Mystery bird puzzles birder

Snow, Canada geese return to Kenai River flats as part of journey north

Posted: Tuesday, April 18, 2000

As it has been for thousands of years, the mouth of the Kenai River is once again a rest stop for waterfowl headed to Siberia from the Lower 48.

The Lesser Snow, Greater White-fronted and Taverner's Canada geese, Eurasian and American widgeons and Northern Pintail ducks have all congregated in the marshlands where the Kenai River meets Cook Inlet.

There also is a mystery bird that appears to be traveling with a group of widgeons that waterfowl watcher Randall Davis is hard-pressed to identify.

"I'm guessing it's a hybrid of some sort," said Davis, a fisheries biologist by trade.

Davis speculates the lone bird may have been the offspring of different types of widgeons and suspects it's sterile, as many hybrids are.

"The more I look at it, the more I think it's some sort of widgeon, but the colors aren't familiar," he said.

The mystery bird has light cheeks, almost white, but with some reddish color to them. It has some of the white markings near, but not on, it's tail like other widgeons. It appears to be comparable in size to the widgeons it was congregating with. Davis said the bird has some similarities to falcated widgeons, which are known by their sickle-shaped wing tips. The mystery bird has some of the characteristic wing tips, but not as many as others.

The much larger Canada and snow geese started arriving late last week, and Davis said he counted more than 100 on Sunday. The pure white snow geese are harder to spot, as they are feeding further from Bridge Access Road in areas that still are covered in snow. The Canada and white-fronts, along with many of the ducks and widgeons can be found closer to the road in the shallow water.

The birds stop here to rest and feed during their journey to Wrangel Island off the north coast of Siberia. In the summer, Davis said, there are 15,000 to 20,000 waterfowl on the island, and most of them pass through upper Cook Inlet. He said they spend between three and 10 days here, depending on how tired they got flying to Kenai and how abundant the food supply here is.

The migration will last several more weeks, and Davis said there should soon be families of the snow geese visiting Kenai.

"Later, there will be family groups with two white adults and two-to-five juveniles," he said.

The younger snow geese are not as dark as the Canada goose but have darker backs than their parents.

As for the mystery widgeon, Davis hopes to circulate photographs of it to other birders so they can help him identify it.

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