Rickubis Bird Page #3:  Anhingas and Cormorants
This page was born 11/11/2008.  Rickubis designed it.  (such as it is.) Last update: 04/12/2017
Images and contents on this page copyright 2002-2017 Richard M. Dashnau

Here are my other Brazos Bend and/or critter pages:
 ----------------------------------------------------------------                  OR,  FOR OTHER ANIMALS:
Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Introduction              Critters at Brazos Bend State Park Page 1
Snakes-nonvenomous 1-------------------------------------------  Critters at Brazos Bend State Park Page 3
Snakes-nonvenomous 2-------------------------------------------------Insects, non-toxic
Snakes-nonvenomous 3------------------------------------------------Spiders
Snakes-venomous------------------------------------------------------Mammals
Birds-Waders Hawks & Eagles- ------------------------------------Lizards!--Turtles!
 Grebes  Misc Birds-Herons  Bitterns  Pelicans
Vultures    Owls & Falcons-

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That's me on a trail at Brazos Bend State Park (BBSP), sometime in 2004. One of my first experiences there involved this really odd black bird with a pointy beak. I was walking one of the trails, and as I scanned the view, I saw (but didn't really note) this bird on a log in the water off to my right. I had just turned away when I heard a soft "ploop!", a quiet splash. When I turned back, the bird was gone. I walked slowly along the trail, scanning the water for reptiles, or other movement. From time to time I'd catch a glimpse of something which poked out of the water, and then submerged, but it happened so quickly-and always at the edge of my vision-that I thought it was perhaps an illusion. This happened for some time as I walked. Finally, I caught the movement soon enough to look at it directly, and caught just a glimpse of black and yellow submerging.
'Was that...a bird!?' I thought. Apparently the danged thing had been going in my direction, sort of following me (which was why I kept seeing it out of the corner of my eye.)
I stopped an scanned my surroundings again. I looked from left to right, turning slowly. Then, I looked from right to left...and there, on a stick in the water, was that large black bird. It hadn't been there just a second ago.  If I didn't know better, I'd swear that bird had been fooling with me. Who knows? Maybe it was.
The bird was an Anhinga, and I've been fascinated by them since.
This page talks about them and a related bird, the Cormorant. As time has gone by, I've learned a bit more about them. My earlier writings are therefore a bit different than the more recent ones. But, that's what happens as we learn.

04/01/2017, 04/08/2017   I tried to see an Eagle at Fiorenza Park again. No luck. But as usual, Double-Crested Cormorants were active, And for these two days, they were fishing
close enough for me to observe them easily.  As I have mentioned before various species of the fish generally known as Plecostomus have established an invasive presence in Texas.
Most of the fish being caught by the Cormorants on these two days were Plecostomus.
    
Of the two similar types of diving birds that I can see in Texas--Cormorants and Anhingas--I'd always admired the strategy and habits of the Anhingas. Anhingas swim
totally submerged, and spear fish with their pointed beak. Then they surface, shake the impaled fish off their beak, toss it up and eat it.  However, this stabbing attack
may not work against Plecostomus which are also called "armored catfish". The Plecostomus don't seem to be much of a problem for the Cormorants, though.
   
As some of these pictures show, sometimes a Cormorant was a little too successful, having caught a fish too large to eat. I saw a few Cormorants actually give up on fish they'd caught
and just leave them under water.  Some of these close-up shots really show the hook on the end of their upper mandible--and how sharp that hook is. The lower mandible fits closely
inside that hook, and the two parts make the beak a formidable tool for catching and handling fish.
   
   

In a few of the picturds (and in the video clips that I filmed) the Cormorants used their beak with great dexterity, and were able to find chinks in the armor covering most of the
body of the fish--by piercing their eyes, or softer underside. Sometimes it took a few minutes before the Plecostomus was weakened enough to be swallowed, but the birds were
usually successful. The video clips from these two days can be seen here and here.

   

In about 90 minutes, I saw a number of Plecos dispatched (10 or more? I wasn't counting)...just in the area I was watching. Just imagine the hundreds of invasive Plecostomus
that are probably being removed from Brays Bayou by the Cormorants in this park in a week!

11/24/2016 -12/26/2016 15 miles from the center of downtown Houston is Archbishop Fiorenza Park. I hadn't been there since one visit some years ago, before the lakes were completed. My friend Chris had been taking pictures of cormorants out at
the park, so I decided to go back and look for some cormorants myself. Chris had gotten some pictures of cormorants with plecostomus that they'd caught, so I hoped for the same luck he'd had. (You can see much better pictures taken by Chris and Elisa on their website--Two Shutterbirds.)
It's a very, very nice park, featuring some large lakes (which are expansions of Brays Bayou).  And...there are LOTS of cormorants. I visited the park about 8 times from November 12 - December 24.
The weather wasn't the best for taking pictures, and the comorants can be shy. But there is a place between two high spots where the birds are constantly flying back and forth.  Anyone who wishes to practice catching images of birds in flight
will certainly find many opportunities to do so at Fiorenza park. Just stand near the central bridge that spans the West side of the East loop to the East side of the West loop and point your camera at the flying traffic. The pictures below
show a few of the cormorants going by.

