One of my favourite sights on the lake of a local park is a pair of Grebes, a rather splendid looking duck that has the most wonderful mating rituals. However and much to my surprise, in the latter part of August they suddenly appeared with 3 youngsters in tow or to be exact, two in tow and the smallest of them, riding on his mothers back for a lot of the time. When I looked this up on the internet apparently Grebes will produce chicks right up until August and not just in the Spring as I had previously assumed.
The first thing you tend to learn about photographing most types of wildlife is the need for patience, not just on the day but most times over many weeks. When I first started photographing birds I came to realise that they had a lot of social interaction with each other and most especially when they had a young brood to look after. The parental behaviour will obviously vary between different breeds and my favourites have always been the Canada Geese and the Grebes both of whom are very protective parents and interact with their young.
The first problem I had with photographing this little Grebe family was that Mummy Grebe keeps herself and her brood right out in the middle of the lake and although not small, neither are Grebes big being slightly smaller than your average Mallard Duck so telephoto lenses are a must. What also became very apparent was that a tripod was too and as I had to carry that on my bike, I started out with my ‘lightweight/travel’ ones which really weren’t up to the task. Eventually I gave in and took my heavier Manfrotto one because it was the only way I was going to get the shots I wanted.
This just left me with dealing with the lighting conditions which were not simple. Because of the position that the Sun rises plus it is getting lower this time of year, the best position would be on the North bank except that it is heavily covered in trees and foliage which also reflects and casts shadows onto the lake… Over the period of a week I took hundreds of pictures but very few came even close to the standard of crispness I was after although quite a number gave me brilliant poses that I could use in drawing sketches.
In the end I got some shots which were okay though not spectacular but in the process I had come to realise that it really didn’t matter. I came to see that my joy each day was watching this little family and enjoying their interactions with each other. True, photography made me ‘focus’ on them in the first place but the pictures actually didn’t matter that much in the end.
Of the three chicks with their downy bodies and rather zebra striped heads and necks, there was one who would scramble on to his/her mothers back to snooze and ride long after the other two swam independently although kept close to a protective mum. As they have developed and grown it has become clear that mum seems to have ‘conversations’ with them individually from time to time, there is an awful lot of education going on.
Dad disappears on little fishing expeditions and brings back small fish to feed his youngsters but even in the way he feeds them he seems to be teaching them stuff. Despite currently having down body covering, grooming/preening is a big feature for adult Grebes and the chicks are starting to copy mum and dad and are practising preening themselves. By mid September as I witnessed today, they have even got them diving underwater though not yet I suspect, hunting out little fish for themselves. As I have watched these youngster grow over these past weeks I came to realise that sometimes its not about the pictures, its about enjoying what you see in front of you.