Perching evocatively on fog-shrouded rocks while draping their vampire-like capes... disappearing into dark waters with a needle-like focus.... Cormorants are probably my favorite bird that lives on the California coast, but I have been so confused about identification that I have probably shouted out a cormorant's greeting to many mistaken loons and vice versa. To add to the confusion of sorting out floating cormorants, sea ducks, grebes and loons, even if I can accurately identify a cormorant, the next task is to figure out which of the three California cormorants that it is.
After my attendance at the Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival many years in a row, I can now give a sense of the differences among cormorants, loons, sea ducks and grebes:
Now I move on to the next quandary, picking a type of the three cormorants that we are lucky to get to know on the central California coast. Here are some tips:
When I was very young, I read a novel, which may have been The Pearl, that mentioned a fisherman coaxing a slim-necked bird to dive into the water and catch fish. Growing up with cardinals and robins, I could not imagine a fish seeing into dark water, darting and swimming fast enough to catch fish. I still considered this an exotic bird I might never see until I moved to California.
Today in Japan and other Asian countries, fishermen still sometimes use this traditional way of fishing. Terrific photos at a travel photo site show fishermen lighting fires to attract fish and the cormorants diving to catch fish. I love the photos that show the bird's jagged feathers dark in front of the background of the spiky flames.
A few of my own haiku about this beautiful bird:
searching fish unseen
through deepest water
for its place to dive
jagged-cape bird dives
to deep notes
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