Quiet morning at loch
It was a day when low cloud and mist obscured the hills. Earlier, the whole vale had been submerged under this blanket but slowly, as a weak winter sun began fleetingly to show its face, the mist at low level had cleared.
The hills however, remained invisible behind the curtain of mist and cloud.
As this enveloping murk cleared from the lower ground, the loch emerged, still and dark, the surface disturbed only by the movement of ducks, geese and swans. It is strange how such an atmosphere seems to muffle any sound, accordingly the loch was very quiet.
A dozen mute swans hugged the far bank where they would be able to use the shallow water to tip themselves up and feed upon the water weed below the surface. A small flight of pink-footed geese caused a temporary disturbance as they took off. Their journey was short as they settled on a field less than a hundred metres from the water. Soon their heads were down chomping on the grass, albeit that one or two of them repeatedly lifted their heads to ensure there was no approaching danger.
The waters of the loch during spring, summer and autumn are generally disturbed by the wakes of fishermen’s boats but for now, apart from some fishing for pike, the boats are safely hauled on shore. The fish therefore, may enjoy some respite. No fishermen casting their intricate, home-made flies in an effort to lure them on to their hooks and of course, no ospreys plunging from the sky to catch them unawares when they languish close to the surface.
However, the fish are not entirely predator free for there lurks the shape of a bird, a cormorant, which generates much fury among fisherfold, lying typically low in the water. This of course, is a very proficient fisher which, due to its apparently black appearance, appears to some, even more menacing. In truth cormorants are not entirely black. Their plumage reflects an iridescence of green and there are white face patches. Nevertheless, they exude a distinctly reptilian presence, which adds to the aura of aversion. Piercing green eyes add even more menace.
We tend to regard cormorants as birds of the seashore, yet over the course of the last 30 or so years, more and more of them have made inland expeditions, seizing the opportunities offered by freshwater lochs, lakes and reservoirs, many of which are stocked with juicy fish. A cormorant generally catches more than its own weight in fish every single day.
The capability for catching such quantities of fish is based upon their underwater skills. When they dive, cormorants pin their wings tightly to the body and propel themselves with their quite large webbed feet at surprising speed and with remarkably quick turning talent as they sinuously pursue fish.
Therefore, their appearance sometimes causes apoplexy among rod-wielding anglers, an abhorrence that is exacerbated by their black appearance. There are still plenty of folk who regard black birds especially crows and the said cormorants with deep suspicion. I heard one angler suggest that cormorants resembled an animated, wartime U-boat!
Universally, fishermen have complained of cormorants ruining river fishing during the course of those last 30 years or so. Their presence is more evident during the winter months when their numbers are greatly increased by the arrival of thousands of them in Britain from the Continent. Of the estimated 24,000 such immigrants it is reckoned that at least 10,000 of them inhabit inland waters. Continental cormorants are endemic on freshwater, rather than being found by the sea hence these days their instinct brings them inland to fish such waters.
And, I have seen the other side of cormorant life on one of our local rivers. Unexpectedly, cormorants do not produce waterproofing oil as do most other birds. Thus, when they have been fishing, they need to dry out and the familiar sight of cormorants perching on a riverbank with their wings spread is commonplace. I also well remember seeing a number of cormorants perched in such a manner on a leafless winter tree by one of our rivers. There was a distinct hint of ‘covens of witches and warlocks’ about them!
Anglers call this the ‘black plague’ and in recent years have demanded that action should be taken to reduce their numbers. This is quite understandable when you consider that so many lochs and rivers are these days stocked with fish – at a cost. Well might it be claimed in some instances, that cormorants therefore imperil the livelihoods of those employed to manage fisheries. However, some conservationists suggest that cormorants do not do the damage to fishing stocks and that the anglers’ complaints are therefore exaggerated. As to a claim that the presence of cormorants is a factor in reducing populations of herons, kingfishers and otters, this is highly unlikely.
Indeed, that claim is earnestly refuted by conservationists. They cite the rise in populations of all three of these species across the UK. Nevertheless, the arrival of large numbers of cormorants must have some effect of depleting fish stocks, even if the impact of their presence is exaggerated.
Doubtless the arguments will go on and on so long as cormorants continue to exploit inland waters.
Raider the cormorant