Red-necked Grebe 1600x ab BINNS AQ9I0154 copy

Gathering for a Grebe

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Nov 23, 2020 | by Adrian Binns

My day began the same way as many others this month, with a morning visit to my local waterways in the Philadelphia metro area. My stops are usually brief – just long enough to scan a variety of waterfowl, and check for unusual gulls or geese amid large flocks. This morning took much longer, with the excitement of an uncommon bird.

Crum Creek Reservoir, a relatively small body of water in Delaware County, seemed quieter than usual, with just one pair of Hooded Mergansers, Pied-billed Grebe, and a few other birds. I was getting ready to leave, when a Red-necked Grebe popped up right in front of me!

An irregular migrant, the species is uncommon in the Philadelphia region, though there are annual sightings each winter. During the breeding season, Red-necked Grebes inhabit marshes of the upper midwest, western Canada, and up into Alaska. At this time of year – late fall – they are migrating to the coast, and may be found in large bodies of water. This bird aims to overwinter in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Red-necked Grebe was actively diving the duration of our visit. Fortunately, it stayed fairly close to the road, providing excellent views and photos. Sunshine highlighted the bird transitioning from bright breeding to duller winter plumage, still showing red on its thick neck. It showed a white lower cheek patch, dark capped head, and strong yellow bill, usually tilted downwards. Red-necked Grebes, at about 18″ long, are substantially larger than our more common Pied-billed and Horned Grebes.

Red-necked Grebe – note bill tilted downwards, a characteristic field mark.

As word spread about the Red-necked Grebe, local birders and photographers arrived throughout the morning to see this uncommon species. With face masks and social-distancing, we enjoyed the impromptu gathering, and chance to say “Happy Thanksgiving” to all!

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