Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Feb 24th Salhouse Broad

Great Crested Grebes Dancing
Strictly Come Dancing has nothing compared to what I am hoping to see today. I am at Salhouse Broad to watch one of the most elegant of courtship displays in nature; great crested grebes dancing. Around February and March, these beautiful birds with red and black tufts and crests get together as a couple to pair up. They show their bond for each other in a display of subtle movements that can rival those of a ballet. I have seen it all before, but I have never managed to photograph it.

'Mirroring' Routine

Salhouse Broad is the perfect stage for this event. The water is calm and the weather is behaving nicely. I also found at least two pairs of great crested grebes to watch, though on either end of the broad. I decided to follow one pair that was closeby first. They led me down a channel connecting to the broad alongside a boardwalk which I can use. Both birds growled and grunted at each other in a passionate mannor and began to copy each others movements. If one preens, the other preens. If one shakes their head, the other shakes their head. This was part one of the routine called 'mirroring'.

Next, they swim up to one another, face to face and breast to breast. They raised the necks up tall and waved their heads from side to side and lifted their bills up and down, taking it in turns. This is what I call 'advanced mirroring'. After this, they swam along parallel to each other, until they decided to split up and do their own thing for a while. There is one part of their routine I wanted to capture the most, the weed or 'penguin' dance and I was hoping that this short split up was building up to that. What I was hoping for was that they went off to find something like a piece of weed and come back almost sprinting low across the water at each other and stand up on the surface, belly to belly and waving their piece of weed at one another. It didn't happen.

'Advanced Mirroring'

I was still watching and waiting for them to reunite as a couple, but while watching, I notice a dart of blue behind them on the far corner of the channel. A kingfisher! Just like most kingfisher sightings, though, it didn't hang around for long. Eventually, my grebes got back together and took me back to the main body of the broad. They did more of that 'advanced mirroring' and then split up once more. It was time for the solo dance moves to come into the routine. One of them stretched their neck and bill out along the surface of the water. Another fanned their wings upwards and the crest was stretched outwards. Those grunts and growls were audible throughout the display. By the way, I'm making up the names for these moves shown below.

Solo move, 'The Lowdown'
Solo move, 'The Fan' or 'Partial Butterfly'
'Parallel Swimming'

I was having no luck with this first pair, so I went down the other end of the broad for the other pair. They were much closer despite hiding their display from me behind a few trees half the time. They were performing most the moves I have seen already, including 'mirror diving', but no weed dance. There was one promising moment when one of the grebes went to pick up a bit of weed, but nothing happend. It was soon discarded to do other parts of the routines again. My time watching them was coming to an end and I had to go home. I was so close!!! Oh well! Maybe next time I will get the shot I want of weed dancing grebes, but I am still happy with what I did manage to capture.
An unknown solo move, the 'Head Rest'

Also today were lots of tufted ducks, pochard, mallard, black-headed gulls, greylags and a common gull (a small gull with a yellow bill and legs and black wingtips with white mirror spots).
Common Gull
Female Mallard
Tufted Duck
Female Pochard

1 comment:

  1. Great photos - hope you get to see the weed dance next time!