The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Snow geese grace Valdez with an unexpected visit

Migrating water fowl spotted on tide flats give bird watchers a treat


Photo courtesy Bob Benda

A flock of snow geese – rare visitors to the Valdez area – have been seen on the Duck Flats and surrounding waters in recent days.

Valdez bird watchers welcomed a rare visitor to the area last week: snow geese.

"This is not common," Bob Benda, the retired biology professor from Prince William Sound and noted bird authority said Monday. "They're infrequent migrators through here."

Benda said the snow geese came to his attention last week after he was contacted by his son who spotted them while working on the container dock.

"There were 12 to 15 of them," Benda said. "That was it."

He also noted that he had not seen snow geese in the area for at least 10 years.

"That's not to say they haven't been here," he said, but no reports of sightings had been brought to his attention.

Valdez bird watchers are normally watching for the more common Canadian goose, which migrates through the area in spring and fall.

"There was a small flock of Canadian geese with them," he said.

The geese are known to winter on the west coast of North America, from British Columbia to Northern California. The geese nest in the arctic regions of Russia, Canada and Alaskan tundra.

The Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game (ADF&G) website says the migratory water fowl are seen most east of Valdez.

"In the spring, on their way north, these birds stop over in Cook Inlet and can often be seen near the mouth of the Kenai River," it says in an article authored by Tom Rothe.

The geese are small, four to seven pounds, and are white feathered except for black wing tips. The US Geological Survey says the birds' average length is 19 inches with a wingspan of 58-59 inches.

Photo courtesy Bob Benda

Snow geese traipsing the Valdez shoreline last weekend.

"Adult birds have pink legs and a pink bill, while the young have grayish-brown bills and legs and feathers tending to sooty-gray," ADF&G said on its website. "Dark-bodied "blue phase" snow geese, common in the eastern Canadian arctic, have been seen rarely in Alaska."

ADF&G says timing is everything for these rare geese.

"The timing of ice and snowmelt in spring is more critical on both staging and nesting grounds for snows than other geese because they nest in the far north and have a short breeding season," Rothe's article said.

While the final destination of the small number snow geese passing through Valdez is unknown, the North Slope Borough has been conducting ongoing studies of its migrant population. In 2008, it recorded over 4,600 nests within its confines, with an estimated population of 17,660 geese. In the summer of 2013, a borough study said its summer population was growing.


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