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Northern NY gets rare visit from a pelican

ALBANY, N.Y. - ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A brown pelican, denizen of warm southern seashores, is delighting birders in northern New York with a visit to a chilly Adirondack Mountain lake.

The bird has been a topic of discussion on several birding Web sites since Barb Putnam of Albany's Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club reported seeing it Wednesday on Fourth Lake, one of a chain of lakes 90 miles northwest of Albany.

Carolyn Belknap, who lives near Fourth Lake, went out to look for the pelican Thursday and took pictures that she posted online.

"When I heard someone had spotted a pelican, I thought maybe they'd been out cocktail sailing," Belknap said. "But when I went out in my kayak, there it was, standing on a dock. At first I thought it was a statue; it looked pretty fake."

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the brown pelican's normal summer range is the southeastern coast, where it often follows fishing boats and hangs out on piers for handouts. Its most distinguishing feature is its long bill with a deep pouch for catching fish during dramatic dives into the ocean.

The bird is rarely found on inland waterways.

"It's gotta be a first for the Adirondacks," said Gary Goodness of Albany, president of the Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club. "It's wearing a leg band and isn't wary of people, so at first I thought it might have been an escape from a zoo or aviary."

He contacted an aviary in western New York that had numerous waterfowl escape during July flooding, but they weren't missing a pelican. And the bird's leg band is the type used on wild birds, not captive ones, Goodness said.

"It's very unusual that they'd be in the high peaks of the Adirondacks, but it's not totally out of the question since they're magnificent flyers," said Richard Guthrie, a veteran bird bander south of Albany.

Guthrie said there has been a recent increase in sightings of brown pelicans along the Northeast coast, most likely because their population has expanded dramatically in the South.

After the pesticide DDT caused severe declines in brown pelican populations, it was listed in 1970 as an endangered species throughout its range. The ban on DDT led to its recovery, and it was removed from the endangered list in 1985. The total population now exceeds historical levels, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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