Week-by-week birds to seek: Week 3 Grebes

Every week in 2017 we will have new suggestions for a different group of birds to look for to help develop you #My200BirdYear list.

This week, it is GREBES.

There are five regularly occurring species of regular British grebes. Two (Great Crested and Little) are common and widespread. Of the other three, two (Black-necked and Slavonian) are regular, scarce breeding birds with a larger wintering coastal population, while the Red-necked Grebe is a scarce wintering bird (fewer than 100 individuals).

So, the long and short of it is that two will be easy to add to any year list, while the other three will need to a coastal site in winter, or to a known breeding site, or perhaps to catch up with an individual which has wandered inland. All five should be gettable, with a bit of effort, and now is as good a time as any to be ticking all five.

 

Great Crested Grebe

Displaying Great Crested Grebes

Displaying Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebes are widely found in lakes, rivers, gravel pits, reservoirs, you name it; where there is a supply of small fish and a bit of waterside vegetation for cover (especially for the breeding season), there are GCGs. In the winter, they are also found, slightly anomalously and incongruously,  on the sea, near the coast. Winter birds are less cresty, but still easy to identify. Note that much of Scotland has no Great Crested Grebes (including the islands), especially outside the breeding season.

 

Little Grebe

Little Grebe (breeding plumage)

Little Grebe (breeding plumage)

Dabchicks (as they are also called) are found even more widely in the UK than Great Crested Grebes, in lowland lakes and slow rivers with bankside vegetation.. They are titchy and often shy, diving at the sight of a human and often resurfacing among vegetation at the side of the water body. These are the brownest of the smaller grebes, and the brown tones should be enough to distinguish them straightaway from the scarcer small black-and-white grebes (Slavonian and Black-necked).

 

Black-necked Grebe

Black-necked Grebe (non-breeding)

Black-necked Grebe (non-breeding)

Only about 50 pairs of Black-necked Grebes breed in the country, in a line up the spine of England into Scotland. They are more southerly in their largely coastal winter distribution than the similar-looking Slavonian Grebe. Black-necked Grebes in winter are black-and-white, with a steep forehead, high crown, more dark on the cheek and a slimmer ‘upturned’ bill.

 

Slavonian Grebe

Slavonian Grebe (non-breeding)

Slavonian Grebe (non-breeding)

To see these beauties at their best, you will need to visit one of their Highland lochs, such as Loch Ruthven, where a few of the 30 UK pairs nest. Otherwise it is a scarce wintering bird around our coast (about 1,000 birds) , with concentrations in Scottish sites, such as the Moray Firth and the Sussex coast.

 

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe (non-breeding)

Red-necked Grebe (non-breeding)

Like a smaller, darker, chunkier Great Crested Grebe in winter, with a dark cap down to the eye and a yellow-based bill (not pink as in GCG). These birds are best looked for on the east and south coast of England, though some come inland each year, for instance to ‘inland seas’ such as Rutland Water.

All photos from Alamy