Sunday, February 12, 2012

New Zealand: Interlude with Cormorants

On March 11, on our way north from Moeraki to Christchurch, we stopped for a break along a somewhat desolate stretch of shingle beach near Oamaru.  

Here I found a gang of immature Spotted Shags (Stictocarbo punctatus) lounging on the beach.  To say that they were approachable would be an understatement.

Now, this is birding!

The immatures are far less striking than the exceedingly handsome adults, but at this range I wasn't about to complain.  There is no identification issue - no other cormorant in the area has such a long, thin bill. 

These photos  show nicely why cormorants used to be called "totipalmate" - all four toes are webbed, one more than on a duck.

Portraits, under such circumstances, were a pleasure to take.

The birds whiled away their time by preening - running their feathers through their bills...

...or rubbing their heads against their oil-secreting uropygial glands, and spreading the secretions over their backs.

These photos demonstrate a remarkable cormorant anatomical feature: kinesis, the ability to flex the upper mandible upwards - in this case, to a remarkable degree!

It was difficult to tear myself away from such cooperative birds...

But here, for good measure, is a bit of video.

Eileen, meanwhile, enjoyed the beach itself.  It is remarkable what a variety of colourful, attractive stones go to make up a New Zealand beach, and while I watched the cormorants Eileen assembled a small collection that now graces our Canadian home.

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