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Greetings and salutations fellow bucketeers.  Good to be posting a diary again after a quiet spell.  Unfortunately no photos in this one (I was more focused on solutions than documentation) but hopefully the story will make up for it.

And don't forget to add to the bucket.

The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group.  It is a place to note of any observations you have made of the world around you.  Rain, sun, wind...insects, birds, flowers...meteorites, rocks...seasonal changes...all are worthy additions to the bucket.  Please let us know what is going on around you in a comment.  Include, as close as is comfortable for you, where you are located. Each note is a record that we can refer to in the future as we try to understand the patterns that are quietly unwinding around us.

Saturday afternoon I was leaving to run a short errand.  As I started backing down the drive I caught a flash of movement off to my right.  Seemed big enough to be a dog so I stopped to look.  A double-crested cormorant was struggling to clamber up into the shrubby trees separating our property from the vacant house next door.  When I got out to take a closer look the bird jumped rather inelegantly out of the tree and ran at a surprising speed under the vacant home.  I left, not really wanting pursue it under the house, and hoping it would come out and find its way down to the lake, only a hundred yards or so away.

When I returned I found the bird perching, more more elegantly, on the edge of our swimming pool.  It's big black flappy feet neatly curled over the rim and it stood very still and ever so slightly leaning out over the water.  I went down to the pool area as I was part way through a project there and needed to finish up.  Also I hoped my presence might induce the bird to leave.

No such luck.  It became obviously nervous when I approached and then dove into the pool.  I got a nice look at it swimming underwater while I did my caulking.  Unlike their close cousin, the Anhinga, cormorants don't use their wings underwater and swim exclusively with their feet.  It eventually exited the pool on the opposite side from where I was working and watched me carefully from the deck until I left.  We stayed away from the pool for a while in the hopes that the bird would leave on its own.

A bit later we left the house for a short walk and on returning found the bird outside the inner pool gate (the pool has a low metal fence around it and then a larger portion of the yard has a high wooden fence).  I thought that I would use a broom to chase the cormorant out of the fenced in area and then down towards the water.  However the bird frantically threw itself against the gate even when I walked right up to it (as well as threatening me with its sizeable beak).  My interpretation was that it viewed the pool as a place of safety where it could escape danger and it wanted to get back there.  Even when prodded with broom it couldn't be dissuaded from trying to get back to the pool.  I went to the house to get a blanket as I figured I could catch it now.  However when I got back it had managed to get over the fence and was back at the pool where it would not allow close approach.

The hour was growing late so I left both gates open and left the bird alone until morning.  Just before dusk it seemed to be gone and I had high hopes that it had left.

However in the AM it was back, standing on one foot, again nicely balanced right on the lip of the pool.  I decided to take a more active approach and tried to chase it out of the pool area using our long-handled pool net.  This quickly established two things.  First, as I had suspected, the bird was not injured, at least not seriously.  It was capable of flight but was unable to get more than about a foot off the ground in the pool area and then would have to land to avoid colliding with a tree, fence, or wall.  As a heavy-bodied, short-winged bird it takes a bit of effort for these birds to take off and gain elevation.  In other words they need a bit of a runway.

The cormorant also appeared to still strongly associate the pool with safety and was agile enough to easily evade my clumsy attempts to force it to leave its perceived sanctuary.  My efforts did provide some entertainment to our elderly cat, Max.  In his old age he no longer poses much of a threat to wildlife so he is allowed outside quite freely, where he mostly just sleeps.  He heard the splashing and came down to the pool.  I saw him standing, perfectly still with his eyes very wide, staring at the cormorant from the gateway.  I don't think he would have actually gone after the bird but his presence wasn't helping matters as he wasn't trained as a sea bird herder.

I gave up for a while, brought Max inside, and then came back for a second attempt.  There had been one brief minute the first time where I had got the net between the bird and the pool.  I thought maybe I could do it again if I moved slowly and then actually keep it from jumping in while I threw a blanket over it.

Slow movement worked really well and to my amazement I got the net over its head almost immediately.  And then brought the net down to the ground with the bird inside.  Upended the net and had a very surprised cormorant inside.

I hadn't really planned on this and given the circumstances it seemed like the best plan was to walk the bird, inside the net, down to the lake.  It turned out the net was perfectly suited to holding a cormorant.  Deep enough that the bird fit way down inside and narrow enough that it could barely open its wings at all and thus couldn't struggle and hurt itself.  I couldn't really put the net down so off I went without any more ado.

As it was Sunday morning and a bit foggy after a cool night no one else was about and I made the quarter mile walk to the lake access without anyone stopping to remark on the undoubtedly odd sight of a guy carrying a 12 foot long pool net with a cormorant inside.  At first I just left the top open with the cormorant looking at me and gaping at me.  However it began to struggle a bit after a while and so I draped the blanket over the top.

Cormorants, like other diving birds, have (for birds) dense bones and are relatively heavy.  Info online said 3-4 pounds.  Doesn't sound like much but at the end of a long pole carrying one can get a bit tiresome.  However we made it to the lake without incident.  No fishermen were about so I used the boat ramp area to give the bird a clear shot to the open water with no emergent vegetation in the way.  I was a bit concerned it would get tangled in the net when put it down.  No need to have worried.  I lowered the net to the ground slowly and pulled off the blanket.  The cormorant jumped out and was running over the surface of the lake and taking off in an instant.  It flew low over the lake for a couple of hundred yards and then landed in the water, only half visible in the fog.

Relieved of my responsibility I headed back home.  I did pass two groups of neighbors out for early Sunday strolls.  Then I did have to explain myself - no more cormorant but still out for a stroll with a gigantic pool net!

I'm not sure if the bird was young and thus not a good flier or if it had landed to avoid an eagle or what.  It seemed healthy and vigorous although I only saw it fly briefly.  In any event it stands much better chance in a large lake full of fish than it does hanging out by our fish free pool.

Some background:  Cormorants are members of the family Phalacrocoracidae, diving birds that capture fish underwater using their hooked beaks.  The name cormorant appears to have been derived, either directly, or indirectly through celtic languages, from the latin words for sea and raven.  There are quite a few species of cormorants ranging over much of the world, mostly in coastal regions although some species live in freshwater as well.  One of their most obvious characteristics is standing with their wings spread to dry after swimming.  Their wings are not as water resistant as other birds, presumably to decrease buoyancy, and so drying is necessary.

The Double-crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax aurites, is by far the most widespread North American species, occurring on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and is also widespread in many parts of the interior of North America.  It is a common year round resident of Florida.  In my experience cormorants are abundant in estuaries and other nutrient rich coastal environments but can be seen in smaller numbers anywhere there are suitably large bodies of water.

Originally posted to Backyard Science on Mon Oct 28, 2013 at 06:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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