Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wilson's Phalarope, Prettiest Shorebird Ever?

I have only a half hour to write this post before the day's bird list. Hence, I must prioritize. Hence, I must write about the female Wilson's Phalarope that showed up on the island yesterday and is, as of now, still hanging around, pecking at things and swimming prettily in the swale.

Backing up a little, we had a seabird cruise yesterday where we got on the Heiser and, to use Sarah's phrase, “booked it” south till we were well out of sight of the mainland and the isles. It was a gray day and the boat wasn't the steadiest. We saw absolutely no Wilson's Storm-petrels (which is incredibly weird because I remember them being quite abundant last year), much less fulmars or shearwaters. We did see a Fin Whale. For about a minute. Needless to say, we weren't the happiest bunch when our feet touched land again.

And then, right when the last of us stepped off the boat, the radio crackled and Phil yelled, “Dave! Bill wants you to go to the swale. He says he has something you would like to look at!”.. or something to that effect. That made all of us perk up a little but we figured it was probably a Greater Yellowlegs or something. So we ambled towards the swale and, as we turned the bend, saw all of the bird banders from the banding station crowded together, long lenses on camera pointed towards the most beautiful and elegant shorebird that I have ever seen. Here, judge for yourself. She was being most co-operative. In about ten minutes, Brendan, Sarah and I were sprawled out in the mud, and gull and goose poop at the edge of the swale, clicking away. And, I must admit, I was whimpering. Not just because the bird was absolutely beautiful but also because a "normal", female Wilson's Phalarope would currently be in the North-Western United States, not the extreme North-East, i.e., off the coast of Maine!

In the Wilson's Phalarope, as in many other shorebirds of the same family, the mating system is polyandrous. That means that the female mates with a bunch of males, with the male taking care of the clutch of eggs that she lays with him while she moves on to the next one. Hence, the female is the brighter and more attractive of the pair. She also seems to have the ability, or should I say the magnetic power, to keep me glued in the mud for forever, just looking at her through my bins in simple, complete admiration.

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