Monday, October 10, 2011


Another close encounter

I enjoy meeting other species in unexpected circumstances. We had an encounter earlier this year with a snake in Central Corsica, and just over a year ago we met a whale shark off the West coast of Australia.

I had another encounter today, at one of our favourite beaches – Arinella in the Balagne...

A cormorant had been fishing just off the beach and we had been watching it. Surprisingly, it seemed completely oblivious to the people in the water. Needless to say we decided to investigate! Donning my mask and snorkel, out I went into the bay and entered the water as close to the bird as I could.

The reason for the bird’s interest in the shallows became apparent immediately – there were thousands of little fish shoaling a couple of yards off the beach. Ducking my head under the almost completely clear water, I was able to see the bird at work.

On the surface of the sea, you could mistake a cormorant for a black duck with a thin, long neck; below, they look more like sharks or seals. Once in pursuit of a fish, the bird doubled its length and halved its width, streaking through the shallows with enormous speed and power, changing direction and sometimes doubling back on itself, only occasionally surfacing for air.

Once, it came straight for me, swerving only at the last minute to avoid me, passing within a foot, silvery bubbles clinging in patches to its black, oily feathers. The little bird stayed with us for most of an afternoon, giving amusement and pleasure to everyone on the beach.

Not quite on the scale of a whale shark, but in its way just as impressive. I’m sorry the picture I took is of the bird on the surface – he (or she?) looked much more dramatic beneath it.

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