   
November 26, 2016 Neotropic cormorant      November 26, 2016 Neotropic cormorant   November 26, 2016 Neotropic cormorant     November 26, 2016 Neotropic cormorant

     
November 26, 2016 Neotropic cormorant      December 17, 2016 Neotropic cormorant   December 17, 2016 Neotropic cormorant  December 24, 2016  Trees full of cormorants!     

Those that are swimming tend to stay yards away from where the people are, but they will occasionally come nearer.  I've watched a single cormorant harvest 5 - 10 plecostomus within 20 minutes. However, the birds were usually too far away to get good pictures.  I decided to try to take high-frame rate video (480 fps) of cormorants as they take off from the water. The camera I have now can shoot these films at higher frame rate and resolution than I have in the past. Although most of the
cormorants were still pretty far away (at least 25 yards, usually), I can crop the higher-resolution video for use on my website. And so I've compiled this film from clips I collected during that time.
When birds take off, they have to generate enough air movement over their wings to generate lift. They can run along the ground, or hop off the ground, turn into the wind, or fall from a branch. Things are a bit more complicated if the bird is floating in deep water. Cormorants start their takeoff by lifting their wings to prepare for a downstroke. Then they push back with both broadly webbed feet then push down with their wings to lift their body out of the water. While on the same wing downstroke, they pull their feet forward. The wings go back up as the feet are striking the water. The feet push back, then the wings come down. Each wing downbeat/foot push increases the cormorant's forward speed until it becomes airborn. Watching the process slowed-down really emphasizes the effort and coordination required to do this. The video illustrates the take off. And, there are many other birds at Fiorenza park. Bald Eagles hunt there, and I've seen Ospreys, Roseate Spoonbills, and magnificent
White Pelicans!!  More pictures and video clips to come.
   
November 26, 2016 Neotropic cormorant      November 26, 2016 Neotropic cormorant      Frame grab from the video clip.

September 09, 2012-- As the summer ends most of the Anhingas prepare to go South for the winter. I said "most" of them. A few usually remain at Brazos Bend State park, but
I don't often see them fishing. Today, there were still a few hunting, and I watched one as it worked. I was lucky, because it came close to me. I got really lucky and had the
camera pointing and focused at the right spot when I shot the burst of images shown below. These are cropped from a larger images.  The Rickubiscam image is of the same Anhinga but about 30 minutes later.

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I have read that Ahningas have serrations on the biting edges of their beaks to help secure fish that they have captured. Although I've tried, I haven't been able to photograph
them. This roughness may help secure the fish, but it can sure make it difficult to UN-spear the fish so that it can be eaten. To do this, the Anhinga will thrust its head forward, then jerk it back. This will allow the beak to pull out of the fish. But, the Anhinga has to be careful not to pull the beak out too quickly or it could lose the fish. So, sometimes there's an interesting combination of sharp, brute force and delicacy as the Anhinga works the fish off its beak. In this example, it worked smoothly, and the fish "paused" in mid-air as the Anhinga positioned its beak under it (5th image); after a single try.  

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The image below is a frame grab from a video clip that I edited together from two other clips of catches by the same Anhinga. I shot these at normal frame rate (instead of the usual (high speed) to illustrate how fast the Anhinga is moving during this process. I am a little sorry for missing the opportunity of catching a long struggle at high-speed; but some of it was out of focus anyway. In the first clip, the Ahinga surfaced, and immediately lost its fish. It quickly dove, but that fish was gone.
In the second clip, the Anhinga struggled a bit to get the fish off its beak. When it finally did, it almost dropped it, but was able to save the fish after some juggling. Watch both
clips carefully, because everything is over quickly.  


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                            ONE MISS AND ONE CATCH   VIDEO CLIP WMV 7.4mb          compare with my video clip here WMV 10.8mb

August 12, 2012-- Two weeks ago I saw an Anhinga that had molted, and had lost its flight feathers. Last week I saw the Anhinga as the new feathers were growing back, showing only
pin feathers. Pictures are shown lower on this page. Today, I was found the Anhinga again at 40 Acre lake. When I first saw it, it was standing on a log. (see 
anhinga_081212_01),
I was a bit disappointed that it was out so far because I wanted to show better detail of the flight feathers growning out (
anhinga_081212_02), but I saw it dive into the water,
and thought it might be swimming towards another log near the wooden footbridge.  I watched an Anhinga jump up onto that log. It opened its wings...and it had all of its
feathers! It was a different bird! Suddenly it flew up onto the rail of the footbridge.
Another Anhinga surfaced, and walked up on the bank. That was the molted Anhinga. It waddled up the bank (
anhinga_081212_03), paused, and looked up. It was watching the
Anhinga on the rail. It made a short "squat", as if it was going to launch into the air at the higher Anhinga. 


