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July 2010


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Dennis and Barbara Martin <[log in to unmask]>
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Dennis and Barbara Martin <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 4 Jul 2010 21:49:24 -0600
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Found a Clark's Grebe with a single young riding on its back on Gorder Lake in Stevens County on July 3rd.  Unfortunately, it seems to be paired with a Western Grebe, which I believe may be the case with all breeding records of Clark's Grebe in Minnesota.  In this case a typical western was with the clark's and the western was diving and bringing food to the young as it rode on the back of the clark's.  Thus we believe a mated pair.

We were there on the correct day with the weather allowing us fairly close looks at probably close to 40 grebes.  With the strong southern winds the birds were congregated on the south shore below the bluff to stay out of the wind.  The south shore is the only place on this lake that allows good views of the birds that are present.  We were able to use scopes to study birds that were as close as 40 yards from us and probably the furthest was not much over 100 yards.  Both clark's were observed close to the shore.  As the wind seemed to abate a little and maybe because of our presence on the bluff some of the birds started to drift a little further out but all of our important observations were fairly close for grebe observation.

At least 8 pairs of westerns had groups (ranging from 1 or 2 to as many as 4) of young following them around or on their backs.  Separate from the pair of clark's/western with the young there was a different Clark's Grebe that was hanging out with 5 Western Grebes.  This group did not have any young and kept together as they fed.  Were there failed nesters, teenagers, unmatched birds, mates to birds still on nests, or whatever' we do not have any idea.

Both of the Clark's Grebes were very typical clark's with all the typical field marks very clearly showing.  Both had a bright, almost gold bill,  a large amount of white showing on the flanks when at rest, a narrow black line on the back of the neck, and an eye that was clearly outside the black on the face.  Of special interest were the 2 or possibly 3 other birds that seem to show some characteristics of Clark's Grebe.  We would normally consider these birds to be slightly abnormal westerns.  One had a fairly bright bill, although not as bright as a clark's.  A second appeared to have more white than normal on the flanks' but didn't seem to have as much as a typical clark's.  We were not sure if the third bird was a different bird than the above 2 or a third bird.  

The interesting question is if these slightly abnormal westerns were hybrids from past years nesting.  We know Clark's Grebes have been seen by others on this lake in past years' but because of the access problem it is very hard on most days to observe large numbers of the grebes.  We have been to this lake many times in past years without observing clark's and we don't remember seeing this many westerns before.  And definitely we have never been able to observe them as close as we were able to do this year.  We are very confident that the 2 clark's we observed seemed to be non-hybrids, but what of the rest.

Dennis and Barbara Martin
Shorewood, MN
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