Third Wheel- Horned Grebe Can’t Take a Hint

By josh • Nature, Wildlife • 18 Apr 2012

Yesterday I was doing some architectural survey work in Warren and stopped at Blueberry Lake for lunch.  I found a white-throated sparrow and yellow-rumped warbler there (both FOYs), but of greater interest were three dark blobs floating way out in the lake.  They were backlit from the parking area on the north side of the lake so I drove around to the south shore for a better view.  They weren’t any closer to shore but the light was considerably better.  As it turns out, these were a pair of long-tailed ducks and a male horned grebe in breeding plumage.

Horned Grebe and Long-tailed Ducks

Horned Grebe and Long-tailed Ducks, Blueberry Lake, Canon 400mm f/5.6L at f/9, 1/800s, ISO 200

I believe these are only the second long-tailed ducks I’ve seen in Vermont and the first horned grebe I’ve seen outside of Lake Champlain.  It’s hard to believe that this is the same species that we see in non-breeding plumage at Charlotte Town Beach.

The grebe was making slow loops around the ducks, a third wheel to the ducks’ pair.  The birds were not feeding so they stayed on the surface.  Periodically the long-tailed ducks would rise up and separate themselves from the grebe, but he always paddled his way back to them and kept quite close quarters.  The ducks were very tolerant, though, since I suppose they weren’t actively making new long-tailed ducks at that exact moment.

At one point they all flew a few hundred meters across the lake at the same time, giving me the opportunity to witness the flight skill differential between the ducks and the grebe.  The grebe clearly prefers to swim to get where he’s going and requires quite a furious run across the top of the water to achieve liftoff.

Horned Grebe and Long-tailed Ducks

Horned Grebe and Long-tailed Ducks, Blueberry Lake, Canon 400mm f/5.6L at f/8, 1/800s, ISO 200

This obviously isn’t a high quality image (I didn’t have time to change the shutter speed when they decided to take off), but hopefully it’s at least enough to show that the ducks (on the left) lift out of the water with minimal paddling, while the grebe struggles mightily to get into the air.

Long-tailed Ducks

Long-tailed Ducks, Blueberry Lake, Canon 400mm f/5.6L at f/9, 1/800s, ISO 200

I waited around for a bit to see if the birds would come closer to no avail.  It seems they were still at Blueberry Lake later in the afternoon to be observed by some of the Mad Birders- perhaps they got a closer view than I.  In any case, I didn’t get any great photos because of the distance, but it was still a thrill to see such a rarity and to see the horned grebe in his spring finery.

Blueberry Lake, Warren

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