Sunday, 17 December 2017

A dinosaur at the mill

Today in amongst the remains of the snow and approaching rain I made my usual patch visit. I was pleased to run into the Tit Flock, containing some goldcrest. The cold weather had no doubt brought them out from their solitary life in amongst the yews in search of wood. Safety is always greater in a flock and so they had joined the Great Tits, Blue Tits and Coal Tits flitting around the bridge.

Now the vegetation has died back it is once more easier to walk directly beside the river and it was here at the far end of the site that I came across a young cormorant perched above the water.

You can tell it is a juvenile because the front plumage is still so white.It will lose all these white feathers by its 2nd winter. The Cormorant is often seen as a coastal bird and indeed that is its primary habitat. In recent decades, however, the abundance of fish in rivers and lakes has resulted in many of them making inland regions their home.They can often be seen nesting alongside Herons. I have seen Cormorant fishing on the Avon before and know they frequent Brandon Marsh, Coombe Abbey and Draycote Water.

One of the interesting facts about cormorants is that their feathers are not waterproof. This is an amazing thing given their preference for fish. It is why after fishing you will often see them sitting with their wings out drying off.

I have always liked cormorants there is something primitive and ancient about them. If ever a bird looked like its dinosaur ancestors then cormorants do. It is something about the cold blue eye above the patch of yellow skin and hooked beak.

Cormorants are in the family, Phalacrocoracidae and closely related to Pelicans. They have a long lineage. They first appear in almost the same morphology in the fossil record as a species called Gansus yumenensis. It was found in sediments in China from the Early Cretaceous some 120 million years ago. A time in which they shared with dinosaurs like Iguanadons, Compsognathus and Utahraptor. The modern cormorant like the one pictured here was first in evidence during the late Paleogene 66 million years ago. 

The hooked bill helps catch and hold the fish and the feet are placed right at the back of the bird that makes movement on land awkward but makes them powerful and agile swimmers. They are a successful species able to live across much of the globe. It is always a treat to see one so far from the cliffs of the coast.

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