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               anhinga_081212_01                                     anhinga_081212_02                             anhinga_081212_03                                   anhinga_081212_04
Then, it seemed to realize it couldn't fly, and walked/hopped onto the bridge. From there, it watched the Anhinga on the rail (anhinga_081212_04, anhinga_081212_05, anhinga_081212_06).
It prepared to take off again (anhinga_081212_07) but it still couldn't fly.  So it jumped onto the bottom rail, and apparently used its neck to grab the rail as it
climbed on.
(anhinga_081212_08)
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             anhinga_081212_05                                     anhinga_081212_06                             anhinga_081212_07                                   anhinga_081212_08

Once it got up on the rail and caught its balance (anhinga_081212_09, anhinga_081212_10). It shook out its tail, and that was the last straw for the other Anhinga. It flew away. The
molted Anhinga hopped off the bridge, walked down to the lake, and hopped in. It rested on the log, then dove in again.  I went around the trails for a while.

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             anhinga_081212_09                                     anhinga_081212_10                             anhinga_081212_11                                   anhinga_081212_12

About 4 hours later, I was in the area again, hoping to catch that Anhinga a bit closer. But, it didn't surface any closer. I saw it out on one of the islands. Another Anhinga landed on a log and
spread its wings (
anhinga_081212_11). It flew off, and another Anhinga surfaced near the same log. That one must have chased off the other. When it opened its wings, I saw that it was
the "molted" Ahinga again.  It had left the island. He seemed to be pretty pushy for a bird that couldn't fly yet. I took a few more pictures, and cropped them to show how the feathers
are pushing out of the feather shafts. (
anhinga_081212_013 and anhinga_081212_02 ). If this is the same Anhinga I saw last week, those feathers are growing quickly.  I also shot some video, and have edited the clips
together into a longer clip that can be seen here. (24 mb). I was impressed by the amount of activity performed by the temporarily-flightless Anhinga. I thought it was interesting to
observe that the Anhinga seemed about to take off, then "remembered" that it couldn't fly. It didn't waste any effort trying to fly.  


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                         anhinga_081212_13

August 5 (and July 29) 2012-- I was walking around 40 Acre lake with some park visitors. I'd described some of the animals that they might see as they walked around the
lake. I had described the Anhinga, one of my favorite park inhabitants; and of course mentioned the diving/hunting behavior, and the wing/spreading heating behavior.
I described how beautiful the wings can be, as they are held out in the sun. The picture below (April Anhinga), taken on April 22, 2012 shows what I described. 

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                        APRIL ANHINGA
A little later, we saw an Anhinga soon after it had climbed onto a log. (Out of The Water, below) I told them to watch for the spread wings. The Anhinga spread its wings--
--and we saw these bare arms sticking out, looking very much like something that one might see in a chicken-wing restaurant--although these wings did have some feathers on them. (Boy are My Arms Tired, below)
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                                   OUT OF THE WATER                             ...AND BOY, ARE MY ARMS TIRED                         FROM THE WEEK BEFORE
It figures that when I actually build up the magnificence of the Anhinga to an audience, I get a dud. Actually, I'd seen that Anhinga, or one in a similar state, the week before (see The Week Before, above). I'd gotten a bit alarmed, because the Anhinga obviously can't fly. It also looked like the feathers had been clipped off,  leaving just the stumps. However, the Anhinga seemed unperturbed by its condition.  So, I asked around, and both David and Bill suggested that the Anhinga had molted. Bill sent me this link ( 
http://slatermuseum.blogspot.com/2010/09/different-molt-strategies.html ) which made things  clearer for me.  I was also able to find more information about bird molting but relatively little specifically about Anhingas molting.  The "stumps" that I had seen on the wings are "pin feathers" and should soon develop into full-flight feathers. One thing about pin feathers is that they are being supplied by blood, and if a pin feather is broken, the bird could bleed from it.  The picture below is a closer view of the Anhinga's bare wing. (Returning Feathers?, below)  If I was looking at the same Anhinga a week before, then it appears that those quill (?) have grown a lot since then.
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                  RETURNING FEATHERS?
Barring the physical trauma, if a bird loses its wings, then of course it can't fly. Not being able to fly can leave the bird at risk of being eaten--since flying allows it to escape. Birds have to renew their feathers; which is why they molt. Feathers wear over time. To avoid being handicapped by losing the ability to fly, many birds molt a few flight feathers at a time; which is called "sequential" molting.
Some birds, however, are not as handicapped by not being able to fly, because they can use alternate means to escape from predators, and they can still find food, even if they can't fly.  The Anhinga is one of these latter type, since they care very good swimmers. They are also very stealthy swimmers--as I have found while trying to track them as they hunt. Anhingas can surface and submerge silently and slowly, without leaving a ripple. So, birds like Anhingas can shed all the feathers at once, in a "simultaneous" wing molt.
If I can, I'll try to take more pictures to see if I can show the feathers coming back.  

