I missed him the first time.
Over the Christmas holiday my family had a mini reunion in Boca Raton, Florida. Between bouts of happy socializing and overeating I went birding at one of my favorite places, Wakodahatchee Wetlands.
On December 23 I spent five hours there and didn’t even notice a very special bird. Perhaps that’s because he was trying to fit in and, to my untrained eye, he succeeded.
The next day I read the Florida “Birdbrains” bird reports and found out I’d missed a neotropic cormorant hanging out on the double-crested cormorants’ nesting island. He’d been there a while, had a predictable perch, and was easy to see. I just hadn’t noticed him.
What a disappointment! He would have been a Life Bird (a species I’d never seen before). I went back to Wakodahatchee at my next opportunity and this time I knew what to look for.
Neotropic cormorants (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) range from South America to Texas and Louisiana but are rare in Florida. They’re very similar to double-crested cormorants except they’re slightly smaller, sometimes paler, and have a white line where the lower beak meets the chin. You can see this in Dan Irizarry’s photo above (double-crested on left, neotropic on right) but it’s not particularly noticeable when he’s one bird preening on a crowded island of similar birds.
On my next visit I found him. He was blending in with the larger birds and able to regain his favorite perch even when a double-crested cormorant used it in his absence.
As a bird out of place, he was trying to fit in. In my opinion he did a pretty good job of it.
(photo of double-crested and neotropic cormorants at Apopka, Florida by Dan Irizarry)