First, a disclaimer. These are not tack-sharp photos.
The IS (image stabilization) inside my Olympus is pretty darned good. And with the right shutter speeds, I can brace the camera to produce crisp images without a tripod or monopod — which is super, because I’m often taking pictures in the context of a hike where carrying a tripod is cumbersome. I’m not so much a photographer as I am a hiker with a camera. I’m not so much a hiker as I am a photographer on a hike. In other words, I’m lousy company on a trail because of this identity confusion.
Double-Crested Cormorant & Fish
Here are some images I took on the fly a few days ago of a Double-crested Cormorant fishing. On this go-round, the lack of tack-sharp focus was not an issue of a missing tripod. It was a technical oversight on my part which is why it’s important to know where your settings are when you’re ready to take the shot.
I moved quickly with the cormorant and forgot to switch my image stabilization off. Having IS on when you are moving the camera confuses the mechanism and will screw up your panning no matter how accurate your focus. Unless you look at these images at full size, they look fine. But the crop betrays the shake:
What I Like About Double-Crested Cormorants
Now that’s out of the way, I can tell you how much I love cormorants. They’re almost reptilian in their sleekness and motion: quick darts of the bill and a sheen of waterproofing on their feathers. They’ll skim the water’s surface with their wings, reducing drag as they stay close to the waves on the bay.
My favorite cormorant encounters are the frenzies — where cormorants, Brown Pelicans, and egrets follow a shoal of fish across the water’s surface in a literal frenzy of swooping, diving, and snagging their food. Herring runs draw hundreds of birds in this way around the bay. I’ve seen smaller frenzies in places like Arrowhead Marsh.
Cormorants v Human Anglers
Cormorants have a contentious history with human anglers. There’s not much evidence to suggest that Double-crested Cormorants are causing the damage to fish populations that anglers blame them for. Some studies suggest that cormorants don’t tend to take the fish prized by anglers. (You can read the Fish and Wildlife Service’s take on cormorants here.)
Because these birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treat Act, they’ve enjoyed a resurgence in numbers throughout the world. With those numbers come the inevitable conflicts with people. People do apply for and get depredation permits to kill cormorants for various reasons.
As you might suspect, I side with the cormorant on this one. I realize that’s my default position in the cases of human-wildlife conflicts which might be deemed simplistic. But I’m sticking to it.
This cormorant pose is most likely wing drying, although thermoregulation has also been tossed about as a possible mechanism. You’ll see Double-crested Cormorants huddled in great numbers sometimes, wings outstretched or flapping.