Few creatures become so iconic to a state as the Brown Pelicans are to Louisiana. In fact, few single images, save the Fleur-de-Lis, the graphically stylized lily or iris, illustrates this state. So when the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster struck and the real threat of the escaping crude inundating the Gulf Coast within a week or two, the net-like coast of Louisiana was seen as bull’s eye of the target zone. And staring out from the center of that target – the gawky cute, waddling Brown Pelican.
That icon covered in thick reddish-brown oil was the image no one wanted to see – everyone feared seeing – especially BP. Almost immediately a rescue command center was established near Fort Jackson, LA (over time moved to Hammond) and despite the many stumbles in the process saved birds, cleaned and alive, have been put back into a safe site in the wild at Rabbit Island, West Cove, LA. These images are from there and Raccoon Island to the east. More details about “Pelicans of Hope” over on the general spill blog.
Special thanks to Tom Hess of Louisiana Dept of Wildlife & Fisheries and his crew for making these photos possible.
One of the serious challenges of photographing in these rookeries is the sensitivity to the birds. These are young birds just learning to fly – and struggling at it in many cases – or older chicks still on the nest. Disturbance at this critical stage could mean their death – and in the end an over eager photographer or researcher could end up killing more birds than the oil disaster. To maintain distance and still get the critical observations in everything is accomplished by boat. In these shallow waters wind and current bounce you around a lot, often chaotically. Stable photography is a real struggle. Lastly, the distance almost always dictates I hand-hold using 200mm and up lenses. I’ve posted shooting details with each of the photos.