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Cormorants dot the sycamores near the bridge

By Staff | Apr 17, 2017

The meandering Potomac River must have the right water temperature here in the first weeks of April because the hook-billed cormorants can be seen resting in the sycamore trees on the Maryland side of the stream, near the bridge that has Ferry Hill on the bluff above its roadway.

Cormorants come to Shepherdstown expecting to find white perch and shad that migrate up the Potomac to spawn.

The birds park themselves in the still leafless trees and patiently wait for the meals they believe will be available when the spawners come.

Teal-colored eyes peer into the waters.

Long necks that appear to be like the crooks in a staff of herdsmen are craned.

This an ungainly-looking bird . . . but appearances are deceiving.

A powerful swimmer that can see underwater when chasing its prey, a cormorant can quickly dive after a meal when it seems only on the river for a leisurely swim.

A long, hooked bill juts from the stylish head.

This is not a delicate bird with lightweight bones.

When chasing a meal, the cormorant lies low in the water because its feathers can’t shed water like ducks or geese do.

The dark-colored birds might be gliding along on the water’s surface . . . and suddenly disappear below.

When surfacing, the soaked-feathered swimmer goes to the shoreline to dry off. They spread their wings, which might have a span of 52 inches with aged adults.

The sun does the drying for them.

If the perch or shad aren’t numerous enough to satisfy any birds appetite, they will go after eels, any small fish or crustaceans that might present themselves.

Cormorants have been returning to the sycamores for years now.

They aren’t as famous as the swallows of Capistrano or the turkey vultures in Hinckley, Ohio . . . but you’ll know the waters of the slow-paced Potomac are ripe for better fishing when the cormorants come back.

The usual daily consumption of fish for a hard-laboring bird with the smallish pouch beneath his hooked bill is about one pound.

They come in silently but make an audible grunt when settled in after a quickly eaten meal.

And then depart just as quietly when the spawning run is over.

Their presence is also a sign the Potomac continues to recover from the decades of the 1950’s and 1960’s when sewage and runoff from mines farther west and drainage from farms caused some serious pollution at times.

The cormorants are easy to spot as they dangle from the trees . . . and they are welcomed every spring to do the fishing in late March and early April that gives us a chance to commune with nature as a not-too-close observer.