Little Visits: Searching for the holy grail or Grebe

We had gone to Ballarat with high hopes of being able to find the resident Great Crested Grebes and be able to photograph them up close.

Such was the the plan

Day One:  Not a feather of a grebe to be seen.

Day Two: Helpful local pointed out that since they had raised the young they were now residing further out in the outer most reeds.
So we patiently looked, from a distance, at the various reed beds.  Not much happening really.

Day Three. An early morning search did in fact reveal a grebe or two, way, way out there, in those reeds well beyond reach of the best long lenses.

Day Three: Evening stroll.  Now this was more like it, they had moved to perhaps the second set of reed beds, closer in.  But, clever birds they are, were all tucked up asleep and had no intention of coming closer.

Day Four: Departure day.  Early morning.   Well, they were still out on the second reed beds and a single adult and two juveniles were in the open, adult was hunting ,young were still hoping for handouts.   Didn’t look like we were going to get the shots.
Then EE said, “Oh, look one of the young is coming in this way.”  Sure enough.

And then a few minutes later the adult swam in the same direction but further around the lake so we quickly walked, as it swung in quite near the edge and then with some deft strokes to get away from the complaining young one by its side, it was back out among the furtherest reeds.

Still, we had bagged some shots, and while not memorable, we had at least been able to check off the grebes from the list for the weekend.

Interludes: Grebe Fishing

We had, on the opportunity of lunch with friends, taken a trip to the Jawbone Coastal Park.
There are two pairs of Great Crested Grebe in residence and they have just completed a nesting cycle so the chance to see them with the young was too good to pass up.

However the Grebes had other ideas and they had the young on the far side of a pond, and just that little too far, without some serious bushcraft, swimming or canoeing.

However one of the pair, I assume the male made a foray to “our” side of the pond and put up a pretty good show of fishing techniques

And here it is as a gallery.

From the Field Notes: So Near, Yet… So Far

No doubt we all have a few photo goals that always seem to be just out there beyond reach.

One for me, and it will never be achieved is to photograph the great white horses of the Camargue, in France

Another would be a week or more with the awesome richly coloured Brahminy Kites, from a high clifftop area.  I might yet make this one.

And yet another is to capture Great Crested Grebe and their ‘reed dance’.  We have at the Jawbone Reserve two pairs at present, and they have had several good nestings so far this season. However the luck of the dance, is it’s just a bit too far from home for me to spend more than an occasional visit, so the chances are somewhat diminished.
Mr An Onymous and I had taken #kneetoo for a visit there one early morning as  treat before she goes to visit Mr Slice-n-Dice next week.

I featured the young from their most recent hatching in the previous post, so we did have a good visit.
Time to go as #kneetoo was feeling the pain.

When on a sudden, from way down the lake one of the pair came swimming down to meet its mate. Both immediately dropped their heads to the water in a greeting and turned toward each other.
Then the head crest and facial mask outstretched, so it was more than a casual greeting they were a bit more than pleased to see each other.

The closer they approached the more the crest and masked displayed and finally they were alongside one another and swayed and turned in unison, like a pair of ballerinas.
I held my breath.
They may being going to dance!!

More head waving, calling and circling.
Then, to my dismay, the crests dropped, the facial mask retracted, they turned about, and slowly swam away together into the reeds.

Opportunity over.   Near.  But… So Far.
Perhaps next time.

If you are interested in the craft of photographing Great Crested Grebes, I normally don’t do video plugs for Youtube, but Mike Lane is an exception. (he is 89 years old for a starter), and he offers some fine techniques that can be applied to working with other water birds.

From the Field Notes: Grebeing

It’s hard to ignore the call of a warm sunny morning, one with little wind, and the chance of fog on the water.

Conference between, #kneetoo, Mr An Onymous, and I, and the location of choice was Jawbone Reserve and the bird of interest, Great Crested Grebe.

Not that we expected to see the parents doting on the young as they have been out for a couple of weeks, and would be able to fend for themselves.

And the usual spots were the young had been last seen revealed no grebes at all.
So it was a walk about the tracks looking in some of the other ponds, and doing our best not to be an annoyance to, and being run over by, speeding local cyclists.

Then far out on one of the larger ponds, among a gaggle (?) of ducks and assorted coots, Mr A spotted two young grebes, heads all tucked in keeping warm in the sunshine.

We waited and just as well, as not so long after they began their morning duties of cleaning, preening and looking about.  One of the adults was not too far away keeping a ‘weather’ eye on them.

Around a corner paddling remarkably fast came ‘Motor’ Grebe with a big wash ahead of its chest.
It stopped closer to where we were and began to hunt, and quickly showed how adept they had become in just a few weeks.

The other two paddled over to see if they too could get in the action.

Way down the pond, the second adult made an appearance and the two adults swam toward one another, but. That is for another page in the book.

An interesting fact(oid) is the birds were nearly hunted to extinction in the 1800s as the feathers were used for hats (ladies),and the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds was set up to protect them.
Cocker, Mark; Mabey, Richard (2005). Birds Britannica. London: Chatto and Windus. pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-0-7011-6907-7.



