“Gulp” is the term of art for a flock of cormorants. You can usually see a few Double-crested Cormorants on the breakwater just west of the parking circle at the end of Spinnaker Way. On this occasion, my camera caught a big gulp. Some message had gone out to cormorants in the wider area to come and assemble on this narrow roost at this time, and they came. And came. And came. They landed practically on top of each other. They looked like the NY subway at rush hour. Bills snapped and wing-elbows flexed. A few birds got pushed off the side and found a spot on the pilings below. When the influx ceased, there must have been several hundred.
What was the occasion? Whenever a lot of birds congregate in one spot, the question of communication rises in my mind. How did they know to come there at that time? When more than a hundred pelicans assemble from different directions to hunt herring or anchovies, I can believe that a few birds act as scouts and go tell the others, or in the alternative that the different groups all remember or suspect that fish are running at this spot this time of year and independently come for that material reason. But what brought these cormorants together? Nobody was serving lunch there. I saw no hanky-panky; the season for that is over. The birds were silent, not making conversation. It wasn’t freezing cold — just the opposite — so they weren’t huddling for warmth. It was morning, so they weren’t settling in to sleep. What brought them together in these numbers here? I looked at the write-ups and found only general observations that these birds tend to be very social (when they aren’t being solitary). I’m afraid this Big Gulp is another entry in my MATWOB file (Mysterious Are The Ways Of Birds).
A bit earlier, before the birds arrived in large numbers, at the far end of the concrete structure a Double-crested Cormorant and a Pelagic Cormorant stood facing one another. Apart from occasionally looking at each other, they had no interaction. The smaller Pelagic held its position throughout the mass gathering of Double-crested. The other birds left it alone, and it remained the sole member of its ilk. Whatever bell had rung applied only to the Double-crested.
I had seen a solo Pelagic Cormorant, perhaps the same individual, in this spot in previous visits. Pelagics can be seen here with some frequency but are not nearly as common as their larger and more colorful cousins. When seen, they are usually solitary. To see as many as three or four Pelagics in a gulp is an occasion.