Highland Diary

Photographing Grebes in Spring

I have always had a soft spot for grebes, I have early memories as a boy on summer evenings punting around an ornamental lake in Derbyshire helping my father erect photographic hides beside the nests of Great-crested and Little Grebes. Back then other grebe species were considered rarities and only ever occurred in the midlands of England in their rather dowdy winter plumage. It is at this time of year in their summer plumage that grebes really shine. Here in the Highlands Little Grebes appear to be much more numerous and widespread than when I moved north in the late 1960’s. Slavonian Grebes, always rare, have declined since then and are now largely restricted to a small area at the eastern end of the Great Glen. Great-crested Grebes are steadily making their way north in Scotland but are unlikely get into the heart of the Highlands as most water bodies there are too acidic in nature to hold course fish, their preferred prey.

Earlier in April I had a chance encounter with a Red-necked Grebe that had been resident on a loch in Angus for some time. The day before it left I was able to photograph it, at the time not quite in full breeding plumage. Last week I was able to spend six hours with a Pied-billed Grebe, well at least I spent most of that time looking at an apparently birdless stretch of water. This bird has taken the Little Grebe’s penchant for elusivity to a different level possessing as it does the ability to alter the buoyancy of its plumage and simply sink out of sight below the water. The one saving grace, it was a typical lovesick yank making plenty of noise and engaging in flamboyant displays to attract the attention of a female, a Little Grebe. Wherever she went he followed, eventually they made it round to the end of the loch where I was hidden and I was able to get some pictures.