April 22, 2012--A little later today, I was able to watch a Anhinga for a while (since it was under the water often). I finally (after some years of trying) caught an
Anhinga surfacing with a fish in a video clip. This is extremely difficult, since I can't be sure when, or where, the Anhinga will surface--and
it doesn't always have prey when it surfaces. The images below are from this brief clip (6.8mb).

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After the quick meal, the Anhinga submerged again, and I was elated to be able to see it under the water. It swam away from me, and went out of focus.

May 15, 2011--(new update 8/17/2016, old story) I watched an Anhinga foraging close to the shore in 40 Acre lake. When it tried to perch so it could open its wings and get warm, it was harrassed by another Anhinga. I put together an 18 minute film from
the clips I shot of the Anhinga. I shot at high speed in case I could catch the Anhinga capturing prey. I didn't. Click the link to see the edited 
VIDEO CLIP WMV 271.3mb .

May 15, 2011--(new update, old story) Anhingas lose body heat to the water as they swim under it. This is mostly because their feathers absorb water, all the way to their skin.  Over time, the Anhinga's metabolism begins to speed up because the body is cooling. Eventually, the Anhinga has to get out of the water, and spread its wings (usually with its back towards the sun) and absorb heat. Sometimes an Anhinga will surface and fly to a perch. Sometimes an Anhinga will surface, and hop onto a perch near the surface of the water. And sometimes...an Anhinga will laboriously climb a tree to get to a good perch. I've watched Anhingas do this many times. Today, I shot video at 210 frames per second of one climbing the same tree at different times. At least, I think it was the same one on the same tree. The images below are frame grabs from the edited VIDEO CLIP WMV 68.4mb that I filmed.


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                                                                                                                                                                       A QUICK BRACE WITH HEAD AND NECK

The Anhinga surfaced near the base of the tree, and then jumped out of the water (That's some trick. You try jumping out of water where your feet don't reach the bottom) Then it moved up the tree using a combination of running, toe-gripping (with webbed feet), wing-flapping, and using its neck and head in a prehensile fashion. It's hard to see the "neck grabbing" at normal film speed, but when it is slowed down, that's what seems to be happening. It was a surprise to me to see the Anhinga use its neck that way.

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   A FULL GRAB WITH HEAD AND NECK                                                                                                                        BRACE WITH WING AND BACK OF THE NECK

The Anhinga also flapped its wings as it moved up the tree, but when viewed slowed-down, the wings seem to be moving backwards compared to when the Anhinga is flying, or at least differently. The wing beats seem similar to a bird "braking" as it comes down for a landing. So it seems that the Ahinga is not flying up the tree and just pushing with its feet (sort of like the way American Coots and Pied-Billed Grebes "run" across the water.) but doing something else with its wings as it climbs. The Anhinga even rested a few times on its way up. But, it finally made it, and once up there, it flapped its wings to shake the water out, and opened them to the sun.  

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 FINALLY MADE IT TO THE TOP!
                            ANHINGA CLIMBING   VIDEO CLIP WMV 68.4mb   

March 03, 2011  I got lucky as an Anhinga was diving and fishing fairly close to me. The Anhinga has serrations on its beak (according to what I've read) that help it to hold on to the fish that it catches. This is handy while the fish is held between the jaws--but maybe not so handy when the jaws have pierced a fish. Then, the Anhinga has to work the fish off of one or both points of its beak. It does this by a combination of twisting (spinning) the beak back and forth and thrusting the beak forward and jerking it back. This is done with a combination of physical strength and delicacy so that when the fish does come off the beak, it doesn't go flying off into the water. Once the fish is held inside the beak, it gets tossed into the air, and the Anhinga catches it on the way down. It can be a struggle. When seen in real time it's hard to discern what is going on. When viewed slowed down, it becomes clearer. I shot the clips today at 210 frames per second. The images below are frame grabs from the video clips. There are two clips of the same Anhinga, but it has surfaced with a different fish in each clip. 

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                             Video clip 1  16.4mb                                                       
Video clip 2  10.8mb

January 09, 2011 It was pretty cold this weekend. While walking around the trails in my heavy clothes, I was surprised to see a few Anhingas diving into and leaving the cold water.  In the afternoon, I was surprised to see the Anhinga in the RICKUBISCAM picture. It was pretty close, and I was able to shoot some video as it jumped into the water. I knew what to expect, but to someone who has never seen an Anhinga jump into the water, it's pretty surprising. Today's RICKUBISCAM picture is a frame grab from one of the video clips I shot. Watch the video by clicking this link Ahinga Enters the Water (wmv 27.5 mb.)  

