Photographing Phalaropes

Phalarope with water on head 3838

Image: A male Red-Necked Phalarope coming up from a head dunk, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1250, on tripod

As we began to explore Vadsøya Island more, we found a small pond along the eastern end of the island. The whole island is about 3-3.5 miles in circumference (based on my running app as I ran along the edge of it) and the eastern half is wilderness tundra. The western winds have been present most mornings, but on Saturday morning, there was an area of calm waters at one edge of the pond where Artie spotted some Red-Necked Phalaropes. I was unfamiliar with this bird but I soon learned more. 

Phalarope swimming male 3859

Image: A male Red-Necked Phalarope creating a vortex in the water, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 380mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1250, on tripod

Red-necked Phalaropes are small wading birds with a duck-like appearance when swimming in a pond although they are not ducks. They were easily spotted for Artie, as they swim quickly in small circles, creating a vortex.  This allows them to stick their bills in the middle of the vortex to feed off tiny insects and crustaceans that have come up into the swirl.  It looks quite comical at first and reminded me of a little kids spinning circles in the playground. Here is a video of their behavior with Artie describing some of their biology and behavior.

The phalaropes were surprisingly tame. As we approached the water’s edge, we moved slowly, not only to avoid scaring them but also to make sure we didn’t fall as we trudged through 6-8 inches of wet marsh. I was able to photograph a series of images below of a phalarope sticking his head into the water and eating a small insect.

Phalarope head under water 3822

Image: A male phalarope dipping his head for food, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1100, on tripod

Phalarope with droplets 3839

Image: A male phalarope lifting his head from the water with an aquatic insect at the end of his bill, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1250, on tripod

Phalarope eating 4013

Image: A male phalarope eating his catch (small yellow insect at the back of his beak, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1800, on tripod

I was surprised to learn about the sex role reversals in which the females are larger than the males and have the more vibrant colors in their feathers with red spreading further down their chests.  They pursue the males and after copulation, the males incubate the eggs and raise the young. 

Phalarope swimming 3900

Image: A female Red-Necked Phalarope swimming, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600, on tripod

Most of the birds we saw happened to be male but there were a few females and we caught a few pairs copulating. It happened fairly quickly and I had about 5-10 seconds to capture a few shots. 

redneck phalarope 3723

Image: A pair of Red-Necked Phalaropes copulating, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600, on tripod

For these shots, all were taken on tripod since the birds were smaller, I was standing in 6-8 inches of cold water, and the birds were spinning so quickly.  Timing was hard and when they were facing away from me in the spin, I started pushing down on the shutter button to try to catch one facing sideways with the eye looking at me.  I really enjoyed these charming birds and watching them spin.

More Info:
Red-Necked Phalarope


Author: Dr. Amy Novotny

Dr. Amy Novotny founded the PABR® Institute with the mission to provide pain, stress and anxiety relief to those who seek a naturalistic form of treatment when other treatment methods have fallen short. Her unique approach comes from her experience treating in a variety of settings and with a wide range of patient populations over the past 12 years. Her background in orthopedics, sports, geriatrics, balance disorders, nerve injuries, and most recently, chronic pain; and influences from coursework at the Postural Restoration Institute gave her the foundation to develop this treatment method to address a wide variety of painful and restrictive conditions. Her methods have helped countless people reduce and eliminate pain, stress, anxiety, orthopedic surgeries, sleep issues and the need for medications. She co-authored two Amazon #1 Best-Selling books Don’t Quit: Stories of Persistence, Courage and Faith and Success Habits of Super Achievers, which share her journey on how and why she developed the PABR® Method. Her ability to speak French and Spanish has allowed her to communicate with and help various clients from all around the world, including France, Mexico, Central America and South America. She has a variety of interests including running 40+ marathons, running 10 ultra marathons (including two 100 milers), completing an Ironman triathlon, photographing wildlife and landscapes all over the world that has led to several of her images being chosen as Photos of the Day, most notably National Geographic Your Shot World Top Photo of the Day. Visit her photography portfolio here!

2 thoughts on “Photographing Phalaropes”

  1. I so look forward to your posts! …and so happy you are offering such an educational blog! I feel like I am taking a birding class…lol Beautiful shots and how lucky to catch a pair mating. You are soaking up a wealth of information. It shows in your photos 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Leslie! It’s fun to provide info on these photos. It helps me remember all the details of everything I’m learning. You might be a bird photographer too by the end of this. Lol!!


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