A Wonderful, Whacky Pelican… Puerto Vallarta

I’ve spent a lot of time watching and photographing pelicans. Their committee-put-together look makes them a favorite of mine. But I have never seen one do this. It delighted me. I think it was trying to scare up a fish. The majority of brown pelicans make their living by diving from the air for dinner. This fellow may have been a bit young and small for the big time.

The Rio Cuale sits in the heart of Puerto Vallarta. It’s a delightful place with a long island in the middle (Isla Cuale) that includes good restaurants, fun shops, and some very interesting art. The island got its start in the 1960s as an airstrip for rich Hollywood types such as Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and John Huston. 

My favorite thing about the Rio Cuale, however, is the rich wildlife it supports including a variety of water birds and giant iguanas. Bird life includes pelicans, cormorants, herons, egrets and more. On my recent visit I was particularly taken by the young fellow featured above and a snowy egret.

Here is the young brown pelican behaving more or less like I am used to seeing brown pelicans behave.
I am not sure what the youngster is up to here. Scratching an itch? Spreading oil?
Its action here is clear. It’s preening. The pelican and other water fowl have an oil gland near their tail that they use for oiling their body to make feathers more waterproof.
Here it is again, apparently trying to scare up another fish.
And a final shot of our young friend. We speculated that maybe it was a little young for the normal brown pelican approach to fishing.
A few hundred feet away, brown pelicans were fishing in the more traditional way.
I caught this orgy of Pelican fishing in Puerto Vallarta in 2016. The insane dive on the right is one of the things I love about pelicans.
I must say that this snowy egret on the Rio Cuale provided a great photo-op as well.
Here’s the snowy egret in a more traditional pose.

The River Cafe is a short way up the Isla Cuale from where we found the pelican and the snowy egret. We like it for its tasty, well-presented food. But we also like it because you can almost always find iguanas hanging out in the trees and on the ground next to the river. This year we spotted a very green one…

It was so green, it almost disappeared among the leaves. The large flap of skin hanging down from the iguana’s chin is called a dewlap. No self-respecting Iguana would be without one. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

We’ve had numerous encounters with iguanas over the years in Puerto Vallarta. But none matched the time when one came to visit us in our villa. I did a post on our welcome visitor, but just for fun, I decided to put up a few photos on him again.

It all started out with a stranger staring in our window at us. Naturally we had to see who had come to visit.
Outside, we found this large iguana staring at his reflection in the window. There were two possibilities: One he had found the love of his life. Or, two, he had discovered a large rival impinging on his territory. Iguanas can be quite territorial.
On closer inspection, our visitor appeared to be quite handsome. I imagine he was a heart throb.
His claws appeared a bit on the scary side. I, for one, wouldn’t want to get on his bad side.
I looked him in the eye, wondering what a lady iguana would see in him. I call this photo The Eye of the Iguana after the Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr movie “The Night of the Iguana.” The movie, directed by John Huston, was filmed in Puerto Vallarta giving the then small fishing village a kickstart to becoming a mega-tourist attraction.
Of course we had to invite Senior Iguana in for a visit. His tail is still outside. He was a big fellow.
He wandered around looking for his love/rival and then finally settled down on the floor like a dog. I couldn’t help but think he would make a great burglar deterrent! After a while, he stood up, checked our villa one more time and then wandered back outside. Next post I will feature a chalk art festival and several murals in Puerto Vallarta. After that, it’s hitting the PCT again, hiking south from Carson Pass.

27 thoughts on “A Wonderful, Whacky Pelican… Puerto Vallarta

  1. Your pelican was taking a bath, Curt. It’s always a surprise when some of these birds start bathing; I got a photo last summer of a great blue heron sitting in the water, having a bath, and it was the funniest thing in the world. The head against the back stretch is part of the preening process. One of the great side benefits of my work is that I’m often surrounded by pelicans all day long: fishing, bathing, preening, and just hanging out, so I’ve learned some of their habits. That last pelican photo’s a bath technique, too.

    What I’ve never been close to is one of those iguanas — not that close, anyway. They’re fascinating creatures. Apparently they’re pretty common in Florida, but I can’t remember ever hearing about one here, except as a pet.

    • Thank you for the info, Linda. Your expertise is appreciated. Now that you mention it, I can see the resemblance to the birds in our bird bath! Just on a grander scale.
      I never saw an iguana until I travelled south of the border. Peggy said they were common when she lived in Panama. Occasionally they fell out of trees. One almost landed on her baby! –Curt

  2. Good pictures as always and I enjoyed the iguana. But the pelicans reminded me of 1973 before the brown pelican population recovered. I took so many photos of them in the Virgin Islands, we began to refer to any excess photography binge as “pelican pictures.”

  3. Those iguana are really big Curt. Great photo essay. Wonder just how big they can get. You really got some very good captures with your camera. Thank you. All my best to you and Peggy.

  4. I truly loved your Pelican photos. I could perhaps do without the Iguana though. It’s an overgrown lizard after all. I’m thinking we should just stop them at the border. They’d likely eat all the little ones we have around here. 😀

  5. That iguana is so beautiful. It reminded me of the years living in Eureka, CA when I had Bud the Iguana as a pet. He had been rescued from an owner who neglected him to the point of abuse, otherwise I wouldn’t have held my hand up to adopt the creature. I learned to love Bud, who grew from 4 1/2 feet long to 5 1/2 feet long in only two years. They are wonderful climbers, and Bud would clamber up the back of my wingback chair, then leap to the top of the entertainment center, often sending a pile of CDs crashing to the floor with that massive tail. His attempts to climb furniture remain etched into my life even today. Literally etched – I mean, LOOK at those claws. Bud loved long baths. I’d open his cage then go to the bathroom and run a hot bath for him. When he heard the water stop, he would leave the bedroom, walk down the hall and climb into the tub and lounge until the water got cold. Then he’d come out into the living room, hoping the sliding glass door to the backyard would be open. Out there he would eat the grass and nap in the sun for a couple hours, till he was ready to come back into the house and make his way back to his cage where he’d climb up to the ceramic heater and get warm again. One spectacular day in January we went through this ritual – a real treat in the middle of winter. He apparently thought the grass might be greener on the other side of the fence: the deep scratches up the side of the six-foot fence indicate as much. He went on walkabout in January- not a good choice for a cold-blooded animal. Within a couple of days the temp had dropped below freezing and I knew we had lost him. I’m glad he got a couple of good years before he died.

    • A wonderful story, Crystal, and a great addition to my post. I love how your iguana would take advantage of its warm bath and climb up on furniture. Sorry about his ending, but I think you are right. He had a great two years. Thanks so much. –Curt

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