The American White Pelicans are returning to their breeding grounds in Utah and I have already seen a few of them myself and though I haven’t been able to photograph them yet I know I will soon.
Gunnison Island in the northern arm of the Great Salt Lake is an important breeding ground for the pelicans, it is closed off to the general public and for now it is isolated from predators but as the water level drops in the lake it could allow predators to reach the island which would severely impact the breeding population there. (Update: There were coyotes seen on the island when the camera was being installed)
Westminster College has received a grant from Tracy Aviary for their “Great Salt Lake PELI Project: Partnership for Education and Longitudinal Investigation of American White Pelicans.” The PELI project will study the impact of climate change and upstream water demand on the nesting birds. Some of the grant money will help the Great Salt Lake Institute to purchase equipment for the upcoming field season.
Part of the funds have gone towards the purchase of the PeliCam that has been installed on Gunnison Island with the assistance of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. The camera shows the most recent image of the island and the pelicans there plus a time lapse sequence.
The partnership with the DWR will fill data gaps and help us to all know more about the pelican population status and their movements.
“Our partnership with the DWR Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Program gives our students access to explore this restricted island where only researchers are allowed,” said Jaimi Butler, Great Salt Lake Institute coordinator. “We will see breeding pelicans and their babies in the stunning landscape of Gunnison while providing data for their protection”
Butler is working with professors David Kimberly and Bonnie Baxter to build the academic team.
Students will look at the timing of island arrival and departure, and factors that influence fledgling mortality, such as siblicide and weather conditions. Great Salt Lake Institute will use existing data from banded and tracked birds in combination with remote video camera technology. The information will provide a better understanding of pelican migration, drought impact on migration and potential management solutions.
This winter has been kind to us here in northern Utah due to high snow pack and I have seen the water level of the Great Salt Lake rise because of the melting snow pack and rains but the water that is in the lake now it still at a very low level.
The studies being done now on the pelicans are important because Gunnison Island is home to one of the the largest breeding colonies of American White Pelicans in North America.
Quite a few American White Pelicans have been banded and equipped with solar-powered GPS transmitter backpacks and their migration can be followed on PeliTrack. At least one of the pelicans has already been seen here in northern Utah.
I am spoiled here in northern Utah because I do get to see and photograph these big, white, beautiful birds during their breeding season and I am grateful that the Utah DWR, Westminster College and the Great Salt Lake Institute are doing more research on them.
My thanks go out to Jaimi and everyone else involved.
Life is good.
This article was published today by the Salt Lake Tribune after I had posted: Gunnison Island: Scientists pay rare visit to desolate Great Salt Lake breeding ground for pelicans