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a Rare Visitor

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Recently, the local birding community was treated to an exceedingly rare visitor when a Red Phalarope settled down for a few days at Colonel Sam Smith Park in Etobicoke. Phalaropes, a type of shorebird belonging to the sandpiper family, breed in the Arctic tundra and winter at sea off the North and South American Pacific coasts. A few also overwinter along the Atlantic coast. They are rarely seen inland so many birders in this area, including me were treated to a “lifer,” a bird to add to our life lists. 

With the help of other birders, I found this bird surprisingly close to shore feeding on small invertebrates present in the shallow water.

Occasionally a larger wave would drift into shore, stirring up more food and requiring our tiny guest to prove its surfing skills. Irregular weather is not a problem for Phalaropes since they spend most of their life on the water and have to deal with rough conditions on the ocean. Wanting to include some of the wave action in my shots, I crouched down as low as I could comfortably manage and waited for larger waves to approach. I was rewarded with some excellent opportunities to record the feeding Phalarope while negotiating the surging waves.

Whenever I manage to photograph a new bird, I like to find out a bit about its life story. In the birding world, males tend to be the larger and more colourful of the sexes. Phalaropes, however, have reversed sex roles. The females are larger and more colourful during the breeding season, sporting a bright reddish cinnamon body while the males are a duller orange red. The bird in these images is in its non-breeding plumage. There is no way to tell whether its a male or female.

Females also engage in fierce battles with other females over potential mates. After mating, the female will lay anywhere between 2-6 eggs and leave the males to incubate the eggs and tend to the young. The females take no part in raising the young and immediately leave to seek out another male and eventually lay another clutch. 

Females usually begin their southerly migration in late June, leaving the males behind to look after the young. I guess you might say that Phalaropes are “Dead Beat Moms” a complete roll reversal to the “Dead Beat Dad.”

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