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The Tualatin Valley of Northwest Oregon forms a shallow bowl,  about 50 miles in diameter, with 1000-2000 foot tall eroded volcanoes walling in the lowlands, separating the region from the Coast and the Columbia River.  I used to work near Banks, Oregon, and the vast acreages of of flooded croplands in the Valley, especially grasses, attracted clouds of waterfowl. 

The winter storms drove the gulls and others away from the Coast to reassemble some 30-40 miles farther east, in the Valley.  I’d see a variety of ducks, hawks, herons, egrets, grebes, coots, and others stop by to rest in the golf course ponds every Winter.  The Egret might not even stay a week.  The geese would stay the winter.  In Banks, one or two cormorants might show up, or not.

I am now ten miles farther away from the ocean, at a different lake, but this year many cormorants have decided to keep me company.   

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This is the first time I’ve been able to appreciate their subtle half-tone colorings. This could be a juvie, lacking a “crest.”

I had thought they were black like crows.  Some call them “sea ravens.” When Gaia colored in cormorants on Creation Day, She also used a soft gray pastel from the edge of the palette, especially on the juveniles.

Cormorants are related to pelicans, so I’m scoring these sightings as “scores” for pelicans in the backyard bird races.

Science divides cormorants into 40 species of aquatic birds.  Some souls (probably the “sharp-shinned” bunch), further divide away and claim a subgroup of “shags,” as a separate type of cormorant.   

But a cormorant here is a “shag” over there.  Please, no “shag” jokes or references about all the shags in the British Isles, unless the references are extremely funny.

 Cormorants ride the winds everywhere in the world except for a few Pacific islands which have remained beyond their endurance.  They are fish eating, coastal rather than oceanic birds.  They can dive to 150 feet (45 meters).

Bethany Lake is roughly 40 miles from the Pacific coast.  This Winter six or more cormorants flocked there.  They are big birds with 4 foot wingspans (GB Herons are 6 feet).  They have an extended ritual of sitting on logs with their wings fully outstretched, to dry their feathers.  

In previous years, I have only seen one cormorant at Bethany Lake in the winter.  A couple of weeks ago I saw six or more.  They like the view from the massive transmission lines, some 60-80 feet high, that tower over the nearby right of way. The cormorants also cut quite a swath when they cruise the lake’s surface among the ducks and geese, their sea-serpent curved necks seemingly alert, followed by synchronized  diving.

They eat mostly fish, and the Parks Department stocks the lakes with small trout.  I’ve seen minnows and sunfish in the lake also. 

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Leafless hardwood forests crowd the south bank of the lake.  Rock Creek enters the lake near the dark snag, left-center.  Large cedars, firs, and redwoods provide shelter, shade and food. Canadian Geese and mallards dot the water.

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A brown-headed duck that is casting an optical illusion onto me.

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More pretty ducks.

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3 …. 2 …..

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  1 ….. all wings pumping …. legs coiling …

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A cormorant relentlessly paints the western sky. 

Cornell notes that Cormorants are a species of low concern, with 740,000 breeding birds in North America.  However a relentless foe kills tens of thousands of cormorants and destroys thousands more nests every year. 

At one point in 2016,  the Oregon cormorant colony, centered on Sand Island on the Columbia River, had collapsed.  It was about 100 miles from Bethany Lake.   It was the loss of the largest double-breasted cormorant colony in the World, according to the Audubon Society.  Are these recent arrivals fleeing from Sand Island?  ca.audubon.org/…

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Herons aren’t at Bethany Lake 100% of the time these days.  When they are there, they use several different fishing spots, rather than one favored spot. 
They haven’t come by my house for awhile. 
I have not seen the cormorants bicker with the herons or any fowl, but the cormorants must be tough competitors for fish. Herons and cormorants both have long snakelike necks, but the cormorants can dive, too.

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Thanks again;

What have you noted in your area or travels? Any stealthy critters in your yard? Please post your observations and general location in your comments. I’ll check back later.

/s/ Redwoodman