Nonchalant. Now there’s a word that perfectly describes how I felt, sitting by Lake Macquarie with an hour and a half to spare. The breeze of the afternoon layered the surface with ripples as I leant against the bench contemplating life. Clouds were not apparent but still the chill of the late afternoon wrapped itself around me.
Above in the tall pines the ospreys were apparently content, deigning not to fly anywhere. “Should have been here this morning”, I thought. I had been earlier a couple of days before and they were active but I again failed to get any fish capture, though one, almost unseen, had chomped on a reasonably sized fish for around 20 minutes with dregs occasionally falling to the ground through the pines.
This afternoon was a nothing time as I relaxed, noting a small flock of gulls, half a kilometre away, feasting on something and the yachts of Marmong Marina making a nice backdrop to the activity.
A lazy lone pelican drifted by but twenty metres away. We caught each other’s eye as his wake spread before him. I was born nearby 73 years ago and they have always been a part of this body of water, the largest of its kind in Australia. I was always surprised when visitors got excited by them because they were as common as the sparrows once were, though the latter have long departed, apparently modern architecture having a lot to do with their absence.
Suddenly the pelican thrust its beak into the salty waters, but missed whatever it was after. It was only a matter of seconds though before it struck again, and this time I had the camera ready as it grasped a large fish, by pelican or my fishing standards. Immediately it had trouble lifting it but thrust its head upwards, eventually getting it into the large fold of the bottom beak. Next came the swallow, as it threw its head upwards and the fish commenced its slide into the pelican’s gullet. But it wouldn’t go! The fish was too big.
Slowly the pelican paddled away, utilizing its large webbed feet. It was more like a drift as I rose to follow it, curious as to what might happen next. Then its head started moving, shudder-like, from side to side, as it eased eastward.
I watched with interest aroused, who needs the ospreys now. Around 100 metres away and slightly closer to the shore, it stopped and turned around under the watchful eye of a small pied cormorant who’d had its meal and was now drying its feathers. This was an archetypal vision of life on the lake.
The pelican moved in slow circles, its head constantly moving from side to side. All I could envision was that there must be digestive juices floating in its bill because the fish would have long ago ceased flapping. It was around 20 minutes since the capture and still the bulge looked like some huge malignant tumour.
In time the pelican placed its feet on the bottom and raised itself, tilting upwards. I couldn’t believe the capture would slide down its throat. The pelican knew better but it was a tediously slow process and the bulge in its throat, as it went down, was something to behold. With the three minute swallow coming to an end, I was nothing short of amazed that the pelican paddled away, nonchalantly of course, and you couldn’t tell that it had just eaten a meal as big as any in its life. Nature’s like that.