Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .


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Yesterday while walking along Capitola Beach, my eyes caught two unusual birds at water’s edge sitting among a large flock of herring gulls. A western grebe couple (they are monogamous, mating for life). They looked strange there and I set up my camera and tripod. These birds were busily preening themselves, a time-consuming activity for most birds, especially water fowl. Their red eyes would spark like rubies in the sunlight. Every once in a while, one of the grebes would stand up clumsily, take a few awkward steps forward and flop down again. This action was so difficult for them that at first I thought that they must be wounded or sick. Then I recalled, with all the grebes I have seen (several species), I have never seen one on land before. Grebes even build their nests and lay eggs on floating debris in water. They simply are not built to be land animals.

In the first photo below, you can see a profile of one grebe standing near a few herring gulls. They have a completely different build, upright with legs at the very back. More like a dog trying to walk on two legs than a bird. They were consistently being taunted by a juvenile gull who seemed to be trying to pull out feathers. The grebes would lunge with their snake-like necks and sharp bills, squawking menacing. They did not seem frightened by the gull, just annoyed. Was this a teenage prank on the gull’s part?

The western grebe has one of the most marvelous courtship displays in the bird world. They dance across the top of water in unison, neither swimming nor flying, as if by magic, seemingly in a rush to get to the chapel on time. I have never seen this in person but I hope to some day. I recommend you watch this Youtube video.

A group of grebes is collectively know as a “water dance of grebes.”


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