English and Scientific names:

Western Grebe,  Aechmophorus occidentalis

Number of individuals: 

1 in basic plumage


Locality: LOUISIANA: 

Cameron Parish

Specific Locality:

nearshore waters about 2 miles E of town of Holly Beach

Date(s) when observed:

December 20, 2003


Time(s) of day when observed:

about 1:30-2:30 or 3:00


Reporting observer and address:


Paul Conover

501 Adrienne St., Lafayette, LA 70506


Light conditions:

It was a very bright day, with the sun out over the sea, but we were able to drive into a position where the light was in our favor.

Other observers accompanying reporter who also identified the bird(s):

Dave Patton


Optical equipment: 

Zeiss 10X’s, Kowa 20-60 scope, videocam rigged to scope.


Distance to bird(s): 

200-400 yards

Duration of observation:

1-1 1/2 hrs.



Nearshore Gulf, waters very calm and flat.

Behavior of bird: 

Bird was floating in manner typical of grebes. At the beginning and end of the sighting, it remained up constantly. During the middle of the observation it was diving constantly, remaining up for about 5 seconds at a time. The bird was drifting steadily eastward, probably 1 mile per hour.


A large, swan-like grebe, black above and white below. Bill long and dull yellow. The lines of the black and white areas were sharp, without any smudging or blending noticeable—except below eye.

       The head seen in profile was long and angular, sloping narrowly down to the bill. From the front or back, the head shape was like an inverted triangle, with a ridge above the eyes widening the skull. The crown was black, with the black leading back in a broad line along the hindneck to the mantle. The solid black of the crown extended down onto the sides of the face to about the eyeline, below which it became noticeably grayer, somewhat like a running mascara smudge. The bottom edge of this line began an eyelength or two behind the eye, ran well under the eye, and meandered forward to meet the gape. The lores were a slightly lighter gray.

       The bill was yellowish, edged above with dusky. The dusky line of the culmen appeared to be mirrored below on the mandible. In certain very bright light, especially on the video, the bill appeared very bright yellow-- clearly due to reflection or overexposure. In even light, it appeared a plain dull yellow.  

       The long body rode low, and appeared all black from stem to stern. 


Similar species:

Clark’s Grebe is very similar. The amount of dark below the eye and the duller yellow color of the bill eliminates Clark’s.

        For a good portion of this observation, I was peering through the viewfinder of my videocam. However, given that the fieldmarks of importance on this pair are areas of black and white, that didn’t handicap me too much. Dave watched it through his scope throughout, and from the outset was studying the bill color, flank pattern, and facial pattern of the bird. Between the two of us, and the videotape, we saw nothing inconsistent with Western, and nothing that pointed at Clark’s.

Photographs or tape recordings obtained?

Video and stills from video. Stills attached.

Previous experience: 

I’ve seen them in numbers out west perhaps a dozen times, in summer and winter, including direct comparisons between Western and Clark’s at close range in winter. I’ve filmed them, and refer to the film and stills occasionally.

Notes made during the observation 

mental notes

Notes made from memory


Are you positive of your identification? If not, explain: 




Paul Conover

Date and time: 

Dec. 22, 2003