In 1970, the group Five Man Electrical Band had a hit song on the Billboard music charts, ‘Signs.’ The song was a hit during times of social and political change, and carried themes of opposing intolerance and exclusion. Little did the songwriters know that 42 years later the song would still resonate with many – including those they would have never expected...
Near the beginning of December, I was out near the inner harbour in downtown Victoria, BC. As I admired the zillion dollar yachts moored along the docks, I wondered if the owners knew of the ‘debris-leaving’ seagulls resting on the yachts’ railing and decks. Someone was sure to be scrubbing the decks later that day....
The seagull’s cousins and siblings were also floating in the water nearby. Ducks paddled and bobbed in the waves among their sea-loving relatives, and Canada Geese honked overhead before landing in the cold water.
Just when a seal splashed back down beneath the surface, two shadows passed over the group of seafaring marine life. With wings wider than my couch, the birds glided effortlessly just above the water’s surface, almost skimming the heads of their fellow feathered friends. As the pair came to rest in the water alongside their friends, they paddled and bobbed is if they were one of the gang, completely oblivious to their enormous size, in comparison.
Although the birds were the same size as the commonly found herons, I was sure these weren’t herons. My eyes are getting bad, but not that bad.
As one stretched out its neck (boy or girl? I didn’t know), the huge beak was telling. A pelican!? But it couldn’t be! Not in these parts!
I watched them for a bit, unbelieving. I made a note to start carrying around binoculars (along with the rest of the stuff I tote around in my already heavy bag), maybe have my eyes checked, then went on my merry way, wondering and wondering...
Two weeks later on a colder and blustery day, I was back at the docks of the inner harbour, this time with my kids. The seaplanes strained against the ropes binding them to the docks, the wind gusts making flying a challenge that day. Our noses were running, but we were bundled up and were enjoying walking along the seawall admiring the boats.
Just when we rounded the corner of the seawall, two birds on a dock made their nearby seagull friends look like mice, and this time I had a closer view. My earlier suspicions were right – they were pelicans - specifically Brown Pelicans (aka Pelecanus occidentalis) as I would later learn.
Although pelicans are common up and down both coasts of North America, they are rarely found in British Columbia. They were first seen in the harbour at the beginning of December, and it is suspected they were here for the herring (not my taste, but heck, everyone has their ‘thing,’ I guess).
As I snapped some photos, my kids curious but with limited patience in the snot-inducing cold, the sign just under the huge webbed feet of the rare bird had us giggling. It said ‘Aircraft Only.’
As for those guys with the Five Man Electrical Band and their song ‘Signs?’ Well, someone has been listening to the song, and not just humans. Even though the wild Brown Pelicans will go where they want, when they want, without anyone telling them otherwise, they were here first. Heck, the big birds date back to the Cretaceous period - I think they can do whatever the heck they want.
Engine or no engine, they technically could be considered aircraft – so what sign is gonna stop them?