Friday, May 18, 2012

Patience Rewarded.....Pacific Gull

Interactions between birds are always interesting, and it's easy to second guess the outcome, as I did on this occasion. I had briefly stopped at Lauderdale Canal on the way home from birding. There is almost always something to watch there, much of it commonplace, but I caught sight of a Pacific Gull washing and thought it worthy of recording it photographically.
     Around many of the bays and inlets, pairs of Pacific Gulls are encountered at this time of year. They often set up exclusive territories, becoming quite aggressive to others of their species who venture too near. One such pair calls the Lauderdale Canal home. They spend much of their time loafing about, and although they are quite obviously a 'pair', they are seldom seen together, even when food is around. Because the canal perimeter is a popular walk, they are used to the close proximity of humans, and the bird pictured allowed close approach. I spent several minutes photographing this gull, when I noted an immature Black-faced Cormorant diving for fish as it passed by. These cormorants are frequent visitors to the canal during the Winter months, feeding on the schools of small fish 'trapped' in the canal as the tide falls. I should mention here that although called a "canal" it is only open at one end, only ever having been a true canal very briefly, since the 19th century when it was constructed.
After one dive, the Black-faced surfaced carrying a decent size fish, which I incorrectly surmised was a flounder. The Pacific Gull had noticed this too and stopped washing and slowly swam towards the cormorant. Perhaps rather over eagerly, I suspected that I might get shots of a free for all, and watched expectantly. The Pacific swam to a metre or so away and just watched and waited. The cormorant was having difficulty in turning the fish round--they swallow fish head first--and several times the fish appeared to escape but was quickly recaptured. That was not all for despite these birds capability to swallow quite large fish, this was patently too big for it to swallow, but it persisted. The shot of the cormorant was its' last try. It gave up. The Pacific Gull swam over, retrieved the, by now, dead fish and carried it to the far bank of the canal. It was at this point that I realised that the fish was a Leatherjacket, complete with a large vertical dorsal spine (visible in the lower shot). No wonder the cormorant couldn't swallow this fish. Although, as the name 'leatherjacket' implies, this fish has a tough skin, the Pacific Gull had no difficulty in tearing the fish open. Pacifics have, arguably, the bulkiest bill of any gull worldwide. It was an interesting encounter, but I have to confess I did feel a little disappointed that it had turned out so meekly!