The reason is that a sizable flock of snow-white pelicans has taken up residence at Cowan Creek. A dozen or more of these feathery coastal birds have been a common sight cruising the waters on both sides of the Cowan Creek Bridge along County Road 22 for several weeks.
Officially, the new winter residents are called American White Pelicans. The birds are heavy, potentially reaching up to 30 lbs. Even so, Sam Hodges, in a recent article about the birds on www.al.com called them "gifted aerialists." At up to eight or nine feet, the American White Pelican wingspan tops that of most bald eagles, making for impressive plunges into local waters.
John Hudgins of Cowan Creek Grocery and Marina has heard a lot about the pelicans this winter.
"There are a lot of them," he said recently. "They have black underneath their wings. You might not see the black unless you see one fly. People talk about them a good bit. They've never seen them before."
A call to the Alabama Department of Natural Resources provided more information.
"They summer up in the northern United States and Canada," biologist John Mareska told The Post. "During the winter they make a seasonal migration to the Gulf of Mexico. Since it's a migratory bird, it would not surprise me to hear of some of them stopping along the way at Weiss Lake."
The Cowan Creek area isn't the American White Pelican's first time in the area. Web reports from bird watchers and photographers have documented the pelican's Weiss Lake presence for several years. Most online references place previous flocks and sightings in the Cedar Bluff area, particularly near the Chattooga River bridge on state Highway 68 near Harton's Store. The American White Pelican has also been spotted at Lake Logan Martin, just two lakes down the Coosa River chain from Weiss.
Mareska said one trademark of the American White Pelican is how it feeds.
"These birds do not dive to catch their prey," he explained. "They tend to get in a flock and herd the fish into a group and feed just at the water's surface."
Hudgins said he and other Cherokee County residents have seen the Weiss flock feed in the same manner.
An article from Outdoor Alabama's website offered more on the American White Pelican's feeding habits: "Generally, they consume about three pounds of food per day (mostly) during the spring and summer. White pelicans can eat fish ranging in size from minnows up to 3.5 pounds."
Another Outdoor Alabama article points out one concern about the American White Pelican, stating that "with the...development of the aquaculture industry in west central Alabama numerous ponds and lakes have been created for fish production. These pelicans on their way to the Gulf have found an easy meal in these fish-filled lakes."
Thankfully, at least one fish farm in Leesburg indicated that the white pelicans have not been a concern at their business.
If we are to believe the reports, the bird may not be staying around for long. According to www.wildobs.com, the top months for observing the pelicans in Alabama are November and December. The site has no official reports of pelicans in Weiss in January.
At least, not yet.