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A Real Northern Character

At the age of 14 I went to Fetlar in the Shetland Isles to see the Snowy Owl that had been present for many years. Once a distant white spot had been observed a quick trip to Loch Funzie gave typical close views of Red Necked Phalaropes. For the last 10 years I made regular trips to Shetland carrying out Whale and Dolphin surveys however the timing makes a trip to Fetlar impossible although last year I finally got my chance to return, however the Phalaropes had moved to a new secret location.

Move forward a year and a trip to Finland and Norway provided great views of these gems. Arriving at a well known Phalarope loch by a church in the far north I was again disappointed as only 2 birds were seen, however I did get some good images.

Phalaropes really are northern characters, they are small waders that pick food from the surface from the seas off West Africa for most of the year only returning to the breeding grounds at the very end of May. Phalaropes also manage the breeding process a bit differently as well. The duller males are courted by the bright females who lay the eggs then go back to sea whilst he does all the work.

This produces one of the most amusing sights in nature as the female waits at a good feeding loch for a male to fly in. At one loch I visited, 2 female were engaged in a battle. The dominant bossy female had a clear plan, make her wimpy sister stay in the reeds whilst flaunting herself in the middle of the loch. However, each time the bossy one got to the middle of the loch the weaker bird would swim out of the reeds. This could not be allowed so the bossy one would fly back and force wimpy back into the reeds with a barrage of abuse. This went on constantly for over an hour until a poor male flew in - talk about the Lynx effect, he was chased around the pond relentlessly by both girls, at one point he even hid by a pair of Tufted Ducks pretending to be a chick!!

The fun and humour continued on my last day when a walk produced a loch with around 70 Phalaropes each male being chased by around 20 sex crazed females in a scene straight from Benny Hill. Photographically this loch was not easy as a bright but cloudy sky combined with a strong wind and waves to produce very white reflective water. Polarizers were tried but in the end I had to settle for a patch of water weed  and one tidy area of protected water at the corner that could give reflections if the bird stayed in a 50 by 50 cm patch of water.

 

Photographic issues were also compounded by the fact that Phalaropes are the most hyper-active birds that I have ever seen, 4 hours produced a number of shots that I like and I hope you like them to.

 

Bear bonus

OK so whilst I feel my Phalarope images were harder to take and much more 'worthy' I had to also show this one taken at 11pm in a hide on the Russian border.

All the best

Ian