Today I saw 10 pelicans above downtown Edmonton

A remarkable and a quite remarkable and a truly remarkable thing happened at the farmers market this afternoon.

In exquisite formation, 10 American white pelicans soared overhead. I stood dumbfounded, at first thinking they were airplanes. I do this. I mean, I transpose nature into artifice, as if somehow birds resembled aircraft and not the other way around. For a few heartbeats, the creatures flew out of sight behind the old GWG Building. I ran, and they reappeared over the new museum, banking to the north, then looping back and around high over the law courts, the undersides of their wings shining as they wheeled. It was remarkable aerial performance for a groundlooker like me.

Shelagh had seen the birds first.

"Oh, look," she said, pointing up as we stood beside the Blindman Brewing stall.

We had been talking with Nicola.

"They're pelicans," Nicola said immediately. And then, after a second or two of considering the things above, she said: "American white pelicans."

Nicola's bioregional knowledge struck me as something quite remarkable. After I graduated from "airplane" in my impoverished classification, I could come up with nothing more specific than "bird" and then "goose." But Nicola knew they were American white pelicans. Like they were neighbours.

And then she said: "Do you want to look at them through the binoculars?"

While I was recording the elegant skywriting with my iPhone, Nicola had reached into her bicycle pannier and brought out her binoculars.

I applied the contraption to my face and looked up, like a sailor working a periscope. I searched and located the spectacular pelicans, now magnified, as they bounced across the lenses.

I handed the binoculars back.

Now a giant V in the sky, the squadron pointed northwest and vanished. 

"I was going to go birding today," said Nicola in answer to my why do you have binoculars in your pannier? look.

Instead I got to go birding. Out of the blue.

I saw the pelicans because Shelagh saw and Nicola knew. I saw the orange-yellow pelican bill thanks to the binoculars.

It's truly remarkable how much help I need to see things.


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