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.
And this was no small group of cormorants.
It was a cormorant flock, dotted here and there with seagulls.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
After taking these photos, I became aware of a disturbance on the pond behind me. Small, repeated splashes…
At first, I couldn’t tell what was happening. Then I realized that the cormorants had begun fishing.
They dove over and over again. Sometimes the entire flock disappeared underwater.
I soon realized why the gulls were there. Each time a cormorant surfaced with a particularly tempting catch, the gulls attacked, shrieking with greed.
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.
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!)