African Cormorant

African Cormorant in Belgium?

Standing out like the proverbial ‘sore thumb’ in the NW Europe this juvenile Cormorant is white from just below the dark crown to its undertail coverts. Peter Adriaens, Nieuwpoort,  Belgian Coast, 8 August 2010.


Quite fascinating was my response on receiving a set of photos 3 days ago from well-know Belgium birder Peter Adriaens with the big Q. Could this be an African ‘White-breasted’ Cormorant?  There are 2 forms of Great Cormorant in Africa- maroccanus (Hartert, 1906), of coastal north-west Africa and lucidus (Lichtenstein, 1823), of coastal west and South Africa and inland East Africa. I know lucidus from East Africa and many British birders will be familiar with maroccanus from Morocco. I have not knowingly seen a bird like this in the UK. I am wondering if anyone else has.

Here are some of my  questions / observations which were also enhanced by conversation with Richard Millington (who knows his Cormys!) :

In the photos (note to self: always be aware when interpreting photos!) the bird looks more juvenile than 1st summer with no moult contrast in the rectrices and very extensive pale tipping over brownish washed wing coverts and pale tipped remiges. It appears to have the classic pointed pale tipped tertials of juveniles versus the rounded dark-fringed tertials of 2nd calendar year birds.

There does seem to be some moult in the wing coverts- which suggests it is an ‘older’ juvenile i.e. perhaps one that has hatched in warmer climes with mid-winter breeding strategy  – a bird say abroad 6-9 months old? (though I don’t know enough about breeding times of maroccanus/ lucidus). Peter pointed out that  BWP says nothing about the replacement of wing coverts in post-juvenile moult of sinensis. Only head, neck, upper mantle, part of breast and belly are moulted. Further more in a preliminary review of photographs of juvenile sinensis from July – October none seem to show any wing covert moult.

The white on the underparts most especially in face pattern does seem very pro moroccanus/ lucidus– bit too extreme even for worn 1st summer sinensis.

As for vagrancy- the North African birds seem eminently likely to occur, occasionally with birds from the English channel regions which regularly winter in southern Spain (and perhaps some  overlapping in winter range into North Africa maroccanus territory). It would not be that surprising to find new youngster carried north with returning migrants would it?

At the moment, tome, the photos appear to show a candidate maroccanus/ lucidus with some questions and clearly more to learn. Its one of those – lets explore this subject and see where it leads! There seems to be only limited data on the appearance and moult timing of ‘African’ juveniles. Maybe the bird will turn up in the southern UK this autumn as Continental sinensis from the low countries disperse out north and west?

Other comments made by Peter as least interesting, in regard to maroccanus/ lucidus:

*the greater coverts, particularly the outer ones, have more prominent pale tips than in most juvenile sinensis

*the median and lesser coverts show extensive pale edges, in flight creating a bit of a pale wing panel set off against mostly dark greater coverts – quite Shag-like, actually, and unlike the average sinensis

*the lower scapulars appear quite pale from most angles

The resemblance to this juvenile lucidus from South Africa seems unreal:

This bird is even moulting its median coverts!

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