Monday, 18 January 2016

Riding Shotgun

I couldn't help myself, I just had to post these photos. I have around 400 to scan and select my best but that'll take time so I've selected a quick few to make you smile.

We were due to head off out of range this morning but have delayed it 24hrs because my computer died on me again last night and as you know I'd be lost without my computer, even out of range (that's when I process photos and write catch-up blogs). David has worked his way through the known issues and talked to people in far away lands(call centre) and he's managed to nurse it back to a reasonable state of health but I'm not so sure it's going to last. At least I can still work on it...but perhaps not so intensely, fingers crossed until we get to a town a little bigger than Te Anau!

Anyway following on from my last post, here are some shots of the gorgeous grebe family a few days later- I was lucky enough to visit the nest just as the chicks were called onboard for the ride of their lives. The parent and chicks floated about a little way off from the nest, the adult constantly calling it's mate who was still sitting on the nest with 2 unhatched eggs.

About an hour later, the sitting grebe must have decided it was time to abandon the nest (this was 5 days after the two chicks hatched), she- I don't know, but I'm thinking it would have been the female who didn't want to leave- climbed off the nest, did one last swim and dive, bringing a big bit of weed back to the nest and pushing it onboard (that piece that is partly covering one egg). And then swam off to join her family.

She began feeding two or three feathers she'd scooped from the water to the chicks who greedily swallowed them. I have heard that this is a habit of the grebes, the feathers cushion and help with the passage of fish bones through the chick's digestive system. I've seen this happening on every visit to the grebe family.

Riding shotgun- this is how the chicks will travel much of the time for the next few weeks, on one or the other parent's back. The chicks are already proficient swimmers and divers but prefer, for now, to catch a ride. They'll use their parent's back to keep warm, to rest and to escape danger. 

Man overboard! If you insist on riding side-saddle while taking in the big wide world, it's not long before you fall off...

The chick struggles for the next 10 minutes trying to get back on...

I thought the parent would have some sort of rudder system (it's got big enough feet) to be able to brace itself in the water so the chick can climb back onboard. But no, the parent and the chick went around and around for ages, I even got the feeling the parent was doing it on purpose, making the chick swim for awhile.

Meanwhile, the other parent took the opportunity of doing some grooming while it waited for order to be restored. Finally the chick clambered up the 'ramp' at the back and disappeared below deck!

They're off again, heading for the big blue yonder, they won't return to the safety of the nest area again and must negotiate through and around many dangers over the next few weeks.

One day later I found them again, safely swimming and feeding a few kilometers away from the nest area.

With both chicks frequently hopping off and on, although still taking an age to get back onboard.

While I was watching the grebes, a NZ Scaup family swam past- Mum, Dad and 4 quite large ducklings, not that close but obviously close enough for all hell to break loose.  

Neither bird was giving an inch, both attacking each other. The scaup, it's the female, was sitting low in the water and launching herself at the grebe. The grebe was using it's sharp bill, stabbing and grabbing the duck. At one stage the grebe dived and and grabbed the scaup from underneath. All I could see was the scaup walking on water!

I don't think there was a winner in the end, just two very irate mamas but it was the scaup that swam off to rejoin her family who had carried on along the lake edge out of sight.

"Go Mum!!" - The grebes sat watching from the sidelines and the safety of Dad's back (I have no idea which parent was which, you can't tell the difference with grebes). 

Order is restored, wounds licked and the family move off.

I'm sure I'm going to find a lot more photos once I check the pile in more detail so don't be surprised to see another blog on the grebes in due course. What a privilege to not only find a nest but see newly hatched chicks being fed on the nest and then returning a few days later just in time to see them leave the nest, see the parent abandoned the remaining two eggs, and then find the family again a day later out in the big wide world.  I couldn't have planned it any better if I tried.


  1. What an interesting bird! This is now on my 'To Do' List. I've never seen a Grebe before and would love to see one with its chicks riding on its back.
    Shellie, you have a knack at being in the right place at the right time to capture some of these amazing photos. Thanks for sharing. Plus, I really enjoyed reading your post, you have great way with words.

  2. Eye-opening photos! Learn so much about grebe's life. BRAVO & ENCORE!

    1. Thanks offstone, gladed you enjoyed the blog and photos- now you just have to find yourself a grebe when you visit. You'll be able to tell others about themincluding many Kiwis who have never seen or heard of them.

  3. Awesome Shellie. So much patience required, but what amazing photos. Lovely birds. Well done.
    Melanie from Tauranga

    1. Thanks Melanie, you're so right about the patience. Lucky I have plenty :) I was pretty chuffed to finally find some chicks and see them riding on the backs was an added bonus.


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