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Rare White Pelicans photographed at Long Hunter

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These are the rare American White Pelicans photographed at Long Hunter State Park.

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Spring is in the air, as evidenced by the arrival of two unique species of migrating birds that triggered excitement for observing Friends of Long Hunter State Park this past week.

Birds from each end of the size spectrum, to wit, tiny Purple Martins and majestic American White Pelicans, an endangered species, were observed flocking to pristine Couchville and sprawling Percy Priest Lakes in the park, ushering in spring 2010.

More about that majestic covey of pelicans rarely viewed this far inland from the ocean, Great Lakes and Canada.

“It’s the first time we’ve had a confirmed sighting of White Pelicans on our lakes,” confirmed Long Hunter Park Manager/Ranger Thurman Mullins.

“We had a photographer picture a single pelican flying high over our lakes in 2009,” Mullins said. “Maybe that was a prelude to pelicans coming through our park on their regular migratory route…we can hope!!”

The great white birds with distinctive white plumage and long beaks unique to pelicans were photographed by Dan Whittle, president of Friends of Long Hunter, and Smyrna boating enthusiast Steve Barnett.

“My family has been coming to Long Hunter to swim, camp, boat and fish all of my life,” acknowledged Barnett, age 51. “It’s the first time we’ve witnessed pelicans. There must have been 40 of the beautiful huge white birds as they fished and rested on large boulders protruding out of the lakes.”

“We were coming out of Four Corners Marina in search of nesting Great Blue Herons when we spotted something large and white on some rocky little islands in the lake,” observed Whittle, an amateur photography enthusiast. “We not only found our nesting Blue Herons, we got bonus photographic shots of the pelicans.”

“I’ve been fishing 50 years on Percy Priest, and never knew of pelicans migrating through here,” verified Wilson County fisherman Bill Crowell. “It’s the normal time of year for Great Blue Herons to be gathering in nesting rookeries on the various islands throughout Percy Priest. That’s a majestic view in itself…the pelicans are a bonus view of spring 2010….”

Photographs of great white birds will be on view at Long Hunter’s main office at 2910 Hobson Pike (the road between Interstates 24 and 40) after the April 10 monthly meeting of Friends of Long Hunter. The public is invited to the monthly meetings at 10 a.m. each second Saturday of the month.

Purple Martins also confirm the arrival of spring each year as they return to nesting boxes provided primarily through funding triggered by Friends of Long Hunter member Jason Allen, a writer and producer of animated children’s movies viewed throughout the world.

“We secured funding for our two huge Purple Martin boxers through generous supporters of Friends of Long Hunter who volunteer to promote and preserve our pristine little 110-acre Couchville Lake, now a major spring nesting site for thousands of returning Purple Martins,” Allen said. “We have bird watchers from though out the Southeast come to view our families of returning Purple Martins each spring.”

Friends of Long Hunter and park staff professionals welcome trail hikers and bird-watching enthusiasts each new spring.

“We have families come in each May for the annual Lost Loon Triathlon, one of the most unique triathlon events in the Southeast,” Whittle said. “This unique triathlon is for entire families as they hike, kayak and canoe around and over Couchville Lake. This year, we expect hundreds of families from throughout the Southeast for the increasingly popular Lost Loon Triathlon headed by Nashville-based world-traveled foreign war correspondent Willy Stern.”

The Friends group also helps in official nature scientific studies.

“Our park’s Arboretum is the only trail of marked species of trees in Tennessee State Parks,” Mullins noted. “Our various species of trees are identified throughout the 2-mile walking trail around Couchville Lake’s Area 2. This Arboretum is greatly utilized on field trips by educators and students from universities and high schools throughout Middle Tennessee.”

There are other arboretums in Tennessee, but this was the first one in a state park, Mullins added.

Long Hunter’s pristine 110-acre Couchville Lake also features a newly-constructed, highly-popular fishing pavilion where anglers, young and old, flock to wet their hooks each spring.

“Friends of Long Hunter sponsor the ‘John Stuart Fishing For Kids’ at this pavilion and pier walkway each September when members of Middle Tennessee Boys & Girls Clubs come to learn about fishing, and witness the beauty of Mother Nature,” Whittle said. “For most of the youngsters, it’s the first time they’ve experienced the thrill of catching a fish. This is an increasingly-popular event sponsored by O’Charley’s Restaurant of Smyrna and Bass Pro Shop of Opry Mills.”

For more information about the park and Friends of Long Hunter, call 885-2422.

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