Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Phalaropes

You might be asking yourself "what exactly is a phalarope?" Great question. A phalarope is a type of shorebird. There are 3 species in the world: Red, Red-necked and Wilson's and all occur in North America. We occasionally have Wilson's phalaropes stop by in New Jersey on their way to and from the arctic where they breed. Red and Red-necked can be seen off the cost of of New Jersey flying and swimming offshore. Yes, swimming. All phalaropes swim. You can see Red-necked and Wilson's phalaropes swimming in this video that I shot in Utah.


They spin around in the water to trap food in a little whirlpool. Pretty cool. We saw a lot of phalaropes on Antelope Island. They are already finished breeding and heading back south for the winter and its only July. We stopped along the causeway to admire the throngs of phalaropes in the water and along the shoreline when all of a sudden, they all took flight. Our group of birders spotted a Peregrine Falcon chasing after the birds. Birds often fly in "murmuration" to confuse the predator. I've seen murmurations before but this one was spectacular.


You can hear our tour guide say that he estimates 250,000 phalaropes in the area. Wow. Unfortunately for the shorebirds, there were only 249,999 after the Peregrine flew through. We watch the falcon have lunch on on the mudflat while the other birds settled down. I don't think I've ever seen a flock of birds that large before.

Seeing that many birds is really incredible but you can't really get a good look or photo of any individual bird. On another day, we did get close up to a few shorebirds including a few Wilson's phalaropes.

Wilson's Phalarope
Here is a phalarope with a Long-billed Dowitcher.

Long-billed Dowitcher and Wilson's Phalarope
And here is another fraternizing with another Wilson. This time, Wilson's Snipe. 2 of the birds named after the father of ornithology, Alexander Wilson on the same pond. Neither of them gets the irony of their human-given names.

Wilsons facing off - phalarope and snipe
We spent a good bit of time at the pond watching other birds as well including White-faced Ibis.

White-faced Ibis
And a few Common Nighthawks that wouldn't call it quits even after the sun was up in the sky. I caught a few photos. You can see the mountains in the background.

Common Nighthawk
The trip was pretty great. Although we raced around between 3 states, we also got to spend quality time with many of the birds that we saw.
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