                                           

03/08/2009--  The bird called an Anhinga is one of my favorite animals.  Anhingas' feathers have developed a bit differently than other birds' feathers to allow water to wick into them. Water will saturate the feathers right to the bird's skin. This helps the bird to become neutrally buoyant.  A neutrally-buoyant object will neither sink nor float in water--but will remain at a particular depth. This allows the Anhinga to spend most of its energy while submerged swimming slowly and stalking fish. Then, it spears them with its beak, comes to the surface, shakes the fish off its beak, then catches and swallows the fish.
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Today I got one brief look at an Ahinga as it surfaced with a fish on its beak. I was able to shoot some slow-motion video, and some photos. The 030809 RICKUBISCAM is a cropped photo of the Anhinga tossing a freshly-caught fish. I've edited together a video using the two clips (the Anhinga is not very close and some photos shot with the same camera. Since the image resolution on the photos is so high, I can crop them (as in the RICKUBISCAM shot) to show detail. So, I added some cropped photos to the clip. You can see it by clicking on this link (wmv 42.5mb). Images from further cropping of the orginal photos can be seen below. The last image below (FROM VIDEO CLIP) is taken from a frame of one of the video clips.

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-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------FROM VIDEO CLIP (42.5mb)

12/21/2008-- Today, I watched a Cormorant as it fished in 40-Acre Lake. The Cormorant swims with its feathers saturated, but it keeps a pocket of air close to its body. This helps serve as insulation, but also causes the Cormorant to be more bouyant. As I mention on the other page, both Cormorants and Anhingas will rest after swimming with their wings spread open. The Cormorant doesn't do this as often as the Anhinga, and probably does it mostly to dry its feathers. Both birds can fly with saturated wings, though. The image below far right (OLD RICKUBISCAM 122108) shot is a frame from a video showing a Cormorant as it takes off from the lake, and then lands a bit further away in the lake.
I was able to slow down this event with the camera I used, and the takeoff seems a bit odd to me. Floating water birds (Ducks, Coots, Moorhens) seem to "run" on the surface of the water while flapping their wings. They'll do this before taking off to fly, or just to cover distance on the water before floating again. The Cormorant, on the other hand, seems to hop with both feet! It's quite a sight (in slow motion) as it pushes against the water with both feet between wing beats. I'd think it's a less-efficient method of adding speed than running, but maybe not. It's possible to see how both feet push back against the water with each "hop" from the turbulant splashes behind the bird. The images below are other frames from the video. SECOND HOP shows as both feet slap the water while the wings are prepared for the next beat. The splash from the first hop is still spreading. FEET KICKING BACK shows the splashes from a number of hops, with the feet pushing back as the wings push down. FINAL HOP shows the two dimples in the water under the Cormorant's tail as the feet made contact, but not enough for a good push. LAST TOUCHDOWN OF THE FEET shows the feet as they just barely scrape the water as the Cormorant becomes fully-airborne. Note that the water from more than one previous splash is still in the air. This happens quickly. I can't remember if the bird was flying into the wind...but it was a bit chilly outside. This camera is great for slowing these events down! The video clip (shot at 210 fps) can be seen  here (wmv 4.6 mb).   2/26/2015 I've compiled larger and improved versions of the clip and links to them are here:   wmv  mp4

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                        SECOND HOP                                                            FEET KICKING BACK                                                          FINAL HOP                                                  LAST TOUCH OF THE FEET                                   OLD RICKUBISCAM 122108

8/31/2008-- A bit more Anhinga behavior. This Anhinga was sunning, and then it poked the oil gland (near the base of the tail) with its beak, then rubbed its neck and head onto the oil gland in a motion almost like honing a knife. The line of images below are from a video clip showing this. Links to the clip are below the pictures.
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                        OIL THE BOTTOM                                                   OIL THE RIGHT SIDE                                                  OIL THE BOTTOM

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                    OIL THE RIGHT SIDE                                                OIL THE BOTTOM                                                 OIL THE RIGHT SIDE
    Anhinga Oils its Head and Neck and Dives (wmv 12.6mb).                              Anhinga Oils its Head and Neck slo mo(wmv 3.5mb).
Soon after, the Anhinga dove off the branch and into the water. All of this can be seen by clicking the links above. I watched the Anhinga, and tried to catch the moment that it left the water. I missed it by a second. The last video clip shows the Anhinga shaking its wings free, and then it oils its head and neck, and the preens feathers on various parts of its body.  The image below (OUT OF THE WATER) is from this short video clip--which has a link below the picture.
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                                  DIVING OFF THE BRANCH                                                                                                    JUST  OUT OF THE WATER
                                                                                            Anhinga Opens Wings, Oils Head and Neck and Preens (wmv 13.2mb).

