Autumn migration tends to slow down a bit after the first week of November, but it’s often the time of the year to look for Divers, Auks, Ducks, rare Gulls, and of course…. GREY PHALAROPES!
Grey phalaropes are exquisite looking birds with an extraordinary ecology. They spend 10 to 11 months a year at sea ‘cause unlike all other waders they are fantastic swimmers (Check out their bizarre webbed feet in the pic below!)
They breed on the arctic tundra in Iceland, Greenland and Spitsbergen around shallow pools and lakes during a short period in June/July. Females arrive late May on their breeding-grounds, about a week or two earlier than the males. ‘Cause here’s another bizarre fact about Phalaropes; male Phalaropes play the role of females during their entire breeding-cycle apart from actually laying the eggs!
Females even look better! A female Grey Phalarope in summer plumage is as good as it gets. It’s brick-red, with a contrasting white cheek, black cap and bright yellow bill. When the drabber males arrive on the breeding-grounds they are courted by the females with that same rigorous obsession as us boys do when we go on a quest for female attention in the Amsterdam party-scene.
As soon as those females have laid their eggs they’re off to the high seas again, leaving the males to incubate the eggs and raise the kids entirely on their own; not unlike those Dutch sailors in the 18th century!
Males and juveniles start to migrate in august and reach the northern part of the North Sea around late September when the adult birds have undergone a remarkable metamorphosis. They’ve molted their entire colorful breeding plumage and traded it in for a cryptic grey plumage (hence the name Grey Phalarope) perfectly matching the color of the surf!
Now it’s late November and most of the Phalaropes are well on their way to their winter-grounds in the South Atlantic, but it’s the perfect time to look for those juvenile birds that tend to linger just a little bit longer in our North Sea!
So yesterday Camilla Dreef and I decided to look for these magnificent birds that you’ve hopefully all came to love after reading about their remarkable ecology!
Probably the best place to look for them is the seaport of IJmuiden and it was here on Saturday the 8th of November that we stumbled across a beautiful group of no less than 3 juvenile Grey Phalaropes! They showed magnificently and were completely oblivious to the crowd of birders admiring them from just 10 feet away!
As you can understand I was bartending with a big smile on my face later that day thanks to those awesome birds!