Cormorants.

It has made little difference where I have lived it seems January and February are transitional months in a few ways. It’s the middle of winter with just as much left to go as has past often it feels like an endless walk down a long empty hallway. The transition from last year to the next has people forgetting what the date of the year is; during the time of writing checks it was contagious.

The migrating birds are flying over searching for a good place to build nests and begin raising their young. The weather is in flux as well, rain, snow and false springs to get us all anxious for summer. However some things stay pretty much the same all year.

One of those are the Cormorants, they aren’t particularly pretty and they rarely move from their day to day routine repeating one day after another. I like watching them as they fly from one end of the slough to the other. It appears chaotic as they will suddenly begin to take to the air which is entertaining in its own right.

They are not the most graceful birds in the sky when it comes to landing or taking off, it’s a mystery to me how they do it on land. As I was watching them just before noon today I began to calculate how far they flap their wings and kick their webbed feet vigorously; it takes them 60 feet plus by my reckoning until they are airborne. They make a big racket while they are building up the speed needed. Once in the air there is no prediction of which direction they will fly off to. There is one tell-tale if they fly over the height of 20 feet above the water they are in for a long flight, 20 feet or under they are staying on the slough.

They are good fast fliers beating their wings about 10 strokes per second; don’t place bets on that I’m guessing. I’m basing that opinion on where my camera shutter speed is set at. I cannot achieve a good photo of a flying bird if I use shutter speed that is less than the ISO value, it will blur. They are strong while in the air flying straight towards their destination. As they fly over the water more birds join them at times accumulating between 12 and 25 members. They are flocking birds and very sociable.

By my observation they spend the majority of time diving for fish, I haven’t seen any of them catch an enormous one as we regularly see in magazine photos. The largest I have seen is a Blue Gill about the size of an adults hand. They don’t make a big deal out of it as the Herons and Egrets do on the dock preparing the thing to be swallowed. With Cormorants it’s a snatch and swallow arraignment. But they have a relationship with Pelicans I have never been able to reason with.

They voluntarily hang around Pelicans when the occasion arises. The Cormorants dive for fish; upon surfacing the Pelican grabs the smaller bird by the neck then shakes vigorously to dislodge the fish. The Pelican grabs the fish then swallows it leaving the Cormorant in the cold. That in itself is interesting but even more so is the Cormorant will continue to perform for the Pelicans until finally they are allowed to eat one of their catches. There is little reward for the Cormorants; grossly lopsided to the Pelicans advantage. It must work out OK for all parties, I suspect the Cormorants have no idea of what is happening. Another theory is they have been doing it for so long it is now embedded like code in their DNA; like every other animal we are not able to get inside how they think.

The Cormorants are a predictable constant, they are always on the slough, in varying numbers yes but there is a presence every day of the year January/February don’t hold them back. They are difficult to take photos of due to how dark they are which is compounded if the light is not just right. I find the best time is early morning then wait for the Sun to direct it’s rays directly on them. The best lighting for them is early morning, first light or dusk. Given a chose between the two I would take morning every time. We are fortunate to have a brilliant Golden Sunrise nearly every winter morning. The second part of the equation is if the critters show up which is more unpredictable. That’s where we are now, the winter doldrums waiting with camera in hand to take a few award winners I end up taking pictures of everything and that’s how I miss my shots. An advantage the new camera’s give us is the ability to take many thousands of pictures in one sitting; the first one costs the same as the second thousand.

I took another 3 days off last week due to a medical condition that had to be resolved by oral surgery. It happened Wednesday last; I had a vision of being in extreme pain however there was none at all. I was merely worn down tired and not feeling up to snuff and when that occurs my blogs stink more than usual.

Jacques Lebec Natural Self Reliance

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