Thanks to the sharp eyes of Jutta Burger, who knows her birds as well as her plants, I caught a few images of this Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) in the water just off the northeast corner of the park, where the seasonal Burrowing Owl refuge lies. The Phalaropes — I saw two of them — took wing when a half-dozen juvenile gulls settled in the water very nearby.
These Phalaropes are late-summer migrants coming from the northern states and Canada on their way to South America. Large flocks of them stop at salty lakes such as Mono Lake to feast on the tiny shrimp and insects that abound there. This pair obviously flew to a different drummer than the big flock. They moved fast, busily pecking at floating things invisible to the human eye. On shallow salt lakes they have perfected the trick of teaming up to paddle in a circle, creating a whirlpool that brings up edibles from the bottom.
The Cornell Bird Lab website has these “Cool Facts:”
In phalaropes, it’s the females that are the more brightly colored sex. They get into fierce fights over the males they want to mate with. Then after they’ve laid their eggs, they take no part in raising the young and often seek out another male and lay another clutch.
The oldest recorded Red-necked Phalarope was a male, and at least 5 years old when it was captured and then re-released at a banding station in Alaska.
Jutta’s photo also captures the lovely abstract pattern on the water’s surface surrounding the bird: