Grebes on a sunny afternoon

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When I reported from Heslington lake a couple of weeks back, there were a couple of pairs of Great-crested Grebe now on the nest. Now, the first chicks have hatched, they are out of the nest, and rafting with their parents.

Grebe with chicks

Grebe with chicks

What’s interesting here is that the item in the top corner of this picture is the spot this pair usually nest, or at least have for the past two or three years. But this year they nested several hundred metres down the lake at another spot. Yet within a couple of days, she is drawn back to the familiar and comfortable smaller lake.

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None of the photos seem to quite show it, but at is most usual she has four chicks back there. They have been off the nest about a week now and seem quite content, apart from when Mum shakes her feathers out and sends tiny grebes flying across the water!

Of course, another reason for moving could be she didn’t like the neighbours, as a pair of Coot nested just two feet away:

Noisy neighbour #1

Noisy neighbour #1

Noisy neighbour #2

Noisy neighbour #2

Coot are incredibly aggressive, I’ve seen them take on a full-grown Canada Goose and see it off, as well as plenty of mallards, to say nothing of bullying scores of smaller moorhen. If they moved in next door to you, you might consider moving at the first opportunity too.

In fact, I grabbed this photo on my camera of two Pochard (there was a third actually) being seen off by a feisty coot:

Fleeing pochard

Fleeing pochard

The second grebe pair has been doing well too, but at the moment there are no chicks to be seen.

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Getting the photo above here was a real bonus. The grebe popped up directly below me with a fish, which he proceeded to carefully manoeuvre into position to swallow whole.

It’s wrong to anthropomorphise these things, but doesn’t the fish look really shocked at this turn of events?

One shocked fish

One shocked fish

He moved it around so he’d be able to get it down headfirst, occasionally bashing it into submission against the water. Being a Perch, the fish has a nasty barbed fin along its back that it erects when confronted by a predator, but this didn’t stop our grebe.

A little shakin', a little tenderisin'...

A little shakin’, a little tenderisin’…

Sure enough the fish was soo0n lubricated and in position to go down the gullet of the predator.

Staring into oblivion

Staring into oblivion

You can, incidentally, see from these photos how well water-proofed the grebe is. The water is just forming droplets that will roll off his back, keeping him perfectly dry.

Water off a grebes back

Water off a grebes back

There is a fifth Grebe on the lake, the gooseberry, the spare wheel. A poor single male. It’s quite sad really, as he is still swimming up and down the lake, calling, a piece of water weed dangling from the corner of his mouth; an offering for a lover that will never appear.

Other birds are more successful, and I’ve spotted at least one mallard hybrid with its work cut out.

How many ducklings can you spot?

How many ducklings can you spot?

While one bird was looking after this entire mob (how many can you count?), they are almost certainly being crèched here, with more than one nest of ducklings now sticking together.

The biggest threat as I took this photo was a nearby Greylag Goose that had taken a violent interest and picked up at least one duckling and gave it a good shake. Fortunately the adult was on-hand to save it, before taking the entire group to the other side of the lake.

It’s not just the water birds that can be seen producing the next generation though, and I’ll leave you with a couple of photos of the Mistle Thrush peering out of her nest.

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4 Responses to Grebes on a sunny afternoon

  1. Emily Scott says:

    I love seeing the grebes getting a ride on their mothers’ back. Thanks for the photos.

  2. Kyle Dig says:

    Amazing captures and blog here! I initially noticed your “Merganser vs FIsh” shots. That looks like a large/spiky (for the bird!) fish staring down its captor’s throat!

    So the bird was really able to win the struggle and gulp down that huge fish okay?? Does the prey put up a good fight, if eaten, does the unlucky fish get swallowed wriggling/alive all the way as well?!

    -Kyle

    • David says:

      Hi Kyle,

      The comment was posted first time, but the website likes us to approve new comments first. After that you can comment instantly.

      The fish is indeed pretty spiky. I used to fish, and from personal experience I know the spines on the back of a Perch are pretty nasty. So it’s impressive that the grebe can deal with it. All told it only took a couple of minutes for the fish to go down. It dies pretty soon afterwards as once out of the water it cannot breathe, so suffocates quickly.

      while similar to a merganser, especially as both are diving fish-eating birds, this is a Great-crested Grebe, a different group.

      Thanks for the comment, glad you liked it.

  3. Kyle Dig says:

    Sorry if I posted twice, I’m not sure if it worked the first time.

    Amazing captures and blog here! I initially noticed your “Merganser vs fish” shots. That looks like a huge and spiky fish staring down its captor’s throat!

    So the bird was really able to win the struggle and gulp down that huge fish okay?? Does the prey put up a good fight, if eaten, does the unlucky fish get swallowed wriggling/alive all the way as well?!

    -Kyle

I welcome thoughts, comments and questions, so please feel free to share anything at all. Thanks, David

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