Six Eggs, One Surviving Grebe

Dear Jane,

You are a wunderkind, indeed! No sooner do you touch down on these shores after three weeks in Germany, but you immediately throw yourself into the serious study of the blue-green algae crisis on the river. I decided the subject was too complicated for me, but enjoyed reading your lively account. I was glad that you pointed out to me that the algae doesn’t turn the river blue-green. It turns it brown. I was looking for blue-green slime.

Well – here is what is probably my last post on ‘Stripey’, the baby PIED-BILLED GREBE that won my heart this summer. She is the only survivor among four eggs and two hatchlings, one survivor out of a brood of six. I wonder if the parents grieve? Here she is when I last saw her on September 16, when she would have been about six weeks old. Again she was just upstream from the pedestrian bridge, near the mid-channel island off the Benchlands. This spot offers dense cover for birds and fish. I hope the City will do everything it can to protect it. (I am in communication with the Parks and Rec Department about this.)  In this photo you can still make out her head and neck stripes quite clearly, although they are being slowly absorbed into the brown drabness of her parents.

Five-weeks-old (September 10, 2015)
Five-weeks-old (September 10, 2015)

Pied-billed grebes are supposed to reach independence when they are about 10 weeks old, so her independence day would have been October 9. Has she been buckling down and catching her own fish since then? I assume one of the 8 or 10 PIED-BILLED GREBES I see regularly when I walk along the river is Stripey, but without her baby stripes. Normally, PBG’s seem to be the busiest birds on the river, barely coming up for air between dives. Occasionally I see one that is simply floating on the river and wonder if it has a full tummy, or is simply too tired to chase more fish. Or is it Stripey in a rebellious teen-age mode still wanting to be fed?  I miss her.

Curious how this species dresses up its babies rather strikingly, but is very understated in its own dress preferences. Most species do the opposite. I wonder what the evolutionary reason for that is. Maybe PBG’s have bad eyesight and needed their babies to stand out. Just a wild guess. Anyway, the babies sure are cute!

On a different subject – It’s been exciting to watch the eBird checklists rolling in, especially since you’ve been back. Congratulations on your discovery of the rare flycatcher. I won’t say more since I assume you will write about it.   And you also caught the first Horned Grebe of the season, significant since it is a returning migrant.   Gary Kittleson, the city-hired biologist, has been racking up impressively large numbers of species in his baseline work. He found 51 species last week! If readers haven’t checked out the website eBird, where we all submit our checklists, please do. That way you can keep abreast of bird life on the river when Jane or I are too tired or too full or too rebellious to write anything on the blog!

Here is the link: http://ebird.org/ebird/hotspots. Under ‘hotspots’ just search for San Lorenzo River (within Santa Cruz).

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3 thoughts on “Six Eggs, One Surviving Grebe

  1. I adore how your love & attachment to Stripey comes through in your post. It’s so sweet & touching! Your musings are always so thought & curiosity provoking, which never fail to draw me in. Nature isn’t easy on survival & I don’t think many people realize that. Actually that is one of the reasons that we need to protect & celebrate those who make it. great how you covered a lot of topics= wet that reader appetite… & I keep looking @ the juv. P-b grebes…wondering if one of them is Stripey Great post as usual, Barbara! hoping for rain greetings, jane

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  2. Barbara and Jane —
    How both pointedly detailed and humanly empathetic are these last two posts.
    I see especially those two elements — the close factual observation of details, colors, vegetation, location. stripes and shades. I can’t convey it because I don’t have that level or care of observation of what is about me. But I see in your observations how that is the fundament of everything: what is there, what is to be seen and felt and observed — all this the only genuine ground of what our thoughts and any useful action afterwards can be.
    The other element is the human connection with this scene and these birds. [Very parenthetically, I tweak you at your omission of the bugs and the fish and all the other lesser forms of life out there — I mean after all, what about the fish that those PBGs are chomping down. Just a sly joke.] We do empathize so much more easily with what we can humanize and you do so with such great feeling that I feel absorbed into this feel of companionship and family of animals, even though I have so little native feeling for birds. You bring them to me.
    Still, on the other hand, it seems so ruthless that out of six only one has survived. You seem to move on with those that survive. Nature is so profligate that it can still carry on with that survival rate, while we proliferate into old age, going now beyond our four score and seven while the PGBs seem not just stuck in slow evolutionary age but are being driven back by us humans overwhelming them.
    Thank you for bringing them into our world, even if we seem to just glance and then turn back to all rest of daily lives.

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  3. What a very interesting reply, Ed. You are entirely right about our negligence in relating to the bugs and the fish! I humbly accept your tweak. But I can’t even see them. Fish have fish eyes which aren’t very soulful compared to the soulful eyes of a pied-billed grebe. Yet our beloved birds are utterly dependent on fish and insects for their own survival. So we should certainly learn and report more about them. I am now trying to better understand the plants upon which they are dependent. Maybe fish and insects next year. Entering into the river world has certainly made me more attentive – at least to some things. Thank you for your comments about all this. I want to actually FEEL my interconnection with all things before I die. That is the only item on my bucket list. Now it is maybe 10% real and 90% theory.

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