RED PHALAROPE IS ONE OF ICELAND'S RAREST BREEDING BIRDS and is therefore high on everyone's wish list. It breeds at scattered locations around the coast, including two Flateys ('Flat Island'). One in the north and one in the southwest. I was lucky to spend three weeks in Iceland this summer and visited Flatey in Breiðafjörður twice with Wild Imaged and then Birdquest, including staying overnight on this delightful island. I enjoyed numerous sightings of Red Phalaropes but all either brief, in flight, distant or during rain showers until almost an hour before we were due to leave the island when a gorgeous female dropped in to a small area of seaweed where a group of the much more numerous Red-necked Phalaropes was feeding. Luckily the big red stayed long enough for me to wade through the seaweed and get a bit closer to it. Although it has a massive worldwide population and is classified as being of 'least concern' by BirdLife International the breeding grounds of this circumpolar High Arctic breeder are mostly very remote. Iceland is one of only a handful of accessible places where western birders can catch up with it in its red breeding plumage.
A couple of days later, strong northerly gales and snow brought another Red Phalarope to Húsavík in northern Iceland and I was able to see that one as well, although it was strange twitching just before midnight. This bird stayed for a couple of days, feeding in the surf just off a black volcanic sand beach below the cliffs south of the town, a genuine WP hotspot, where my friend Gaukur Hjartason had found a Franklin's Gull a couple of weeks earlier. I was able to approach this bird as well but it did involve getting my feet wet and scurrying up the beach every now and then when there was a bigger wave. A wonderful location on the shore of Skjalfandi ('shaky') Bay.
'SECONDS ARE ALWAYS NICE' said a guy I passed in Dunsop Valley who I saw a few evenings ago. Fourths aren't bad either. I've been up in Whitendale watching this amazing bird four days running now, including taking Alexander on one of the hikes up the valley. The harrier is becoming a local celebrity in the same way that the eagle owls did a few years ago and is attracting a steady stream of admirers. It has taken me a while to work out the best plan to get the shot I had in my mind's eye and this is almost it. A little less shadow on the underparts would have been ideal but I shouldn't complain when it has taken me around 17 hours over four days to get this far. Some of this was simply in poor light conditions and this evening the light was perfect low angle, 'golden hour' light. However, from time to time I still put the camera down and simply watched the bird's wonderful sky-dancing displays instead. Surprisingly a sound as well as sight experience when it's purring trill high overhead is sometimes the first sign that it has commenced its aerobatic display over the valley. It was great to see some old friends today too! Also in the valley today were Common Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Hen Harrier (briefly - Bowland's one and only this year), Merlin, Common Sandpiper, Short-eared Owl, Ring Ouzel (singing), Common Cuckoo, Common Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Dipper and Grey Wagtail. Another day to remember in Bowland!
'DID YOU SEE THE LUMP IN THAT FIELD? I think it was a mammal, maybe a marmot. I'm just going back to check' was the conversation somewhere between Rifle and Hayden on my recent Colorado tour. Well, to our delight, the lump turned out to be a badger, which was digging in the middle of a grassy field surrounded by Wyoming Ground Squirrels. Before too long it sat up with a ground squirrel in its jaws, which it then proceeded to shake violently for several minutes. Even though it is fairly common and widespread, it is rare enough to see a badger in the USA let alone some action like this. We hadn't seen one on our Colorado tour for over 12 years prior to this for instance. Needless to say, things did not end well for the poor ground squirrel, which forms the majority of the badger's diet in grassland areas.