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Order Waders, Gulls, Skuas/Charadriiformes, Family Sandpipers/Scolopacidae

Grey Phalarope/Phalaropus fulicarius - First year

L 20-22 cm, WS 36-41 cm. Breeds in Arctic on mainly coastal wet tundra, sometimes in drier area, but always near fresh or brackish water. Winters in Atlantic off S and W Africa, via migration routes well out in N Atlantic. In W Europe, very rare in late spring; more regular Sep-Oct (esp. W coast Britain & Ireland), when gales bring singles or small groups (at times large numbers) close inshore, or odd birds to coastal pools. Nest in tussock near shallow water. Common sex roles reversed; more attractively plumaged females gather in flocks to compete for males, which tend eggs/young.
IDENTIFICATION: Dunlin-sized, usually very tame wader. Outside breeding areas, in black, pale grey and white plumage, often seen swimming (when shape and colour recall miniature Little Gull) or in flight over sea, when could be overlooked as Sanderling (but white wing-bar pronounced only on the ‘arm’, thinner on primaries, dark ‘mask’ often discernible at long range, and looks distinctly strong-chested) until it plops down and swims; also, flying parties over sea usually looser, not so cohesive as Sanderling (and other Calidris). When swimming, pecks quickly all around for food on surface. In all plumages, told from Red-necked by slightly thicker and (when viewed head-on) flattened bill; identification difficult at distance if bill shape not discernible, especially if in moult (e.g. juvenile to 1st-winter), when plumage differences obscured. - Adult summer: Rarely seen away from breeding areas; unmistakable. male has underparts often white-flecked and slightly less bright, and head pattern less clear-cut than female. Bill yellow with dark tip. In flight, distinctive contrast between dark body and white underwing-coverts. - Adult winter: Almost plain pale blue-grey upperparts and wings (Red-necked has whitish mantle-V and scapular fringes); darkbordered white crown (ad. Red-necked white crown, juv. solidly black); bill dark, usually with hint of yellow-brown base. - Juvenile: Resembles juvenile Red-necked Phalarope, but ochre-yellow mantle-V thinner and scapular-V usually lacking, and rather quickly acquires its first pale grey 1st-winter scapulars (juv. Red-necked moults somewhat later). Has only light wash of rust on neck/ breast-sides (strong rufous-brown at first on Red-necked).
VOICE: Flight-call sharp, high-pitched, metallic ‘pit’ (can recall Coot). Song (by female in slow-winged, circling display-flight) buzzing, farcarrying ‘brrreep’, vaguely recalling Broad-billed Sandpiper. Excited ‘bip bip bip …’ on water.

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