Cormorants

River Ij Sunrise I am lucky enough to live by a river.

From my window, a wide expanse of water, some five hundred metres wide, stretches from shore to shore.

It’s a working river, busy with barges laden with goods heading out towards the Rhine. Sailboats pass through here on their way to the small havens that lie just behind the lock gates. Cruise ships, tall as buildings, turn before my window, their passengers standing on deck, waving their hellos and goodbyes. On the far north shore, boats and ships lie in cradles in the dry dock awaiting repair.

With all the business, it is sometimes hard to notice that the river, as well as being a thoroughfare, is also home to a variety of wildlife.

Fishermen regularly pull out carp as wide and as long as their forearms, a sure sign that the river is still clean enough to support aquatic life, despite the tonnes of diesel fuel that is pumped out by the vessels making their way along the surface.

Herons can frequently be spotted standing perfectly still along the quays and canals, staring intently into the depths before plunging their razor sharp bills into the water to spear glistening silver scaled fish that are invisible to the human eye.

At this time of year, late spring and early summer, the chirps of fluffy baby moorhens can be heard from deep within the scraggly nests their parents have constructed from flotsam and jetsam.

Toddlers out walking with their parents make their first tender discoveries of the natural world, feeding the ducks that quack at their feet demanding bread.

Each of these sights is wondrous and delightful in their own way and fully deserving of a moments contemplation and appreciation.

But, as is perhaps the case with most things in life, familiarity can breed nonchalance.

And so it is, that this hum of activity goes on around me without my being conscious of it.

Sometimes however, something happens which zaps you back to attention.

Last October, I was walking the dog along the quayside early morning, enjoying the quiet and the relative emptiness that such moments bring.

I paid no heed to my surroundings, save to appreciate the stillness, and allowed myself to get lost in my thoughts.

Then I heard a strange sound behind me. A rustling whoosh, as if the wind had suddenly picked up, only the air was undisturbed. Nothing moved.

I turned to look and saw the most amazing sight.

A flock of cormorants, surely more than a hundred strong, was swooping in, their black, glossy wings catching the eastern sunlight as they tilted in to land on the water.

I have often seen the gulls flock together, bickering and cawing their shrill complaint, and I pay them little heed.

But the cormorants are usually spotted in pairs or, more often, they are alone.

So to see that black mass descend was mesmerising and surprising. One of those moments when you are caught unawares and can only stand still and gaze in wonder and awe.

They alighted on the water and stayed huddled together in their flock. I suppose they were preparing to head off on some migration and were gathering in preparation for the journey, because they did not dive or fish. They simply floated together on the water, preening their feathers and cackling in a light, high pitched caw.

I stood transfixed on the quay, unable to move, enjoying simply to watch. The dog strained on the lead, keen to get moving, but I knew that what I was seeing at that moment was not commonplace and was not something I may get the opportunity to enjoy again.

So we stayed there, staring out over the river, watching the birds, until some unheard signal was sounded and, as one, they rose from the water and took to the air, circling very briefly before filling the sky over my head and flying onwards to some unknown destination.

I have looked out for them ever since, hoping to experience it once more, but so far, to no avail.

Since that moment however, I have started to pay closer attention to the daily events that happen on the water. Events that I had failed to appreciate due to their commonplace nature.

Now, thanks to those cormorants, I see the things that were around me all along. Little moments that had passed me by.

Today, the baby moorhens were chirping away calling out to their parents from their hotchpotch nest. I watched them for a moment and smiled, for who can resist the sight of a fluffy chirping chick?

A man walking on the other side of the canal, saw me smiling and threw a glance at the water as he passed by. And seeing those chicks he also smiled, then caught my eye and laughed.

β€œNo better start to the day than this, is there?”

And I nod in agreement, “No there isn’t.”

Then we both set off on our business, our smiles a contagion that spreads from face to face as we walk on by.

Share Button

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *