Grebes “Walk” On Water to Find a Mate

Story and Photography by Krisztina Scheeff with KS Nature Photography

 

Western Grebes rushing on Lake Hodges, CA. © Krisztina Scheeff

 

When it comes to dating in the world of Grebes it is not as easy as just going out for a fish dinner or a morning swim. These birds have much higher standards. If a mate cannot “walk” on water, they are out of luck.

Lake Hodges in Southern California is home to hundreds of resident Western and Clark’s Grebes. These large, elegant black and white water birds breed here in the winter months. During mating season they engage in a maneuver called rushing, in which they sprint up to 50 feet across the water in coordinated groups of two or more in about seven seconds.

 

They do get quite close. Western Grebes rushing on Lake Hodges, CA. © Krisztina Scheeff

 

When two Grebes come together, they start out with head bobbing, water splashing and then engage in “rushing” or “walking on water”.  The two birds turn to one side, lunge forward in synchrony, their bodies completely out of the water, and race across the water side by side with their necks curved gracefully forward. It’s thrilling to watch. And even more thrilling to photograph it.

How they do it? A combination of up to 20 steps per second, forceful slaps on the water’s surface with splayed feet, and an unusual stride help these grebes defy gravity, researchers report online in 2015 in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

 

Photo from November 2017 – three Western Grebes rushing on Lake Hodges, CA. © Krisztina Scheeff

 

During NANPA’s Regional Event on January 11-14, 2018 at Lake Hodges, Southern California, participants will be able to witness this magical moment and photograph it. I spent months studying the Grebes and the sounds they make right before rushing, which is much-needed to be able to get that shot of their dance, since the whole production only lasts about 5 to 7 seconds.

 

2017 has ben a bumper year for the Grebes at Lake Hodges. Western Grebe with chicks. © Krisztina Scheeff

 

The year 2017 has proven to be an amazing one for the Grebes here on Lake Hodges. The Grebes have not had any chicks for over seven years now, and this year with the winter rains, a perfect environment presented itself and the Grebes took advantage of it. With multiple nesting sites and over eight different hatching times, we welcomed many new Grebes here on the Lake. With all the new single Grebes on the Lake looking for a mate, who can actually walk on water, January 2018 looks to be a great season for rushing. And an entertaining one too!

 

A pair of Grebes rushing, backlit shot into the sunrise. © Krisztina Scheeff

 

To see more photos check out KS Nature Photography at www.KSNaturePhotography.com or www.facebook.com/KSNaturePhotography.

And to sign up for the Regional Event, please follow this link:

http://www.nanpa.org/event/lake-hodges-ca-nanpa-regional-event/