Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Sample OBRC Report - Neotropic Cormorant

Had the OBRC annual meeting on Sunday, and similar to previous years - I end the day wanting to quit and never submit an OBRC report for the rest of my life. Yet here I am, less than 48 hours later - writing an OBRC report and creating a blog post to try and convince others to do the same when they find some goodies...

Took less than an hour, and was done within 4-5 hours of observing the bird... Best way to write these things is ASAP (and it turns out a better / more accurate report anyways) - and it's not that hard! Check it out (as a sample) 


OBRC Report – Neotropic Cormorant 1, adult

301 Frances Ave. Stoney Creek, Ontario
(from condo 1709 - with view over lake Ontario - looking NE)

31 March 2015
1st obs - roughly 7:50-7:55am
2nd obs - roughly 8:40-8:45am

Optics: Vortex Razor 20-60x Spotting Scope. Vortex Razor 8x42 Binoculars.

Camera: Canon 1Dx DLSR. 600mm F4 lens with a 2.0xTC for the second observation.

Circumstances: watching all birds from my condo on the 17th floor, as I often do… Several flocks of Canada Geese were observed heading SE to NW out over the lake, along with 3 groups of Tundra Swans (maybe 25-30 total birds). Lake was pretty calm, when a group of 30 cormorants appeared directly overhead, flying ENE along the shoreline (I was under them before they were visible, due to my condo building… I quickly spotted a very small bird, and as the flock moved around - I could see the small bird had a much longer tail (relatively) compared to the others. Knowing this was a NECO trait, I decided to run for my camera (which was in my bedroom closet) - but by the time I returned, the birds were far away and I only managed some distant shots from directly behind. The small size was obvious, but there was little else I could do.

Maybe 45 minutes later a flock of 20 cormorants appeared in the distance, coming westwards towards my place (but much further offshore). With my scope I could see the a smaller bird leading the flock, so I setup my camera, opened the door to my balcony, got some shoes on, and moved outside with my camera/scope ready… I could see that I was dealing with the same bird/group (as best as I could tell, even though we lost 10 birds) - and had good looks in the scope before heading for my camera. I snapped maybe 50-70 photos as the group passed, and was feeling pretty confident I was dealing with a NECO.

In review of the photos, >90% of the images showed a small patch of white feathering around the bill to complement the small size and structural difference, identifying the bird as an adult Neotropic Cormorant in breeding plumage. I edited 4 photos, posted them online, then posted to my local bird group (hambirds) and ontbirds to get the word out, as I watched them head towards Hamilton Harbour.

Description: Largely covered. Obviously smaller cormorant (reminds me of a Cackling Goose in a flock of Canada Geese), and with good views I could see a structurally longer tail than the nearby DCCO’s (something I haven’t seen well with previous observations). Beyond that, it looked like a slim/small cormorant… I find photos can be very misleading in judging size on variously flapping birds, and it was more obvious in life than the images tell. Review of photos (not visible in the scope, although I was photographing at it’s closest approach) show a tiny bit of white

Behaviour: The bird did not “fit in” to the flock at all… At first, all seemed pretty calm, but during the first observation it appeared to be trailing the flock and not “in a line” with the rest… During the second observation, it was leading the flock – but was constantly throwing it’s head backwards (up or hunched) and around at the birds behind it, as the others “stalled” – looking like it really didn’t want to lead the group anymore – before flying steadily for a bit (when they all sped up) – and it would try again to convince someone else to take charge. I’ve noticed this before with odd geese (Eg,/ SNGO) mixed into flocks of CANG… It’s like they don’t fly quite the same and have a hard time getting settled…

Similar Species: Smaller than DCCO, with a visibly longer tail. Proportional difference in photos is as expected for DCCO vs. NECO. White feathering on face indicates adult NECO. Size/structure obvious in photos eliminate other N.A. Cormorant species.

Weather: spectacular sunrise. 95-99% CC for observations. Exact details from the Burlington Lift Bridge have been saved as a screen capture. Winds/temps would be nearly identical to my location.


Experience with species: Self found (photographed) and OBRC accepted 2nd, 6th and 7th records for Ontario/Canada - with 2-3 “other” observations that “got away” or were viewed poorly… Extensive experience with DCCO and several hundred GRCO, along with several thousand PECO and a few hundred BRAC in the ABA area.

Additional Notes: A tiny cormorant was photographed in late March in Michigan (on Lake MI) in 2013, which I fully believe is a NECO, but I don’t believe the observers submitted it for review. Illinois (on Lake MI) had a bird last year (I believe - didn’t look it up) on 13 April (???) and on 29-30 March a young NECO was photographed in upstate New Jersey of this very year. (ebird). This indicates that they are moving early with DCCO’s here, as it has only been the last day or two that decent numbers started arriving on Lake Ontario (I have seen less than 100) in this cold spring.

Brandon Holden
yada yada yada... 

Photos included:
1 screen capture of the past 24hr weather conditions.
13 unique images of the bird (always the left hand bird when flying to the left/west).
2 additional (closer) crops of the two images above. 

First two images were from the first observation, 4th from the left. 

Remainder of the images are from the 2nd observation - always the left hand bird. 

It's that easy! (easier with photos, but I have other examples of birds without pics!) 

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