Red-necked and Wilson’s Phalaropes have started their fall migration and one of the places where they gather in large numbers is the Great Salt Lake where they show up in the tens of thousands to feed and rest before continuing their journey. Both species of phalaropes refuel by consuming brine flies and brine shrimp that live in the hypersaline lake.
Phalaropes as far as the eye can see on the Great Salt Lake – Nikon D810, f10, 1/800, ISO 320, Nikkor 18-200mm at 50mm, natural light
This photo was taken last year from the causeway to Antelope Island State Park and as far as I could see there were thousands upon thousands of phalaropes on the surface of the lake. The flecks of white and black on the surface of the water are phalaropes, there may be a few Eared Grebes mixed in with them but the majority of birds are phalaropes with the exception of one American Avocet flying by at the lower left side of the frame.
The tip of Fremont Island, seen at the middle of this frame on the horizon is nearly 11 miles from the causeway as the crow flies, I could see phalaropes through my lens at about half that distance and then heatwaves distorted my view. That is a lot of phalaropes.
Murmuration of thousands of phalaropes – Nikon D500, f6.3, 1/2500, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light
At times the phalaropes lift off from the water en masse and create beautiful murmurations over the lake that are mesmerizing to witness and if the birds fly over the causeway to the other side of the lake the sound of their wings can be exciting too. The murmurations are akin to living, breathing waves of birds.
This year the lake level is lower than it was last year around this time and that may mean that the phalaropes will be concentrated in larger numbers in smaller areas.
This photo was taken one year and one day ago.
Red-necked Phalarope flock in flight – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/2500, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light
This photo was taken last year on the 13th of August, I could hear the birds wings when I took this photo of a large flock of Red-necked Phalaropes in flight.
There is still time to see this mass migration of phalaropes at the Great Salt Lake if you visit between now and the middle of next month.
I feel very fortunate to see the spellbinding murmurations of the phalaropes over the Great Salt Lake and to witness the huge numbers of shorebirds that move through northern Utah on their fall migration. I hope to spend time photographing and perhaps even taking video of the phalaropes while they make a stopover at the Great Salt Lake soon.
Life is good.
A great video presented by High Country News about the phalaropes and the Great Salt Lake can be seen here.