Like, OMG, they have crests

In decades of living at White Rock Lake where double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) are year-round residents, I never captured a photo of one with breeding crests, the one physical trait from which their name is derived.  Oh sure, I’d seen the crests before.  But a picture?  Nope, not so much.

Until now.

Double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) with breeding crests (2010_04_03_051914)

A few days ago as I walked along the north bank of Dixon Branch, the lazy sun still hanging low enough in the southern sky to make the creek one vast reflection of blinding starlight, I spied a dark form as it emerged from beneath the cover of riparian brush.  With me facing into the sunshine and this specter in the shadows, I couldn’t tell what it was but could tell it was large enough not to be a duck.

Double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) with breeding crests (2010_04_03_051922)

It eventually moved close enough for me to see it clearly.  And it was near enough to my position for me to recognize the crests.  Then the scramble was on to capture an image or two before it moved into the direct sunshine where my position would make it impossible to photograph.

Double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) with breeding crests (2010_04_03_051942)

Though I reviled the inconvenience of having the sun in my eyes—and therefore in the lens—even a backlit crested cormorant is better than none at all.

And a few hours later as I looped around the creek and headed back along the south bank, guess who came by heading back toward the shadows of the creek?

Double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) with breeding crests (2010_04_03_052001)

I felt somewhat overjoyed with the encounter.  These birds are always here, right?  So why be ecstatic with just one more double-crested cormorant, a species so ubiquitous that I can photograph them any day of the year?

Because: Look it!  Crests!

Double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) with breeding crests (2010_04_03_051983)

Though really more like tufts of poorly groomed feathers on either side of the head.  But still.

Ah…  Photos twenty years in the making.  I’m feeling, like, totally accomplished.

(Now marking off yet another entry from the “must photograph” list.  Only a gazillion more items to go…)

26 thoughts on “Like, OMG, they have crests”

  1. Excellent. Glad you accomplished this goal ๐Ÿ™‚ I can sense your excitement and relief! But I understand…I have a few good handfuls of nemesis shots…one day! The pictures came out great, the light really doesn’t seem bad considering you said it was backlit. He’s a good looking bird! I think cormorants look much prettier in water than out . Love the post !

    1. Thanks, Jill! You know, it’s the little things that count–like taking some doggone photos of the crests. And I love the term “nemesis shots”! Yes, that pretty much sums up the way I view them.

    1. You got that right about the eyes, Marie-Ann. Lighting is everything if you want to capture the crystal blue (mostly they look dark). But watch out if you get good illumination because they’re spectacular–like something you can get lost in.

  2. Big grin at your title!

    The crests remind me of crazy-old-man-eyebrows.

    What beautiful eyes! Makes me wonder if he sees things differently than we do.

    Congrats on the great shots, Jason!

    1. You know, Joy, I see these birds so often that I sometimes forget to point out how magical their eyes are. But I never fail to appreciate that breathtaking beauty.

  3. Breeding crests!!! So that’s what they are! The pheasants here get those little horns above their eyes at this time of the year, but I didn’t realise they had a name. I learn so much from this site.

    Great photographs Jason of a handsome subject. And yes, those polished gemstone eyes set in speckled bands against that fantastic sulphur yellow… just wild.

    My friend the food photographer Jess Koppel was here yesterday. We were walking in the garden while she talked about her mentor and art teacher the late Esther Grainger. Suddenly Jessie laughed and pointed at a clump of snake-head fritillaries, remarking that if there is a heaven, then Esther is up there painting the chequers on fritillaries ready for spring. I don’t believe in any heaven beyond the glories of this earth, but if there were, then I’d vote to spend eternity painting the face of every Phalacrocorax auritus that had to be got ready for the mating season. LOL!

    1. I know the crests only show up when they’re in breeding plumage, Clive, so I figure breeding crests is the best way to describe them. (Though now I might be stuck on Jain’s crazy-old-man-eyebrows description!)

      See, I’m with you: I think cormorants are beautiful–the gemstone eyes, the bright sunglow color of the gular skin and lores, the abyssal black plumage… I think they aren’t appreciated as much as they should be.

      And I love your idea of heaven! Not only entertaining, but a worthwhile way to be happy.

  4. Great photos of these guys! We used to see tooooons of them back in Toronto, where there was a colony on the waterfront, but being away from Lake Ontario now I haven’t seen one in ages. Never got such a good look at one as you seem to have here. They get amazing breeding plumage, between the orange throat and green eyes. Beautiful birds, really.

    1. Thank you, Seabrooke. I wholeheartedly agree: I think they’re quite the lookers. And in breeding plumage… Well, they take on a whole new air.

  5. Great crest capture. I love reading about White Rock Lake. I lived in Dallas for 16 years until moving away about 18 months ago. Used to walk & bike around White Rock. Living in NYC now but miss some of the birds of Dallas. Thanks for the post!

    1. Thank you, Melissa! And that’s so cool that you used to live in the area. I’ve always said White Rock is the only place to live if you’re going to live in Dallas. There’s so much nature right here in the middle of the city.

  6. OMG Jason, these are the most amazing photos of Cormorants I have ever seen! Like you and Jill, I have plenty of nemesis shots to explore and I’m glad to see you’ve gotten these gorgeous shots of the truly visible “Double-crested” Cormorant.

    That last photo really shows off the iridescent plumage, enchanting eyes and, of course, the crests that I didn’t even know existed! (Really, I always wondered why they were called double crested ๐Ÿ™‚ Plus that shot has that beautiful blue flowing water to enhance those eyes. Fabulous!

    1. You’re too kind, Larry. Thank you! It does seem most photographers have those bothersome nemesis shots. Which is fine by me since it keeps me trying–and while I’m trying I’m grabbing lots of other cool shots.

      You’re not the only one who wondered why they’re called “double-crested.” I have a photographer friend in the area who visits the lake often, and he was saying recently that he’d never seen the crests, let alone photographed them.

  7. Jason, Checking in from IATB 123. Great Shotsof that Double crested Cormorant. Now I also understand why it is called double-crested. Like Larry, never really got it, and I was never close enough to one. One on each side! That explains it.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Gunnar! I’m thrilled these photos helped explain the name. Personally, I was frustrated by not getting photos of the crests before now, so I’m feeling TOTALLY accomplished.

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