Saturday, May 18, 2013

year of the phalarope

Wilson's Phalaropes have been exceptionally abundant in the western portion of Texas this spring; generally we do well to find a pair or three during migration every year (this may be a personal bias and lack of water, but we're always looking!)

There were 74 Wilson's Phalaropes at Marathon's treatment ponds on 11 May, up from 55 on 25 April. Numbers had been fluctuating since 7 made their first appearance on 17 April; we'll take what we can get.

Female Wilson's Phalarope, 29 April 2013, Marathon treatment ponds
A bit of reminiscing on my part - growing up on the coast, I was quite familiar with Sanderlings and Willets and Killdeer and staring at the bird book (ignoring measurements, of course), I always thought of phalaropes as duck-sized swans or something of that sort. Surely anything with THAT long and slender of a neck - and swimming habit - had to be a fairly large bird.

My first encounter with Wilson's Phalarope was one of frustration: a tiny gray and white sandpiper with a long neck was SWIMMING. Spinning. Jabbing at the surface of the water mid-spin. It was chaos. This was no swan. It was not even Willet sized!

Female Wilson's Phalarope, 29 April 2013, Marathon treatment ponds
Unfortunately for us, 'phalarope' doesn't tend to conjure quite the mental image that it could - you can't mistake a goldfinch in breeding plumage, but 'phalarope' doesn't give you the luxury of knowing what you're looking at - or looking for. I'd vote for 'swimpiper' because it's definitely not a sandpiper and if a 4 year old can identify a sandpiper, I'd be willing to bet that the same 4 year old could ID a swimpiper.

Wilson's Swimpiper. My apologies to taxonomists, who are weeping just reading this. Tissue?


  1. your beautiful photos upstage my 10-yr-old eyeglasses. deep gratitude for showing me my neighborhood through the close ups of these
    swimpiping phalaropes and a peek at our treatment pond water, which is invisible otherwise. klem

  2. Super cool birds: beautiful, graceful, sexually unusual...
    I like that they bring their spunk and color to many watering hole, like treatment ponds, that are otherwise pretty unattractive, especially when the waterfowl are gone.

    Your Swimpiper shots are very impressive too

  3. Attractive birds in unattractive places... better than unattractive birds in attractive places? We should definitely investigate this phenomenon!