This year I’m doing well on phalaropes: red-necked added to my British bird list two months ago; and only my sixth sighting anywhere of grey today. What better compensation for dipping on the wryneck that's been showing at the reservoir the last couple of days? At first, distant, the phalarope flew after five minutes – right to our edge of the water – for binoculars-filling views. They're not shy.
It was moulting into winter plumage and impossible to sex. The female of the phalaropus genus, like the dotterel, is the colourful one and does all the courting. Oh, to be a phalarope. Hang on, though. The bloke gets left on the tundra with the kids while her-outdoors buggers off back to the African oceans. This wader, along with the red-necked, is also unique in spending its non-breeding life at sea. So, today’s bird was probably female.
In summer plumage the gal’s body and neck are red, as are the male’s but more blotchily so. In fact, they're called red phalaropes in the USA, where they're also considered the rarest of the genus. Rarest because America has a third phalarope, Wilson’s. It’s a landlubber but “she” still wears the trousers.