Early Birds and Lonely Birds

January 12, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Yesterday was a busy day for me bird wise.  I got up at 7 O'clock to participate in the BTO's Early Bird survey - which hopes to further study the effect of light pollution on bird feeding habits. The first bird to my feeding station was a single starling at 7:24, which I could only make out by its silhouette as it flew away.  I watched for about an hour and a half, one by one noting the various species that visited.  Robin, Magpie, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Collared dove and an hour and a half after I started,  a group of house sparrows, that's all the garden regulars!  Amazingly, a large clump of the birds all came down just around the minutes before and after sunrise, not sure if that was co-incidence or not!

 Later that morning,  I headed down to Hove on my first proper twitch to see a little bird that has become quite celebrity - a lonesome Grey Phalarope.   When I first heard about where this bird was I laughed aloud and thought it was just a joke, until I saw the photographs that is!  This bird has amazingly  made itself at home in a children's paddling pool  which has now become surrounded by flocks of photographers and birders, eager to get this unique viewing...

Grey Phalarope - HoveGrey Phalarope - Hove

..and what a unique viewing it was! It had made itself right at home in the pool, feeding, preening, swimming, sleeping, squeaking. Certainly great for the cameras.  Immensely tame too, it may as well have been domesticated.  At one point it came so close to me I could have grabbed it and done a runner.  Quite tempting seeing as it is such a beautiful bird, even when in its comparatively dull winter plumage. 

Of course, the Phalarope isn't meant to be here, it's a little lost to say the least. The Phalarope is a member of the wader family and spends the summer, its breeding season, in the arctic  where it displays stunning red plumage.  For the winter the Grey Phalarope migrates a great distance to spend time  at sea on tropical oceans. Unluckily for this individual, yet luckily for the birders, it probably got blown inland by the hideous weather we have been experiencing. This has opened the opportunity for a very rare viewing, especially considering only around 200 are seen around the UK per year.

 

Grey Phalarope - HoveGrey Phalarope - Hove

Although not experienced today, Phalaropes also have some interesting behaviours. Relatively unusually for birds, in 3 species of phalarope the sex roles are somewhat reversed as the more colourful female leaves the male to incubate the eggs and bring up the young.  Also, when feeding, the Grey Phalarope will spin in rapid circles to create a whirlpool to stir up its meal.

 

 

Overall this was an immense first twitch. I could have never expected it to come so close and to get such a variety of shots I'm proud of.  What a great start to the year! Its gonna be hard to top!


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