Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus)
Fig Lagoon, Seeley, Imperial County, CA
28 November 2010
Photos © 28 November 2010 by Joseph Morlan. All rights reserved.
Robbie Fischer and I arrived about 1:00pm to look for Neotropic Cormorants at Fig Lagoon. One bird was first reported by Guy McCaskie on 23 September and another found by Mark Billings on 11 November. Three birds reportedly seen 25 November; and a report of four the next day need substantiation. Two were present through January of last winter and these are likely the same individuals returning.
We parked on the top of the cliff on the south side and scoped the snags across the way. The wind was very strong and it was impossible to keep the scope sturdy outside the car, so I set the scope up inside the back seat. Eventually I located two Neotropic Cormorants resting on snags along with numerous Double-crested Cormorants. I attempted to disgiscope these distant birds, but the birds were too far and the scope too unstable. We drove around to the low road on the north side of the lagoon, but when we arrived at the snag with the Neotropic Cormorants, all the birds flew to the northwest end of the lagoon. Driving further, I eventually located a single Neotropic Cormorant swimming and diving with Double-crested Cormorants and managed a few distant digiscoped images. In the image to the right, one adult Neotropic Cormorant is visible in the middle. The camera was a Panasonic DMC-LZ5 hand-held to a Nikon FieldScope 3 with 30X WA eyepiece.
The following description is based on memory and on the photos.
All the birds were similar. At first I was able to pick out the distant perched Neotropic Cormorants by their somewhat smaller size, but longer tail compared to the many Double-crested Cormorants. The key was the narrow gular patch which from my distance did not show yellow, but did show a narrow crisp white border coming to a point just behind the gape. Both were otherwise all black with a grayish bill, pale at the base, hooked at the tip and often held angled up. When swimming the Neotropic Cormorant often held its long tail up out of the water, unlike the Double-crested Cormorants. I only saw two birds together perched and it is possible that one of them was the same individual seen later swimming. However, I understand that there may be three adult Neotropic Cormorants present at Fig Lagoon and some observers have claimed as many as four. I am satisfied to report that we saw at least two.
California has 21 previously accepted records. This species has been expanding its range into Arizona in recent decades. Formerly accidental there, it is now regular in many localities and even outnumbers Double-crested Cormorants in some places. Likewise it has increased in Southern California where all records come from the Imperial Valley and along the Colorado River.
Additional Photo (external links)
Tom Bensen - 11 November (swimming).
Eric Kallen - 11 November (perched)
Robert McNab - 20 November (two birds perched). I suspect these may be the same two birds we saw on the same snag.