I was standing on the fishing pier (old A1A bridge remnant) not long ago, taking pix of people luckier than me...they were fishing, when I noticed a Brown Pelican giving me the eye.
That's pretty normal, pier pelicans are the worst form of street hustler. Catch a fish, they are right there with the poor pitiful me look. Reach in the bucket for a piece of fishy bait...same thing. Occasionally, they get a little pushy and wave that hooked bill and flap that 6 foot wingspan.
This guy was more introspective and as I got closer for a photo, he spoke.
"That's close enough buddy", he blinked and turned to face me.
Now, I've had these animal to human conversations before, so I took it in stride. What was different this time was the fact that his "lips" didn't move when he "talked".
"Dude, are you telepathic?" I thought.
"We prefer to call it pelicanepathic" He preened a little.
Now this was good, very good. Usually I try to be away from people when discoursing with animals...and especially with plants or fungi, because of the "psycho maniac nutcase" label which I am trying to avoid. Here, I could have a "discussion" covertly in public.
I tried some polite chit chat thoughts, " So how's it going?"
" Not too bad, the spring run of mullet hasn't begun yet, but these pier fishers toss me the pinfish and small stuff. It's nice not to work so hard for a change."
"You're lookin' kind of "fluffy", are you sure that's good for you? Aren't you worried about losing your skills or getting a little out of shape?"
"A little, but the pier is empty often, so I still work for a living...excuse me just a minute." The man nearby was unhooking a small grunt and the pelican opened his bill to catch the proffered fish. It disappeared with a swallow.
"So is it hard catching fish the way you do, spotting them from above and dropping out of the sky?" I pretended to fiddle with the camera as a lady nearby was staring at the bird and I. Unfortunately, I could not tell what she was thinking. I just hoped it didn't start with "psycho, nutcase..."
The pelican drew me back, "Like most things, it looks tough from the outside, and like most things it takes some practice to be good at it. From above, the fish are easier to see..."
"Like when I bungee a step ladder in my Carolina Skiff so I can get higher to see fish cruising the flats." I interjected.
" Yes, now try not to interrupt." He fixed me with a pelican glare. "As I was saying, the fish can be seen easier..."
"What about their countershading?" I thought blurted. "Sorry...it's harder to control thoughts than tongue..."
"Yes, well countershading of course is a defense many fish have evolved that makes my job more difficult in deep water. Having a dark top half helps them blend in with the darker, deep water background..."
"...and the light underside protects them from fishy predators looking up into the bright surface background...oops, dang, this pelicanepathy is hard to get used to." I stared at my feet.
"Well, some master it faster than others, that's for sure." He had a smirk on his bill now. How did he do that? He continued, "Countershading is an excellent defense true, but it has flaws and it can be used offensively too. Have you noticed my countershading?"
"Yes, I had...um, I suppose it helps you be less obvious to a fish looking up into the brightness, what about this flaw of countershading?"
He was stroking his bill near his tail now and I wasn't sure if I should be looking or not. He sensed my awkwardness.
"My oil glands are back there, I have to stay waterproof you know." He raised a wing and rubbed his oily bill over it. "The wonderful flaw in countershading occurs over shallow light colored sea bottom like at the beach or over the tidal flats. Sure, the fish can adjust their pigment some, but overall, their darker backs stand out like grapes in chicken salad."
"Man, I hate that when people mess up good chicken salad with grapes or nuts... hey wait a minute. You eat chicken salad?"
"They don't toss me just fish you know, I get left over lunch scraps too."
"That can't be good for you."
"And that Snicker's bar you are eating? Is that good for you?"
"Touchet" I looked at my watch. "Well, I've gotta be going...just one more thing."
"Has anyone ever told you that you really look like a pteradactyl?"
"Oh, if I had a mullet for everytime I've heard that one..."