Thursday, February 26, 2009
This morning while walking to school, my son, Orion, tugged at my sleeve and exclaimed, "Look up!" High in the blue sky a vee of a dozen black birds plowed northwards. Not geese (too small), not cranes (too dark), not ducks (wings too long). I took a wild guess and said "Maybe they are Ibises?" We continued on to the school having a long discussion on the role of the Ibis in ancient Egyptian cultures, a subject that Orion has accumulated quite a lot of knowledge from the towers of library books we borrow weekly. (The Ibis-headed Thoth is the the Egyptian god of writing and knowledge, and is important in ceremonial rituals of mummy-making.)
Back home I did a little research and have deduced that they were not Egyptian gods, but Double-crested Cormorants, though no less noble in my mind. The giveaway in the text of Sibley's is that "Flocks fly high and form lines or V shapes like geese."
A flock of water birds seems out of place here in the desert, but both the Ibis and the Cormorant are actually quite common along the rivers and reservoirs around Phoenix. On the annual Christmas bird count along the Gila River just west of the city, 286 Ibis and 47 Cormorants were counted. My guess is that our small flock was headed up to Lake Pleasant, a reservoir just north of us.
(Photo courtesy of Philip Colla)