Ramer Lake, Imperial County, California
27 May 2003
When we arrived at the west end of the levee that bisects Ramer Lake, the bird was not visible. I decided to drive to the middle of the levee when I discovered my eyeglasses were missing. We spent some 15 minutes looking for them without success. We moved to a vantage point near the middle of the levee scoping carefully through the dense colony of nesting Cattle Egrets, Black-crowned Night-Herons, Double-crested Cormorants, Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets. Still no luck. I moved to another vantage point a little to the west and managed to locate the Anhinga low in the dense tangles and mostly obscured. The bird remained in the same spot for the next half hour while I attempted to take digital images by hand-holding my Olympus D550z through Robbie's Nikon FieldScope. Photography was extremely difficult under these circumstances as the bird was a long way off and usually obscured by branches and/or other birds. The two images you see here are the best I could do. Other images taken by Henry Detwiler on 11 April 2003 have been posted at the site above.
I concentrated on photography and took no notes while watching the bird. The following description is based partly on notes made in the car about a half hour after leaving the site and by reference to these photos:
Adult male Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) in full breeding plumage. A long thin black cormorant-like bird with thin neck, long tail and obvious white wing patches. It appeared about as long as a nearby nesting Double-crested Cormorant, but much thinner and smaller bodied. The head was black with a very obvious turquoise blue eyering. The small head was no larger than the snake-like neck. Wispy, light-buff head and neck plumes extended from the black head and neck creating a fuzzy, rather punk look. The bill was very long, thin and pointed, yellowish with a dark culmen.
The black wings were marked with bold white patches on the coverts. The rest of the body was black except for the long scapulars which were black with white centers.The tail was very long, black with light buff tips. The feet and legs were pink and fully webbed.
The bird bowed and raised its wings several times. It also contorted itself while preening.
This is the third Anhinga I have seen in California. Two prior sightings were of single birds at Sweetwater Reservoir in San Diego County in 1977 and at Lee (Corona) Lake, Riverside County in 1984.
This record is rendered somewhat controversial by the presence of an escaped African Darter (Anhinga melanogaster rufa) also in the area. I saw that bird at Ramer Lake several years ago and it has apparently been present off-and-on. More recently it has been seen at nearby Fig Lagoon.