Red-necked Phalaropes - Shetland Nature

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Monthly nature diaries by local naturalist, wildlife photographer and holiday provider,
Brydon Thomason of Shetland Nature

Red-necked phalaropes are undoubtedly one of the star attractions for birders to Shetland. My home Island of Fetlar boasts over 90% of the entire British breeding population of this predominantly Arctic breeder, which is one of the countries rarest breeding birds.

These wonderful, charismatic and endearing little waders are no doubt one of the main driving forces behind my love of birds, as they have been a fascination for me as far back as I can remember.

How could one not be captivated by this tiny breeding population returning to Fetlar every summer to a mere handful moorland pools and mires year after year? Phalaropes have been breeding on the island for many, many years. Their presence throughout their condensed breeding season has been warmly welcomed and admired for generations on the isle. They once nested in several peaty moorland mires and could be seen swimming between flooded trenches where peat's were being cut, no doubt how they earned their local name, "peerie deuck"- (small duck)!

The Fetlar population of phalaropes, which is now rarely more than a dozen or so pairs a year, is the most intensely studied population in the world owing to ongoing studies and careful monitoring carried out by the RSPB.

Red-necked phalaropes have the widest breeding range out of the three species in the group, which stretches across the sub-arctic tundra of Europe, Asia and North America. Although the species still remains a Fetlar speciality there is potential that it may return to areas it once bred in other Northern and even Western isles.

Apart from the many traits which lead to their popularity - their confiding nature, elegance and striking plumage - there is something that further draws intrigue and fascination and that is the reversal of breeding roles. In the fabulous world of the phalarope it really is a woman's world! Once she has laid her eggs she then works hard to keep other females from her male who will incubate the eggs until they hatch, then her work is done! The male is left to rear the chicks. In many cases she may well find a second male, only to leave him too to rear the chicks.

Bye for now...
Brydon Thomason

About Brydon Thomason

Brydon runs a specialist wildlife guiding service that focuses on all aspects of Shetlands exhilarating natural history for individuals, couples or small groups (maximum of 6), specialising in: otter watching, bird watching, wild flowers, boat trips and much more. Read more about these trips at www.shetlandnature.net

Having lived in the Shetland all his life, Brydon is one of the most experienced and knowledgeable naturalists in the isles. He welcomes any questions or comments on the monthly nature diary and should you require any information on any aspect of Shetland's natural history please contact Brydon

View Brydons otter watching blog by visiting http://shetlandotterwatching.blogspot.com

Apart from the many traits which lead to their popularity; there confiding nature, elegance and striking plumage, there is something that further draws intrigue and fascination and that is the reversal of breeding roles. In the fabulous world of the phalarope it really is a woman's world! Once she has laid her eggs she then works hard to keep other females from her male who will incubate the eggs until they hatch, then her work is done! The male is left to rear the chicks. In many cases she may well find a second male, only to leave him too to rear the chicks.