Double-crested Cormorants Take Tactical Advantage of the Desjardins Canal’s Dead End

In Dundas, Ontario, there is an old unused canal called the Desjardins Canal which ends  at the beginning of the Urquhart Butterfly Garden. I explored the Garden a few times in 2017 while in town for other reasons, including visiting nearby McMaster University. The butterflies and flowers were worth seeing and as an added bonus I discovered that the almost stagnant nearby Desjardins Canal is well-used by birds and wildlife. On one visit, I watched some intriguing behaviour by a large dive of Double-crested Cormorants.

Where There Are Butterflies There Should Be Birds

Photo of Wilsons Warbler Urquhart on NaturalCrooksDotCom

On my mid-September visit to Urquhart Gardens, Monarchs and Painted Lady butterflies were migrating and so were several warblers. This Wilson’s Warbler spent most of its time hidden by twigs and branches but luckily popped out long enough for me to see it well.

Photo of Palm Warbler Urquhart on NaturalCrooksDotCom

This Palm Warbler was less co-operative for a photo but let me see itself clearly enough to identify it.

Photo of Nashville Warbler Urquhart on NaturalCrooksDotCom

And this Nashville Warbler was also more interested in finding food than in photographers.

Double-crested Cormorants Launch a Food Drive in the Dundas Desjardins Canal

While at Urquhart, I ambled along the path beside the end of the Desjardin Canal. I had seen a Green Heron here on another visit and wondered if it was still around.

I stopped to inspect some Goldenrod in full blaze, when my peripheral vision noticed something swimming towards me.

Photo of Double Crested Cormorants Flotilla Urquhart on NaturalCrooksDotCom

It was a very large group of Double-crested Cormorants. Some were diving but most were simply swimming forward in rows that stretched from bank to bank. They were quickly approaching the squared off end of the canal. As they got closer, more and more birds started diving.

They stayed, still hunting, near the end of the canal for a few minutes, then turned en masse and started down the canal again.

Photo of Double Crested Cormorants Flotilla End of Canal Urquhart on NaturalCrooksDotCom

I wondered as I watched whether they had been deliberately or only accidentally  driving all of the fish up the canal to where the only escape for a scared sunfish would be back past all the birds. Did they intentionally herd the fish this way? If so, had they done this many times before?

Photo of Double Crested Cormorants Flotilla Reverse Urquhart on NaturalCrooksDotCom

For several dozen metres, the group stayed together on the way back down the canal. Eventually, though the birds dispersed.

Photo of Double Crested Cormorant Urquhart on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Many of them climbed out to dry off. Frankly, I don’t find Cormorants appealing to look at.

I did find a reference to these birds driving “fish to heads of narrow bays” so it is possible that this was a deliberate act.

Other Denizens of the Desjardins Canal Area

Photo of Great Egret Urquhart on NaturalCrooksDotCom

This Great Egret, who also benefited from the fish drive, is more appealing to my eye.

Photo of Monarch Thistle Urquhart on NaturalCrooksDotCom

I did see some butterflies, too, including this Monarch.

Photo of Hooded Mergansers Urquhart on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Some Hooded Mergansers were also in the Canal. This one in the back gave the front one quite a chase.

Photo of Praying Mantis Urquhart on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Butterflies weren’t the only insects in flight. I watched this Mantis fly across the path and land in a shrub.

Photo of Gull Urquhart on NaturalCrooksDotCom

There were several Gulls around. I’m saving Gull-identification for retirement, so I won’t check what kind this is, though I suspect it’s a Herring or Ring-billed juvenile.

Photo of Painted Lady Urquhart on NaturalCrooksDotCom

This Painted Lady enjoyed the Butterfly bush flowers along the fence line. I try to get a look at the underside of the wings like this because if there are 5 “eye” spots, it’s a Painted Lady, and if there are only 2 it’s an American Lady.

Eventually I finished my ramble around the Canal and Garden. The last bird I met was one of the first I had encountered. The Wilson’s Warbler had only moved a few dozen metres from near the parking lot to the middle of the Butterfly Garden. He popped out briefly as if to say “Tally Ho!” then disappeared into the twigs and branches again.

Photo of Wilsons Warbler B Urquhart on NaturalCrooksDotCom

I hope I’ll see him sometime next spring; Though I won’t be able to recognize him, perhaps he will recognize me!

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Did you ever watch a group of birds working towards a common goal? Did you think it was a planned decision or just a happy coincidence? Please share your experience with a comment.

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