An Arctic Loon (Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica) is being reported from an inland lake in Texas. This would be a first state record so it has quite a bit of attention focussed on it. Unfortunately, there are, as yet, only 5 photos and it is a bit of a struggle to make out details. The photographer has done well to get anything. Here is the link to the photos and we'd appreciate your feedback here. There are also Common (Great Northern Gavia immer) and a Pacific (Gavia pacifica) at this location so observers have had a chance to compare all 3 species.
Cin-Ty and I have been trying to get a handle on the photos but could do with some fresh eyes and a fresh perspective. A while ago we put together a small article in Birding highlighting the differences between the Siberian race viridigularis of Arctic (G. arctica viridigularis) vs Pacific. It's online here for reference.
The below is from Cin-Ty (who lives in Texas):
Let me start with the usual caveats. Since I haven't seen this bird (and probably won't because I'm stuck teaching) and the photos are not of great quality (although pretty damn good for a bird so far away!), everything I say here is simply based on the photos. Sitting here looking at photos really can't replace field observations.
I will state from the outset that I don't think we can ID this bird with 100 % confidence from these photos. However, maybe some of my thoughts below will encourage those who can make it to see this bird to get some better photos, particularly since this would be a first record for texas.
So here are my thoughts for what it's worth. I will refer to the 5 photos on the NARBA website (top photo representing #1 and so forth).
a) there is a lot of white above the eye (#1, #2)and that's not typical for Arctic or Pacific, which both are pretty dark above the eye, particularly Arctics. So on Arctic or Pacific, the eye rarely looks "isolated". For juvenile Commons, white above the eye is a very common feature, offing leaving the look of a lonely dark eye on a white face. The back feathers on 1-4 look scalloped, so presumably this bird is a juvenile. Again, all of this could be an artifact of the photo, so it would be really helpful if someone remembers how much white was above the eye.
b) there is a squarish notch on the side of the neck (1,2), again inconsistent with Arctic, but consistent with Common.
c) uptilted posture of 1 doesn't really jive with Common, and looks Arctish-like though photos 2-4 are level-billed. Here's where field notes can replace photo artifacts
d) I photo 3, the bill has a strongly angled lower culmen. Assuming the bill isn't deformed, this is more consistent with Common (or even Yellow-billed even though this bird isn't a yellow-billed) rather than Arctic or Pacific. The bill looks too heavy for Arctic...
e) As for general overall size and impression, I am not too worried (as Matt pointed out) that this bird doesn't look as cute and small as a Pacific since G. a. viridigularis are pretty large bulky birds.
f) Now, when I looked at the NARBA website, there were only 4 photos and my initial reaction was Common and so was Andy's reaction. But then just a few minutes ago, a fifth photo appeared taken on a later date (photo 5). Photo 5 does indeed look like a Pacific/Arctic type since it looks so small and appears to have a tiny bill (but this photo is so poor that I wouldn't have called it a loon if nobody told me). Photo 5 does show white flank patches, so it certainly looks promising for an arctic. Of course, I'm very confused because photo 5 doesn't even look like the same birds in photos 1-4. Again, photos can be very misleading, or at least misleading to me.
Anyway, that's my 2 cents worth for what it's worth. I hope I haven't offended anyone. Better photos of the face and neck could help nail this bird down. The white flanks, while consistent with Arctic, do not rule out other loon species. So please try to document this bird as it would be unfortunate if a potential first record didn't get accepted just because of poor photos.
Here is a photo of a recent Arctic Loon in Oregon on a Surfbirds blog
and this one with a red-throated loon for comparison
By the way, here's a photo of a Common Loon with a deformed bill by Ian Boustead
Common Loon, Southern California, Bolsa Chica 2 Nov 2002 © Ian Boustead
This bird with it's deformed bill looks superficially like a White-billed, however note the plumage differences.