Grebes Big and Small

(Burrowing Owl Update Below)

Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) Feb 15 2023

On my way back from observing the Burrowing Owl I could not miss this big grebe paddling northward at a good clip. The stretch of its dark cap over the eye and the dullish color of its beak marked it clearly as a Western Grebe. It was one of the biggest birds of its kind that I’ve seen. In the video you can see how it propels itself. Its legs attach to the back of its body like an outboard motor. Paddling doesn’t seem like an efficient method but it’s obviously working for the bird. It moved forward at better than my normal walking speed. It didn’t stop to have a dive, the way that grebes here usually do, especially at the moment when the photographer gets them framed and focused. It had a destination in mind. Why it chose to go the wet route rather than take to the air, I’ll never know. I let it pass and went on my way.

Horned Grebe (Pidiceps auritus) Feb 14 2023

A day earlier I saw this much smaller Horned Grebe nearby. This one was floating quietly without any urgency. In their breeding plumage they become very colorful with a dramatic hairstyle, but in winter, as here, their feather dress is plain black or gray and white. The outstanding feature of all the grebes we see here is that bright red eye. That’s normal in adult grebes and in a number of other species. It’s thought that the red iris helps the birds see better when under water. They get their nourishment by diving. They’re carnivores, eating insects, small shrimp, small fish, and other marine protein.

Burrowing Owl Update

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) Feb 15 2023

The Burrowing Owl was still in the park this morning at around 9, in Perch B. At the time of my visit, the bird looked alert and relaxed, checking its surroundings left, right, up, and down. At one point, while I was walking some minutes away, the bird switched its position a few inches to the south and a bit higher up. This meant that when I returned to the camera, the bird was no longer in the frame. I reset the device and got a few more minutes of what is probably one of the owl’s last days here. It may leave tomorrow or it may stay another month. It’s paying attention to the length of daylight and to the level of its hormones. At some point it will guess that its breeding habitat, wherever that may be, is free of snow and ice, and its hormones will urge it to get up there and procreate and make little owls, like the ones that the New York Times recently featured.

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) Feb 15 2023

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