Before yesterday commenced, I had only seen three Red-necked Grebes in my lifetime. Two as distant apparitions amid undulating heat haze on a vast swath of Estonian marshland, and the other, as an equally uninspiring spec on the horizon here in the UK. The latter being tossed astray by the tide around half a mile out from a well-known watchpoint on the Northumbrian coast.
I must confess that these encounters, while enjoyable, did little highlight the appeal of this species at their heart. They provided little opportunity to admire and scrutinise. Standing as polar opposites to yesterdays encounter – a prize find by some local birders allowing me to enjoy the species in full, at point-blank range.
Views of this species – Britain’s rarest regular grebe – are seldom so good. Indeed, I could not quite believe my eyes upon catching sight of this particular bird as it fed in a shallow, salt marsh channel mere inches from the feet of the few birders assembled in appreciation. The sight of the surprisingly delicate waterbird was unbelievable, inconceivable almost, as it hunted for small fish within touching distance. So close that its antics underwater, as it twisted and rived in pursuit of prey, were equally visible. A Red-necked Grebe, under any circumstance, is a sight to treasure; though under these circumstances, is quite the treat.
The reason for the grebes confiding nature remains a mystery to me; although speaking to those in attendance, inexperience seems most likely. It was a young bird, so perhaps it had simply never encountered man before – migrating from the species breeding grounds in the far North or East has never stumbled across a single human. It certainly showed little fear of those in attendance and here, at least, it has little need to fear.
I dare say I will never view this species under these circumstances again and, as such, this experience will go down in the record books as a one-off. An encounter to be treasured.
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