Regular readers of these blogs will recall the excitement earlier this autumn when a beautiful juvenile red-necked phalarope was found on East Scrape, when it very obligingly remained for about ten days. Phalaropes are scarce visitors to Minsmere, with red-necked most likely to turn up in May, June or August, so the mid September sighting was much appreciated.
There are two other species of phalarope in the world, and although both breed in North America, they do both turn up in the UK. By far the commoner of the two in the UK is the grey phalarope, which is, confusingly, known as a red phalarope in North America. This is, perhaps, not so surprising when you consider that their breeding plumage (as seen in North America) is brick red, while their winte rplumage (as seen in Europe) is pale grey.
Grey phalaropes are long-distance migrants, spending the northern winter mainly out at sea, much like their red-necked cousins. They are, therefore, often seen in UK following autumn storms, as birds are blown closer to shore in gale-force winds, so they are most likely to be seen in September and October. Occasionally, they are even blown inland.
Given the recent stormy weather, it was, perhaps, not a surprise when Hannah took a phone call earlier today from a visitor who reported a grey phalarope on East Scrape. As I was in the visitor centre at the time, I headed out to East Hide to confirm the identification. And there, spinning around in typical phalarope fashion, was a gorgeous grey phalarope. What's more, the visitor who had reported it said that two birds had originally flown in, with one landing while the other flew towards Island Mere. Ironically, at the same time we received reports of a red-necked phalarope on Island Mere, so this may have been the second bird, although it was not subsequently reported.
Grey phalarope with shoveler by Jon Evans
It's not often that we can see two different species of phalarope at Minsmere in a year. What are the chances of seeing all three? Probably very low, because the third species, Wilson's phalarope is a very rare visitor to the UK, with only one or two seen each year. There are only seven Suffolk records, although two of those were at Minsmere. There have, however, been birds in Dorset and Kent this year, so perhaps we can be lucky.
Although the phalarope was the undoubted star of the day, I had earlier been treated to a superb ten minute flight of a short-eared owl as it circled the Scrape - one of several sightings of this bird during the day. Other treats on the Scrape included an impressive (for mid October) 18 avocets, two dunlins, two knots, a ruff, two pintails and the usual flocks of wigeons, gadwalls, teals, shovelers, shelducks, mallards and black-tailed godwits.
Several flocks of brent geese and wigeons were seen flying south offshore this morning, while thrushes provided further evidence of autumn migration in full swing. As well as several redwings, fieldfares and blackbirds, a male ring ouzel was seen around the Chapel Field, and a female black redstart was in the dunes close to the National Trust visitor centre. The Dartford warbler also remains in the dunes near East hide and there were regular sightings of nuthatch, marsh tits, coals tits and goldcrests around the visitor centre.
Ring ouzel by Les Cater