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My First Phalarope!

August 11, 2012

Curious Birders! I have seen my first Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus)! It’s an unusual, rather spastic little shorebird bird that can’t seem to decide which way to turn its head and which direction to swim in and keeps alternating — almost like it’s doing a little gig; the bird is a somewhat rare event in the Toronto area. My monumental phalarope sighting occurred at the sewage lagoon in Port Perry, after purchasing the antepenultimate sewage lagoon permit (for a not-so-modest fee of $10, considering they require one permit per birder) from a moderately good-humored fellow who, in a desperate and failed attempt at conversation, proudly asserted that he had just seen a crow. We decided to save communication with the permit-seller for another day and headed straight for the lagoon.

Here’s the phalarope in non-breeding plumage, looking pretty much like the one I saw today. Photo from here.

The Phalarope is remarkable in many ways. The bird happens to practice reverse sexual dimorphism, which basically means that the females are both larger and more brightly colored than the males — an extraordinarily rare feat, since most female birds seem to be doomed to eternal drabness. In addition, female phalaropes are also sequentially polyandrous, which entails mating with a male, laying eggs, leaving said male behind to incubate the eggs and then, unabashedly, running off with another (bigger, brighter, better, richer) male! Over and over again! How entirely progressive!

Sexual history of the phalarope aside, today was remarkable for other, perhaps slightly more mundane reasons, as well. It was the first day of Fall birding! I hadn’t used my binoculars in over two months, and I really missed them. It rained the entire drive out to Port Perry (located in the mellifluous township of Scugog), and by rain, I mean the kind of dismal downpour that pretty much left me with no visibility whatsoever. I was starting to panic because I had forgotten my rain jacket at home (first day of birding — I left everything behind, including my field guide), but once we drove north of Whitby, the skies opened and the weather warmed up, such that I had to don my Tilley hat. It felt miraculous, once we arrived — permit in hand — at the lagoon. Canada Geese initially barricaded the path, but once they saw our scope, they gallantly stepped aside and let us pass. We saw Yellow legs (greater and lesser), Killdeer, Spotted Sandpipers fluttering above the water, a gazillion Bonaparte gulls (they were molting! stellar works-in-progress!), Cedar Waxwing, Black Terns (which were juveniles, so totally not black, argh!!!), a Kingbird, a Common Yellow-throat, a few Osprey and a Merlin chasing and attacking (from above) a Red-Tail Hawk!

As soon as we were done with the sewage lagoon (and a delicious bacon & egg breakfast) and got back on the highway, the rain started up again. Just as dismal. Visibility back down to zero. The morning magically enveloped in a dreamy fog. It’s good to be out birding again.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 13, 2012 3:32 pm

    Very nice report Julia! Just a minor correction is needed, the Yellow-thr. Warblers that you mentioned were really either Common Yellowthroats or Yellow Warblers. Your memory is still better than mine for many details I think! Thanks again, Brete
    P.S. The Merlin was really pretty cool chasing a few shorebirds around as well.

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