8/24/2008-- I've been trying to see more Anhinga behavior since my last "discovery" about their heating being related to the wing-spreading posture. Today, I saw an Anhinga and a Neotropic Cormorant right next to each other.  Now I can show a few comparisons between these two diving birds. Today's RICKUBISCAM shows a single frame from a video clip showing a Cormorant swimming. The clip will have a link further down.
I watched the Anhinga and the Cormorant for a while. During that time, one or the other would occasionally enter the water to fish. After a time, the Anhinga would pop out of the water. It would suddenly leap out of the water appear on one of the tree trunks. The Cormorant would appear from a distance away, and leap out of the water and fly right back to the tree shown in the images below. The photos below (Anhinga and Cormorant, Profile, Anhinga) are all frames from this short video clip. The clip shows each in closer shot in the trees, then pulls back to show them at the same time. The video shows the differences between the two birds, especially the shape of the beak. From what I've recently learned, the fact that the Anhinga has spread its wings while the Cormorant has NOT isn't surprising. During the entire time I saw both birds (at least an hour), the Cormorant did not make the "wing spread" posture at all. The Anhinga must use its wings as solar collectors to heat its body; while the Cormorant may occasionally spread its wings to hasten drying.

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                  ANHINGA AND CORMORANT                                         THE CORMORANT PROFILE                                            THE ANHINGA                                    
  Anhinga and Cormorant video (wmv 8.5mb).                    

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                   THE CORMORANT SWIMS                                     THE CORMORANT LOOKS DOWN
                Cormorant swims video (wmv 5.0mb).

I was able to capture a some short video footage of the Cormorant swimming. The RICKUBISCAM shows one frame from this video. Two other frames are above (Cormorant swims; Cormorant Looks Down). The images and video clearly show how high the Cormorant's back is above the water. The Cormorant is more buoyant because of a layer of air that it keeps near its body. This layer also acts as insulation against the heat-dissipation effects of being sumberged in water.

Finally, an Anhinga took off from the tree and flew away from me, then circled back and landed in the water. I was able to catch part of this flight on video.
The image below is a frame from the video clip. The video clip shows it entering the water. The Anhinga immediately sinks--but a very small part is briefly visible for a few seconds. I suspect this is because there was still some air trapped in voids among the feathers. Whatever the reason, once the Anhinga dives, it remains totally submerged except for its head and neck. In the video, one can see why the Anhinga is sometimes called a "snakebird".


      THE ANHINGA LANDING
Anhinga lands video (wmv 5.0mb).

7/27/2008--And I've mentioned Anhingas before. They are quite different than most birds found in the water. They swim totally submerged, and they spear fish with their sharp beaks. Then the Anhinga will surface with the fish speared, extending only the head and neck. The Anhinga will have to dislodge the fish, usually be shaking and jerking its head, until it's loosened. Then the Anhinga tosses it up, catches it, and swallows it. Anhingas are currently classified in the same order as Pelicans. The classification goes like this:
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Pelecaniformes
Family: Anhingidae
The Anhingas have been hunting the lakes at Brazos Bend State Park much more frequently than they had been in previous years. I was able to take some time and watch one this Sunday. Since the bird swims totally submerged, it's not easy to guess where it might surface. I set up my video camera, and just waited. Whenever I saw movement, I'd turn on the camera and swing it towards what I saw. I got lucky a few times, and thought visitors might like to see an Anhinga at work. Pictures here are frame captures from my video. Today's RICKUBISCAM is from a photo I shot of the same bird. A few things happened before the Anhinga got to the position in that photo.
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                    CLIP ONE SUBMERGE                                                CLIP THREE SUBMERGE                                                   WEEDS!  D'OH!                                                     SPEARED, AND TOSSED
  submerge 1 vid(wmv 428kb).          submerge 3 vid(wmv 342kb).      weeds video (wmv 944kb).     eating fish video (wmv 2.7mb).
                                                                                                                                                                               eating fish slowmo video (wmv 4.6mb).

The Anhinga's head popped up a few times. The funny thing is, the head is often visible just enough to catch my attention from the corner of my eye. However, when I turn towards the movement, the bird has submerged, and then I wonder if I saw anything at all! See image above (CLIP ONE SUBMERGE) and the clip. Watch closely, because the Anhinga goes under quickly!  Here's another video clip, submerge video 2 (wmv 881kb). . Watch over to the right, and the dark object poking from the water becomes a bird's head! And then it's gone. See how easy it would be to miss? The next image above (CLIP THREE SUBMERGE) shows another really quick view of the Anhinga's head. For these clips, stop them when they are playing, and restart them again. The head submerges really quickly and the lag while the video is loading will hide it.
Now, while the Anhinga is swimming underwater like a submarine, it swims slowly, stalking--and then uses its beak to spear fish. Then the bird surfaces--at least its head and neck do. The next image above (WEEDS! D'OH!) and the video clip shows the Anhinga with a speared fish...but it's entangled in the weeds. I believe I saw at least one successful spearing and toss before I was able to capture one on video.
The last picture above (SPEARED AND TOSSED) with video shows a successful surface and toss. The link below also shows the same toss in slow-motion.
The Anhinga swam back towards me, so I finally had the sun off to my side. It surfaced and submerged in clearer water--  submerge 4 vid(wmv 342kb).

