This brave, solitary red-necked phalarope allowed me to creep close enough for a clear photo. I don’t have a long lens for the camera yet, but I was able to zoom in even more on the computer. Okay, it still isn’t that close, but it was enough to help me with identification later. Part of the sandpiper family, this bird is a juvenile. It is likely traveling with a small flock making its first migration from a sub-Arctic nesting site to tropical oceans for the winter. I found it in September, looking a little lost on the beach at Ocean Shores, Washington, but phalaropes also migrate along the east coast of Canada.
The adult bird is a strikingly handsome wader with a rusty-red neck patch and webbed toes like grebes and coots. It has a couple of curious habits. Unlike most bird species, the less colorful male hatches the eggs and raises the young. But its feeding methods are the most interesting feature. I’ve watched phalaropes on prairie sloughs; they spin on the water, an action believed to trap small invertebrates that rise in the whirlpool for easy picking with the needle-like bill.
Not endangered worldwide, this phalarope is on the decline in the UK. Let’s hope this little wader made it safely to his winter habitat.