I’m always delighted to witness the mating display of the Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus). They make a rather noisy but thoroughly entertaining exhibition of head shaking and neck swaying and bill touching that is a joy to watch, especially with their vibrant neck plumage highlighting their every move. It comes as no surprise that those pretty plumes were once prized by early Victorian milliners to decorate their more extravagant creations. That usage, and the fact that the fine soft feathering on the bird’s body was also valued for costume adornment, meant the Great Crested Grebe was one of Britain’s rarest breeding species by the mid-1800s.
Luckily, laws were enacted to protect Britain’s water birds but their recovery can also be attributed to mankind’s activities – and not in the way you might imagine. The massive increases in both road building and house building following the Second World War required enormous amounts of gravel, and the grebe was one of the birds that benefitted from the gravel pits once they had been abandoned and filled with water. It’s a fitting testament to how well nature can recover from man’s interference in the landscape.
The highlight of today’s long walk was to witness a grebe sitting on a nest. It seems very early in the year and the nest was in rather an exposed position so I do hope the bird doesn’t get disturbed. It was wonderful and, indeed, a huge privilege to see the results of all that head shaking and neck swaying!