Sunday, January 2, 2011

Cormorants

"On the land they are dull and heavy" wrote the Reverend F.O. Morris B.A., describing cormorants in his A History of British Birds (3rd. edn., 1891). They may be heavy but this prolific (and often unreliable) 19th. century author and naturalist can't have looked too closely at cormorants because their feathers have a very attractive blue-green-purple iridescence when their plumage catches the light at the right angle. 


These birds, looking very satisfied with their morning's fishing, were roosting in the trees on the banks of the Tyne between Wylam and Newburn today.  Morris describes how cormorants were once tamed in Britain for fishing, mentioning that "King James the First was fond of this pursuit, and had a 'Master of the Royal Cormorants' ". Apparently the birds were kept in ponds at the site of the present Houses of Parliament. Morris personally watched tame cormorants kept by a Captain Salvin catching trout for their master in a small beck near his home in Yorkshire, but doesn't mention how the birds were persuaded not to swallow the fish; I imagine their throats were constricted with a ligature. 






















The fishing skills of cormorants have long been resented by anglers, who still regard them with murderous intent. Morris mentions that shooting cormorants was once considered something of a challenge, even when they were only swimming rather than flying."In the old days of flint-and-steel guns," he wrote, "the first flash used to send the cormorant down, so quick was his eye, and even now it is difficult to get within shot." Cormorants may be adept at eluding shooters, but one unfortunate bird didn't see an express train coming. Morris relates the tale of a bird that "was struck down and killed by the funnel of the engine of an express train, as it was crossing the Lock of Spynie, in Elginshire, on 20th. of September 1852", which may well be the first account of a bird killed by the new-fangled technology of a steam train.

8 comments:

  1. I think fishermen dislike them because they are better at fishing. lol
    Lovely birds. There's quite a roost of them on my local lake.

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  2. Interesting post! Your post on the Stoat's Christmas dinner was superb! Happy New Year!

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  3. Great photos Phil. It was only a few days ago I was watching an episode of Wild China which had film of tame Cormorants fishing underwater - excellent swimmers.

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  4. Looked at closely, I always think there is something of the primeval about these birds. Very distinctive in flight too. Happy New Year! Brian.

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  5. Hi Keith, they are indeed formidable fishers - I have a picture somewhere of one swallowing a very large flatfish

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  6. Thanks lotusleaf - Happy New Year!

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  7. I recall seeing a film of the Chinese fishing cormorants John - much easier than with a rod and line, i think!

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  8. Hi know what you mean Brian, looking at them it's easy to believe that birds are descended from dinosaurs! All the best for 2011, Phil

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