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Red-necked Phalaropes and Baird's Sandpipers at BWWTP

Published August 27, 2013
Tags: Life List Happenings, Red-necked Phalarope, Barid's Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Killdeer, Semipalmated Plover, Wood Duck, Gadwall, American Black Duck, Northern Shoveler, Ruddy Duck, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron

Yesterday, I received word that 2 Baird's Sandpipers were seen at BWWTP. Since this sandpiper would be a life bird for me, I nearly dropped what I was doing and raced out to find them. The BWWTP closes early and, knowing how quickly time flies when I'm birding, I decided there just wasn't enough time - common sense prevailed for a change!

I waited until early this morning to go and, with Doug Happ in tow, I met Celeste Morien out at the treatment plant. Celeste, Willie D'Anna, Betsy Potter, and Brian Morse had found these sandpipers the day earlier and Celeste quickly located them again this morning for us. We were very pleased as we watched the little sandpipers slowly pick their way along the shore towards where we were photographing and digiscoping.  The views just kept getting better and better!  We were also treated to some other shorebirds: Least Sandpipers, Spotted Sandpipers, a Semipalmated Plover, and a Killdeer.

As Celeste was preparing an eBird checklist, she methodically scanned the large pond for other species. All of a sudden she yelled, "phalaropes"!  She had spotted 3 Red-necked Phalaropes in her scope!  It got very exciting very quickly as we sought our field guides to narrow down and confirm the ID.  It didn't take too long for Doug and her to positively determine all 3 were, indeed, Red-necked Phalaropes, eliminating the two other possible phalaropes: Wilson's and the Red Phalarope. Calls, emails, and texts were sent to the local hotlines to inform other birders of this rare sighting. This was the first time I was present when a rarity was first spotted and it was pretty exciting for me!

I had recently looked up some information on Red-necked Phalaropes. I saw a Cornell Lab of Ornithology webinar on shorebirds recently and the phalaropes were mentioned in the webinar. I became intrigued by these small "sea snipes".  This is one species that I particularly love because, like the Belted Kingfisher, the females are more colorful than the males!

Phalaropes are actually sandpipers and have lobed toes and the Red-necked Phalarope, in particular, is most commonly found out at sea. They spend most of their time swimming, unlike the other shorebirds. They also have a rather peculiar and effective way of feeding. They will spin around in circles, like a top, to bring up plankton, brine shrimp, mosquito larvae, and insects.

Other birds seen today were: Wood Duck, Gadwall, American Black Duck, Northern Shoveler, Ruddy Duck, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, and Willow Flycatcher.

Today's quest for a life bird resulted in two birds for the "price" of one!  Thank you, Celeste!
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Red-necked Phalaropes. The left most bird is a female, marked with a rufous chestnut coloring on her neck.
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Red-necked Phalaropes. Note the needlelike bill, which all phalaropes have, and dark patch through the eye, which only the Red-necked has.
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Red-necked Phalaropes
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Red-necked Phalaropes
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Baird's Sandpiper. Note how the wings extend further than the tail.
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Baird's Sandpiper. There was much discussion about whether that beak had a slight downward curve!