Friday, August 20, 2010

Birds of St Paul: Red-faced Cormorant

Cormorants have always fascinated me with their jeweled tones; the bright blue throat pouch of the Brandt's, the gleaming green eye of the Double-crested and the green-violet iridescent shimmer of the Pelagic's feathers. The family contains thirty-six species with world wide distribution.

The Red-faced cormorant (Phalacrocorax urile) is another jewel in family with his bright red face patch and beautiful feathers. Their North American range is restricted to coastal Alaska and they are far less gregarious than many of their cousins and are often shy of human approach.

We arrived too late in the season to see these beauties in full breeding plumage. I did not see any birds with white neck feathers but the eye patches on many were still strikingly red. Photographing these birds added a bit of a challenge for me personally. I'm terrified of heights and these birds love to be on high, precarious cliffs. Perched on a small shelf jutting out from the cliff face, leaning out to try and capture the portrait above was a personal challenge that I faced with grim determination. I could feel the cliff shake and move with the force of every large wave which crashed and broke on the shore below. I couldn't help but wonder how much longer the rock I was perched on would remain stuck to the wall. Lucky for me, everything held in place and I was able to beat a hasty retreat once I achieved my image.

A group of cormorants is often called a "sunning", a "gulp" or a "swim" of cormorants.

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