Wilson’s Phalarope — A Harbinger Of Autumn

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It doesn’t seem as if autumn is just around the corner.  We’re still experiencing days with high temperatures in the mid-90s and low 100s and we have weeks to go before the summer’s heat abates.  Our monsoon remains in full swing (we had a whopper of a thunderstorm very early this morning).  In fact, there are signs of autumn already out there if you know where to look.  Believe it or not, the great fall migration of millions upon millions of birds, passing through Arizona, has begun already for some species.

Here’s one of them.  This graceful sandpiper is a Wilson’s Phalarope, a bird that specializes in marshlands and ponds.

I photographed it a few days ago at Whitewater Draw, a large marshland about 75 miles southeast of Tucson.  It was part of a small flock of perhaps 10 of these birds.  This species is in migration this time of year.  In other words it neither summers nor winters here, but is passing through on its way south.

Wilson’s Phalaropes spend their breeding season on the northern plains of the United States and on the prairies of western Canada.  In most species it is the males that acquire colorful breeding plumage.  With Wilson’s Phalaropes it’s different.  The females of this species are the colorful birds.  The birds that I photographed either were males, juveniles, or females that had already shed their breeding plumage.

The phalaropes may be a vanguard but there is a vast array of other species preparing to follow closely behind.  Over the next few weeks what is so far a trickle of migrants will turn into an enormous torrent.

Images made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens, aperture priority setting, ISO 640, f6.3 @ 1/3200.


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