2 Apr 2015

The Cormorant and the Amazing Phenomenon Happening Right Here, Very Close to Our Biomuseo…

Foto: Flickr - Fernando Flores / CC BY-SA 2.0

Por: Jorge Ventocilla

The cormorant, Phalacrocorax olivaceus, is a slender, large-sized sea bird species. As an adult, its body length is approximately 70 cm from beak to tail. It is commonly known as Neotropic cormorant in English. Other names used in Panama for this bird are: paticuervo or pato cuervo


This species can be found not only near marine coastal areas, but also around freshwater sources like rivers, lakes and similar ecosystems.  It has a black, hooked bill, wedge-shaped tail, and black legs. The body of adult cormorants is entirely black.  Young cormorants are usually white on the breast and belly.  


Cormorants dive for fish.  Sometimes they can be seen in large groups, but probably you would be able to see only their heads and necks above the water.  We can also find them on tall trees near the shore, with their wings spread out as if air-drying them. Pacheca Island, in Las Perlas Archipelago, is home to the largest breeding colony of cormorants in Panama. Additionally, a large number of cormorants can also be found nesting in the Taboga and Uraba islands Wildlife Refuge.  


This full moon, I would like to talk about the cormorants and a seasonal phenomenon that happens very close to our Biomuseo. 


The upwelling in the Bay of Panama occurs starting from mid-December.  Due to the fact that the mountains in the central part of Panama are somewhat low in elevation, northerly winds are still strong when they come to the Pacific and “sweep” the warmer surface waters in the region. This results in the movement of deeper, cooler nutrient-rich waters up to the surface.  These cooler waters stimulate the growth of phytoplankton which in turn provides more food for zooplankton.  

As part of the food chain, small fishes, larger fishes and finally pelicans, seagulls, cormorants, frigates, and other seabirds are able to find enough food during the dry season.


We were visiting our friends Patricia Zuluaga and Joel Willner, who live on a sailboat (“Brahms”), which they have docked right here at Amador Causeway. Patricia is an outstanding chef and Joel is a virtuous pianist. This is a powerful combination which makes for remarkable memories every time we visit them.


At some point in the middle of the conversation, Patricia mentioned how they were witnesses to a wonderful phenomenon for over two weeks this past February. They would woke up to clear skies and a sea full, unbelievable full (Patricia emphasized) of cormorants, pelicans, and different kinds of gulls feasting on the large amount of fish available in the area. Our friends have been here for six dry seasons now, but they said they had never seen anything like it.


They showed us some pictures and a video. We would like to share it with you: (link)

Coincidentally, when I went to our Biomuseo for submitting the video, Samantha Senn showed me one she had also recorded in February, at a location even closer to the Biomuseo. We include this one as well: (link)


This seasonal wonder brings back memories of other amazing phenomena that can be seen here in the city. For example, the migration of thousands and thousands of birds of prey, every year in October and November; these birds would come down from Mexico and keep flying on their way to the Pampas region in Argentina. Another example is the journey of the Urania butterflies between August and November, flying fiercely, graciously, and rapidly around buildings and streets as if they were in a hurry; even though in the last few years we have seen a lower number of them, they would still come by. Or the colorful explosion of the Guaiacum trees when the rainy season starts.


Let us not forget about all these wonders of nature that are happening right here, wonders that are unique to our city. We also need to remember about keeping our eyes open and still allow ourselves to be surprised by these amazing phenomena.


I worked at Punta Culebra for a year and had the chance to see the phenomenon we are discussing here, more than once actually while going back and forth along the Causeway. An amazing sight indeed, just as Patricia and Joel described. I always thought that I should have captured those moments through photos or videos, but did not have the chance. Fortunately, Patricia took some action to preserve these moments.


Rituals are an essential part of our lives. There are less rituals left to perform as the years go by, the ones that are still in place (Christmas, birthdays, etc.) seem to be turning into commercial holidays. I think we could benefit from the collective celebration of these rituals and from showing more appreciation to these natural wonders by communicating when they are happening, learning more about them, contemplating the view they offer, and protecting them.  


As writer William Ospina says, we have that urgency for “captivating the world all over again”.