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.
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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