I thought that the Anhinga might be leaving the water, but I picked the wrong perching object to film, so I missed it when it popped out. However, the first four images below show the Anhinga as it changes from a sleek, glistening animal that can move through water with no disturbance to a beautiful winged flying creature. The images just don't show this amazing transformation correctly. Watch the video clip-- setup to dry vid(wmv 9.0mb). I believe the brown (in the sun it looks like copper to me) colors on the back of the wings show that this is an immature bird.
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                  BEAUTIFUL UNDERWATER BIRD                                  I CAN'T FLY LIKE THIS!                                          BEGIN TRANSFORMATION

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                      WINGS ARE RESTORED                                         TURN THE BACK TO THE SUN                                            ALMOST DRY NOW
Common wisdom seems to be that Anhingas have no oil in their feathers and that this means that the feathers don't repel water. Therefore, the feathers absorb water.  After some comments emailed to me indicating that Anhingas do have an oil gland (thanks, Chuck), I investigated a bit more. None of my books mention much, and most spots on the internet repeat the same "no oil" story. However, I  finally found two links that make some very interesting statements. ( audubon.org ; science mcmaster)
Oil, or the lack of oil, has less to do with the feathers absorbant quality than the physical structure of the feathers. The feathers have developed so that they absorb water. This makes it easier for the Anhinga to remain submerged, but it also means that the Anhinga can lose heat to the water. The Anhinga's metabolic rate is slower than that of other birds.  That is why the Anhinga stands there with its wings open; it can absorb heat from the sun if it needs to. A secondary function of the spread wings may be to signal successful feeding. This would allow other Anhingas to recognise good hunting grounds. According to one study (sited in the links I mentioned above), drying the wings isn't necessary for flight since the bird would only gain 1% to 3% of its body weight when saturated.
So...there's a lot more going on here than just a bird spreading its wings to dry them.
The last picture above (ALMOST DRY NOW) and this video clip-- setup to dry vid(wmv 2.1mb) show the Anhinga after a little time has passed. The wings have become full and very attractive.
While watching the video clips, did you notice how supple the Anhinga's neck was? A common name for the Anhinga is "Snake Bird".
It's surprising how complex some apparently simple activities really are.
UPDATE 08/05/2008--I have found two more useful links. One is a physiological comparison between our Anhinga (Anhinga Anhinga) and the Double-Crested Cormorant (Phalacrococrax auritus)--Adaptations For Locomotion and Feeding in the Anhinga and the Double-Crested Cormorant, by Oscar T. Owre. Cormorants are birds that look very similar to Anhingas, and which share similar behaviors. The paper can be found here. The other is a paper that addresses the risks of generalizing similar behaviors between two species--AMER. ZOOL., 28:845-851 (1988)--Energetics and Spread-winged Behavior in Anhingas and Double-crested Cormorants: The Risks of Generalization by WlLLARD W. HENNEMANN III. That paper can be found for purchase here.
I've paraphrased from notes from the second paper below.
The wettable feathers of Anhingas and the Double-Crested Cormorant is not due to a lacking or malfunctioning preen gland, but is an adaptation for an underwater method of hunting.  The structure of the feathers is such that the feathers don't repel water, but allow water to wick into them. The Anhinga feathers allow water to penetrate to the skin; while the only the outer parts of the Cormorant feathers get saturated. Cormorants maintain air insulation near the skin. This also makes Cormorants more bouyant than Anhingas.
This saturation allows Anhingas to become neutrally bouyant. This allows the Anhinga to remain underwater without having to expend energy to keep from floating or sinking. This allows them to stalk prey underwater instead of actively chasing prey as Cormorants apparently do (since Cormorants have to continually swim against the tendency to float).  (Page 846)

Anhingas use spread-wing behavior to increase the surface area available to absorb solar energy for regulation of its metabolism. Anhingas have been observed doing this more often when they are dry than when wet; and usually stand with their back to the sun, maintaining a posture that keeps the surface of the back 90 degrees relative to the path of direct sunlight. Anhingas spread their wings to enhance the drying of their feathers to shorten the amount of time that they lose body heat to evaporation and reduce the time necessary to restore the air insulation in the feathers; and to support metabolism when it is dry.   (Page 850)

While sunning themselves, the metabolic rate of the Ahinga eventually slows--and so does the rate of oxygen consumption.  (Page 847) As much as 38% compared to their metabolic rates without the sunning. (Page 848)

When Cormorants used spread-wing behavior, it was only after they had been dunked in water, and sometimes even without any simulated radiation. Then they'd spread their wings for very short periods, and there was no effect on their metabolic rate. The body temperature did rise, however.  It seems that Double Breasted Cormorants store this heat without effecting their metabolism. (page 848.)

