Three oddly plumaged brant, intermediate in several respects between 'Atlantic' or 'Pale-bellied Brant' (hrota) and ?Black Brant? (nigricans) were photographed and described on western Long Island, New York during 2002 (two in March, the third in October). Their plumage corresponded to that of the little-studied, and apparently genetically distinctive small population known among goose biologists as 'Gray-bellied Brant,' which breeds only on a few islands in the western Canadian High Arctic, stages in migration in the inner Aleutians, and winters in a small portion of the Greater Puget Sound area. But Gray-bellied Brant also wander, having recently been found in winter as far from Puget Sound as Baja California in the west, and Iceland and the British Isles to the east?these strays presumably having migrated southwest with Pacific-wintering nigricans and southeast with Atlantic-wintering hrota, respectively. Despite their tendency to associate with locally wintering hrota and nigricans, mixed pairs or hybrid young involving these vagrants have never been demonstrated in North America?nor have mixed pairs or hybrid young between hrota and nigricans, despite widespread belief to the contrary. Complicating the picture is that the type specimen of nigricans, a distinctive New Jersey specimen collected in 1846, also differs from 'true' Pacific Coast Black Brant in several respects, in a manner qualitatively similar to the LI birds described herein. The appearance of the type, often referred to informally as 'Lawrence?s Brant,' differs from typical Black Brant to such an extent that Delacour and Zimmer (1952) rejected application of nigricans to Pacific Black Brant, to which the name orientalis would have to be applied instead. Recent examination of museum specimens of breeding- and winter-area Gray-bellies confirms that Lawrence?s Brant closely resembles some of them?as do these three Long Island birds. Whatever the ultimate statuses of Gray-bellied and Lawrence's Brant prove to be?and however the relationships among them and the three currently recognized other taxa of brant eventually play out?birds resembling Gray-bellied/Lawrence?s are occurring on both Atlantic and Pacific coasts and perhaps also in interior North America, so knowledge of their plumage variation should now be factored into the identification of all oddly-plumaged or out-of-range brant, but especially of putative 'nigricans' inland or on the Atlantic Coast.
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Three geese resembling Gray-Bellied Brant/Lawrence's Brant from Long Island, New York