Clark’s Grebe(Aechmophorus clarkia) and Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) nesting behaviors on a local lake, San Luis Obispo, CA. 08/10/2020

Two Clark's Grebesback brooding on adults back.

Two Clark’s Grebette’s back brooding on adults back.

Civil Twilight welcomed the first photographers, sipping hot coffee, and quietly scoping out their locations. Would today bring just a few or would there be a line of tripods along the shore? Some would bring chairs and sit, others standing and handholding to allow more flexibility in their movement and compositions. A couple of photographers lay flush with the ground dug into their positions, soaking up the cool moisture from the mud. Each day brought a few more, some days brought a few less. Make no mistake about it, the show before them was a spectacle of nature that few get the privilege of watching and observing in their lifetime. It was well worth the time and effort. I myself only visited a couple of days while for some it was a daily vigil.

Adult Clarks Grebe Feather Feeding Grebette's

Adult Clarks Grebe Feather Feeding Grebette’s

Seemingly later than most years, the marshes in the southwestern portion of the lake were bustling with active nesting Western and Clark’s Grebes in various stages of mating behavior. One nest’s day old grebette’s would be back-brooding on an adult, another with eggs still being turned and incubated under the brood patch, the background echoed the unmistakable sound of another couple in courtship display rushing across the far reaches of the lake, while another couple participates in a “Weed Dance”. The Kr-r-rick, Kr-r-ick of the Western Grebe, or the solitary Kree-eek of the Clark’s Grebe reverberated across the surface of the water amongst other vocalizations signaling breeding season was in full swing.

Stepping out, Two Western Grebette’s hold on for dear life as the adult prepares to step off the nest.


The images captured over this period of time by local photographers, masterfully document the nesting and breeding behaviors of both the Western and Clark’s Grebes. A new discovery for most was that the chicks or grebette’s have a light-yellow crown patch that turns red when they need to be fed. The darker in color, the more urgent the need to feed. Some say it’s a marker of stress, the darker the color the more stress the grebette is in, and for an eager young chick, what could be more stressful than not being fed every moment of every day? So, I suppose both schools of thought have an accurate view of the red patch.
An adult Western Grebe brings in a feather to feed to a young Grebette.

An adult Western Grebe brings in a feather to feed to a young Grebette.

As I said before, I only spent a couple of days with the breeding grebes. A plethora of images have been shared from other photographers who spent more time and effort being there every day, some even choosing to camp out overnight. I commend them and chastise myself for not putting in more effort. Lately, with all that is going on in the world, my mood has been a bit somber, and being on social media has been quite the downer. You would think a trek out into nature would cure all of that, and it helped. That being said, the images that follow are my contribution to the collective of Western and Clark’s Grebes images that are being shared on social media. I hope you enjoy them