Global Lens Reflections on life, the universe, and everything

Pelecanus occidentalis

A brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) flies in front of the setting sun off of Sandy Cay, near Utila in the Bay Islands off of Honduras' Caribbean coast.

I’m not a nature photographer, but I do at times mistakenly drag a camera along when I go on vacation. I was thinking of this while lying around because I just had knee surgery. Rather than remaining in cold and snowy Yakima I’ve been fantasizing about healing instead on a tropical island such as Sandy Cay, where our family used to vacation when we lived in Honduras. It’s a small island, about the size of a basketball court, two or three kilometers to the west of the larger island of Utila on the Caribbean coast of Central America. It sits in the middle of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-largest coral reef system in the world. It was always a magical place for me, and a normal day consisted of reading in the hammock, drinking beer in the hammock, sleeping in the hammock, snorkeling around the island, drinking beer in the hammock. . . over and over again. We had the island all to ourselves, and when we ran out of beer or fish or lemons, we’d get on the radio and the family that owned the island would show up a couple of hours later in their boat with whatever we needed. While there was lots of life under the water, including a neighborhood nurse shark nicknamed “Ratched,” there were lots of birds above, including brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) that spent all day plunging into the water from about 10 meters above the sea, then emerging with fish in their pouches. I couldn’t resist getting out of the hammock to capture a few images of the magnificent birds, including this one silhouetted against the sunset. (Nerd talk: 1/1000 of a second to freeze the bird in flight, f5.6 to keep the sunset mostly in focus, and I dialed down the RAW exposure in post to keep from blowing out the highlights in the sun.) This was taken at the end of the dry season, when farmers on the mainland burn their fields, leaving the air along the coast rather strangely hued.

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