American White Pelicans in a Mississippi River Fog

September 18, 2016

Morning fog at Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary blurs the lines between river, sandbar, and shoreline.

I set out for Riverlands this morning well before daylight to stake out a spot where I had scouted some shorebirds a few days ago. As I approached the area an hour later, the Mississippi River fog was so intense I had to creep along at just a few miles an hour to the place where I would leave my car and continue on foot. I couldn’t see any of the reference points I needed to find the spot I was looking for, so I just guessed the distance I had walked, made my way to the shoreline of Ellis Bay, and hoped for the best. After fumbling around on the soaked rip-rap for a while I finally settled into my turkey chair and covered myself with camouflage. The combination of dark and fog left me little to watch, so I decided to wait for sunrise in “nap mode.”

About 45 minutes later, still drifting in and out of slumber, I noticed a patch of white out in the bay about 100 meters away. I glassed the area with my binoculars and realized that I was sharing my spot with a pod of American white pelicans. I continued to keep my eye out for the black-necked stilt I was hoping for, but I also monitored the light and fog on the pelicans. I could see that the fog had blurred the lines of the water, sand, shore, and trees, but the pelicans were no more than faint apparitions. I needed more light!

As I waited for dawn, I faced a dilemma. Would the light necessary to reveal the pelicans also burn off the very fog that would make the image unique? All I could do was wait and see. About 10 minutes later, the golden rays of morning crept over the corner of Mel Price Dam and bathed the pelicans with “exposure.” I began clicking the shutter, my 500 mm lens trained on the giant birds. A few minutes later, just as I had suspected, the fog began to lift and the bank and trees came into view. The magic moment was over.

The stilt never showed — big surprise — so I finally pulled out and left the pod of pelicans, still preening in the clear light of morning. I began making my way home, with a stop at Tower Grove Park to check on the warbler situation. I ran into three friends at Tower Grove and enjoyed catching up on the goings-on in the St. Louis birding world. Eventually, I made it back to the farm and took another nap before reviewing the pelican images well after lunch. Now retired, I have found that a siesta is integral to the success of any given day.

The featured image is the best representation of what I saw as I sat in my turkey chair, toes in the Mississippi River. Actually, it is only a small part of what I saw because I counted almost 300 pelicans in the pod. It was a lovely, lazy morning, and to heck with that stilt!

Thanks for looking,


Email:  Natureframes@Rocketmail.Com

Gallery of Images/Print Information: 


8 comments on “American White Pelicans in a Mississippi River Fog”

  1. This is going to be one of my favorites! You may have mist the stilt, but you did not miss an opportunity to get a great shot of the pelicans. Truly, painting in light, this time in light pastels! Thank you.

  2. Totally awesome!

  3. This is amazing! My first impression, before enlarging on my screen, was that this was a cloud formation.

  4. Hi Danny,

    Congratulations on retirement! I am writing to ask if this photo is available for sale? If so, are you able to print larger than 11×17?


    Kate Phelan



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