I photographed these rushing Western Grebes in early June of this year at Bear River National Wildlife Refuge in Box Elder County. I had been keeping an eye on this pair while photographing other grebes that were closer and noticed that both of these birds were holding their heads low to the water with their necks out stretched which is called ratchet-pointing. I realized they were getting ready to rush and aimed my lens at them. (That is a female Yellow-headed Blackbird flying on the right side of the frame)
Rushing is a courtship dance for Western (and Clark’s) Grebes that occurs during the mating season, it is amazing to watch these grebes become upright with their bodies completely out of the water and rush across the surface with the aid of their large feet. The sound of the splashing water seems to intensify the action.
The male is on the left, female on the right, his chest is larger than hers. Normally I see Western Grebes courting earlier than these two birds, June seemed rather late but I’m super happy that I noticed the ratchet-pointing behavior these two exhibited or I might have missed photographing this interesting behavior. As a bird photographer I have learned that knowing my subject and its behavior helps me to anticipate their actions and that can lead to some wonderful action photos.
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge contains great habitat for Western and Clark’s Grebes and they are very abundant during the warmer months, right now their numbers are dropping because many of them have already migrated south. They’ll be back in the spring to dance across the water again.