Alaska again: back to the Y-K Delta

This year, I arrived right around the same time I left for home last year, June 6.  I hoped to get more photos of nesting birds and young.  There were still a few male Spectacled Eiders around.

A female Red Phalarope feeds in a shallow pond.

Phalaropes are strange birds.  Red & Red-necked breed throughout the arctic and spend the winter far out to sea in the southern oceans. Wilson’s breed only in North America, mostly on the wet prairies of the northern US and southern Canada and winter in South America.

All three species stand out  because of their reversed sexual dimorphism and reproduction. Sexual dimorphism and contribution to parenting are reversed in the three phalarope species. Females are larger and more brightly colored than males. The females pursue males, compete for nesting territory, and will aggressively defend their nests and chosen mates. Once the females lay their eggs, they begin their southward migration, leaving the males to incubate the eggs and care for the young.

A male Red Phalarope plucks an insect off the surface.

Whalers used to call Red Phalaropes “bowhead birds” because of their association with the great baleen whales. They’ve been observed picking “whale lice” and other ectoparasites off the cetaceans’ backs. In late summer in the Bering Sea, Reds take advantage of the feeding behavior of California gray whales. As the whales plow up the seafloor, the phalaropes sift the resulting mud plume for small bottom-dwelling crustaceans.

A female Red-necked Phalarope swims frenetically.

When on the water phalaropes are know for their hyperactive feeding. They spin in a tight circle, creating a small vortex that draws invertebrates up to the surface so the birds can feed on them with quick jabs of their fine bills. All of the phalaropes spin in a clockwise direction and this, of course, changes to counter-clockwise when they cross the equator… (just kidding).

Three Red-necked Phalarope chicks wait for #4 to make its appearance.

It’s hard to believe these tiny birds will be flying in twenty days and will migrate south after all of the adults have departed.  Seemingly fragile, these are some of the toughest animals on earth, braving freezing temperatures and living most of their lives far from land.


~ by David Stimac on July 10, 2010.

2 Responses to “Alaska again: back to the Y-K Delta”

  1. cool photos, but where are the rest? like the bunions? 🙂


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