A Telling White Line

Well, I’ve just turned another year older which always brings an immediate reaction of “where the hell did that year go!”. Every year I set my sights on getting a bunch of stuff accomplished like finally getting caught up on my photography queue and designing out that cool Halloween decoration I’ve been mulling over the past 6 months. Then I wake up to Linda wishing me a happy birthday and bam, another cold flounder up across the face – crap, my queue is still three years deep and although I did get to a record number of Halloween props for this year’s haunted trail… I know I could have done more – what a slacker. Definitely need to recommit myself to being more productive. One area that has been going well as of late is my bird count.

Neotropic Cormorant shot at Galveston National Park and Seawolf Park in Galveston Texas January 2017

That there is the latest addition to my checklist. Should be assumed by now, but this sleek black bird comes to you courtesy of the Texas Gulf Coast. In particular, this addition was made in the Galveston Island area. These initial specimens were spotted in the Galveston Island State Park while on a birding trip back in January 2017. At the time I thought I was simply filling up my digital card with more pictures of Double-Crested Cormorants. These interesting looking birds are fairly common at waterways across all of the United States at some point during the year. When they are not riding the waves, they are generally just hanging around on docks and poles enjoying the lazy day – might even see them with their wings splayed out trying to get them to dry in the sun.

Neotropic Cormorant shot at Galveston National Park and Seawolf Park in Galveston Texas January 2017

Hit the jump to read more about this new addition.

I do have plenty of these birds in my collection already. In fact they debuted here on the blog back in April of 2016 (link here). Back in September 2016, they appeared again complete with a little tale of Mariya and Anita and their quest to make it to the Olympics (link here). In that post I mentioned they were probably Double-Crested Cormorants, but then left the question open as to whether they could be Neotropic Cormorants. That was wishful thinking at the time since the Neotropic had not been checked. I’ve become a little bit smarter on Cormorants since that post. Turns out one of those shots back in September – well sure enough it was a Neotropic. You are staring at another set of Neotropic Cormorants. Yes, technically I have had the check since that 2016 post and never even knew it.

Neotropic Cormorant shot at Galveston National Park and Seawolf Park in Galveston Texas January 2017
A key piece of that additional education was knowledge of how to tell three of the Cormorants apart – the Great, the Double-Crested and as you would suspect now, the Neotropic. Turns out there is a telling white line or absence of a line that provides clues to the identification. The Double-Crested is void of a white outline around the face side of the bill – basically goes from the yellow of the bill directly into the black feathering in the face. Great Cormorants – which I do not have yet (at least that I am aware of) has a large white outline separating the bill yellow from the black face. Now look closely at these shots and take note of this area in these specimens
Neotropic Cormorant shot at Galveston National Park and Seawolf Park in Galveston Texas January 2017

First off, you can conclude that these are not Double-Crested due to fact there is a white outline present. From a relative perspective the white line that is there is very narrow – almost like someone took a white crayon and drew along the edge of the bill. This narrow white outline is the indicator that the birds you are looking at are indeed Neotropic. Once I made that connection, I can tell almost immediately when I come upon these birds. As is often the case, with the newfound awareness, I see this variety ALL the time. They were everywhere we went. There are other ways to tell what species, but I found the white line to be the easiest – will cover another telling feature in a bit. For reference, the shots above were taken on the hiking trail in the State Park. Recommend not doing that trail if it has been wet out. They have some pretty nice boardwalks (as you can tell), but getting to them can be a muddy mess.

Did I mention those beaks are perfectly tuned for fishing?

Neotropic Cormorant shot at Galveston National Park and Seawolf Park in Galveston Texas January 2017

The specimen seen here was found at Seawolf Park – not far from Galveston Island State Park. Thought these fishing pictures came out a lot better than the ones used in the previous post – truthfully, all of these pictures look a lot better than those previous ones. The great thing about blogging this long, is you can easily see any progress you might be making in your work. Second to the first image in this post, the shot below happens to be one of my favorites.

Neotropic Cormorant shot at Galveston National Park and Seawolf Park in Galveston Texas January 2017

Okay, I mentioned there was another quick way to tell the difference between the Neotropic and the Double-Crested. The tail on the Neotropic is significantly larger than the Crested. To me, secondary to the white line feature because you need a reference for the tail characteristic. If you haven’t seen them together, it might be hard to determine if one is significantly bigger. Once you do see them together or have a pretty good feel for the proportions of Crested, it tends to stick out. You can see the Neotropic’s tail here fanned out in the water

Neotropic Cormorant shot at Galveston National Park and Seawolf Park in Galveston Texas January 2017

… and it is even MORE noticeable when you come upon the extremely rare Double-Tailed Neotropic variety. This super rare subspecies is so fast in the water any attempts to photograph it usually come out as a blurry black shadow racing just under the water. Rumor has it Loch Ness is really an overgrown Double-Tail and not a monster at all. I predict a History Channel show “The hunt for Double-Tail” to be coming to a network near you.
Neotropic Cormorant shot at Galveston National Park and Seawolf Park in Galveston Texas January 2017

Looks like all I have left is the classic sign pose. I’ve given you some of the key features of this new bird in the context above. Like the last couple of birds featured here, the Neotropic has a very narrow region here in North America preferring to spend its time in the more tropical climates from the bottom tip of Texas well into most of South America. The Neotropic will plunge dive (relatively low heights) – have yet to witness any of the specimens I’ve encountered doing this. Lastly, according to Cornell, they eat their prey head first – will try to verify that latter fact on my next encounter.

Neotropic Cormorant shot at Galveston National Park and Seawolf Park in Galveston Texas January 2017

That sums up the post on my new (but in reality old), check in the birding list. I must say, very sleek looking birds and quite frankly the white highlighting definitely boosts their cool factor. Stay warm everyone!

2 thoughts on “A Telling White Line”

    1. Ha, I was in the midst of getting everything ready for this post on the Neotropic when I noticed you added your kayaking update on your blog. Thought you might wonder about my obscure request on you picture of the similar birds – true to this post, I was trying my best to see if they had the large white line for the Great Cormorant – in which case I was going to be jealous because I do not have that species yet! Now you’ll be able to tell quickly if yours are different than the three outlined here – note, there are a couple more on our West Coast, but those have blue and some reds on their face coloring (also at the base of the bill) so they are easier to identify.

      Appreciate you taking the time to visit me and especially for the comments! (also like following your adventures in paddling – something I have never even tried, but reads like a lot of fun)

      Liked by 1 person

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