The bird wasn’t hard to spot several hundred yards offshore.
Extending its large wings, which took nearly two seconds to fully flap, the bird flew downstream from a green buoy and swooped down to the water for food a few times. It was surrounded by a flock of seagulls.
If this were Miami or Sarasota, no big deal.
But this was a brown pelican. On an island in the Niagara River just off Buffalo.
It was lost.
So no, we are not becoming Miami of the North yet.
“It’s off course,” said Tom Kerr, a naturalist from the Buffalo Audubon Society.
The salt-water bird – native to the Gulf of Mexico and Eastern Seaboard up to about New Jersey – was first spotted several days ago along a stretch of the Niagara River between about Black Rock and the Town of Tonawanda.
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When news of the pelican sighting spread on social media, local birders and others flocked to the river’s edge.
“This is a lifer for me,” said Bob Van Stone of North Buffalo.
A “lifer,” Van Stone explained, is what bird enthusiasts call their personal first-of-a-kind sighting.
Van Stone ticked a yellow-headed blackbird off his list last year in South Buffalo. He got a snowy owl in Lewiston. He tracked a rare black-bellied whistling duck in Wilson. He even gawked at a red-tailed hawk, which snatched a snake lurking near him at Tifft Nature Preserve.
The pelican perched on a buoy so close to home was an unexpected pick-up.
“It’s a treasure hunt,” said Van Stone, who’s been bird watching since he was 8 years old. “This is a lifer for a lot of local people who don’t get to Florida.”
April Landschoot, a Finger Lakes native who recently moved to Buffalo, joined a group of camera-toting birdwatchers Wednesday at Black Rock Canal Park.
“My friend in Florida said ‘no big deal,’ ” Landschoot said. “But it was a big deal to us.”
The pelican then returned upstream to another green buoy across from the Black Rock park.
It seemed content to rest for at least a half-hour. That allowed bird enthusiasts to shoot away with their digital cameras.
Joe Monarch, of Cheektowaga, has been bird watching for only about two years, but now has the brown pelican checked off on his list, too.
“How often do you get to see an exotic bird here?” asked Monarch, who visited Black Rock for the second day in a row to catch a glimpse of the pelican. “I’ve never seen one up in Buffalo.”
Quipped Monarch: “He made the wrong turn in Altoona or something.”
Don Hirschbeck, of the Town of Tonawanda, usually chases fish instead of birds but got a feathered tale to tell Tuesday while manning the town’s boat launch off River Road.
Hirschbeck was skeptical at first when a woman told him she saw a pelican on the river.
Seeing was believing.
Hirschbeck said the pelican headed from near Strawberry Island toward the Town of Tonawanda about 10:30 a.m. – with a seagull chasing it.
The pelican drifted toward Motor Island and then landed in the newly built island archipelago rookery, he said.
“I’ve been on the river my whole life, and I’ve never seen a brown pelican,” Hirschbeck said.
Experts said recent stormy weather might have set the bird off-course, probably from the Atlantic coast.
To find a pelican in Buffalo is unusual but not unheard of, according to Kerr.
Kerr said a brown pelican came through the Buffalo Niagara region about five or six years ago. It was spotted for only about a day.
“The Great Lakes track a lot of lost birds,” Kerr said. “They look a lot like oceans out there.”
What seems to make this case a little more unique is that this pelican – which is likely just a few months old – stayed for the holiday weekend, as well as Tuesday and Wednesday.
“It definitely doesn’t belong here,” said Jay Burney, chairman of the Friends of Times Beach. “It’s a unique bird that’s somehow off-course.”
Added Kerr: “It’s a salt-water bird that’s going to need to find its way home.”