Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, photographed in Volusia county, Florida (03 March 2014).
Monday 03 March 2014 was a busy day. My father –the enigmatic and curiously awesome Les Jones– underwent foot surgery the week prior. The medical folks played hell dealing with his pain meds and working against the onslaught of mayhem emanating from his non-cooperative nerve endings, but with everything balancing out it was finally time for him to make the transition from Florida Hospital in Orlando to a rehab facility closer to home in Mount Dora.
About a month ago, on 23 November, I took my dad out for a pontoon stroll of the St. Johns River and the southern rim of Lake George. This is right on the line between Lake and Volusia counties — the cradle of my youth. It’s a classic stretch of central Florida, and –along with the Tomoka River– the St. Johns is one of the iconic benchmarks of Floridana that always invokes memories of my own youth, of long ago pontoon strolls with my friends and family. We’re all much, much older now, and so too is the St. Johns River. Still, the old river has aged gracefully, despite human development and invasive plant species. For me, there’s a rejuvenating sensation sharing these waters again with my father — a collision of time and of experience.
Behold the mighty Phalacrocorax auritus! Yes, behold the hooked glory of the double-crested cormorant! Heh. As with the similar-looking anhinga (Anhinga anhinga), the double-crested cormorant is sometimes referred to as a “snake bird” because of its ability to swim under water entirely, raising only its head and neck above the waterline to look around. Also like the anhinga, the species will perch just above the water and hold its wings out in an angel-like pose, drying them in the sun. The two species are often confused with one another, but if you get a clear view of the face, look for the hook. If you see the hook at the end of the bill, you’re not looking at an anhinga. One of my Florida favorites (though they range throughout most of North America — even up to Alaska).
Photograph taken in the Florida Everglades, 23 November 2010.
This is an adult double-crested cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus, photographed on 11 February 2007 at Shark Valley (Everglades National Park). As noted earlier on Dust Tracks, from a distance double-crested cormorants are often confused with anhingas (Anhinga anhinga); both birds are large, black, and dive well under the water, sometimes swimming with only their head and long neck above the waterline. Both species also bask in the sun with wings outstretched to dry their feathers. If you look a bit closer at their faces and beaks, however, differences are quite evident. Double-crested cormorants have hooked beaks and orange-to-yellow gular-skinned (featherless) faces. Anhingas have straight, non-hooked beaks and more streamlined, darker faces.
One last note: this species ranges from Florida all the way up to Alaska. Every time I’d see one of the Alaskan double-crested cormorants I’d find myself extraordinarily excited. Granted, I didn’t see very many, only a few actually –and never within photo-shooting range–, but I did spot a few. A bad ass bird, no doubt.
What’s next? Well, I’ll give you a hint: it’s another bird. Another bad ass bird. A real joker.