August 10, 2016 Red-necked Phalaropes in Seward

Seward, Alaska

Just a few days ago, RED-NECKED PHALAROPES were reported in Kenai Fjords National Park. Tasha spotted four near the breakwater by the Alaska Sealife Center this afternoon. Thanks to her hot tip, I was able to refind three, including a juvenile.

The birds were riding the incoming waves and the sloshing rebound off the shore. I saw one dive underneath a particularly large wave, then bob right back up. They were in constant motion, like a wind-up toy, feeding in the ribbons of detritus, quickly picking out zooplankton, tiny crustaceans, and mollusks.

The adults were molting into winter plumage, but retained a bit of reddish color on the neck. The juvenile wore a dark crown that covered her entire head, and was otherwise brown, black, white, and gray. She was larger than the nearby male.

The smallest of the three species of Phalaropes, only 6 to 8” long with a 14-15” wingspan, this shorebird spends most of its life on the open ocean. It breeds in tundra ponds in Alaska and northern Canada, then migrates down the Pacific coast to overwinter on the ocean off the coast of South America.

The female is larger, has brighter plumage, and after laying her four eggs, leaves to let the male incubate and care for the young. There must be some evolutionary advantage to this, as so many males of other species seem to benefit from this strategy. Instead of considered “normal” this is called a “switch of traditional roles”. Party on, little lady!

Info gleaned from the Wildlife Journal Junior

Also of note, this afternoon I received a report of a juvenile SAW-WHET OWL being mobbed by fearless NUTHATCHES and CHICKADEES. I arrived late and missed it. Perhaps that diminutive little guy was in my spruce yesterday, causing a similar disturbance in the Universe as we know it.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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