Red-necked Phalarope photo from www.fssbirding.org.uk
After a nearly a week of absolutely awful weather a major improvement occurred for a short while yesterday, 5/20. The day began mostly sunny and stayed nice until late afternoon, when thunderstorms rolled in. Migrant birds, which had been stalled since last Sunday by the combination of rain, drizzle, fog, and northeasterly winds staged a significant movement during the brief interlude of nice weather. I'll try to do a blog post next week about the other birds that poured through northwest Connecticut this day, but this posting is about the absolute best bird that we found. That is the Red-necked Phalarope. It is such a rare bird in Connecticut that I've only seen the species once before in my 42 years of birding. Amazingly, the first one was only a few miles away from White Memorial and only 3 days off from this sighting. That bird was at a pond at Anderson's Farm on Anderson Rd. in Morris on 5/23/2000. The weather pattern was very similar to that which occurred this week. I think that the shifting winds from northeast to southeast, coupled with rapidly deteriorating weather conditions over the Atlantic Ocean, drove (or blew) these birds inland. Three additional Red-necked Phalaropes were reported yesterday from Mansfield Hollow Reservoir in Windham. Our sighting consisted of 4 birds that I spotted from the tip of Pt. Folly as they flew up the length of Bantam Lake. Having only binoculars since I had left my spotting scope home under the assumption that this day's weather was also going to turn out to be awful, I initially had a hard time deciding what these birds were. They were too small to be terns or gulls, but too large to be swallows. Besides, they flew erratically like shorebirds often do. With a Spotted and a Solitary Sandpiper right in front of me for comparison I decided that these had to be shorebirds. Fortunately, they kept flying toward me. I yelled for Jim Kandefer, who was birding the Point with me, but had followed a wave of warblers up into the woods. He came down to the tip of the Point just as I got a good enough side view of these birds to decide that they were phalaropes. Even though Red and Wilson's Phalaropes are less likely to show up in southern New England in the spring than Red-necked, they still can't be ruled out. Since I had already gotten John Marshall heading up to Pt. Folly with my earlier report of a Bonaparte's Gull and 13 Blackpoll Warblers, I got him to speed our way even faster with my next call to him reporting phalaropes. Fortunately for us, he had his really nice Swarovski spotting scope with him. He arrived a few minutes later as the birds settled onto the water about 400' out from us. I put the scope on them, and we got excellent views which left no doubt that they were Red-necked. We also double checked oursleves with our field guides. One bird was an adult male in full breeding plumage. The other 3 appeared to be in various stages of molt from basic to alternate plumage, so we couldn't be sure if they were males or females. Oddly, it is the female phalaropes that are more colorful than the males. It is also the males that incubate the eggs and tend the young on their Arctic nesting grounds. As we watched these birds they flitted back and forth, flew around, spun around in circles on the water as this group of birds characteristically does when they are feeding, and sat and preened. After 20 minutes of enjoying the antics of these very rare birds a thunderstorm rolled in and chased us back to our vehicles. We then set-about the task of trying to notify as many birders as possible to the presence of these birds, both via the ctbirds listserve on the Internet and phone calls. To our knowledge only one other birder braved the thunderstorms to come out and see them this evening. All attempts by birders to find them today came up empty. They had probably continued their journey to the Arctic as soon as the storms passed by last night. It should also be noted that the only other sighting of this species on White Memorial property was on August 22, 1997. Jeff Feldmann found and photographed that bird while kayaking on Little Pond. Stormy weather preceded that sighting, too. The photograph still hangs on a wall in the Museum's upstairs bathroom. More than ever it is an incentive for me to spend less time in there and more time in the field looking for birds.