Sunday, April 30, 2017

Patch Phalaropes

At this time of year in Arizona, it is a very good time to see shorebirds in migration.  It's fun because many of these shorebirds will be in breeding plumage.  If lucky, birders will sometimes find striking birds such as Stilt Sandpiper, Dunlin, or Black-bellied Plovers in breeding plumage.  Although quite rare to find these birds at this time of year, they can be found more regularly (well, not Black-bellied Plovers) later in the year when they are in more of a dull or drab plumage.  Phalaropes are another example.  While Wilson's Phalaropes are common in both spring and fall migrations in places in Arizona, Red-necked Phalaropes are much fewer.  While Red-necked is uncommon to pretty rare in spring, they can become fairly common in fall migration.  Phalaropes, like other shorebirds, are striking at this time of year.  In fall, they lose their bragging rights too and they become much more drab.  But at this time of year, when in this stunning breeding plumage, Phalaropes are at the tops of my shorebird list.  And recently, I had the chance to observe both Wilson's and Red-necked Phalaropes up close at the Glendale Recharge Ponds.  The Glendale Recharge Ponds are my birding "patch", as they are the location I visit more than anywhere else.  I'm quite lucky that I only live 15 minutes away from the location.  In this post, I'm not going to say much, but I'm going to post a selection of pictures of each Phalarope species with some fun pictures in the mix also.  Before I get to that, I'll also mention that Phalaropes are different from other shorebirds and quite oddly, all other birds in a strange but awesome way.  This way is more true to life in our society.  In Phalaropes, females are far more striking and brighter than males.  Males are dull and boring.  And that is awesome.

I went out to Glendale Recharge Ponds this past Friday, April 28th.  Lets start with a group of Wilson's Phalaropes that I found at close range.  These birds were very tolerant of me, despite the fact that I was very close to shore.  I focused mainly on the female, of course...

Here's a male...

Back to the real deal...

Fun fact:  Phalaropes are often described when foraging for food as "constant circular dancers".  This hokey pokey thing of theirs would make any human dizzy if they attempted it.  But it brings aquatic insects, the primary prey of phalaropes, right up to the water surface.  Food is served on a plate of water.  Cool huh?

In the below picture, can you name the shorebirds?  One should be a no brainer, I just showed it to you ;)

The real fun of the day came when I got to spend time up close with a flock of Red-necked Phalaropes.  These Phals are pretty rare in the spring in Maricopa County.  I rarely get to see them in epic breeding plumage, so I was sure to take advantage of it.  Here are some of those such highlights.

I spent over an hour with the Red-necked Phalaropes, a species that has a radical look to them.  They are even cool in non-breeding plumage.  The flock of Red-necked Phalaropes numbered seven birds, can you see something different in this flock?  Look closely.

Hopefully a breeding plumaged Red Phalarope will show up at Glendale soon too.  And at close range at that, too!  What epic birds these are.

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