2 November 2014. Cayuga ON. This Bird of the Day story started this same first weekend of November three years ago when I was taking part in our local naturalists’ clubs annual Fall Bird Count. A companion and I were criss-crossing an expanse of quiet countryside, mostly farmland and deciduous woodlots. A wide, yet generally shallow, river marked the west boundary of our chosen area, and it was on the shore of this river that we came across a sensational sighting, a phalarope; at least that’s what I made it out to be. On the opposite, gravelly, margin of the river I saw a small grayish shorebird wading chest-deep, or possibly swimming, darting and twirling in a frantic chase for food. It was really at the limit of reasonable binocular viewing, but I was almost certain that it was a phalarope of some kind. But… I hadn’t seen many phalaropes in my life, wasn’t really sure which of two or three of the world’s species it might possibly be, and wondered if it wasn’t getting a bit late for in the fall for them anyway.
Well, after my excitement had died down, and in the exercise of an abundance of caution, my companion and I drove to share the triumph with, or maybe solicit the help of, an expert birder who was rather easily convinced to come and look. By the time he arrived, there was no phalarope to be seen, however we could see a Lesser Yellowlegs picking and prodding for food along the same stretch of shoreline. I think it would be a 99.999% certainty that this was the very same bird that we’d seen, chest deep in water, barely an hour earlier. We thereupon coined the term ‘phalaroped’ as the term for willfully allowing yourself to be misled as to a bird’s identity. Being phalaroped is one of the realities of birding; it happens too often.
These photos, the two above of a bunch of distant Red-necked Phalaropes (click photo to enlarge) and one below of a Lesser Yellowlegs, may help illustrate how, under marginal viewing conditions, they could be confused.
Today I undertook to cover that same territory for this year’s Fall Bird Count. It was sunny and cold and we encountered some notables including a flock of 45 House Finches, a young Bald Eagle being harassed by three Red-tailed Hawks and a Northern Harrier, always an elegant bird. But best Birds of the Day came at that same river’s edge where, to my astonishment, on the opposite, gravelly, margin were two Lesser Yellowlegs ! Same time and place; could it possibly be that one of them was the same bird as my phalarope of three years ago?