Red Phalarope – A rare sighting in India, Bhigwan, Pune District, March 2016
The Red Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius) is a rare vagrant to India. Also called the Grey Phalarope because, in the wintering areas of this bird, it is seen in a whitish grey plumage rather than red in the breeding plumage.
This Red Phalarope was spotted at Bhigwan in the backwaters of the Ujani dam in Pune district. On hearing the news that the bird had been spotted, I decided to take the trip and see this rare vagrant. With only a few records from Rajasthan and Maharashtra, this bird wasn’t one to be missed. I took the trip on 22nd March 2016 and reached there early in the morning. I was nervous about the bird getting away before I went to see it. Not to waste any time, we took a boat and went straight to the location where the phalarope was supposed to be present. However, the bird wasn’t in the main channel of water, but rather was in a small pond a little inland. After getting down from the boat, we walked a little inland where in a pond, this small bird was swimming and foraging all alone.
As I observed the bird, it was continuously swimming around and feeding, not staying still for a moment. Completely not bothered about the people that were photographing it, it kept picking off insects from the surface of the water and sometimes feeding just below the surface of the water.
I was told while photographing from the local bird guides that, since this bird was first seen on 18th March, it had been feeding continuously and been in the same pond. The bird never flew and remained in the same pond for the entire while that it was present. The continuous feeding made sense as these birds undertake huge journeys during their migration. Their breeding grounds are in the Arctic regions of North America, Asia and Europe, while their wintering grounds are in South America and South-western Africa.
After getting plenty of good shots of this bird from all angles, we left the bird to continue its feeding. These birds are known to winter mostly at sea, so it was surprising to see this individual so far inland. The phalarope left the day after I saw it. Where this bird had come from and where its next stop was going to be, only the bird knows.