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New England Seabirds

 Wilson's Storm-petrel  Dave Jones

Seabirds

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Phalaropes

 

Red Phalarope

Phalaropus fulicarius


Red-necked Phalarope

Phalaropus lobatus




Red-necked Phalarope nonbreeding Glen Tepke

Non-breeding Red-necked Phalarope photographed by Glen Tepke. Note long bill and white wing bars.  Nice photo Glen. Thanks for sharing.

Are Phalaropes Seabirds?
Phalaropes are Shorebirds related to Sandpipers, Dowitchers, Curlews, Godwits, Dowitchers, Snipes, Turnstones, and Woodcocks. Order Charadriformes Family Scolopacidae. Two of the three species: Red Phalarope and Red-necked Phalarope spend most of the winter at sea and therefore meet our loose definition of what is a seabird. Furthermore unless you travel to the far north, your best chance of seeing these two Phalaropes is to take a fall or late August pelagic trip where they will be seen in small flocks resting on the water. Early spring pelagics may see these birds in breeding plumage.

All Phalaropes are colorful birds in breeding plumages and finding a bird in migration which is already or still in breeding plumage is a thrill.

Phalaropes are unusual in that the female is the larger and most brilliantly dressed of the pair. I once saw two breeding plumage Red Phalaropes on Monomoy Island in July after a storm. Usually when we seen Red and Red-necked Phalaropes at sea they are dressed in their gray and white non-breeding plumage and the best way to distingush between the two is by the bill length.

A third species, Wilson's Phalarope breeds inland is not usually seen at sea so it is not included in this discussion.. It used to breed at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island in the Salt Pannes area.

Phalaropes spin in tight circles while feeding. This behavior is quite easy to recognize, but uncommon at sea.

Red Phalarope  Phalaropus fulicarius
Breeding female is indeed a handsome bird and I wish I had a picture to show here. Like other Phalaropes, the female is the more spectacular bird. Throad and neck brick-red, Face distinctive with black crown and a white line through eye. Bill is shorter than Red-necked Phalarope, yellow with black tip.

Breeds in the arctic and is present off shore during migration. Winters off the coast of southern United States.

Flock Phalaropes including Red Dave Larson

Above :  Dave Larson photo of a mixed flock of Red Phalaropes with two Red-necked Phalaropes in back center and just to the right of center. Mixed flocks are not uncommon. All birds in the front line are Red Phalaropes. Note shorter bills.

 

Right:  Steve Mirick photo of Red Phalarope in breeding plumage in migration at Rye, NH.  To see Red Phalarope in breeding plumage in New England bird intensively.



Red Phalarope Steve Mirick Rye, NH

Red-necked Phalarope   Phalaropus lobatus


Red-necked Phalaropes have long needle shaped bills. Breeds on the tundra including Churchill, Manitoba and migrates offshore. It can be found on western lakes and the Salton Sea in southern California in the fall. Usually seen on late fall pelagics in small groups of 10 to 12 birds. May have Red Phalaropes in the flock.

Early spring pelagic trips from New England often see breeding plumage Red-necked Phalaropes.  They are beautiful birds and worth taking an early spring trip.

Red-necked Phalaropes Jim Beseda Red-necked Phalaropes M Thompson

Above Michael Thompson's photo of two beautiful Red-necked Phalaropes in breeding plumage taken on the May 31, 2011 NH Audubon Tri-State Pelagic.


On the left Jim Besada's photo from the 2012 June 8 pelagic.


Red-necked Phalaropes non-breeding Leonard Medlock

A flock of Red-necked Phalaropes photographed by Leonard Medlock in the more commonly seen winter plumage.

The longer bill and the white bars on the wings distinguish the Red-necked from the Red Phalarope in winter plumage.  Compare with the non-breeding plumage picture at top of page.


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References

Harrison, Peter (1983) Seabirds an identification guide Houghton Mifflin Company; Boston

Message,Stephen ; Taylor, Don (2005) Shorebirds of North America, Europe, and Asia Princeton University Press

O’Brien, Michael; Crossley, Richard ; Karlson, Kevin The Shorebird Guide Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, New York