As if it were not clear before, this quiz once again drives home the fact that I could just turn this whole thing over to dead bird quiz expert Wouter, who is always right and who generally does a nice job walking us through how he arrives at his i.d.
This time, he nailed both species. Our first, Bird A, from down south, is a Royal Tern. The most conspicuous feature on this specimen is that rather large, bright orange beak. Who has such a beak? Well, Royal Terns, Caspian Terns and Elegant Terns all come to mind. How to narrow it down though. First, the color of the crown of the head. In our specimen, we see a broad white forehead with a black fringe at the back of the head. Caspian Terns are ruled out, therefore, as they have at least black streaking over the entire crown year-round. Elegant Terns and Royal Terns both have white foreheads in the non-breeding season, so how do we tell which Bird A might be? First, bill shape. Elegant Terns have a thinner bill with a slight downward droop to the tip. Royals, by contrast, have a more robust, and straighter bill. There’s also the matter of the black on the head. The black patch extends farther forward toward the forehead in Elegant Terns, and from what I can see of Bird A, it has more extensive white than most Elegants.
Incidentally, I’m not sure if it’s mainly the apparent frown, or the receding hairline with a wild fringe about the ears, but I think Royal Terns look a lot like John Adams.
Both Wouter and relative newcomer to the DBQ, known only as “capteagleyes” identified Bird A as a Royal Tern. I doubt John Adams would appreciate being linked with a Royal anything, given his stint on King George’s “to be hanged” list of traitors, but I digress.
Now, for Bird B. Both Wouter and Captain concur that this is a cormorant. That tell-tale beak gives it away for sure. But is it a Great Cormorant, or a Double-crested? Really, it could be either based on this photo. Double-cresteds are decidedly more common, at least in reports from Seanetters, and they are also smaller, though there is a good deal of overlap between the two species in measurements. If we had more of the plumage and skin coloration intact, we could use the color of the throat patch to determine species, and the color of the belly and chest to get to age. Wouter spotted some lighter feathers over the body, and those are more consistent with the brownish-gray wash over the belly in young Double-cresteds. I would lean toward that as an i.d., though we cannot entirely rule out Great Cormorant either.