Foam Lake Birding No. 180

No. 180
            The swarms of warblers are considerably reduced but berry eating flickers have gone from one male to at least three.  The Tree Swallows and Purple Martins have been long gone but the Barn Swallows still linger.  An interesting note is that there were actually two Barn Swallows' nest on our neighbour's house and not one as previously reported.  There was one on the north peak as well as the south.  We also spotted Ruby Crowned Kinglets and Least Flycatchers in our yard.  Both are local nesters but, like Downey and Hairy Woodpeckers, tend not to show up in our yards during breeding season.   Unlike the woodpeckers they do migrate. 
            While driving down rural roads I noticed an influx of cormorants around various deeper bodies of water especially dugouts.  When stocked with fish dugouts were especially favoured by cormorants for the easy pickings.  Even people in cities with larger yards that had outdoor goldfish ponds were paid visits by the cormorants.  This did not endear them to the people directly affected. 
            As a group cormorants have been reclassified at least three times and taxonomists still are unsure where to place them and so the debate continues.  Eventually DNA testing will probably resolve the issue.  Since ancient times until the seventeenth century it was believed they were related to the crow family and several European countries referred to cormorants as "sea ravens".  In fact the name cormorant might be a contraction from the Latin "corvus marinus" which means sea raven.  In any case a cormorant especially in flight looks remarkably like a crow except for the longish neck and faster wing beat. 
            Except for the Double Crested all cormorants are coastal birds that feed strictly on fish that they catch by diving from the shallows to more than 45 metres deep.  In the past peoples in parts of Asia and the Mediterranean tamed and trained cormorants to fish in much the same way falcons were utilized to catch birds and small mammals.  A ring was put around the cormorant's neck restricting the size of the fish it could swallow.  A small fish would be eaten but a large one would get stuck in the throat and the cormorant would have to get its master to help getting the fish out which the fisherman kept for himself.  It was hoped that the cormorant would catch enough fish for the fisherman before it was full itself and lost interest in fishing.  Fishing with cormorants is still practised in some parts of Asia today. 
            The only cormorant to be found on fresh water is the Double Crested so named because of small tufts of feathers that appear on either side of the head during breeding season which are seldom visible even during breeding season.  (Cormorants with long feathers on their heads are often called 'shags").  One characteristic of the cormorants shared with only one other bird, the Anhinga, is its habit of drying itself out after a swim.   The bird climbs onto a rock or snag near or in the water, faces the sun, and spreads out its wings to expose a greater area and to dry out and warm up more quickly.  This pose reminded early Christians of the cross so the bird was given special status and appeared on the coats of arms of several European countries. 
            This week's picture is of two Double Crested Cormorants perched on rocks at an abandoned water filled gravel pit near Tuffnell.  One of the birds is in typical cormorant pose sunning itself.