Sunday, 5 May 2013

Little Grebe love-fest, butterflies and Hobbys at the London Wetland Centre

A pleasant warm day, with a little cloud and very light winds, saw me off to the London Wetland centre today. I met up with Gina there, and of course bumped into the usual suspects, Phillip, Martin and Joe. Gina and I both had target birds today. Mine was getting a photo of a Common Tern 'hovering', Gina's was to find warblers. My target didn't happen today. I had great views of a tern whilst I was chatting with Joe outside the centre, but I was so sure I would see them again during the day, that I didn't bother trying to photograph them. Fatal mistake. Not once for the rest of the day did we see any Common Terns, except for a solo bird on one of the rafts.
However we did have semi-success with the warblers. We heard Reed, Cettis and Sedge, but they were very stubborn and hardly showed at all, except for a brief 'pop up' then back down into the reeds. There were several singing Blackcaps, again not easily seen, but that song is unmistakable. Another 'call' however, made Gina and I stop suddenly quite a few times. It was definitely a warbler, but was softer than a Cettis, not as raspy as a Sedge, and not as repetitive as a Reed. We spied the bird through the shrubby hedges around the Lagoon Walk several times. We compared the song on Ginas iphone app. And finally we got to see the bird out in the open. I managed to grab a few focused photos before the bird darted back into the under growth. We are 99% sure this was a Garden Warbler. Photos are further on down my blog. Phillip and Joe confirmed they had also heard one earlier, and when I showed them my photos, they also think it was a Garden. So from seeing no Gardens at all last year, this year I've managed to not only see two, but to capture them on 'film' too.
Other high-lights today were watching a Hobby being mobbed by gulls, Lapwing chicks, a Holly Blue laying eggs, a Jackdaw collecting nesting material, lots of House and Sand Martins 'chattering' above us and of course, a pair of Little Grebes doing what comes naturally, having a thorough and lengthy courtship. More about that further down my blog.
Holly Blue egg laying
Green Veined White
Speckled Wood
Garden Warb. Photo one
Garden Warb. Photo two
Garden Warb. Photo three
Hobby and gulls
Hobby and gull
Lapwing and chicks. Not a great photo as they were some distance away. However you can just about make out one of the chicks burying itself under 'mum'. There were four youngsters seen today.
Three of the four Lapwing chicks.
The Little Grebes really were the high-light of my day. Just before the Wildside Hide are a couple of channels. Gina and I were making our way to the hide, when I spotted one of the Little Grebes. It was so close to the bridge that I almost fell into Gina as she walked behind me as I instinctively stepped back before I could disturb it. It was sitting on a muddy 'platform', which was obviously the beginnings of a possible nest. But it was way too close to the bridge, and not far enough into the reeds. We watched them for a while. The female kept 'presenting' herself to the male, and they very briefly mated. Then they both went to a second 'platform' a bit further up the channel, but still quite close to the bridge. There again, the female acted in a submissive fashion (head low down, and back end up higher) every time the male bought material, ie bits of reeds and muddy plantation, to the 'platform'. Mr Little Grebe didn't seem that keen on mating with her again, and constantly ignored her behaviour. Both 'platforms' were just a couple of inches above the water line, so certainly not proper nests. We left them to it shortly after that, and after Gina went home, I went back to see them. Phillip and Joe were there at this stage. The Little Grebes had moved from one side of the bridge to the other, and much further down the channel. A much safer option as far as I was concerned. They were adding material to a third 'platform', and the female was still 'presenting' herself every time the male bought in another beak full of muddy reeds. Quietly Phillip, Joe and I urged on the male to take notice of the submissive female, and eventually after almost an hour of watching them build up their relationship, the male finally joined the female for a lengthy 'love-fest'.
I felt incredibly privileged to witness such a court ship like this. I've seen Great Crested Grebes do their 'weed' dance, but I've never seen Little Grebes act this way. It was a truly great way to end my day at the Wetland Centre.
adding to 'platform' three....
female in submissive posture, while the male behind her is more interested in picking off a few bits of reeds
finally he takes notice of her behaviour........
and that's how Little Grebes are made :)


  1. Aw.. those little grebes :D and lovely to see some flutters ~Wendy....