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January 10, 2013 / Rae Spencer

Cormorants and a Grebe

Squirrel Jan 10

Over the past few weeks I’ve been seeing cormorants on nearby ponds. Usually small groups, four or five at a time, and never when my camera is ready. As today’s warm, bright sunshine seemed wasted on a half-tame squirrel in an overfull bird feeder, I grabbed my keys and a jacket and started walking.

My first stop brought instant success.

Cormorant Jan 10

And this was no small group of cormorants.

Cormorant Jan 10

It was a cormorant flock, dotted here and there with seagulls.

Cormorant Jan 10

Cormorant Jan 10

It was too easy, and after a few frames I turned my attention to an adjacent canal. I saw a flicker of movement, a small brown and white flash that left a few ripples to prove I had not been hallucinating. Moments later, this little grebe surfaced long enough to allow a single photo.

Grebe Jan 10

I wasn’t certain, at first, that it really was a grebe. When it reappeared, too far down the canal for my lens, I followed. For the next half-hour, I chased my shy target up and down a hundred yard stretch of water. It would bob to the surface, linger long enough to catch my eye, then dive again. When it tired of diving, it retreated to areas blocked by branches, forcing me to thread the camera’s focus through gaps so small that the slightest movement ruined my shots.

Grebe Jan 10

Grebe Jan 10

When I finally found a good vantage point and had the opportunity to line up a clear photo, I got so excited that I moved too fast, stepped on a branch, and frightened the grebe into another fifteen minutes of prolonged diving. Almost ready to give up, I turned my attention to a pair of ducks.

Mallards Jan 10

Then the grebe popped back into sight, drifted into a clear spot, and seemed to pose. Almost as if it had tired of our chase. (I believe this is a pied-billed grebe. Please comment, if you can correct or confirm my identification.)

Grebe Jan 10

Grebe Jan 10

After taking these photos, I became aware of a disturbance on the pond behind me. Small, repeated splashes…

Cormorant Jan 10

At first, I couldn’t tell what was happening. Then I realized that the cormorants had begun fishing.

Cormorant Jan 10

Cormorant Jan 10

Cormorant Jan 10

They dove over and over again. Sometimes the entire flock disappeared underwater.

Cormorant Jan 10

Cormorant Jan 10

I soon realized why the gulls were there. Each time a cormorant surfaced with a particularly tempting catch, the gulls attacked, shrieking with greed.

Cormorant Jan 10

Cormorant Jan 10

Cormorant Jan 10

The attacks only stopped when a family arrived with a bag of bread, luring the gulls away with the promise of easier food.

I took a few more pictures before leaving the pond, catching a group of sleepy ducks and a northern shoveler.

Mallards Jan 10

Shoveler Jan 10

Then I headed home, eager to download my photos and put together a new blog post. (Partly because I’m still in the learning phase, when it comes to bird identification, and I would love a little help naming these cormorants and gulls!)

6 Comments

  1. Vicki / Jan 10 2013 6:44 PM

    you had a very interesting time today. in agreement that it is a Pied-Billed Grebe. I’ve never seen that many cormorants in the same place.. what a treat! The cormorants are Double-Crested Cormorants.. not sure about the Gull, it looks like Ring-Billed, but the head is darker than the ones where I live.

    • Rae Spencer / Jan 10 2013 7:01 PM

      Thanks! I was really surprised to find so many cormorants. I didn’t know they ever gathered in such large groups!

  2. jeaniemac100 / Jan 10 2013 7:07 PM

    What a gorgeous series, Rae. Thank you!

  3. Gillian / Jan 10 2013 7:42 PM

    Yes, that is a Pied-billed Grebe….it has a very distinctive profile with that long neck and short bill. The gulls I see are Ring-billed Gulls. They have streaked heads in their winter plumage, compared to their pristine white heads in the spring.

  4. lynnwyvill / Jan 11 2013 11:19 AM

    You got some great action shots! Never heard of a grebe. Thanks!

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