These big grebes are famous for their courtship dances. Recently I was able to film the early stages, “Light Necking” (May 29). Here I saw a more advanced ritual, the weed ceremony. Both partners dive to the bottom and come up with scraps of seaweed. In this case, they got opposite ends of the same weed, with a thin connecting strand, see photo below. They bob and weave with the seaweed in their bills, and then send it flying. Sometimes the pair will then go to the next level, walking on the water together. Here, after the weed ritual, one partner dashes off. The other doesn’t follow. End of ceremony.
I had the good luck to film the water-walking dance last year, “Clark’s Courting,” April 29 2020.
In reviewing the video of these two birds, I’m intrigued by the possibility that one of them (the one on the left in the photo below) is a Western Grebe. The other is plainly a Clark’s Grebe. They were too far away to get a perfectly clear image. A pixelated blow-up (left) seems to show that the black cap extends just below the eye. That would make it a Western. But a similar image of the same bird’s other side (photo right) shows what may be a black patch extending around the eye but with a thin white line above it — so maybe a Clark’s. The bird sources say that courtship between Western and Clark’s are not unknown, but are unusual. This may be one of those unusual cases. The two species are so much alike — scientists believed for more than a century that they were one species — that it’s kind of surprising that they haven’t hybridized extensively.