Observing the flight of birds

In my previous blog, I talked about our camping trip to the beach in Port Aransas, Texas. I mentioned in that blog that I’m not as much a beach person as I was when I was in the prime of my youth. However, there is one thing that I still enjoy while at the beach and that would be watching the brown pelicans and seagulls soar on the wind currents from the gulf breeze. The ones that are the most graceful are the pelicans. I truly enjoy watching the ease with which they take advantage of the air currents and effortlessly make their way up and down the beach. Perhaps the fact that I was a career pilot causes me to be intrigued by the flight of the pelicans?

Flight of pelicans

Pelicans tracking down the sand dune

We camped at Gulf Waters Resort and RV Community and had access to the beach by way of a board walk across a large sand dune. At the point where the boardwalk crossed the sand dune, there was an enlarged area where there were a couple of benches available, providing a place to sit so that you could watch the happenings on the beach without being on the beach. This also provided a nice area for watching the pelicans and seagulls. I equated the seagulls and pelicans to fighter planes and bombers. The seagulls were the fighters. They are more nimble and quicker in their ability to fly. The pelicans were the bombers. They are larger and less agile than the seagulls. The pelicans are also much more graceful in their flight than the seagulls. Of the two, I enjoy watching the pelicans much more than the noisy and aggravating seagulls.

One late afternoon, I went and sat on the board walk for the explicit purpose of watching and taking some pictures of the pelicans. As I sat on top of the sand dune and watched not only the pelicans but also the seagulls, I could see that birds do just as pilots have to do when flying in a strong wind. When you look up at a bird or for a plane, you can’t see that they are having to track into the wind in order to get where they want to go. It was very evident along the sand dune. The birds would travel up and down the sand dune with the strong wind from the gulf giving them lift as the wind hit the sand dune and caused an updraft along the sand dune. In order for the birds to track down the sand dune they had to “crab” into the wind just as pilots do when flying airplanes. I could really see it since I was basically sitting on top of the sand dune and could see the birds turn into the wind so they could track straight down the sand dune.

So who learned to track into the wind first…birds or pilots? Since birds learned to fly first, I guess they learned to track into the wind first. I flew airplanes for almost 40 years but never like a bird. Sometimes I think it would be neat to be able to fly like a bird. They are so much more free than man and machine. The closest that we can get is in a sail plane.  Nature has really provided birds with something for man to envy. 

Seagull in flight

Jonathan Livingston Seagull


Flock of seagulls

Seagulls being fed


A pelican

A lonely pelican




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