With over 30 participants, our “2nd Free Photography Gear Boot Camp” conducted last Sunday was a great success. It was a basic introduction to common photographic equipment along with few basic concepts of photography. After the camp, as I was returning back home from Mangalore, I spotted this little cormorant drying itself in the middle of the stagnant marshy field in Gurupura. Evening Sun was brightly lighting the Sylvania filled marsh as well as the bird. The only nearest approach to the bird was from the east. Capturing a dark bird against a bright Sun was a challenge. As a compromise I used the marsh as the background and tried my best to get the good exposure on this bird which is backlit. The pictures here are slightly cropped from the original capture.
Even though I was carrying every camera equipment and lenses I possess, which filled my car boot, what I took finally was Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM Lens + Canon EF 1.4x III Extender. I used my newly acquired Gitzo GM5541 Carbon Fiber Monopod to balance the weight. Monopod is important to take the load off your shoulder and allows you to keep your balance when you wade through weed filled marsh.
The little cormorant (Microcarbo niger) is a member of the cormorant family of seabirds. Slightly smaller than the Indian cormorant, it lacks a peaked head and has a shorter beak. It is widely distributed across the Indian Subcontinent and extends east to Java, where it is sometimes called the Javanese cormorant. It forages singly or sometimes in loose groups in lowland freshwater bodies, including small ponds, large lakes, streams and sometimes coastal estuaries. Like other cormorants, it is often found perched on a waterside rock with its wings spread out after coming out of the water. The entire body is black in the breeding season but the plumage is brownish, and the throat has a small whitish patch in the non-breeding season.
The little cormorant is only slightly smaller than the Indian cormorant (Phalacrocorax fuscicollis). The Indian cormorant has a narrower and longer bill which ends in a prominent hook tip, blue iris and a more pointed head profile. The breeding adult bird has a glistening all black plumage with some white spots and filoplumes on the face. There is also a short crest on the back of the head. The eyes, gular skin and face are dark. In the non-breeding bird or juvenile, the plumage is brownish and the bill and gular skin can appear fleshier. The crest becomes inconspicuous and a small and well-marked white patch on the throat is sometimes visible. The sexes are indistinguishable in the field, but males tend to be larger.
The species was described by Vieillot in 1817 as Hydrocorax niger. The genus Hydrocorax literally means water crow. It was later included with the other cormorants in the genus Phalacrocorax but recently they were placed under the smaller “microcormorants” under the genus Microcarbo.
The little cormorant is found across India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and lowland Nepal. It is also found in parts of Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Indonesia. It is not found in the Himalayas, but vagrants have been seen in Ladakh.It inhabits wetlands, ranging from small village ponds to large lakes, and sometimes tidal estuaries.
Little cormorants tend to forage mainly in small loose groups and are often seen foraging alone. They swim underwater to capture their prey, mainly fish. A study in northern India found that the little cormorant fished in water which was less than a metre deep and captured fishes of about 2–8 centimetres length. They propel themselves underwater using their webbed feet. Captured fishes are often brought up to the surface to swallow them and during this time other birds including other little cormorants, painted storks, gulls and egrets may attempt to steal them.
The breeding season of the little cormorant is between July to September in Pakistan and northern India and November to February in southern India. Males display at the nest site by fluttering their wings while holding their head back and bill raised. They then lower the bill, and after pairing the male also provides food to the female in courtship feeding. Both parents take part in building the nest, which is a platform of sticks placed on trees and sometimes even on coconut palms.
Little cormorants are vocal near their nest and roosts where they produce low roaring sounds. They also produce grunts and groans, a low pitched ah-ah-ah and kok-kok-kok calls. They roost communally often in the company of other water birds.