The Peter Pan of the Pond

One out-of-focus but very special pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)

Nothing brings a smile like the sight of pied-billed grebes bobbing and diving their way through our ponds and wetlands. Small, skittish and shy,  they seem to be everywhere and nowhere at once: floating on the water, bobbing for vegetation, and fleeing at the first sign of human presence. They’re divers and swimmers, not flyers; not once in all my years of watching them had I seen one take flight.

When I noticed this one in middle of a Brazoria Refuge pond,  it seemed typically grebe-like in its behavior, until something strange began to happen. As I watched, it appeared to grow smaller, drawing into itself until only half its original size. Its feathers, no longer smooth, began to ruffle, and its wings seemed to flutter above its back.

Before I could readjust my camera’s settings for a clearer photo, the grebe suddenly raised itself, stretched out, and began running along the suface of the water like a coot attempting to gain altitude. In fact, that’s precisely what the grebe was doing: gaining altitude, and beginning to fly.

I’d always known grebes could fly, but I’d never seen it happen. Neither had Mia McPherson, until she witnessed flying grebes at her local Utah pond in February, 2017, and posted photos on her blog. As she described it in On the Wing Photography :

Pied-billed Grebes only migrate during the night, which is why until yesterday I have never photographed them in flight. I’ve even written a post here on On The Wing Photography bemoaning the fact that I would never photograph them in flight. I was wrong, delightfully wrong.
Yesterday afternoon I was at my local pond where I photographed not one but two Pied-billed Grebes in flight. This is rarely seen and rarely photographed. I might never get the chance again. 

After admiring Mia’s photos and envying her experience, I left a brief comment, wondering as I did if I ever would have the same opportunity. I didn’t think so, until January 5 of this year when, like an ecstatic Peter Pan, this grebe took flight.

Like Mia, I might never be granted such a sight again, but I’ll be watching our grebes much more closely in the future. They’re not as predictable as I thought.

I can fly!

 

Comments always are welcome.

Winging It

Female Great-Tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)

Having packed, moved, and unpacked, I’m left with piles of stuff to sort and store as well as a realization that, not having been out in the world for nearly three weeks, I have no idea what nature’s been up to.

Lacking current photos, I decided to wing it, and begin posting again with a few backward glances: this one, to last summer’s splendor at Galveston’s Broadway cemeteries.

Each of the seven cemeteries is rich in history, filled with traditional statuary and markers designating the resting places of notable individuals, but in two or three, seasonal wildflowers are allowed to flourish until they go to seed:  a display that calls to humans as much as it pleases the pollinators. Which flowers appear can vary; last year, Coreopsis and Gaillardia predominated.

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

Each year, as wingèd creatures of various sorts gather around the angels, it’s easy to imagine those concrete wings twitching a little — who wouldn’t want to join the butterflies, bees, and birds in a flight among the flowers?

 

Comments always are welcome.

Now What?

 

If you’ve ever felt as though you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, you might feel some kinship with this pied-billed grebe, who seems to have caught more than it can swallow.

Field guides note that grebes consume aquatic insects, crustaceans, leeches,  tadpoles, mollusks, and ‘small’ fish, but when this grebe popped up in front of me, fish firmly clenched in its bill, I was surprised by the fish’s size: it looked more suited to a heron than a grebe.

On the other hand, the fish wasn’t struggling to get away, perhaps because the grebe already had begun the process of repeatedly pinching the fish with its strong bill, killing it by damaging its internal organs.

What happened next I can’t say, since after only a few seconds the grebe spotted me and dove beneath the surface of the water. I never saw it again, and presume it surfaced in the midst of some nearby reeds, where it could continue dining in peace.

 

Comments always are welcome.