Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Phalarope correctly identified

Yes, this is a female Red-necked Phalarope. These are "sandpipers," but they have curious fringed lobes on their toes so that they can swim (lobes spread on the attack, swept back on recovery...whatever...Michael Phelps I'm not). The great bulk of the population gets from southerly oceanic wintering "grounds" n. to breeding areas in the Arctic by flying over-ocean, with many seen from shore in May. Much smaller numbers take an overland route, and if a small flock had been over Hyampom at first light---well, it's Any Port In A Storm. Similarly, they are sometimes seen on sewage and stock ponds, golf course water hazards, vernal pools, etc. In autumn they are more commonly seen inland.

Phalaropes are quite specialized, with the females wearing the bright spring colors and the males responsible for incubation and chick-rearing, such as it is. They spend much of their time bobbing high on the water, spinning half-circles and dabbing nervously at the surface to obtain tiny animals and other edible matter. There are only three species: Red-necked and Red, both found across the rooftop of the world in summer and wintering widely southward, and Wilson's, which is found only in North America and winters, I believe, largely in the Andean region.

Red-necked Phalaropes undoubtedly overfly Trinity County often in migration, but, as they are capable of long flights to and from especially favored areas, it is likely that the scattered water bodies of Trinity County, combined with comparatively few birders, allows most to go undetected.

It was a real treat to meet so many of the good people in Hyampom last weekend. I felt as if I had suddenly been beamed to the Best of the West.

David Fix

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