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Posts Tagged ‘Double-crested Cormorant’

The plumage of the Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) is pretty drab, but it helps to make its beautiful orange bill and spectacular blue eyes stand out even more. I spotted this immature cormorant—adults have darker-colored breast feathers—yesterday afternoon at Lake Cook in Alexandria, Virginia. The cormorant was standing still in shallow water and seemed to be trying to absorb some warmth from the intermittent sun on a cold and windy day, with temperatures just above freezing.

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On a visit yesterday to Lake Cook, a tiny body of water not far from where I live in Northern Virginia, I was thrilled to spot an immature Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus). These prehistoric-looking water birds have feathers that are not completely waterproof, so periodically they have to extend their impressively large wings to dry them out.

Most of the cormorants that I have seen in the past have been on the much larger Potomac River, but this solitary one seemed content to paddle about among the geese and ducks that had congregated on this small pond. It was nice finally to have a day with some sunshine and I spent a pretty long time observing the cormorant. One of the coolest things for me about these birds is their spectacular blue eyes, which you can just make out in the image below, especially if you double click it to view it at a higher resolution.

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Generally it’s best to have the sun behind you when taking photos, but sometimes you are forced to shoot almost directly into the sun. When the conditions are right you can sometimes get wonderful silhouettes, like these images of Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) that I spotted on the Potomac River near Dyke Marsh in Alexandria, Virginia this past Monday.

The shot of the perched cormorant was a conscious composition—I assessed the light and knew that I was shooting a silhouette. In the case of the flying cormorant, however, I was reacting to the movement of a bird taking off from the water and trying so hard to hard to capture focus and keep the bird in focus that I was not paying much conscious attention to the lighting.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double=crested Cormorant

 

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I spotted this beautiful Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) in the vegetation along the shore of the Potomac River as I explored Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve in Alexandria, Virginia. Although “heavy-boned” is a euphemism sometimes used for large people, it is literally true for cormorants and is one of the reasons why they ride so low in the water. Additionally, their feathers don’t shed water like those of ducks and can get waterlogged, which makes it easier to dive deeper, but requires them to dry them out periodically.

I hoped to catch a cormorant with its wings extended for drying, but none of the cormorants I saw were accommodating in that regard yesterday. I’m no psychic, but I foresee a return trip to that area in the near future.

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I will sometimes see other birds open their wings and stretch them out for a moment, but the Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) is the only bird that I have observed that leaves its wings open for an extended period of time.

Initially I was confused when I heard the cormorant had to dry out its wings because they got waterlogged. How does a waterbird survive if its wings are not waterproof?

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, my favorite website for information about birds, provides the following explanation of this phenomenon:

“They have less preen oil than other birds, so their feathers can get soaked rather than shedding water like a duck’s. Though this seems like a problem for a bird that spends its life in water, wet feathers probably make it easier for cormorants to hunt underwater with agility and speed.”

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) are strange-looking waterbirds that sit really low in the water. I’ve seen them from time to time, but until yesterday, when I saw this one at a small suburban retention pond, I never knew that they have striking blue eyes.

One of the other unusual things about this bird is that they spend a good amount of time outside of the water drying out their wings. Despite being a diving bird, the cormorant’s feathers do not shed water as well as a duck’s, for example, and they can get soaked pretty quickly.

I took some photos of the cormorant drying its wings that I will post later, but I wanted to post the image of the cormorant resting on one leg, because it shows off the blue eyes (and I like the reflection).

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I slowly made my way through the tall grass on the lake shore, my eyes were focused on the low-hanging branches where I had seen a Belted Kingfisher earlier in the day. Suddenly the water exploded at my feet.

I was startled and so was the Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) that scrambled into action and started moving across the surface of the water. The cormorant had apparently been resting or feeding at the water’s edge and had not heard me approach. It was interesting to see the cormorant move—it rose up a bit and seemed to walk across the water and then settled back into the water once it was a good distance away from me.

The action happened so quickly and in an unexpected location that I initially had trouble framing my shots. This is my favorite of the ones in which I managed to get the entire cormorant in the frame. I especially like the details that you can see on the wings. As I was working on the image, it was interesting to note that there are almost no colors in the shot, except for the bird’s bill. When I adjusted the hue and saturation, for example, almost nothing changed.

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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