Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Red Phalarope

Again on the trail of Rock Sandpipers, the rocky jetty off the Yaquina Bay State Recreation Site in Newport, Oregon, offered great possibilities. Despite a several hour search on morning last March, we did not see a Rock Sandpiper. But our efforts were rewarded by several interesting birds.  Even from the bluffs overlooking the site, we saw several phalaropes twirling and feeding in wetlands near the shore. After some searching, we found a trail to the beach.

Because Red Phalaropes are "entirely pelagic" (meaning ocean-going) during migration and winter (Tracy et al. 2002), I assumed the first photo was of a Red-necked Phalarope. But closer examination reveals a plain, unstreaked gray back and a short, relatively thick bill with a yellow base--all field marks of a winter (basic) plumage Red Phalarope.  The other two species of North American phalaropes are in the photo below (taken at a lake near Pierre, South Dakota). The bird in front is a Wilson's Phalarope, the bird behind, a Red-necked Phalarope. Both are females in breeding plumage. In all three phalarope species, the females are brighter than the males. All three reverse the normal roles of the sexes, with males incubating and caring for the young. Females may even be polyandrous (have more than one mate). Note that, unlike the Red Phalarope, the phalarope species below have thin, needle-like bills that are completely black.

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