Since I got no takers for my Western gull mystery, I figured I would now ask if you could give me a hand with the following grebe and loon ID. Both photos were taken last month (January 2014) on the Pacific coast, near Vancouver (a few steps from here, in fact). Keep in mind both birds were very far away, the light was quite bad and I had to severely crop both photos (which explains the fact they are grainy). BTW, this is the highest resolution possible.
The first photo is of a grebe. In my book (National Geographic, 6th ed.), they say this is a “paler winter” adult. The main clue: This bird clearly has a flat crown.
The second photo is of a loon. In this case, many questions arise: Are those scales or speckles on the back? Are their any thick or thin “neck straps”? What colour is the bill? How extensive is the white area on the face? In this case, I believe we are faced with a second year bird that is just completing its transformation to full adulthood.