Wilson’s Phalaropes return to Robert Lake, 2017

In my homage to favourite shots from 2016, I touched on Wilson’s Phalaropes only briefly. On May 15, 2017, the middle of another cold Spring month (!), unable to find the Orioles I know have returned to Mill Creek, I drove a little further out to Robert Lake. Despite the exceedingly high water, the viewing area offered good looks at a variety of ducks, as well as a few wading birds. Among these, the WIPHs were most prominent and active. Here are a few of the different looks provided by a handful of birds that were not foraging, but preening and simply relaxing, while their fellows scurried hither and thither in the main pond on the other side of the road.

Wilson's Phalarope female (Phalaropus tricolor) .jpg
Wilson’s Phalarope female in repose….


Phalaropes are actually quite small — about the same size as a Killdeer, especially after their long trip from their wintering areas up north to Kelowna. They will grow considerably larger as they replenish all the calories expended to get here. (See ‘Cool Facts‘ below)

A western bird for the most part, WIPHs can also be found near the Canadian-American border in Ontario, QC, and NB/NS.

These birds travel long distances from South America in winter to western Canada in breeding season!

Wilson's Phalarope female (Phalaropus tricolor) (4).jpg
Playing it coy….

Unlike most species of birds, female WIPHs display much more vivid colours than their mates. (I’ll add more photos of males as I acquire them. The males were too busy foraging for good shots in the low light of this day….). Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology points out, moreover, that, “Females court and defend male mates—several per season—while males do most of the work of raising the young.”

“Cool Facts (Cornell)

  • Unlike most birds where the female has the predominant role in caring for young, female phalaropes desert their mates once they’ve laid eggs. While the male raises the young by himself, the female looks for other males to mate with. This unusual mating system is called polyandry, and it’s reflected in the way the two sexes look, with the females more brightly colored than the males.
  • Wilson’s Phalaropes are one of only two species of shorebirds that molt at resting sites on the migration pathway, rather than on the breeding grounds before leaving or on the wintering grounds.
  • While stopping over to molt on salty lakes in the West, Wilson’s Phalaropes usually eat so much that they double their body weight. Sometimes they get so fat that they cannot even fly, allowing researchers to catch them by hand.
  • Wilson’s Phalaropes almost always lay a clutch of exactly four eggs.
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) & Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor).jpg
Here a male WIPH visits with (well, it looked that way to a Homo sapiens!) a Ruddy Duck drake under the fence some distance away….

Even smaller than the Wilson’s Phalarope is the Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla), which have also been hanging around the same area, looking rather bemused by the high water….

Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla).jpg
Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla), Robert Lake roadway….

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