Thursday, May 21, 2009

Brandt's cormorant
Phalacrocorax penicillatus

I wish I kept records of my observations from the past few years. Hopefully, this blog will motivate me to write down what I see, complete with dates!

I've witnessed the cormorants starting to build nests as early the first week of February. (honestly, I only know this b/c a friend of mine keeps a nature journal with dates and asked me when we're going out to check the cormorants). It's a very noticeable event, because they force the older, massive sea lions off the rocks... which is funny to think about - this dinky bird "bossing around" several-hundred pound, typically obstinate animals... plus, the rocks turn a bright white from all the poop. The courting cormorants are fun to watch as they stretch back their necks to reveal the brilliant blue throat patches. I think it was 2005 or 2006 when they successfully bred and laid eggs without interruption such that they had humongous, demanding chicks by this time of year. The poor parents often look smaller than their young by the time the chicks are ready to leave the nest. However, the past few years, they stopped building nests, disappeared, started again, stopped, disappeared, etc... Last year (or was it this year?), I thought a few late-season storms may have washed away their nests. It's odd to me that egg-laying doesn't happen at the same time each year, let alone within 3 months' time. I read in a Monterey Herald article that the cormorants have a "flexible" breeding schedule. This year there are very few cormorants and it seems very late for them to start building nests for the 3rd time this year. Notice the young sea lions in the background? In years past, older sea lions didn't appear to go on top of rocks until late in the chick-raising season. I know very little about birds, so I don't have my ornithology terminology down. I wonder what's going on.

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