Project 366 – Post No. 273 – Cormorant colony

What is Project 366? Read more here.

On this day a year ago I was in the southern hemisphere at the edge of the Pacific Ocean in a small seaside village called Puerto Saavedra around 38th southern parallel. As we were walking along the ocean, Red-legged Cormorants were skimming along the tips of the breaking waves on their way out towards the sea or on their way back towards the shore. The inbound cormorants disappeared behind a cliff face jutting out across the beach. We made our way towards the cliff and as we emerged on the other side of the bend the cliff face continued into the distance. The cliff face closes to us was covered in Red-legged cormorants both sitting in pairs on tiny ledges. It was a spectacular sight and completely unexpected as there did not seem to be a report that there was a cormorant colony located here. While there were a few reports Red-legged Cormorants in this area on eBird, no report had been submitted from this exact location and with this many birds. The largest reported number of individuals was 88 birds from a location several hundred meters south of our colony while the rest of the handful of reports only counted a few individuals. There must have been several hundred birds visible on the cliff and quite likely there were many more past the next bend a few hundred meters away. The Red-legged Cormorants, locally referred to as Lile, are handsome looking and quite distinct from other cormorants I have seen. They are predominantly smoky grey colored with a white patch on their neck and red feet. Wikipedia reports that it is a non-colonial seabird living in pairs or small groups while eBird reports it as “scattered individuals”. Our observation would suggest that they do indeed live in colonies (at least on occasion). It is worth mentioning that Jaramillo’s field guide to The Birds of Chile states that the Red-legged Cormorant “breeds in loose colonies on cliffs”. I am with Jaramillo on this one!

Since this was during my pre-camera days the following pictures were taken by our fellow photographing birders on this day (Thanks Patricia and Francisco).

Red-legged Cormorant coming in for landing at the edge of the cliff. Photo courtesy of Patricia and Francisco.
A couple of cormorants barely hanging on to the cliff which at this location was past vertical. Photo courtesy of Patricia and Francisco.
Counting cormorants.

Our eBird report for the day went as follows:

 Boca Budi, Araucanía, CL
Dec 27, 2018 11:41 AM - 1:28 PM
Protocol: Traveling
1.531 kilometer(s)
4 species
Kelp Gull (Larus dominicanus)  4
Red-legged Cormorant (Phalacrocorax gaimardi)  300     Nesting colony on cliff face. 100 m north along the beach from Boca Budi restaurant (38*49’17’’S 73*23’57’’). Adults collecting seaweed for nest building. Many nests with visible chick and adult feeding behaviour. Estimated minimum 300 individuals on cliff gave from photo. More individuals were seen flying in and out bound beyond far cliff strongly suggesting that 300 is an underestimate. All observed individuals exhibited characteristics identification marks of the species (whitish patch on neck sides, grey upper and underparts, bright yellow bill and red legs)
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)  2
Chimango Caracara (Milvago chimango)  2 

After spending a long time admiring the cormorants it had become lunch time, so we for a bite to eat to the restaurant mentioned in the report. Recently I found out that the restaurant, which used to be perched perilously at the very edge of the sea, was claimed by the sea during the Chilean winter. I wonder what has happened to the cormorant colony. While most of the nests were well out of reach of the waves, it was evident that the pounding action of the waves was “eating away” at the base of the cliff and that the cliff was likely not very stable.

May the curiosity be with you. This is from “The Birds are Calling” blog ( Copyright Mario Pineda.