Ocean-going bird makes rare Grand Valley stop

This red phalarope in its white and black winter plumage was spotted Oct. 3 on a pond near the Redlands Parkway. This was only the fourth confirmed sighting in Mesa County of this Arctic breeder since 1979. Photo by Dale Taylor

It’s the rare day a Red Phalarope comes to town.

While large numbers of this Arctic breeding bird are seen along the coasts during its migration to and from its winter waters in southern oceans, it’s rarely seen inland.

And Mesa County might be as inland as you can get.

“Yes, they’re pretty rare this far inland, so it’s a big deal anywhere in Colorado,” said Bob Bradley, a retired metallurgical engineer and avid birder who first identified the feathered visitor.

“I first heard about it on (Oct. 3) and went to see it. I’ve been here for nine years and this was my first one in Colorado,” Bradley said.

The Red Phalarope is sometimes confused with the similar Red-necked Phalarope and this was the initial case with Mesa County’s visitor, he said.

“I first heard it reported as a Red-necked Phalarope, which it could have been because they are a lot more common,” said Bradley, who lives on the Redlands about a half-mile from where the bird was seen.

Bradley previously has seen Red Phalaropes and immediately suspected the first identification was incorrect.

“When I looked at it, I thought, ‘No, that’s not a Red-necked Phalarope,’ ” he said. “But I had to make sure.”

He called other birders to identify the bird, but it wasn’t until he sent a photo to the Colorado Field Ornithologists’ Birds Record Committee that the identification was assured.

It’s no wonder the two birds might be mistaken, since there are only three other records of Red Phalaropes being seen in western Colorado since 1979.

Red-necked Phalaropes, however, often are seen locally in flocks of 1,000 or more.

That’s according to “Birds of Western Colorado Plateau and Mesa Country,” written by Robert Righter, Rich Levad, Coen Dexter and Kim Potter.

The most-recent bird apparently blew into western Colorado on one of the storm fronts coming out of the southwest.

It was here for a few days, long enough for Bradley to spread the word on Internet birding sites, but hasn’t been seen for about a week, Bradley said.

“For a lot of people, that was a life bird,” said Bradley, who has a personal life list of well over 700 birds. “It was good opportunity to see a nice bird, and I think a lot of people got to see it.”


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