Much of the baby feather is going and the markings are changing. Not bad for only a month out of the egg.

Adult on alert for its young

Really looking the part

The head feathers are beginning to show the development of that famous Crested headdress

Catch of the Day

Wing stretch of the well developed wings. They usually fly at about 10 weeks from hatching.

Family discussion


Saturday Evening Post #120.1: Followup: The Love Heart Grebe.

Did a bit of research since I wrote last night.

Guess what?

The mark is a visual clue to the adults that the little tacker is hungry.

Thanks to Ashley over at for giving me a hint about what it all might mean.  See his comment on the post last night.

Here is a link to a good site explaining it

And a little clip of the info, thanks to David Craven.

>>So, what is this? A deformity? Some parasite? A magical third eye? A literature search was required. Wading through various papers there were lots of theories. The patch was natural, and present in nearly all grebe chicks. Some thought it helped control the chicks temperature while tucked on the parent’s back. Some thought it deterred predators. Others thought it was used in signalling parents.

It took a 1985 paper by Gary Nuechterlein to settle it. Hand-rearing some Western Grebe chicks, he used a series of experiments to determine that it was allied to begging for food. The more the bird begged, the brighter red the crown patch. Once fed, it faded to a lighter pink.

There we have it. Next time you spot grebe chicks, keep an eye out for the red patch!<<

Thanks David.

Ballaratt Grebe

We had to take a trip to Ballaratt on important business, that involved laying down money, (well credit card numbers to be more exact). Was only going to take 5 minutes, and EE suggested that Mr An Onymous might like a trip out for the day.
So let’s see.
Let’s choose the hottest day of the week for the hour or so  journey, and let’s go late morning to be sure we get the maximum benefit from the heat.
EE had allowed us at least a few minutes to ‘cool off by the lake’, and who knows we might find something to photograph.
‘Nuff Said.

Clever as, she also arranged a nice stop over for coffee at Ballan on the way up.  And wouldn’t you know it. How Do these things happen?  There was a fine looking clothing and jewellery store right next to said Coffee Shop, called the “Tin Plate” (here’s a link) for any who might want to follow in the tracks of such adventure. So while Mr A and I lamented over the fact that all the vanilla slice had been sold for the day, and an empty plate where a slice might have been wasn’t going to make up for it, EE was just a shop away shopping.

On to Ballaratt. It does seem somewhat incongruous to leave Melbourne in a pleasant 26C and head off into 37C, to Ballaratt. The place most folk would have on their list of cold places to visit. But there you go. Outside temp was well on the way, as were we.  Gotta love GPS and Sat Nav. Punch in the address and think no more about it.  Found myself on the way into the city, going, “If I was going to Dublin, I wouldn’t be starting from here,” but in the end circuitous or not we arrived.

The original plan had been lunch by the lake, but what with the heat, and that we were just around the corner from Wendouree Village, the lure of an air-conditioned sandwich bar was too much to resist.
But, by the time we’d lunched and chatted, and discussed the merits of Nikon AF focus, and how to use the old ‘Sunny 16 Rule’ of long-gone-bye filum days, the weather had changed to severely overcast, and the said rule was not going to be much help.
At the lakeside it was a distinct murky grey, (but still hot- now the clouds were keeping the heat in), and we’d dropped about 4-5 stops of light.

And most of the usual suspects were there.  We quickly located the pair of Great Crested Grebe, and one immediately took off down the lake to places far from human interference.  The other just lolled about snoozing among the reeds and grasses.

Here’s a selection from its activities.  Played a bit with the mono style as both the day and the surrounds had that sort of mood about them.

And if case anyone is wondering, the temp dropped about 15 degrees on the way home, and we arrived in pleasant cool(ish) conditions.

Is this my best side?

Awesome reflections needed just the right positioning, and it was rewarding to have the Grebe choose the best spots.

It was good to have a cooperative subject that offered so many interesting poses, moods and settings.

In the end, with so many interesting settings, what was going to be a few minutes lasted near an hour

Mighty mono to Selenium tone to set a cool mood

It is so tiring snoozing it makes you yawn.

When they tuck up like this and bob up and down they remind me of a little kid’s toy boat.

Postcards: Jawbone Morning


I showed some Swan Moments from our Jawbone trip last week, and now its the turn of the Great Crested Grebe and friends.
We lucked out a little with one of the Great Crested Grebe as it was feeding around the close edges of the lake by the housing estate and moved out into more open water later.  The second one, seemed to like the far, far, far side of the ponds and we only managed the most fleeting of glimpses.

Still there was plenty of other action—including the Swans— to fill up a memory card.


I’d not noted before how low it is in the water when at work.

Grey Teal

Blue-billed Duck (M)

Young Silver Gull waiting expentantly and noisily

Pied Stilt

Little Black Cormorant

Blue-billed Duck (F)

A quick shake to put the feathers back after a preen

Wing stretch

The simplicity of ripples

The legs are far at the back of the body enable them to get a real speed up