around a couple of knots that might cause problems to the many oil and gas rigs in the western Gulf.
At the event, we were invited to chip a golf ball onto a green. The closest to the flag would win a fine bicycle. For one who last played golf 50 years ago and gave up after losing 13 balls on one hole, I did everything you see the pros do on TV, took a couple of practice swings, wiggled my rear end with feet firmly on the ground and whacked the ball. Miraculously, it landed on the green, near the flag. I didn’t get the bike but for a while led the pack. Watch out, Newport Dunes Golf Club (although Kody’s may be more my style).
Tony Amos is a research fellow at The University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas and director of the ARK.