Before leaving for Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Montana last week I saw very few Wilson’s Phalaropes (Phalaropus tricolor) while on the causeway going to Antelope Island State Park in northern Utah, what a difference a week can make! You just never know what you will see unless you go out into the field.
Today there were hundreds of thousands of Wilson’s Phalaropes near the shoreline of the causeway, whirling around in the water and along the marshy areas not far from the park entrance. There are still some heavy, hauler trucks going back and forth on the causeway from the re-paving that has been done and those trucks cause the bird to lift off in a huge mass and their behavior is much like the murmurations of Red-winged Blackbirds and European Starlings. The mass of birds creates a wave-like movement and with these phalaropes their light bellies cause a flash of white when they turn in flight.
Wilson’s Phalaropes mass lift off – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 500, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light
I backed my 200-400mm with the 1.4x TC all the way to 200mm and the birds still completely filled this frame, there are a few American Avocets in the water but the birds in flight all appeared to be Wilson’s Phalaropes. Their diet in the hyper saline Great Salt Lake consists of brine flies and brine shrimp, the brine flies are currently present in the millions so I am certain these phalaropes are well fed. I also observed the phalaropes catching brine flies from the air, something I had not witnessed before.