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Grey Phalarope

A migrant species that occasionally turns up on the coast of Dorset in autumn.

Photograph by: 
Peter Coe

The grey phalarope is one of those scarce waders that will probably turn up in Dorset in very small numbers each autumn. An arctic breeding species it travels vast distances during the winter as it wanders over the oceans and those that are seen on land in autumn and winter are probably those blown off course by storms. Only a very small number are seen in Britain each year and a very small number of those might be seen in Dorset. The RSPB Handbook of British Birds says that the non-breeding birds leave the breeding grounds in June, the females in July and the males and young leave in September and October and it is likely to be the latter group that encounter autumn storms and end up here for a while.

The weekly reporting by tweets of sightings of grey phalarope would seem to paint a quite clear picture of first sightings being in week 36 in late September, peaking in week 38 at the beginning of October and then falling to week 42 in late October. Outside of this there are odd records from week 32, possibly a female, and also from week 46 to 48 in November and these sightings may well be weather related. It seems that by the end of November they have all moved further south and are less likely to be blown ashore here in bad weather.

The distribution maps shows that the Lyme Bay coast from Lyme Regis to Portland Bill is by far the most likely place for them to turn up although some appear in Poole Harbour and Christchurch Harbour. The swannery at Abbotsbury report the most but this is, of course, a closely watched area but equally the conditions along the Fleet obviously suit them; their port in a storm!

For grey phalarope on your Dorset list you need to be ready to go as soon as a report of sightings comes in.



Common Name Grey Phalarope
Scientific Name Phalaropus filicarius
Species Group Birds Other Waders
Status Scarce
Interest Level
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
Look for

A smallish wader with more of a remblance to a gull rather than a sandpiper 

Identification Notes
  • Predominantly an autumn migrational species and rarely seen in spring
  • Rarely seen in groups, usually as loan individuals
  • Likely to be seen in sheltered saline waters, especially along the Fleet 
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Other Waders