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Devil's Cormorant

A Natural History

Richard J. King

Publication Year: 2013

Behold the cormorant: silent, still, cruciform, and brooding; flashing, soaring, quick as a snake. Evolution has crafted the only creature on Earth that can migrate the length of a continent, dive and hunt deep underwater, perch comfortably on a branch or a wire, walk on land, climb up cliff faces, feed on thousands of different species, and live beside both fresh and salt water in a vast global range of temperatures and altitudes, often in close proximity to man. Long a symbol of gluttony, greed, bad luck, and evil, the cormorant has led a troubled existence in human history, myth, and literature. The birds have been prized as a source of mineral wealth in Peru, hunted to extinction in the Arctic, trained by the Japanese to catch fish, demonized by Milton in Paradise Lost, and reviled, despised, and exterminated by sport and commercial fishermen from Israel to Indianapolis, Toronto to Tierra del Fuego. In The Devil's Cormorant, Richard King takes us back in time and around the world to show us the history, nature, ecology, and economy of the world's most misunderstood waterfowl.

Published by: University of New Hampshire Press

Cover

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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-9

Contents

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pp. 10-13

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March

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pp. 1-2

...Island has neither trees nor any real foliage, only the spongy brown dirt and sand that have settled between piles of granite rocks and boulders. The cormorants find that heavy winter weather has blown away nearly all of the nests built last year. In their current form, cormorants have migrated along the eastern coast of North America for millions of years. The earliest progenitors of this species...

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1 | Gifu City

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pp. 3-22

...of the emperor. He is one of only six usho in Gifu City, the most esteemed area for cormorant fishing in Japan. His official title is Cormorant Fishing Master of the Board of Ceremonies of the Imperial Household Agency. It is a hereditary position. Yamashita’s extended family of cormorant fishermen can be traced back seventeen generations...

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April

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p. 23-23

...bright blue color of their gapes. They will be the first pair to breed on the island this year. She stands up in the nest. She expands her orange gular pouch and opens her beak again, arching her back. The male mounts her. He holds her neck with his beak, spreading his wings occasionally to keep his balance. He presses his swollen cloaca to hers...

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2 | Henderson Harbor

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pp. 24-47

...told them what I wanted to do. We knew it was illegal, but we had to send a loud message. I told them it’s a fifty-fifty chance we were going to get caught. But we either lose our business or take the chance. I asked if they were in or if they were out. Five said they were in.”1 Thanks to a good idea from his wife, they went out on a night when there were fireworks over in Oswego. As Ditch tells it, they took four...

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May

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pp. 48-49

...on eggs are more reluctant to fly off, but they do, and then the last to leave is the mother by the boulders who had been sitting on her two newborn chicks and three developing eggs. The kayaker decides not to beach his boat. Perhaps he sees there’s nothing on the island but a few rocks—or maybe he was surprised, alarmed even, to see...

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3 | Aran Islands

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pp. 50-69

...rock. In fall and winter the storm waves relentlessly pummeled Inishmore, shifting and rolling truck-size boulders. Inishmore is largely flat. The island is practically bare of any sizable trees. Soil is rare and precious. When O’Flaherty grew up in the first decades of the twentieth century, soil was composted out of seaweed and...

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June

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pp. 70-72

...some distance away. He flies back directly to the colony, navigating somehow in the fog. When he lands, his chicks immediately leave their group and run, half fly, over to him, shrilling and jabbing at his beak and gular pouch. He resists. Eventually the father allows the most persistent chick to probe its head entirely into his mouth and down into his neck. The chick’s beak is visible poking...

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4 | South Georgia

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pp. 73-91

...in the latter as a lieutenant colonel in the Emergency Reserve—Rankin was also perhaps a bit cavalier with his personal safety. Rankin found himself a neglected Royal National Lifeboat that was forty-two feet (13 m) long. It had weathered decades of faithful service in the north of Scotland and had a hull planked twice over with the sturdiest...

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July

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p. 92-92

...between their territories, an adult cormorant and an adult gull snap at each other halfheartedly. Another cormorant feeds a fledgling once more, then closes its eyes. A gray downy gull chick, barely discernible, pitters within the cormorant colony and pecks around in the dirt. By the time the stars are all sharply visible, the cormorant colony on the island is individually and collectively asleep...

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5 | East Sand Island

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pp. 93-114

...laying eggs. Since the researchers are already planning to bother the birds on this part of the island, it makes sense to capture several individuals in the process. It is a chance to place identification bands on the cormorants’ legs, as well as to affix to the tail feathers a small radio transmitter that can be...

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August

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p. 115-115

...swallow it whole and headfirst so as to keep the spines from catching inside his throat. The skin of his neck expands around the shape of the fish as he swallows. After he gets the fish down, the cormorant shakes his head. His whole body trembles. Then the cormorant looks around and sees the people on the boat. He takes off after several beats on the surface, flying low downriver and toward the island...

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6 | Tring

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pp. 116-132

...of these pelts, some over two hundred years old, have been meticulously gutted, the tendons pulled out, the eyes removed, and the brains scraped out from the inside. Each has been treated with some sort of preservative, most commonly borax or a specially prepared soap that has been laced...

