Friday, August 24, 2012

The End of the Pier Show...

Roker pier and lighthouse, at the mouth of the river Wear in Sunderland. A fine place for a stroll on a summer's afternoon like today, with bright sunshine, barely a breath of wind and almost a flat calm sea at low tide. 

A good place to watch seabirds too, like this juvenile cormorant ....

......learning the art of diving for fish. The trick is to push down hard on the water surface with that broad tail, to give the dive a bit of momentum ...

.... and at the third attempt it caught this. It seemed surprised and not quite sure what to do with such a large and lively catch, which looks like it might be a an eel-pout .........

.... which are notoriously slimy ... which may be why the bird struggled with its grip, dropping and re-catching its prey twice ...

.... before it managed to get the fish's head into its throat and started to swallow it ....

.... which didn't go according to plan. The fish must have been putting up a fight inside the bird's throat because the cormorant regurgitated it ...

.... dunked it in the sea a few more times, then swallowed it again ...

 ....and this time the catch stayed down. Must be still wriggling though, judging from that thoughtful expression on the cormorant's face.

No such problems for the terns which fished alongside the pier.

The calm, sunlit water was remarkably clear, so you could see vast shoals of small fish swimming in unison above the sandy bottom. There must have been well over a 1000 in this shoal but the terns ignored them, even through they flew over them many times ..... maybe they were too small to merit a plunge-dive ....

.... or maybe they preferred to catch their fish in deeper water...

Meanwhile, alongside the pier this year's guillemot juveniles were relentlessly pursuing their parents ....

....... adopting a submissive posture .......

.... and calling incessantly for food .....

..... which must have been easy to spot by peering down into the sunlit water like this.....

...... and the water was so clear that I could watch the birds 'flying' underwater in pursuit of prey.


  1. A wonderful post Phil. So well observed, beautiful photos too. I love the cormorant sequence.

  2. Great shots of bird behaviour Phil.
    Always amazes me how some of these birds manage such big 'catches' at times.

  3. Thanks Africa, I was hoping to get a picture of a tern under water too, but maybe next time......!

  4. When I was watching the terns they caught something in about one in four dives Keith.

  5. Some wonderful images Phil.
    I've watched Grey Herons have similar problems with Eels, but they don't give up.:-)I watched one at Leighton Moss some years ago and the struggle went on for more than thirty minutes. Cheers.

  6. A wonderful post which left me giggling at the antics of the cormorant!

  7. Hi Brian, it's amazing what they manage to squeeze into their gizzards, isn't it? I have a similar memory of a heron on the River Aln swallowing a flounder, which was almost too wide to get into its throat. I could see it wriggling all the way down!

  8. I really did look as though it wasn't quite sure that the fish would stay down, lotusleaf!

  9. A very beautiful series of photos for the story, but i love most the clear photo of the school of fish. I wonder why i have not been here to this blog! I guess because i just depend on the feeds of the other blogsite.

  10. Hi Andrea, The fish were mesmerising. Every time one turned sharply the silvery scales on its underside flashed in the sunlight.

  11. Great captures! So the second time the unlucky eel was swallowed down it became a whole meal for the bird? Does the eel stand any chance of escaping the birds stomach and can the cormorant really digest it entirely and still spwriggling about!?


    1. Yes, they swallow them whole, intact, and then digest them!