Cormorants might use spread-wing behavior only for drying, to quickly restore their full insulation. Overall, the spread wing behavior has little effect on the energy expended by Cormorants. Page 849

I haven't read this anywhere yet, but it seems that this "stockpiled" heat, which is further preserved by the insulation of air near the Cormorant, would allow the Cormorant to maintain a constant metabolic rate throughout all activities, whether submerged or not. See? Sunbathing and diving is more complicated than I thought.

Update 8/15/2008-- A short summary of how the Anhinga's plumage becomes wet (as described above), and the use of the wing-spreading behavior for thermoregulation can also be found in The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior (National Audubon Society; 1st Edition, printed 2002; page 166.) (Thanks to Sharon for mentioning this.)

January 16, 2005  It was a little cool today at the park. As I entered the Elm Lake trail, I saw an Anhinga in one of the large puddles (or small ponds). Although I've read that Anhingas might be seen year 'round at the park, I don't see them very often over the winter. When I do see them, I rarely get close enough to get a good view. The image below (WET, WILD, AND COOL) shows that the one I found didn't seem shy at all. I think these are fine looking birds, and enjoy seeing them. The scientific name for this bird is fairly easy to remember--it's Anhinga Anhinga.  The Anhinga feeds by swimming with its body submerged, and using its pointed beak (see ANHINGA FACE, below), to spear fish. It doesn't swim very fast, and therefore is said to hunt "slower-moving" prey.
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                              WET, WILD, AND COOL                                        ANHINGA FACE
While it is swimming, the Anhinga will sometimes raise its head above water, like a sinuous periscope. The head is very flexible, and seems to bend in any direction. One of the nicknames for the Anhinga is "snake bird" and if you've ever seen an Anhinga's head poke out from among some aquatic vegetation, you'd know why. I took a few pictures of this bird, and went further on. I returned about 30 minutes later, and saw the Anhinga hunting. This is something else I usually don't get to see closely, and I was able to take a few pictures.  It swam by a number of times, circling around the puddle. (see NESSIE COMES TO VISIT, below, or the VIDEO CLIP (333KB) .) ---------
         NESSIE COMES TO VISIT  VIDEO CLIP (333KB)                            LEAVING THE WATER                                                     MAN, I'M SOAKED!
Anhingas absporb water into their feathers, which helps them remain submerged. Unfortunately, this has another effect. The water will cause the bird to lose heat, since there is no insulation from the soaked feathers.  So, from time to time, the Anhinga has to come out of the water and warm up. This Anhinga went right back to the log I'd originally seen it on (while swimming under the water!) and climbed out (see LEAVING THE WATER, above). It paused briefly (see MAN, I'M SOAKED, above). The air was a bit cool, and I felt sorry for the Anhinga as I felt the breeze on me and saw its soaked body and wings.
Then it slowly and majestically opened its wings to catch the sun and warm itself. (see the images below). While I can understand that it can increase surface area (solar absorption area) by opening its wings, I think it's odd that a large part of the wing surface is white, which is reflective. Wouldn't energy absorption be more efficient if the wings were entirely black?  I was very happy I got to see this.

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                                DANG, IT'S COLD!                                                          HEAVY WINGS                                                  WHAT A SIGHT!                                                         FROM BEHIND

June 02, 2003  The second time I ever went to Brazos Bend State Park, I was walking near Elm Lake when I glimpsed something dark splash into the water from a log. I couldn't see what it was, and continued walking. As I moved down the trail, from time to time I'd catch a view of something out of the corner of my eye. This "something" would surface, and appeared almost reptilian...like a snake or a longnecked turtle. However, every time I'd focus both eyes (or a camera) on it, it would disappear before I could get a clear view. This..."thing" seemed to be following me.
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                                                                                                   DRYING ITS WINGS
It took a year, during which I began working at the park, to find out that what I'd seen was an Anhinga; sometimes known as a "snake bird" because of its habit of sinuously twisting its neck around. This bird hunts fish underwater, spearing them with it's needle beak (see CLOSEUP, below).  Occasionally, the Anhinga's head will emerge from the water like a periscope; and conjures a mental image of the Loch Ness Monster (well, to *me*). Once, some park visitors were watching what they thought was a snake from one of the fishing piers. When I saw what they were looking at, and identified it as an Anhinga--a BIRD--they didn't believe me at first. From time to time, the bird will be seen perched above the water, with its wings spread as shown (see DRYING ITS WINGS, above; also FROM THE SIDE, below). This is to dry its feathers, which have no oils in them. All of these habits are similar to a similar bird called a Cormorant. The Anhinga has a beak like a needle, the Cormorant has a broader beak with a slight hook at the end. Also, the Anhinga has a very distinctive triangular tail visible while in flight.
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                        AGAIN FROM THE SIDE.                                                     CLOSE UP
 

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