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September

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p. 133-133

...Several huge rocks have been lifted and rolled. An immense tree limb and part of the cockpit from a smashed fiberglass boat have been left on the windward side. The gull beach is nearly gone. So a few days before the equinox, without any visible preparation, most of the adult cormorants begin to fly away, including the first...

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7 | Bering Island

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pp. 134-154

...Among others in England, there is a five-foot cormorant sculpted with a chainsaw in a public park in Gloucestershire, another crafted of salvaged scrap metal that has been installed at a park by the River Thames, and there is a cormorant sculpture that a woman welded and assembled in a park in Peterborough.3 Most of these sculptures evoke a single cormorant...

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October

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pp. 155-156

...reorganized. The flock remains at the same altitude for the moment, optimizing the tailwind just beneath the cloud layer. There is no clear leader of this flock of adults and juveniles. Maybe the birds are watching for landmarks. Maybe they are responding to the movements of the sun, or the earth’s magnetic field...

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8 | Galápagos Islands

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pp. 157-173

...Darwin’s experience with and study of cormorants are spare. He was never that excited about seabirds. The Angling Trust in England will be pleased to learn that Darwin did once write in his journal about shooting a great cormorant when he was seventeen. “The capacity of the stomach was very...

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November

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p. 174-174

...Then somehow through the dark salt water she sees a finger-size spiny lobster crawling on the tips of its feet. It is groping with its antennae within a patch of coral. With only a few more seconds of breath left, the cormorant lunges down. She flicks out her neck, nabbing the lobster. She swallows it before arriving back up at the surface...

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9 | Belzoni

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pp. 175-195

...in recent years he has reduced the number and acreage of his ponds by about half. He had to lay off a few workers. Some of his neighbors have got out of the aquaculture business completely, drying their ponds and plowing the fields for corn or soybeans. Recently farms throughout the...

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December

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p. 196-196

...The bird eventually makes it up under a copse of scrub oak, but remains disoriented. He stumbles over a few sun-faded cans, then gets his feet tangled up in a ball of plastic fishing line. The cormorant sits down in all this and opens his mouth, fluttering his orange gular pouch. Two turkey vultures that are tearing at a grouper on the beach now look over at the cormorant...

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10 | Isla Chincha Centro

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pp. 197-219

...the black-market docks of Callao. Living most of the year alone together on the island, Choccña and Padilla have no phone, e‑mail, or television. They have no electricity. In the mornings before the wind it can get blistery hot. Year-round, it almost never rains. A bit of fog sometimes, and that’s it. A boat from...

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January

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p. 220-220

...their feet is thin, but they remain balanced as they sleep. The female has bent her neck back to nestle her head under one wing. Behind them headlights whir across the bridge between two Florida keys. A wave washes against the buoy. A natural raft of palm leaves, sea grass, and coconut husks floats past with the current. The male’s neck quivers as he dreams...

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11 | Cape Town

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pp. 221-241

...Africa’s seabirds through education and awareness, training, seabird rehabilitation, and contributions to broader research. Parsons had first learned about sanccob in 2000 because of the oil spill of the bulk ore carrier Treasure in Table Bay. The center treated and released an improbable 19,000 African penguins. Even in London, she...

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February

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p. 242-242

...The male juvenile from Gates Island opens his mouth. His gular pouch flutters for a while. He is still too hot. He stretches out his wings and faces toward the breeze. He decides to drop down into the water by the sawgrass. An alligator snaps him up in one lightning chomp...

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12 | Gates Island

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pp. 243-267

...to pick up that dead cormorant on the beach without a permit, but it was even more so to take it out of the state of California. Despite the kindness and interest of Robert Pryˆs-Jones—and my own eagerness to have something we collected in the historic holdings of the Natural History Museum—I eventually lost motivation with the amount...

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March

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p. 268-268

...walked the earth, the cormorant pulls herself up vertically. She opens her wings and splays her feet wide. She lands softly on one of the two boulders, beneath which a pair of adults has already begun crafting a new nest. What does a cormorant feel then? Is there any measure at all of relief, of satisfaction, of a warmth toward a remembered home?...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 269-270

...This project would never have taken flight if not for my tolerant master’s thesis adviser, Jim McKenna. As I studied all things cormorant and traveled around, I dragged in many friends and colleagues as members of the Brave Research Team. These kind figures provided curiosity, patience, and...

Appendix

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pp. 271-274

Notes

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pp. 275-324

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 325-340

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Permissions & Credits

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pp. 341-342

A few portions of the book have been published previously in a different form in The Log of Mystic Seaport 55 (2004); Maritime Life and Traditions 25 and 31 (2004 and 2006); Beyond the Anchoring Grounds: More Cross-Currents in Irish and Scottish Studies (2005); I am grateful to the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation for permission to publish Amy Clampitt’s “The Cormorant in Its Element,” to University of Queensland ...

Index

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pp. 343-352


E-ISBN-13: 9781611684742
E-ISBN-10: 1611684749
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611682250

Page Count: 360
Publication Year: 2013